When it comes to buying a first DJ controller, the main price point for beginners is the $300 to $500 mark, which we looked at here. You get all you need to learn to DJ at that level.
Once you step into the $500 to $1000 price band, which this roundup concentrates on, you’re at the very top end of the entry-level, and entering professional territory.
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At this level, as well as better build quality and “full” software, you can expect four channels as the norm, as well as auxiliary inputs, the latter letting you plug in extra gear on top of using the controller just to control your DJ software. These auxiliary inputs won’t just be after thoughts, either, but integrated into the mixing hardware.
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Other features to look out for are proper separate booth and master outputs, typically with a balanced master output for running pro cables to PA equipment; better performance pads and effects control (sometimes even with hardware effects); even motorised jogwheels.
Overall, what you’re paying extra for is something that is more “pro”. You wouldn’t look out of place DJing in public on any of these controllers – although some are more suited to that task than others, as we will see.
A word about software
We cover controllers here for all four big software platforms: Serato, Rekordbox, Traktor and Virtual DJ. They all work fine on Mac and Windows.
Note that if you want to use Virtual DJ software, the good news is that all of these controllers work with it. The bad news is that you’ll have to subscribe to or pay for the software, as none is provided with it “in the box”.
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4 Best DJ Controllers $500 to $1000
1. Roland DJ-707M
An unassuming mid-sized controller for Serato, with small jogwheels and a lightweight build, this controller doesn’t look like much at first glance. But it is packed with features that working DJs will find invaluable.
The basics: It’s a four-channel controller for Serato DJ, that also lets you plug in four external sources (two can be record decks), as well as two microphones, each of which has full three-band EQ and vocal FX.
There’s proper (if a little limited) control over Serato’s effects, as well as separate filter/FX per channel. The RGB pads control practically all of Serato’s pad functions. There is even a built-in sequencer (well, this is Roland).
You get balanced and unbalanced master outs, balanced booth out, and even a zone out (for playing different music in a separate “zone” of your venue). You can plug in two laptops too, for a backup or DJ changeover.
Under the skin, there is the ability to set “scenes” for frequently-played venues, specifying things like mic feedback control, overall EQ, even compression and a limiter on your output.
If you’re a gigging pro DJ who needs to take your own controller to your event, stick this in a flight case and you’ll have a pro-looking, portable power house. It’s a worthy winner in this price range.
2. Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3
This is a lovely controller for Traktor users. A decent size, with two unique motorised jogwheels, it also has four channels, all of which can take external inputs (two of which can be phono, like the Roland unit).
It has small but useful screens for each of its two decks, good pads, long tempo faders, full control over Traktor’s FX, plus particularly powerful “mixer FX” which give you a customisable choice of four FX plus filter for each channel – and you can have different ones on each channel.
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It has two microphone channels, although a weakness is that these go through actual mixer channels rather than having separate routing.
It has “haptic feedback” on the decks which is a bit gimmicky if truth be told, but if you want Traktor, this is the pinnacle, and it’s a fine controller to DJ on.
3. Pioneer DJ DDJ-800
Basically a cut-down version of the company’s DDJ-1000 Rekordbox controller, one of the most successful DJ controllers of all time, the DDJ-800 is different because it has only two channels instead of four. If you only need two channels though, you’re getting basically the same device but in a smaller, more portable format.
That means pro club layout, full hardware effects that are very similar to those on Pioneer club mixers, and great jogs and pitch faders (albeit a bit smaller than on the DDJ-1000). The jogs have proper, mechanical tension adjusters, unlike all other controllers in this price bracket.
You can plug in two external sources that go right through the mixer, which can be line or phono, although this feature is a little less useful when the mixer itself is only two channel.
There are two mic inputs, which have their own level controls but which share a two-band EQ, and you get a balanced master output alongside the unbalanced master and booth outputs.
A great choice for Rekordbox – but you’ll want to consider carefully whether to shell out the extra for its bigger brother, the DDJ-1000.
4. Pioneer DJ DDJ-FLX6 Rekordbox/Serato Controller
The cheapest of the controllers here, this is really an oversized DDJ-400 with proper jogwheels and a four-channel mixer. So while the other controllers in this round-up are smaller professional devices, this lacks most of those pro features.
The good side: Great jogwheels (the biggest of any controller here) and the familiar Pioneer DJ club layout. Some will love the “Merge FX” for instant EDM build-ups; it’d certain be hard to replicate what this (to my mind rather gimmicky) knob does any other way.
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But it lacks any aux inputs, there are no pro outputs, the performance pads are poor for this price, and the single mic input is basic, with no EQ at all.
For having fun with at home, livestreaming, and at small parties, the FLX6 works. But for pro use, no. (Oh, and forget Serato – this is a Rekordbox controller first and foremost, and the Serato implementation is not very good.)
As you’ve seen, the things that differentiate these controllers from each other will be a big part of your choice.
Do you want motorised jogs? There’s only one choice. The ability to plug in two laptops? Again, only one choice. True pro features? That rules out the FLX6. Need four channels? Don’t go for the DDJ-800. And so on.
That’s why if you’re unsure, again we always recommend you start with a $300-$500 controller and not one of these. Only when you’ve used a controller like that for a while will you know what features are worth your extra money when it’s time to upgrade.
Read this next: 5 Best DJ Controllers Over $1000
That said, it’ll take you a long time to outgrow any of these, with the exception of the FLX6 (which you’ll outgrow at the point of wanting to use it for paid gigs). And while it may look the least impressive of any of the four here, the one you’re least likely to outgrow is the Roland DJ-707M, which is why it is our winner.