In a world where nightclubs become more and more popular the DJ profession has become increasingly famous among young people. In fact, it is one of the career choices which has seen an upward spike in the last two decades. That by itself has led to more research and development going into DJ turntables, ultimately making them more unique and functional than ever. We made this buyer’s guide to give you some fundamental knowledge needed to spot the best turntable when shopping for one. Hopefully the tips, tricks, and advice we give you will be a solid stepping stone on your journey to becoming a great DJ performing multiple sets per week!
Before we continue with all the important things you need to know about turntables, we want to showcase the five best models we have handpicked for you. Below is a comparison chart of them followed by five brief previews of each turntable. If you want to see their full reviews click on the buttons below each preview.
Top DJ Turntables Comparison Chart
|Numark NS7III||31 lbs.||4||5/5||$$$$|
|Pioneer DDJ-SZ2||23 lbs.||4||5/5||$$$$$|
|NI Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2||10 lbs.||4||4.5/5||$$|
|Roland DJ-808||15 lbs.||4||4.5/5||$$$$|
|Numark Mixtrack Pro 3||4.1 lbs.||2||4.5/5||$|
Overall Best – Numark NS7III
Numark aren’t exactly the biggest DJ company out there but even so they managed to create a product almost too perfect both in terms of quality and in terms of pricing. There are a few flaws and tons of advantages of owning the NS7III but the low price basically negates any possible downside of the model. Owning it will turn heads in the night club and will make everyone’s night far much better. If you are a DJ who is looking for a great product at an even greater price, this is the right one for you. Check the full review to see more of its features and learn more about its strong and weak sides.
Best 4 Channel DJ Mixers
There are a lot of 4 channel mixers out there and in most cases they are integrated into a DJ controller along with two turntables. It is what DJs prefer as it has everything you will ever need in one place. It was hard to choose three models out of the tens of good ones but we did it anyway and now that we look at these rankings they really make sense. Let’s check them out …
First Place – Pioneer DDJ-SZ2
The DDJ-SZ2 by Pioneer is a truly revolutionary product. It packs all the necessary features a DJ controller must have. It’s mixer, the integrated dual sound-card system, the aluminum construction, both jog wheels, and tons of other features make it a go-to choice for most enthusiasts. It is priced a lot higher than the market’s average but then again it makes a lot more than an average controller. For a true DJ who is looking to amaze his crowd with style and incredible sound quality, this is the way to go.
Second Place – Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2
The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 deserves our second place for the 4-channel controllers for a multitude of reasons. First of all, it is the most practical and lightweight model of all we reviewed. It can easily be carried around and is compatible with all iOS devices through the Traktor Pro app. The overall quality of the construction, buttons, pads, and the two jog wheels further add to a premium feel at a no-so-premium price. This creates a product suitable for both beginners and professionals which has very few downsides. To find out more about it check out our full review on it by pressing the button below.
Third Place – Roland DJ-808
Even though it comes at our honorable third place, the Roland DJ-808 is still one of the best controllers out there. It packs a premium build and has one of the best sounds you can get out of a controller/mixer duo. There is a built-in drum machine which brings the drum quality over from the drumming department of Roland (where they are among the best as well). The performance pads, jog wheels, mixer’s properties and everything on top of that add to a professional feeling but also have a professional price tag. Still, if you are looking for a tool to dazzle your crowd with and to be able to rely on, this model is certainly the way to go. To learn more about it and get an in-depth idea of its strong sides check out our full review about it by clicking the button below.
Best DJ Controller For Beginners – Numark Mixtrack Pro 3
If you are just now entering the DJ world, there is no controller out there more suitable for you than the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3. It brings all the amazing features from the previous two generations, while also improving in almost every aspect. The Pro 3 packs premium material quality, excellent sound quality, and tons of buttons and customization options for a price not a lot of brands can compete with. On top of all that you get a free Serato DJ software allowing you to start practicing your DJ skills right away. All in all, the dimensions of the model combined with its size and durability make it a perfect tool for any enthusiast to travel with and enjoy it anywhere at any time.
