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Drop it like it’s hot! The top 10 Dj controllers of all time

Authors side note: Although this post contains reviews of the 10 best DJ controllers, nothing, in my opinion, beats Novation and Numark. Enjoy reading 🙂


#1 Novation TWITCH DJ Controller – a completely new take on DJing

In the world of music technology Novation is a brand name that I instantly associate with innovation and quality.

As a producer and DJ I have owned many of Novation’s products over the years and I have always been satisfied with what they have had to offer

I have found their midi controller keyboards with their patented AutoMap technology to be an absolute godsend both in the studio and on stage.

On its release Novation’s Automap was an incredible leap for music technology enabling producers and musicians to manipulate their virtual synths and effects in real time using physical controls on their keyboard or midi controller!

And now, I am pleased to see that Novation has continued their long tradition of innovation by teaming up with leading DJ software manufacturer Serato to give us the Twitch. The great thing about this collaboration is that it means that the Twitch is midi mapped out of the box to work with Serato’s Itch. If you’re prepared to do the midi mapping yourself the Twitch will also work with Ableton Live and Traktor.

Stand out

In a market where many cheap DJ midi controllers look like toys, the Twitch stands out as it looks like a serious DJ performance tool.

It is a unit that that you could confidently take to any DJing situation without the risk of feeling embarrassed about the fact your controller looks like a child’s toy. We all know that Digital controllers have not yet gained full acceptance in the world of DJing just yet so Novation have done well here to build a unit that looks like it means business.

The overall build quality is excellent and the all important cross fader seems like it will withstand regular use in even the most demanding of sets. The actual control surface features two banks of eight MPC style trigger pads on each channel that can be used for hot cueing or triggering samples. The trigger pads are of a decent size meaning that even if you have had a few too many drinks before your set you will still be able to hit them with a high degree of accuracy.

When the Twitch is used with Serato’s Itch it offers four versatile performance options (Hot Cues, Slicer, Auto Loop and Loop Roll). There has been much talk about creating your own edits and remixes ‘On the fly’ in recent years by various manufacturers but I have yet to see a product that can back up these claims as well as the Twitch. It’s features like these that really stand out to me and I am sure will appeal a great many DJs out there.

Features

The two LED backlit touch strips are an excellent addition and seem to be an update on the XY pad technology employed within Novation’s Xiosynth range. The touch strips can be assigned to a variety of parameters including needle drop, changing the pitch or even FX intensity.

The twitch features a crystal clear club ready 2 input 4 output built in soundcard, unlike some cheaper (and far inferior) models, this unit is ready to be used on any sound system in any club. I was pleased to see they had included a mini and quarter inch jack input which means no stress if you happen to forget your headphone adaptor when your playing out! Anyone who has played out at a club where they do not know the other DJs and has forgotten this small but essential bit of kit will know what a godsend this simple addition truly is!

Portability

Novation have got it spot on when it comes to the size and portability of the Twitch, its small enough to fit in even the most cluttered DJ booth or laptop bag without sacrificing usability. Each control is big enough to be able to be used accurately, something that a majority of smaller DJ controllers leave to be desired.

In conclusion I highly recommend the Novation Twitch to any DJ seeking an intermediate digital solution that will open up a myriad of creative possibilities at a price that wont break the bank.


Numark NS6 DJ Controller- Sexiness with wheels

The Numark brand is well known for their high quality workmanship and awesome looking equipment and now they bring us the NS6.

It’s ecstasy to the eyes.

A four-channel DJ controller with complete built-in mixer, it features four decks of software control, something that the Numark NS6 sits ahead of the pack with unrivalled. It builds on it’s critically acclaimed breakthroughs of the NS7, NS7FX and V7 by adding four-deck capability and a full-blown four-channel mixer in a compact, portable, all-metal (sexy) housing that is built to perform. Of course accompanied by the much loved Serato brand.

One of the key features of the Numark NS6 is the exceptionally responsive, high-resolution touch-activated platters. They deliver 3600 ticks of resolution per rotation and when combined with its automatically adjusted platter sensitivity, results in super-precise turntable control that acts like the vinyl it emulates.

The NS6 also sports enhanced Strip Search virtual needle drop technology by adding position indicators that allow DJs to keep tabs on track position. A great feature that allows them to concentrate on the music and not stress about the small stuff. In addition, bi-colour LEDs indicate which deck is in control and the playback status.

Along with upgraded features like direct access to beat grid controls and beat skip, Numark stayed true to their fans and their design favourites such as mouse-free Serato library navigation, complete Pitch Control, Key Lock, manual and instant Looping and Hot Cues.

The Numark NS6 also features a professional 24-bit audio interface that provides pristine audio quality from the computer. Featuring XLR outputs, a headphone out, two mic inputs, two phono inputs, four line-level inputs, and USB output, the NS6 has a wealth of connectivity options.

