5 Crucial Decisions When Picking The Perfect DJ Controller This Christmas

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 4 mins
Last updated 8 November, 2017

Is a new DJ controller your musical gift to yourself this Christmas? Buying for someone else? Being bought for? This article will help you choose. Pic from: zazzle.com
Is a new DJ controller your musical gift to yourself this Christmas? Buying for someone else? Being bought for? This article will help you choose. Pic from: zazzle.com

Whether you’re buying for yourself, having a controller bought for you, or buying one for someone else this Christmas, nowadays more than ever, the decision can be really confusing; you can easily find yourself paralysed when faced with the choices in front of you.

So to help you make sense of what’s out there, here are five decisions people face when choosing. Understanding these options will help you to hone in on the perfect controller. If you’d like more guidance, there’s info at the end as to how you can join the thousands who’ve already grabbed a copy of our free book, How To Choose A DJ Controller 2014.

  1. Should I go for all-in-one or modular? – Modular is when you build up a control system of “separates”, a bit like a hi-fi with separate amp, radio, CD player etc. Whereas all-in-one controllers are definitely best for the vast majority of users (they’re self-contained, and easy to set up and use), if you’re more experienced, you play with digital vinyl, or regularly DJ in clubs, you may prefer the flexibility of a modular system. Just bear in mind that you’ll need to ensure you buy the right “bits” to make the whole, you’ll probably need a separate sound card (see point 3 below), and such systems invariably need a lot more work to get them how you want them than “all in one” systems
  2. What software is best for the hardware I want? (Or vice versa) – All DJ controllers come with software in the box. Frankly, unless you know what you’re doing, you are definitely best sticking with the software the manufacturer suggests and offers. Especially nowadays, software and hardware manufacturers – if not the same company – are working far more effectively together to make sure your experience is a good one when you use their products as suggested. The big thing to watch out for is “LE” or “Intro” software. This is “cut down” software designed to “get you going”. Bottom line is you’ll want to upgrade, which is an extra cost, and it can be as little as $40 (Traktor, currently on offer) up to a whopping $300 (Virtual DJ when full price is paid)
  3. Do I need a controller that also has CD players or USB connectivity? – It can be tempting, especially when you’re coming from CD or even vinyl to digital, to go for a system that can work with not only with a laptop and software, but that also works with USB sticks and CDs. This will cover the best of both worlds, goes the thinking. In truth, for most DJs, you’ll find you rarely if ever end up using the CD or USB functions, as it’s so much more fun to use digital with its waveforms, FX and extra goodies. If you’ve got a huge CD collection you don’t ever want to “rip” to digital, or you’re a mobile guy, or you definitely know you’re going to want to DJ sometimes without a laptop, by all means go for such a system – but in our experience, most people end up wishing they’d just gone all the way and chosen out-and-out digital model
  4. Should I buy a cheaper, older model, or go for a recently released controller? – Two things here. Firstly, controllers made more than, say, three years ago, tend to have worse jogwheel performance than modern controllers. That means the jogwheels don’t sound as good when you’re doing vinyl-type stuff with them, and they’re not as responsive. Secondly, older controllers may not be supported actively by the software companies. If the controller you’re thinking of is not hugely old, and can work with the most modern version of the software package it comes with/you want to use it with, then you may be able to snag a bargain here, but if you’re not sure, then go for something recent
  5. How do I know if I need a “sound card” or “audio interface” as well? – A few years ago, you always needed one of these, as controllers were just that – controllers, designed to control the DJ software. Nowadays, practically all but the cheapest have audio built-in too. That means they take the task of actually making the sounds away from the computer and do it internally with their own circuitry, typically upping the quality and giving all the outputs a DJ needs. It’s totally simple to check if the controller in front of you has a built-in audio interface or not: See if you can find a headphones socket on it. If you can, you’re covered. If not, or if you’re building up a modular system, you’re going to need one, and the minimum spec for a DJ sound card is “4-out”

Want more help?

Now in its fourth year, this guide has helped tens of thousands of DJs to choose wisely.

Our How To Choose A DJ Controller 2014 guide contains everything you need to choose a DJ controller wisely. In conjunction with our DJ Controllers: The Ultimate Buyers Guide 2014 directory, and the comprehensive reviews and videos on this site, you’ll find everything you need to decide.

To get the guide, you just need to be a member of Digital DJ Tips. It’s free, and you can unsubscribe at any time, so join up now and we’ll send you a link to your guide by return. (If you already get our emails, check your mail from Dec 13 2013, where you’ll find your link to the guide.) Happy hunting! 🙂

Are you buying your first DJ controller, or buying for someone else, this Christmas? Let us know your plans in the comments below!

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