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Like so many other musical hobbies, DJing has become far more accessible in recent years. As many people have laptops they can use, you don’t necessarily need the huge setup you might have needed 15-20 years ago, when laptops didn’t really have the power needed. Some of the best small DJ controllers even run on USB sticks and don’t require a laptop at all.
Whereas you once would have needed to invest hugely to get a workable setup, you can buy 2-channel controllers or 4-channel controllers for a relatively small price, that fit within a small bag that you can take out and about with you. Let the DJing begin.
In this guide, we’ve reviewed 10 of the very best small controllers for getting started DJing. Let’s dive into the reviews.
DJ Controllers Buying Guide
Choosing a DJ controller can be tough, especially for beginners. How do you ensure that you have all the features you need? Some of the terminology can also be a little bit confusing if you aren’t an experienced audiophile or audio engineer. Our buying guide below can help to demystify some of the terms and help you to make the correct decision whether you’re a beginner or an experienced DJ.
The vast majority of the mixers on this list are 2-channel controllers. This means that you can mix from two different audio sources, which is all you need to mix two tracks together.
There are some other products on the market including four and even six channel options. These allow you to incorporate more audio sources such as additional samplers or even drum pads so you can create custom setups for your DJing, and add more to your performance to unleash your creative potential. For beginners, these extra channels are something of a luxury.
How does the DJ controller connect to your devices? What can you use it in conjunction with? A lot of DJ controllers are great for use with either Mac and Windows operating systems, but many can also be used with mobile devices and tablets. If you are looking to make sure you can take your controller on the go then you should consider what sort of devices it can be used with. This links closely with the next point.
DJ controllers are effectively just that; controllers. They send signals to a piece of software. A lot of DJ controllers link with Serato, popular DJ software for beginners to learn how to mix tracks together, but some have their own software solutions.
Software compatibility should be considered. It needs to work with the device you plan to use for your DJing, but you should also think about where you are sourcing the songs you want to work with. For instance, a lot of DJing software can now link with streaming services such as TIDAL. If you have a membership then you can enjoy the fast and effective streaming of any track on their service within your DJing.
Jog Wheels and Scratching
In some genres of music, scratching is a big deal. Lovers of hip hop will probably know all about the sort of sound this creates, and it is a big part of the genre. If you want to be able to scratch, the jog wheel is helpful for this. It replicates the feel of scratching on physical records.
Jog wheels are also used for lining up the audio so that it is perfectly in time. They’re important for everyone. Some models of jog wheel are small and clunky, and if you’re going to use your wheel a lot then you need to ensure you get something that is easy enough to use as well as being sturdy and reliable.
Sampler and Effects
The sampler, loop function, and effects are an option to alter the sound and make things even more interesting. Samplers can trigger clips of audio over the top of what you are playing. Effects can change the audio you are playing, such as adding a delay or reverb effect. Loop functions let you take a small section of the track, like a drum beat, and play it on repeat as part of your mix.
All of these effects allow you to do more and create an impressive audio mix. They’re great functions and features for creating more exciting sets for playing either at home or in nightclubs.
How much should you spend on your controller? Using a controller rather than a hardware model like a “CDJ” saves you a lot of money anyway. For beginners, a model under $150 might be sufficient. As you progress and become a better DJ, expect to spend around $200-300 to get a model that has all the features and durability you need.
PIONEER DJ DJ Controller (DDJ-400) – Best Overall
You’ll struggle to find a more iconic brand in the world of DJing. Pioneer has been around since the early days and when you see professional DJs on stage it is likely that at least some of their gear is made by the brand. They’re famous for the “CDJ” range of decks that are now more obsolete due to the growth in flash memory.
In fact, the DDJ-400 has a layout based on some of the previous models like the CDJ-2000NXS2 and DJM-900NXS2. It also has an inbuilt sound card, and lets you easily connect to the computer via a USB cable to play your music.
It’s compatible with both Mac and Windows operating systems and comes with a license for Rekordbox, software for DJs that can teach you about the art of DJing as well as letting you manage your library and enjoy all the features and functions that the pros do. This excellent software does the job for a fraction of the price of many other DJ deck setups.
- Includes Rekordbox software suitable for all ability levels.
- Familiar layout for those who have already used CDJs.
- Excellent value and proven reliability from this exceptional brand.
- Some of the components are not the highest quality, and could break over time.
Denon DJ PRIME 4 – Premium Choice
Denon is a brand that makes high-end audio equipment including AV receivers and amplifiers. Now, they also make DJ controllers, with the Denon DJ Prime proving to be a superb choice for a lot of club DJs. Even more advanced performers can take this to the dancefloor and enjoy all the features they could possibly need.
This 4 channel DJ controller has a touchscreen to allow further control and you can see exactly what’s going on. There is excellent connectivity with numerous XLR inputs and outputs and 24-bit audio. You can even use this for Wireless streaming, taking music from Beatport and TIDAL to use in your DJ sets.
