The Best Scratch DJ Controllers & Gear In 2023

Phil Morse | Read time: 7 mins
best dj controllers Learn To Scratch scratch dj gear
Last updated 11 January, 2023

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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 their scratch on with digital gear, we’ve got the best that’s currently out there now for you to choose from.

Contents

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!

Read this next: Platters vs Jogwheels – Which Is Best For DJing?

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 (like tension adjustments) that can be tweaked.

The Best Scratch DJ Controllers & Gear In 2023

1. Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV7

The Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV7 for Serato DJ Pro surprised everyone when Pioneer announced it at the start of 2022, not only because it is the first ever motorised controller from Pioneer DJ, but also because – along with the entry-level DDJ-REV1 – it is the first controller to actually copy the “scratch” layout of two turntables turned through 90 degrees.

There’s an awful lot else to like here, too: It is well laid out, with a close to full-sized mixer that copies the iconic DJM-S series of Serato DJ mixers, plus the motorised jogwheels are excellent. Pioneer DJ has also achieved the feat of managing to engineer in-jog displays into the platters, which all in all makes for a very desirable scratch controller indeed.

✅ Only motorised controller with in-jog displays
✅ Follows the classic scratch layout
❌ Bigger than Rane One
❌ Some may not like the deck “90 degree turn” layout

Price: $1999
Read our review: Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV7
Buy it now: Amazon


2. Rane Twelve MKII

While the Rane Twelve MKII 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, complete with “real” vinyl and slipmat. It also has buttons for cues and other functions. Plug two of these into a computer running Serato DJ Pro, and you can control four decks.

However, such a set-up doesn’t come cheap: A set of two Rane Twelves will cost you roughly as much as a full-featured motorised controller, plus you need to factor into your budget money for a Serato DJ-compatible mixer like the Rane Seventy-Two, if you don’t already have one, plus a Serato DJ Pro licence should your principal gear not unlock the software.

✅ Only full sized motorised controller out there
✅ Closest feel to using turntables
❌ Bulky
❌ You need to buy two!

Price: $899 each
More info: Rane Twelve MkII Launched
Buy it now: Amazon


3. Rane One

Rane’s first ever controller, the Rane One, was an instant hit on its release. Designed (as most digital scratch gear is) for Serato DJ Pro, it has two 7″ motorised platters with vinyl and slipmats, and a simple but powerful two-channel mixer.

While its layout doesn’t go as far as that of the Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV7 – insofar as the “decks” are not laid out scratch style – it still provides a beguilingly authentic DJing feel, with just the right amount of torque to the decks to make you quickly forget they’re not real turntables. It’s heavy and pro built in metal, but due to its smaller size, is more portable than its biggest rival, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV7.

✅ Rane build quality
✅ Very authentic-feeling decks
❌ Layout a bit cramped, especially the mixer

Price: $1599
Read our review: Rane One
Buy it now: Amazon


4.Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3

For Traktor DJs, this is your only option with motorised jogwheels – and it’s a cool one. 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.

Apart from that, you get a fully featured Traktor controller with useful feedback screens, long pitch controls, good pads, per-channel mixer effects (unusual, and great!), and lots of options for hooking up external gear, including DVS if you wish, making it a good choice for the scratch DJ.

✅ Portable and well-made with innovative motorised jogs
❌ Jogwheels don’t really feel like using vinyl, so take some getting used to

Price: $999
Read our review: Traktor Kontrol S4 Mk3
Buy it now: Amazon


5. Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000SRT

Many DJs play in clubs, and use the gear that the clubs provide – and that of course means Pioneer DJ CDJs – usually nowadays, the CDJ-3000s. And while it is prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of home users to go out and splurge on a pair of CDJ-3000s and a DJM-900NXS2 mixer, there is a controller that gives you the next best thing: the Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000SRT.

This is actually the Serato DJ version of Pioneer DJ’s iconic DDJ-1000 for Rekordbox. Both give you as close a representation of club DJ gear as you can get at home without spending silly money. Whether you go for the Serato version or not really depends on how you DJ on the “pro” Serato gear: If you use your laptop with Serato in clubs, get the DDJ-1000SRT; if not, the DDJ-1000 makes more sense.

✅ A proven controller layout that feels similar to using club gear
❌ Some do not feel the Serato mapping is as good as the Rekordbox mapping on its sister controller, the DDJ-1000

Price: $1699
Read our review: Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000SRT
Buy it now: The DJ Hookup


6. Phase DJ Wireless Controller

Phase is a wireless system comprised of a receiver that you connect to your DJ mixer, 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. Therefore, it can “convert” any turntables and mixer into a software DVS system, and works with all DJ software.

Read this next: A Beginner’s Guide To Digital Vinyl Systems

If you want to use turntables, and you don’t want the hassle of using control vinyl, tonearms, needles and all the rest of it, this is a great choice. Put it another way: It can turn any pair of turntables into the equivalent of a pair of Rane Twelves, at a fraction of the cost. It has been considerably improved since launch into a super-reliable and elegant way to scratch DJ.

✅ Portable, innovative
✅ Receiver doubles as a charging dock for the wireless remotes
❌ You’ll need a pair of turntables and mixer – factor this into budget
❌ Batteries need to be recharged regularly

Price: $520
Read our review: Phase DJ
Buy it now: Amazon


7. Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV1

Not pro gear by any stretch, and it has small, entry-level jogwheels that are no better than those found on countless beginner controllers, but what sets the DDJ-REV1 apart from all those other cheaper controllers is its layout.

With the DDJ-REV1, the “decks” part of the controller – just like its bigger brother, the DDJ-REV7 (see above) – are “rotated” through 90 degrees, putting the pitch control horizontal above the jog, and the play/pause button bottom right of the jog. This – combined with the “honey, I shrunk the DDJ-S series mixer” layout of the mixer area, means you’ve got what is actually a pretty faithful scratch layout on both the decks and the mixer.

✅ Authentic, if shrunk, scratch gear layout
❌ Small, plasticky
❌ Only comes with Serato DJ Lite

Price: $279
Read our review: Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV1
Buy it now: Amazon


8. Denon DJ DS1 audio interface

Nowadays, most pro DJ mixers are geared up to work with laptop software as DVS interfaces. Plug your laptop into such mixers, and add timecode vinyl to connected turntables, and you’ll get ready-to-roll DVS.

However, what if your mixer isn’t “DVS ready”? What if you prefer to use an all analogue mixer? What if you’ve got a perfectly good set of decks and mixer from years ago you simply want to use with DJ software? Denon DJ’s DS1 audio interface, which works with all DVS systems, is for you. It sits between your decks, mixer and computer, bringing any DJ gear into the world of DVS.

✅ Small, cheap
✅ Proven tech
❌ External interfaces are by their nature fiddly to set up

Price: $299
Read our review: Denon DJ DS1
Buy it now: Denon DJ website


Finally…

Whether you’re new to DJing or you’re making the transition from turntables and vinyl, there are lots of great digital DJ options for scratching today.

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.

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