Controller Clinic #41: Best DJ Controller Under $400?

Last updated 6 August, 2017

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Numark Mixtrack Pro 3
Should you be content to use whatever DJ software comes stock with a DJ controller you really like? We find out…

Today’s post was inspired by a thread on the Digital DJ Tips forum, from where this answer comes. Our reader said: “I think I’ll use Virtual DJ or Serato, but it really doesn’t matter to me: I’d rather get a controller and buy software accordingly.” As you’ll see, though, we don’t think this is the right way to go…

Digital DJ Tips says:

(Before we get going, if you want general Dj controller & software advice and aren’t already a member, joining Digital DJ Tips for free gets you both our DJ software and DJ hardware 2015 guides, that you’ll be given in your welcome email – these have 100,000 downloads a year and will tell you all you need to know with solid recommendations.)

Starting your journey with the choice of a controller and then just accepting the software that it comes with is just not a good way of going about things. It might lead to spending too much money on the wrong thing while the same amount of money could have yielded a choice that far better fits you.

The controller itself will take relatively little time to figure out and switching later on isn’t all that difficult. The software however takes way more time to figure out, prepping tracks will eat up many of your hours and having to redo all that work because you want to switch software later on is really a b*tch (I know, been there, done that).

Another example is that Virtual DJ for example comes with almost no controllers (although it is compatible with many), whereas today Serato DJ / Serato DJ Intro comes with just about all controllers. If you decide to go for Traktor, Traktor controllers are pretty much the only really prudent choice, with the S2 being the “budget/beginner” version. But you can also look at software like Mixvibes Cross (lot like Serato in features, but a lot cheaper at 49 bucks – almost – full version, with free upgrades). Or the new DJay Pro (Mac only).

Then there is the question of buying new versus used. Especially if you can verify the proper working and state of used gear, buying used isn’t that bad of a choice, especially if you plan on upgrading somewhere in the (near) future. Many beginner controllers end up being sold after a few months as people find out DJing isn’t really for them or beginners grow and upgrade.

Since the beginner controller is often used mainly for practice and the odd house party and such, it will not have seen a rough life on the road as some of the more (semi)-pro units out there and be in pretty good shape. And while updated a bit, a Mixtrack Pro 2 will function just as well as it’s new incarnation the Mixtrack Pro 3. Even the original Mixtrack Pro 1 will be fine to get your first bearing in DJing on.

Think about your workflow

A prudent step before picking software is determining your (desired) workflow. While this is very hard if you are just starting, there are questions you can ask yourself that will help get you started in the right direction. These include, but are in no way limited to:

Once you answered those and more questions and have an idea of what you are looking for in your software, things like track management, analysis, key mixing tools, scratch support, video support, (parallel) waveforms in (multi)colour, number and quality of FX, sample/remix deck/flip, compatibility with other gear (Pioneer club set-ups for example), integration with iTunes and other software, import/export functions, customisable skins and the list goes on, then you can compare software and find which one best suits your purpose, (intended) workflow, budget and goals.

Once you picked your software and have set your budget (good news here is that $400 will get you a good beginner controller and might even leave you some money towards buying the full version of whatever software you pick), go and find the best controller for you!

While I appreciate your eagerness to “just get started”, I seriously recommend spending just a little more time in preparation and homework. This will lead to a far better experience and save you potential disappointment and wasted time, money and effort later on. We don’t want to have a “we told you so” moment in the future.

Do you think it’s a safe bet to use the “default” software of a DJ controller you’re interested in? Share your wisdom with our reader in the comments section below.

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