Advanced features include touch-sensitive jog wheels, effects and filters, and there’s even a connection for DJ lighting software too. This is also compatible with Rekordbox collections which can be loaded via USB or SD. If you plan to become a professional and you are serious about the hobby, this could be a great option.
- No limit to the features and functions.
- Loads of connectivity and the capacity to use this for big shows.
- Not the most suitable option for beginners as there is a lot to learn.
DDJ-200 smart DJ controller – Editor’s Choice
This is an amazing Smart DJ controller that has been built with mobile use in mind, but it is also suitable for use with laptops, so you have the choice. A lot of people find this the perfect way to practice DJing on the go.
You can use software including WeDJ on the iPhone, Rekordbox on PC and Mac, djay, and edjing Mix on devices such as iPhone, iPad, and Android. The connectivity with this controller can’t be faulted.
This is a small and compact DJ controller, which comes with its pros and cons, but if you are looking for something lightweight and convenient for taking out on the road with you, it is perfect. The DDJ-200 lets you use the sound output directly from your computer or device, and you can even power it using a battery pack to make sure you never run out of power. Add some headphones into the equation and you can even DJ on the bus.
There are basic effects, cues, and looping included, and this can take you from absolute beginner to a solid DJ.
- Extremely lightweight and portable.
- Wide compatibility with Android and Apple devices.
- No browse and load functions so cueing up your music can be tricky.
- Not as robust as some other models.
Pioneer DJ DJ Controller (DDJSB3) – Best For Learning to Scratch
The days of learning how to scratch are far from gone. While you might think of scratching as something that you do with records that are physical copies, such as vinyl, the DDJSB3 has some fantastic scratching features. These can be useful for all kinds of DJs but especially for Hip Hop.
It’s relatively affordable, with the layout a lot of fans of Pioneer will already be familiar with. Mixing is easy with the FX Fade feature and scratching is done via the two large pads that allow you to use the “Pad Scratch” feature.
This controller is still affordable, but feels a little bit higher in build quality than some of the other DDJ models. The circuitry seems robust and the jog wheel and pads feel great.
It comes with a Serato sound card which allows you to connect to your PC or Mac and use Serato DJ Lite. This is software that a lot of beginners use to get started. So if you’re a newbie then this could be a decent choice, that doesn’t break the bank either.
- Good value-for-money.
- Excellent Pad Scratch features.
- Great choice for beginners.
- No compatibility with mobile devices.
- Only Serato Lite is included, not Serato Pro.
Numark Party Mix II – DJ Controller with Party Lights
This is a fantastic portable model of DJ controller that can be superb for a variety of uses, including for a party at home or the venue of your choice.
It falls a little short of professional standards in terms of the sound and features, it’s more of a DJ controller for beginners or for those who are trying to get to the point where they can just DJ for friends when they have a party. That’s why it has the cool inbuilt lights. For an excellent price tag, you can use this controller to make any gathering that little bit more interesting or even let the kids have some fun.
This controller offers plug and play USB connectivity for Mac, PC and even iPhone and iPad. The features are basic but they do the job, you can enjoy sync, pause, and cue buttons and the two DJ decks come with touch-sensitive jog wheels too. For a bit more fun there are effects, and a sampler.
There are easy library controls for browsing the tracks you want to use and a license to Serato DJ Lite. You can also access music through SoundCloud, BeatPort, and high-fidelity services like TIDAL.
It’s a good option for quickly getting started and making your party more fun, but don’t expect to see the pros using it any time soon.
- Comes with a cool light show included.
- Easy to get to grips with, even for beginners.
- Access music from streaming services.
- Audio levels aren’t quite at professional standards.
- It feels a bit flimsy and the components aren’t amazing.
Numark DJ2GO2 Touch – Compact 2 Deck USB DJ Controller
Looking for the most portable way to learn how to DJ? The DJGO2 is incredibly small and portable. It may not look like any other DJ controller you’ve seen, but it has a good set of features and fortunately it can even slip inside a laptop bag. It’s great for those who want to learn while they travel.
In spite of being so tiny, there are plenty of features on offer. It uses MIDI mapping to use popular software such as Virtual DJ, and the 2-channel mixer can also use Serato DJ Lite. A membership is included with the purchase.
Though this is mainly just used for connecting to a laptop and letting people DJ through headphones, it does have a standard output so that you can connect to other DJ equipment and PA systems.
Features include four pad modes, the option for auto or manual looping and triggering samples. The jog wheel allows you to seamlessly match up your music and create a perfect beat match. You can also access tracks through Serato Lite on SoundCloud and TIDAL.
It feels a little bit flimsy, but this is to be expected for an inexpensive and portable controller.
- Small and portable.
- Comes with a great set of features.
- Easy to connect to PA systems or listen to your mix through headphones.
- No option to easily record the output mix.
- Can be limiting for pros, so may be best used as a backup controller.
