You don’t need a turntable if you want to scratch, at least not anymore: you can scratch on pretty much any DJ controller equipped with a jogwheel. But not all jogwheels work and feel the same: most controller jogwheels are static pieces of plastic, while some have kinetic jogwheels that spin to emulate a turntable’s platter.
Whether you’re new to DJing and you want to learn how to scratch, or you’re a vinyl DJ who’d like to get his or her scratch on with digital gear, we’ve got the best that’s currently out there now for you to choose from.
Features to consider
As scratching is truly an art form, the way gear feels to you is important. Some DJ controllers have motorised platters that spin along with the virtual decks in your software. This spinning action produces a force known as torque. Platter torque can be an important controller characteristic for a turntablist because it emulates the feel of a turntable’s spinning platter, making the DJ feel “at home” when scratching on a controller.
Most DJ controllers have no torque at all because the platters do not physically spin as the song plays, and this can be the single biggest adjustment vinyl and battle DJs will have to make when transitioning from turntables to a controller – although if you’ve never scratched on turntables or motorised platters before, it won’t be an adjustment at all!
A crossfader curve knob on the controller or mixer is also essential: This knob controls how smooth or how sharp the crossfader will blend or cut from one deck to another. Battle DJs set their crossfader curves at the sharpest setting to minimise fader travel, which lets them cut the sound on and off quickly.
Many controllers will have fairly cheap carbon track crossfaders, which aren’t the smoothest and most robust. The best DJ crossfaders today are magnetic (Rane Seventy-Two, Pioneer DJ DJM-S9) and capacitive (Innofader). They are accurate, last much longer than standard crossfaders, and have parameters that can be tweaked like tension adjustments.
7 Best Controllers For Scratching 2019
1. Rane Twelve (Serato DJ)
While the Rane Twelve looks like a turntable, it’s actually a DJ controller for Serato DJ Pro – no needle or tonearm here. It packs a 12″ motorised platter that emulates the feel and torque of a real turntable for the ultimate in digital DJ scratching. A set of two Rane Twelves will cost you roughly as much as a full-featured Numark NS7III controller, plus you need to factor in a budget for a Serato DJ-compatible mixer like the Rane Seventy-Two if you don’t already have one.
Pros: Gets you that turntable look and feel without the heft and drawbacks of an analogue turntable
Cons: Heavy, more set up time needed than an all-in-one controller
Price: US$799 each
2. Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000 (Rekordbox DJ) / DDJ-1000SRT (Serato DJ Pro)
If you think you’d prefer scratching on CDJs, or that’s what you usually DJ on, this bad boy is for you. That’s because the Pioneer DDJ-1000 feels like a Pioneer DJM-900NXS2 four-channel mixer with a Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2 on either side. What’s more, the Pioneer’s DDJ-1000 has a Magvel crossfader, stated as being reliable for more than 10 million movements (due to its contact-free construction).
Pros: The closest you’ll get to a CDJ/DJM experience on a controller, comes with a standalone mixer that has Beat FX and Sound Color FX
Cons: No motorised platters, mechanical jogwheels take getting used to if you’ve been DJing on capacitive jogs
Price: US$1199 (DDJ-1000), US$1299 (DDJ-1000SRT)
3. Numark NS7III (Serato DJ)
The Numark NS7III is one of the older controllers on this list (we reviewed it back in 2015) but it’s still a good choice. It has motorised jogwheels with slipmats and even vinyl on top of the jogs for added turntable realness. You can change the platter torque from high to low to match your preference or mood, and you can even turn the platter motors off.
Despite looking like a standalone DJ controller (ie no laptop required), you do need to connect it to a laptop if you want to spin with it. Another thing to consider is they’ve got onboard displays that show horizontal waveforms only. If you prefer vertical waveforms for scratching, you can’t toggle them here.
Pros: Motorised jogwheels have vinyl on top of them, adjustable torque, decent crossfader
Cons: Heavy for a controller – it weighs 14kg, no vertical waveforms in the displays
Read our review: Numark NS7III
Buy it now: Numark NS7III
4. Roland DJ-505 (Serato DJ)
The Roland DJ-505 is a mid-tier unit that combines a DJ controller with a sequencer. For US$600 you’re getting a device with reasonably large, chunky jogwheels and an intermediate digital DJ feature set. Something the Roland DJ-505 has which other controllers in this price range doesn’t is a built-in drum machine that you can use to sequence beats to scratch over and make DJ edits on the fly.
Pros: Relatively affordable, decent jogwheels, compact and light (just under 3.5kg)
Cons: No motorised platters, sequencer / drum machine may be unnecessary for some DJs
Read our review: Roland DJ-505
Buy it now: Roland DJ-505
5. Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3 (Traktor Pro)
For Traktor DJs, this controller is the closest option to the NS7III. The silent, motorised “Haptic Feedback” jogwheels feel less like small pieces of vinyl and more futuristic with blingy lights rotating around them that show you deck needle positions. The jogwheels vibrate when the playhead passes over a cue point – truly innovative – which lets you focus on the crowd instead of your laptop’s screen.
Pros: Motorised jogwheels are silent, adjustable torque, decent crossfader, lightweight considering the kinetic jogs
Cons: The stock crossfader isn’t particularly known for being scratch-worthy, geared towards non-turntablists
Read our review: Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3
Buy it now: Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3
6. Phase DJ Wireless Controller (any DJ software with DVS)
Phase is a wireless system comprised of a receiver that you connect to your DJ mixer / interface and a pair of remotes that you place on the turntable’s spindle. These remotes send rotation data to the receiver, which are then converted as timecode signals that are sent to your DVS DJ software. If you absolutely, positively must have turntables on the road, Phase can help you handle dust, weather, moisture, and any other environmental factors while spinning because it takes the needle and tonearm out of the picture.
Pros: Portable, innovative, receiver doubles as a charging dock for the wireless remotes
Cons: Teething issues since launch which have yet to be resolved in a firmware update at the time of this writing, and you’ll also need a pari of turntables and mixer which needs to be factored into budget
Read our review: Phase DJ
Buy it now: Phase DJ
7. Hercules DJControl Starlight (Serato DJ)
This Serato DJ controller retails for US$80 and has mini jogwheels with a crossfader, an audio interface, and four cue pads. It’s included here just because it’s insanely portable, and, yes, you CAN scratch on it, which is by itself amazing. It does only come with Serato DJ Lite software (you can upgrade to Serato DJ Pro which costs more than the controller) but as a backup device for shows, practice sessions on the bus, and even low-key gigs, it’s a great value.
Pros: Very affordable, highly portable, fun to use
Cons: Tiny jogs may not be ideal for those just starting out, doesn’t come with pro DJ software
Read our review: Hercules DJControl Starlight
Buy it now: Hercules DJControl Starlight
With the amount of innovative and unique DJ gear out there making turntablism more portable and accessible, you can easily find the right DJ controller for scratching, no matter your skill level, aspirations, and budget. Whether you want to go totally digital and ditch the decks, or you want to keep it old school by using your turntables but having a digital bridge that lets you do away with some of the impracticalities of analogue, the options above should be on your shortlist.
If you’ve tried and failed to scratch before and want to learn how to do it the right way on YOUR gear, then check out our complete online course Scratching For Controller DJs. Want some FREE scratch sounds and practice beats? Grab ’em here!
Turntablists, what is your preferred gear when doing a mobile gig? If you’re a battle DJ, would you want to use any of these in your sets? We’d love to hear your thoughts.