Until the early 1990s, a DJ’s only way to mix records was through a pair of turntables. In the 25 years since then, the advent of digital DJ technology has greatly expanded both the idea of what a DJ is and how he does it.
There are numerous entry points for someone who wants to start DJing today. Your route will depend on the music you want to play, the way you want to play it, and your budget. Regardless, choose carefully, and whichever option you choose will serve you well for years to come. We’ve selected a few options that we believe offer a solid mix of quality, features, and value for money. Of course, the more you pay, the more you get, but all you have to do is look back in the history of DJing to know that even with the simplest of tools, a lot is possible.
Check out 10 recommended models below, then read on to find out more about the best controllers, CDJs, and turntables out there.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK3
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3
Technology SL-1210 MK2
Audio Technica AT-LP120-USBHC
Stanton ST.150 M2
Probably the easiest way for a DJ to get hold of a controller. There’s a pretty good chance you have or can access a laptop or computer, and when that’s done all you need to do is plug in a controller, install the software, download a few tracks and you’re good to go. However, the controller market is highly saturated with many companies throwing their hats in the ring and therefore knowing what is good and what is not can be difficult.
Native instruments have a proven track record in this field. The close connection between their Traktor DJ software and the controllers developed in parallel has resulted in a synergy of hardware and software that has proven difficult to beat for almost 20 years. After a quiet time with only minor updates across the board, they recently announced a number of new products, including new versions of two of their most popular DJ controllers.If you dream of playing your tunes in clubs and festivals, you need to learn to play the equipment that is available in these venues
Courtesy, DJ and label boss at Kulør
The flagship model that Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3, offers a version of the motorized jog wheel that has been in circulation with its SL-DZ1200 since Technics in 2004. The idea never really got users excited, but it seems like Native Instruments cracked it here. The jog wheels are precise, weighty and offer a range of intuitive feedback methods through the use of Haptic Drive technology.
The cheaper of the two, the Tractor control S2 MK3, is a reduced offer, but with the same quality feel and the same construction as its more expensive cousin. Thanks to its compact size and the power supply via the USB bus, it is also perfect for hanging in a backpack and for celebrating a house party. These models also feature a new layout that is very close to the hardware found in venues around the world, making the jump from the bedroom to the club a lot easier.
Another step into the industry standard realm is the CDJ, especially that from Pioneer. While mixers are interchangeable depending on a DJ’s personal preference, the only CDJ you’re likely to see in the DJ booth today is the latest from Pioneer CDJ-2000.
Other manufacturers have tried to challenge the status quo, but with DJs relying heavily on the company’s proprietary Rekordbox software to prepare their sets, Pioneer has essentially cornered the market. DJ and Kulør label boss Courtesy explains: “A professional DJ is expected to know how to operate CDJs or turntables that are available in these locations.”
The problem with the CDJ-2000 is that it is prohibitively expensive for most people, but Courtesy has one possible solution. “My advice is to get together as a group and invest in equipment that you can share. Then you have the equipment to throw a party.”
While the cost of the CDJ-2000 makes them out of reach for many, Pioneer offers a slightly more affordable range, the XDJ. These are smaller, with fewer physical controls and no CD drive. It is important that the software of the XDJs is almost identical to that of the XDJs CDJ-2000 NXS2, as well as the touchscreen and most of its functions. They are an effective way to improve your skills at home without having to spend a lot of money (comparatively).
Last but not least, the decks that started it all. Would you like to play or collect vinyl? Then you need one (but ideally a pair) of these. Panasonic started producing its iconic. set Technology SL-1200 Line of turntables in 2010 and while the prices of high quality used models have steadily increased, a number of new offers have been added.
the AT-LP120-USBHC from Audio-Technica offers an impressive blend of quality and affordability. Audio-Technica products are known for their super-solid construction, and this direct drive deck is no different. It shares the same basic, functional layout as the SL-1200, but has the added bonus of a built-in USB output for recording and digitizing your music. Not only is this useful for archiving your record collection, but it also means you can keep playing your favorite songs should you show up at a club with turntables in sub-optimal condition (still a fairly common problem these days) with one via USB CDJ.
While this guide is not intended to be exhaustive, it should hopefully help give you an idea of the options available. As mentioned earlier, there is no substitute for hands-on experience. So, meet friends who already own devices or take a trip to a music store and play.