DJ Mixers Buyer’s Guide
No matter your skill level, some basic guidance is always needed when shopping for a new mixer. In this buyer’s guide we have tried to cover the essentials of what is a mixer, what to look for, and also tried to add some more tips and pieces of information you might find useful at some point of your future career.
First, let’s answer the most important question…
What Exactly Is A DJ Mixer/Controller?
The easy explanation is that the controller (and in it – the mixer) is a piece of tech which combines all the instrumental and musical tools a DJ needs. Those are the job wheel, various tuning knobs, encoders, faders, crossfaders, and more modern stuff like touch strips. They are connected either to your laptop or have a screen of their own which allows you to control everything without external hardware.
To clear things up for the rest of the guide, it is important to mention that mixers exist on their own but when used by DJs they are part of their controller. So we will refer to mixers as controllers as it is the bigger thing which summarizes everything you need.
Most controllers have a built-in sound card in them which allows you to plug various sound gear into them (monitors, speakers, headphones, etc.). Typically, there are two jog wheels, pads with a multitude of functions and buttons, knobs to control the software features, and equalizer levers.
Pro Tip: Always make sure to check what software comes with your brand new controller. Those softwares are highly specific to the product and compatibility with DAWs and other DJ programs is often an issue. More on software in a moment.
As we said, there are two main kinds of controllers:
The names of both kinds basically tell you what they are but still let’s explain it further. Modular rigs are the ones which have all the necessary tools as separate units. Those are the mixers (analog or digital), sound cards, jog wheels, etc.
All-in-one systems use a more basic approach to all that by combining everything at one place. They are quite bigger and heavier but have pretty much all you need in a single piece of equipment. Most professionals choose them mainly for the convenience they offer. One thing that goes up tremendously with those all-in-one platforms is the price but it is still cheaper to get one than getting all its components as different units. Unless they are single jog wheel models they can cost you an arm and a leg. The best thing, though, is that you will be able to control the system without the need for a laptop or computer. Once again, if you own an all-in-one turntable that will be basically all you need.
If you want to learn how to mix like a true DJ, head over to our special article on the topic.
Choosing The Right Model For Your Needs
The absolute first thing you have to consider when buying your first controller has to be the budget. Prices for DJ equipment vary heavily and can range from a hundred dollars to thousands. Our main advice with the price tag is to be ready to spend a few extra bucks on a model that will last you longer, have more options, and fewer issues. Still, if you are on a budget, some of our top 5 selections are ideal for the job.
The next thing you have to consider is what will the controller be used for? Are you still a beginner who just wants a model which is great to learn on or are you a professional who wants a piece of equipment to take on his gigs? Those two questions pretty much divide models into two groups – more basic ones and advanced models.
Next up is to consider how will you be using it. Options are either through a laptop/computer, through a mixer (which can be built in) or a controller. The ones which do not require a connected laptop usually have software that comes with them and are a bit more expensive due to the fact that they work as a stand-alone equipment. Those are the ones we reviewed as 4 channel mixers.
Another thing you should take into account is the number of jog wheels you will need. More advanced DJs need two mainly for mixing purposes but if you simply want to learn how to scratch, for example, go with one for now.
Next in line is the type of connectivity you want. Basic controllers have a standard USB or RCA type of connection. Some have both, and others which are a tad more expensive have wireless connectivity. Wireless sounds great on paper but we wouldn’t recommend it for more professional environments as there always is interference with the connection, especially in bigger clubs. The USB connection requires you to have apps and software along with the turntable since you will be using it through an external device. Those apps and programs usually cost money but the software needed is often given for free with the main product (or at least heavily discounted).
Now, let’s talk about something really important, which often is left unmentioned:
The Turntable Motors In Your Controller
There are two main types of motors which can be found in your turntable:
- Direct-Drive Motors
- Belt-Driven Motors
With the direct ones your motor will be placed directly beneath the jog wheel while the belt-driven models have their motor slightly aside and is connected with the jog wheel axis via a rubber band. Of course, it is fairly obvious which one is better for scratching or other DJ tricks – the direct one. Belt-driven motors often have different levels of fluctuations which in the DJ world are very unwanted. Motors which use belts are also more unreliable in the long run, so if you are thinking about the longevity of your equipment, go with a direct-drive motor turntable.
