If you are a DJ starting out and want to go the computer route, then your logical question will be what is the best DJ controller around? You might also be considering playing on hardware like the Pioneer CD or IDJs or even going the vinyl route. So what are the pros and cons of each and how do you go about deciding?
How affordable is the best DJ controller
Firstly cost will be a major determining factor in which way you choose to go. In general, DJ controllers are a lot cheaper than their hardware equivalents. Having said that, the assumption will be that you already have a laptop computer if you’re looking to be a serious DJ. Or if not, you will have tablet running a software DJ app for less demanding situations, be they a home dj party or just in your bedroom spinning for fun. So if you add up the cost of a reasonably spec’d laptop or higher end tablet with a DJ controller, then you are almost on a par with standalone hardware units.
There are quite a number of controllers for DJ’ing on the market these days, but the two brands that stand out are the Pioneer range and Native Instruments Traktor. Both have long established software applications in Pioneer Rekordbox and NI Traktor Pro. Both are also stable, user friendly and offer very sophisticated features to both the beginner and pro DJ. They are used in clubs the world over by many of the top DJs who perform to thousands every night.
Why would you choose a controller over a standalone hardware equivalent?
The standard equipment in most of the major clubs is the Pioneer range. Formerly CDJs when compact discs were the predominant format, now IDJs which read the tracks direct from flash drives. The great advantage of these is that you can carry all you music on a couple of USB sticks, slot them into the players and you’re ready to start the party. But the top end players like the Pioneer CDJ Nexus digital media player cost near enough £2000/$2500 each while cheaper models are still around half that price each. So price is very much an issue for the bedroom DJ.
Is an All In One the way to go?
However the Pioneer All In One DJ controller uses the same Rekordbox software that the standalone hardware versions do. Not only that, using and learning on one of their higher end controllers which have most of the same functions of the CDJs will make the step form bedroom to club pretty seamless. Even a relatively cheap DJ controller like the DDJ-400 Rekordbox has the same basic layout to enable you to progress to the Nexus range eventually. And the DDJ-200 costs even less while still giving you jog wheels, buttons and knobs to mix tracks from your PC or Mac or from apps on your smartphone or tablet.
WeDJ for iPhone is one such app that provides a tutorial to get you up and running so you can learn about the hardware. You will also be able to mix tunes depending on your device from your iTunes library or stream tracks from the likes of Soundcloud and even Spotify.
Native Instruments Traktor has been around for many years and is a very popular option. The Traktor Pro software offers huge flexibility and a multitude of features for a very low price. Four decks, hot cues, looping on the fly, loads of effects, beat sync and time stretching and so much more. The library allows you to tag your tracks by BPM, genre etc. and organise and search for them quickly and easily. Remix decks for further looping and one shot samples give you options to start creating new music within your DJ set.
Traktor DJ controllers
The best dj controller for Traktor is undoubtedly one of their own models. The S2 and flagship S4 controllers are specifically designed for complete integration with their own software. These will be set up and ready to play out of the box. Jog wheels, pads, faders and knobs give you direct control for sculpting your own unique sound. The options are virtually limitless when it comes to putting your own individual stamp on your DJ set. There are also the smaller Z1, F1 and X1 controllers if you want to start small but still have direct control of the software. The Z1 makes a great companion with the Traktor DJ app for smartphones and tablets.
Traktor software is also mappable so you’re not restricted to only using the Traktor hardware. Look around for the best dj midi controller that fits your needs and you can midi map the controls you want to customise your set up the way you want it.
Whatever route you choose to go down, the range of technology for the modern DJ is now so incredible that there is something to suit everyone. From those just starting out to seasoned professionals playing the clubs of Ibiza, the beats will keep sounding for a long time to come.