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Best Beginner DJ Controllers 2020/2021

In recent years, the beginner DJ controller has replaced the starter DJ bundle as the best way to enjoy mixing. If you, or a loved one, has aspirations of rocking the dance floor then a smart device (iOS or Android) or home computer (Mac or PC) can be combined with a DJ controller, some headphones and monitors to create a very capable DJ set up.

With the explosion of entry level DJ technology over the last five years, you'd be forgiven for struggling to make a choice when it comes to the best beginner DJ controller. There are a number of factors which influence the choice of entry level controller, from budget through to streaming capabilities and so much more in between. Here at Westend DJ we believe that the choice doesn't need to be quite so complicated, with this in mind we'd recommend the following considerations before making your choice.

Before you dive into the hardware choices, you should consider the software options. There are three big players in the dj software world, Traktor from NI, Rekordbox from Pioneer DJ and Serato DJ from Serato. Each platform offers unique features tailored towards the needs of users – here’s a quick run-down of what’s on offer.

Rekordbox

Pioneer DJ’s CDJ and DJM product lines have been the industry standard for digital djs for over 15 years. When the CDJ-2000 was introduced in 2009 it was accompanied by Rekordbox – which at the time was a database management tool. Fast forward to 2015 and Pioneer DJ added the “DJ” plus pack – which included, for the first time, performance features for controller users.

Over the past few years, the rate of development has been lightning fast - especially when compared to the other platforms mentioned here – with improvements and add-ons appearing every few months. Recent features include lighting control, cloud music management as well as streaming options. The beauty of using Rekordbox is that transitioning to industry standard kit is simple – all of the cue points and loops created while mixing can be exported for use with both CDJ and XDJ products.

Serato DJ

Serato DJ started life as a digital vinyl system (DVS). As controllers became popular Serato added Itch as an alternative to Traktor and Virtual DJ. As the boundaries between DVS control and controllerist DJs began to blur Serato merged the Scratch Live and Itch platforms to create Serato DJ – which is available in Lite and Pro variants. Rane's Seventy Two battle mixer is the only DVS mixer to be included in DMC's permitted kit list - which reinforces the strength of Serato DJ as the choice of many professional turntablists.

Beginner DJ controllers which ship with Serato software usually include Serato DJ Lite. This can be upgraded to the full version by purchasing a digital license code which unlocks Serato DJ Pro. Unlike Rekordbox, which can only be used with specific Pioneer DJ controllers, Serato DJ offers a wide choice of hardware upgrades. Numark, Denon DJ, Rane, Mixars, Reloop and Pioneer DJ all make Serato DJ compatible controllers.

Traktor DJ

Arguably the platform that started it all, Traktor was originally the “brain” of Final Scratch from Stanton DJ. Native Instruments developed the software and created dedicated controllers which launched in 2010 with the entry level Kontrol S2 landing shortly after the flagship S4. Native’s platform offers some of the coolest features on board, such as the ability to use the EQ settings from the Allen & Heath Xone 92 mixer. There are also remix decks and STEMS to expand the creative possibilities.

To get the best from Traktor, you’ll need Native Instruments hardware. However, your upgrade options are greater than with any other software as Traktor Pro is essentially “open” – you can MIDI map any controller to the software. While this flexibility opens up a number of intermediate and pro-grade controllers to users of Traktor, not all of the functionality is available when MIDI mapping and some visual feedback prompts will be lost – so do consider this before diving in.

With the software options out of the way, let’s move on to the hardware.

Rather than trying to provide information on every beginner DJ controller that’s available, we’ve chosen to focus on the best that’s available for each software platform mentioned above for under £250.

Best Rekordbox Beginner DJ Controller – Pioneer DJ DDJ-400

First up we’ll take a look at the Pioneer DJ DDJ-400. This is the best beginner DJ controller for those interested in the Rekordbox platform. It features a familiar club-style layout for all the key functions, with the play, cue, jog wheel and pitch controls just where you’d expect to find them. On the mixer front, the DJM effect button activates the software selected FX – it’s just like using one of the bigger DJM mixers! The DDJ-400 is a Rekordbox 6 unlock product – once connected via USB you’ll have access to all the software functions you could need to get mixing.

Pros Cons
✔ Club-style layout. ✗ Only available in black.
✔ Rekordbox 6 hardware unlock.  
✔ Learn the Pioneer DJ way.  