Want to know how to set up your home studio and what to put in it? Check out our article on the topic!
Now, it’s time to talk a bit about the software part of DJing, as it is equally as important for people who are looking for a decent controller.
All You Need To Know About DJ Software
It is untrue that the DJ controller does all the work. In fact, the true essence of DJing lies within the software programs that are being used. Your mixer/controller’s sole purpose will be to control the software you have. In this music industry there is one thing that will never change and that is that a great sound will only come through great software. Equipment rarely matters, even in the DJ world. As we said, the more you pay the better control you will have over what will be coming out of your equipment. Cheaper controllers doesn’t necessarily mean worse sound quality but for sure mean fewer controls.
The things that are always included in a basic DJ software are:
- Various music effects
- A number of filters
- Samples (external and internal ones)
- Crossfading options
- Tuning options
After you get your hands on a new DJ system, all that will be left is to get a great software for it! Usually, some models come with a free software pack but those are bad more often than never. Some come with a demo version while the complete program has to be purchased.
Pro Tip: Make sure your controller supports the software of your choice (or the one that you’ve been using so far), as most do not support everything on the market.
Usually, new users go with the already well-established and familiar software programs. Let’s see which those are and discuss them a little further below:
- Ableton Live
- Traktor Pro 1 and 2
Most DJs prefer Ableton Live mainly for the fact that back in the time when it was introduced there was little to no competition for it and thus they got used to it and never wanted to change to something more modern. Luckily, Ableton progressed through the years as well and is now what most consider one of the most well-rounded DJ softwares. With its single window interface and tons of professional tools included there are few apps on today’s market that can rival it.
The most iconic feature on this program is that it has a live arrangement section. This allows you to drag elements or samples of your own directly onto the ongoing mix to make it sound more interesting. There is a whole library with effects to help you spice things up. Also, there is a built-in browser to check for things you have in mind while mixing.
Assigning controls to your controller’s knobs, sliders, and buttons is a pretty straightforward process here. All in all, the ease of use, good price, and overall functionality make this software one of the top choices for not only DJs but other musicians as well.
Traktor Pro 1 and 2
Traktor Pro is made by a company called Native Instruments. What is so special about this company is that they make their own hardware and also produce software for it (and for other external products for that matter). Traktor Pro is a software that comes for free with all NI models but not all other DJ controllers support it, so have that in mind.
What’s unique about Traktor is that it has a customizable interface and has a feature called Remix Deck which is a true favorite of ours. It allows you to play around with the components of your mix easily. There are a few versions of Traktor ranging from entry-level stuff to a pro version which we are talking about here.
Generally speaking, Traktor Pro is a software that is at least a level more professional than all the others. For that reason, its price is double that of other good programs like Ableton, for example. We do not recommend it to new users as the price may be higher than the controller itself. Once you climb up the ladder, though, we say go for it!
Unlike the rest, this software doesn’t give you a ton of customization and configuration options. On the other hand, it has one of the easiest interfaces to work with and is ideal for newcomers. It has the same downside as Traktor since it is priced really high. If you can get a discount coupon for it, you should definitely get it. On regular price, though, there are better things to spend that much money on.
Another downside is that it handles poorly in a standalone mode so you must have an external audio interface with it which will add another hundred bucks to your spendings. Still, the iTunes integration, EQ options, visualization, and expansion packs make this software favorite to many part DJs.
Deckadance 1 and 2
For all the groove producers, turntablists, club and mobile DJs, and home-studio enthusiasts the software called Deckadance is ideal. It performs insanely well as a standalone program which eliminates the need for a sound card (in most cases). The second version “Deckadance 2” is a great improvement over the original product as it can run VST compliant effects and synths which gives you as much creative freedom as you’ll ever get from a DJ software.
The price of this software is far less than what Traktor and Serato cost and it works equally well, which to us makes it a no-brainer to not get it instead of those!