Hercules DJ DJControl Starlight – Portable Controller With Light Show
More proof that DJing is more accessible and simple than ever before. This portable controller is a competing model for the Numark DJ2GO2, but comes with its own portable light show.
Similarly, and like a lot of these cheaper, portable models, it is effectively a 2 channel mixer or controller for Serato Lite rather than having its own software, for instance. This is fine for beginners, and the free access to Serato Lite helps you to ensure you have all you need with this controller, just hook it up to your laptop.
There’s an inbuilt sound card so you can pre-listen for the authentic DJing experience, and some of the other essential features and controls to learn if you want to become a DJ. There’s a jog wheel, looping and sampling modes, and a bass filter (though this does not have a three channel EQ).
Portability is the main plus point, and the cool light show is an added bonus, especially if you want to use this at parties.
- Great for kids and casual users.
- Compact and portable.
- Free access to Serato Lite.
- Lacks some audio quality.
- Not suitable for scratching.
Hercules DJ Starter Kit – Best Portable DJ Starter Kit
This includes the DJControl Starlight (above), but it also has a lot of other equipment that can advance your journey into becoming a DJ, either as an amateur or an aspiring professional. Unless you have all the other equipment, it can be hard to learn how to mix just using headphones. This standalone kit gives you everything other than the PC or Mac you need to get started.
There are two 15W active speakers included. That means they don’t need any separate amplification and you can simply power them up and get started. Serato DJ Lite software is also included with the controller, and DJ headphones for cueing.
The whole thing is offered at a very attractive price, making it a good option for a gift for aspiring DJs or just a convenient way to have a go at mixing tracks yourself.
- An affordable way to get a complete setup.
- Active speakers do not require amplification.
- The included DJ controller, the Hercules DJControl Starlight, has some limitations.
Hercules DJControl Inpulse 200– DJ Controller With Simple Software
The Hercules Inpulse 200 comes with software that is slightly different from a lot of the other options on the list. It has two channels, and the basic features you would expect from a mixer of this variety, but it also has some excellent added features that can help beginners get to grips with DJing. It means that without being a pro, you can create some pretty cool and effective mixes.
You can use the intelligent “Beatmatch Guide” to learn how to match up two pieces of music and get them playing in parallel to one another. DJUCED DJ software is also included, which helps people to learn how DJing works, it has a DJ ‘academy’ so that you can watch videos and discover the techniques your favorite DJs use. The DJ mixer includes IMA, the Intelligent Music Assistant. This can help you to choose appropriate music at the right tempo to mix in with your current track.
The software and hardware works with either Mac or PC, requiring 4GB of ram to get the most out of the software and avoid glitching.
- Excellent suite of features for beginners.
- Automated beat-matching and music selection.
- Not compatible with all of the music software out there, no Serato support.
Hercules DJ Control Inpulse 300 – Value Model For Beginners
The Hercules DJ Control Inpulse controller is ideal for beginners as it has all of the learning features that a lot of Hercules models include, but it is also full-sized and excellent for progressing to more ‘professional’ models when you get your DJ skills honed.
The DJuced app helps you to learn using interactive help modes and tutorial videos, and there is even the help of the IMA, “Intelligent Music Assistant” that suggests the ideal tracks at the right tempo.
For beginners, you can learn how to align tempos and beatmatch easily using the learning modes on the Hercules Inpulse, and the layout is based on other pro controllers such as Pioneer DJ controllers, so when the time comes to get a more robust rig and extra features, it is easy to upgrade. That said, this model does have pads, effects, and multiple modes to alter the sound and make a mix your own.
The controller doesn’t feel particularly durably made, and it has a little bit of a ‘plastic’ feel. The buttons and controls do a great job, but they don’t feel as sturdy as a Pioneer model like a CDJ or DDJ.
- Excellent learning features make it good for beginners.
- Good value.
- Intelligent Music Assistant mode included.
- Lots of tutorials on the included software, DJuced app.
- Feels quite flimsy and not made of the best materials.
Do you need a laptop to DJ?
If you are using a DJ controller, you need some sort of software to run in conjunction with the hardware. This is usually a laptop, which the controller interfaces with to control the software. You can alternatively use an iPad or even a phone with some models of DJ controllers.
Do professional DJs use controllers?
Some DJs use full mixer setups, sourcing music from USB hard drives or even still using CDs, but there are plenty of professionals using controllers in conjunction with a laptop. It’s all about what you are most comfortable and confident using, and the results you get.
Summary – Choosing The Best Small DJ Controllers
DJing is a hobby that so many more people can enjoy now that these sorts of controllers are on the market and are so affordable. The best controllers may also include functions to help to teach you the basics. If you’re a beginner, a small two-channel controller is definitely enough to get you started.
Plenty of pro DJs are also moving towards the use of convenient and small controllers for practice, as backup setups, or to even replace their full setup, these are certainly not novelty products, and they can be just as helpful for experienced DJs.