Best Serato DJ Beginner DJ Controller – Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX

This was a tough decision to reach. There are a number of controllers all competing for the top spot, with the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3, Hercules Inpulse500, Roland DJ-202 and Numark Mixtrack Pro FX all offering great features for beginners. In all honesty, the Hercules would have taken the crown thanks to the light guide, but it’s just out of our sub £250 price range (check out our mini review below). The Mixtrack Platinum FX has big jog wheels, large pitch faders for accurate mixing and an effects section lifted from the Numark Scratch mixer. Add to that, in-jog displays for BPM and the ability to control up to four channels and the Platinum FX is a clear winner for under £250!

Pros Cons
✔ Big jog wheels. ✗ Big jogs = wide controller.
✔ Long pitch faders.  
✔ 4 channel control.  

Best Traktor DJ Beginner DJ Controller – Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK3

As we mentioned earlier, Traktor is open software so any MIDI controller could be mapped to use it. In reality, it’s very unlikely that a beginner is going to tackle this task, which reduces the potential candidates to just one – the Traktor Kontrol S2 MK3 from Native Instruments. This third generation S2 is the lowest priced controller to claim a top spot.  This doesn’t mean that NI have cut any corners with this unit, build quality is solid, and Native Instruments have been integrating hardware and software for some time now – it’s second nature to the Berlin based manufacturer and it really shows. The on-screen layout mirrors the controller perfectly – easing beginners into the world of Traktor and DJing.

Pros Cons
✔ Attractive price. ✗ Limited upgrade options.
✔ Mature software platform.  
✔ Seamless software integration.  

Best iOS/Android Beginner DJ Controller – Pioneer DJ DDJ-200

OK, slight curveball – if you’re in need of a controller but don’t have a Mac or PC that meets the minimum system requirements, but you have a smart device running iOS or Android then Pioneer DJ have the perfect beginner DJ controller – the DDJ-200! You might be wondering why the DDJ-200 didn’t win the Rekordbox top spot – well, as great as this pocket powerhouse is when used with an app – it lacks an onboard audio interface, and so requires your smart device to do the lifting here. It’s supplied with a cable which connects to a 3.5mm headphone jack (users of newer handsets may need to purchase a separate adapter) and can happily stream from a number of platforms (but not Spotify – the loophole previously exploited by Algoriddim’s Djay has been well and truly closed). The WEDJ app makes mixing a breeze and is great for beginners with an excellent tutorial mode to speed up the process.

Pros Cons
✔ Sub £120 price point. ✗ No audio-interface.
✔ Wide range of app options.  
✔ Easy to use WEDJ app.  

Hercules Inpulse 500 – Mini Review

Yet another curveball. At the time of writing this review originally, the Inpulse500 was priced at £279 and so it didn’t fit the criteria for our sub £250 beginner DJ controller buyers guide. Fast forward to the end of 2020 (what a crazy year) and this unit is now available at £250 – which is exceptionally good value for money.

The first thing you notice with the Inpulse500 is just how solid everything feels – every pot and control offers great resistance. Build quality has not been sacrificed to hit a price point. In fact, Hercules haven’t cut any corners to deliver a really intuitive learning system. The light guide tech has already been utilised elsewhere in the Inpulse range, but here it’s working in conjunction with Serato DJ to provide a simple to follow system that helps with pitch bend and adjustment to build confidence in the user. Learning whether to pitch up or down is a key skill for any beginner DJ, Hercules have recognised this and made it simple to combine a visual prompt with the audio output – speeding up the development of this vital skill. Sound quality is great, considering the price point, and the aux input is a nice feature. Bundle the Inpulse500 with a pair of HDP HD45 and Monitor32 and you’ve got a great entry level package for less than £350 – an absolute bargain.

Pros Cons
✔ Intuitive light guide system. ✗ The unit is quite big.
✔ Excellent build quality.  
✔ Amazing low price.  

Hopefully the information we've provided above will help you choose the right beginner dj controller. If you still need further guidance please don't hesitate to get in touch, by phone, live chat or email - we'll do our best to answer any questions you may still have. If you've reached a decision on the beginner DJ controller don't forget to add headphones and speakers to create a complete beginner dj package. If you'd like some suggestions check out our beginner dj packages section.


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