Thanks to close collaboration between Serato and Numark we see them again bringing us a great package with Serato’s ITCH DJ software shipping with the NS6.

They’ve once again used the same cutting-edge control technology as in the NS7, where turntable and control information are communicated between the hardware and software at over ten times standard MIDI resolution.

It’s a massive data stream and it allows for completely latency-free control. Due to the NS6′s use of MIDI information to communicate, it allows for use with a wide variety of MIDI software.

The NS6 brings us a great marriage in the digital and analog DJ worlds, offering a very powerful control on digital audio and the crowd.

The Numark NS6 is sure to spark the “WOW” factor in you and every great DJ out there. So get yourself a great piece of machinery before someone else is burning up those wheels and stealing that amped up crowd away from you!


#3 ION Audio iCUE3 Discover DJ System – Review

ION Audio iCUE3 Discover DJ System – ReviewPerfect for beginner DJs.

If you want to test drive your DJ skills… or you know someone who’s dying to give it a go for the first time. The ION Audio iCUE3 Discover DJ System is the perfect way to suck it and see. If it turns out you don’t enjoy being a DJ at least you haven’t spent a fortune on professional kit. And you’ll have a whale of a time finding out!

A cool low cost computer-DJ package

This smart little beast is ideal for music lovers who have never tried DJing before, harnessing the considerable power of your PC or Mac to make parties, events and even club nights go with a swing. Expect a hardware DJ control surface with a convenient, standard USB connection and really good DJ software courtesy of MixVibes excellent CROSS LE performance software.

Everything you need to test-drive becoming a DJION Audio iCUE3 Discover DJ System – Review

  • everything you need to DJ via your computer, supporting your digital music collection or iTunes library via M4A, AIFF, WAV, MP3, FLAC and OGG audio formats
  • A smart two-deck controller with volume, three-band EQ, pitch controls and a scratch wheel for each of the two decks
  • Bass and treble controls plus big, clear touch-sensitive scratch wheels for that traditional vinyl feel
  • Includes a cross  fader so you can mix between songs
  • Matches the tempo automatically between tunes
  • Lets you record and share your performances
  • Allows you to extend your mixes with loops
  • No drivers or power adapter needed
  • Measures just 7 x 4 x 12 inches, takes CR2 batteries
  • Easy-to-use software

Designed with practicality and creativity in mind

The controller is laid out in the same way as the traditional two decks and mixer format for a professional feel . Simply load your tracks to either desk and you’re off – it’s a dream to cue up, create exciting advanced transitions and even get to grips with scratching.

  • Pitch your tunes up and down effortlessly and match BPM with ease
  • Enjoy automatic beat-matching
  • Shape your sound beautifully with bass and treble control
  • Easy for anyone to learn from scratch
  • Record, play back and share

 What do the experts say?

Phil Morse at digitaltips.com says that the ION Audio Discover DJ System is a no-frills, cheap-as-chips DJ controller, a good starter product for digital DJing.” And it’s tipped to be a big hit this Christmas. While it isn’t a professional product, it’s very good value indeed for beginners and people who think they might like DJing… but aren’t 100% sure. If you get hooked, you can always invest in something with a little more oomph.

Buy now in time for the holidays


#4 Mix Vibes UMIXCONTROLPRO DJ Mixer Review

Mix Vibes UMIXCONTROLPRO DJ Mixer Review

A great package with integral sound card but the inbuilt effects leave a little to be desired. More Details

Are you looking for a complete DJ package?

Consider buying the Mix Vibes UMIXCONTROLPRO DJ Mixer.

I’ll tell you why.

The package consists of a controller with external MIDI DJ and CROSS DJ software. The controller comes with an interface for the internal soundcard and the best thing is that the Mix Vibes UMIXCONTROLPRO DJ Mixer looks so cool in a very compact design.

This DJ Package has an attractive look. It’s rugged but not too heavy. The front and back side is wrapped in a solid metal chassis. Inputs, outputs and controls surface are well-designed. The control surface consists of easy-to-use buttons, faders, and knobs. The jog wheels are also well-built and a lot of fun to use.

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#5 M Audio X Session Pro Mixer DJ Controller

M Audio X Session Pro Mixer DJ Controller

This is a cool device for DJs who are used to the two channel style of working. But if you want more you should look at another device and system. More details

Every DJ has their own way to express themselves and present their personalities through their mixing. If you are hunting for a digital solution that will enable you to fully express yourself the M Audio X Session Pro Mixer DJ Controller may be exactly what you are looking for. All you need to get started in digital, laptop DJing is provided in the package.

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#6 Reloop Mixage Interface Edition DJ Controller with Audio interface – ReviewReloop Mixage Interface Edition DJ Controller with Audio interface

This is a great piece of kit. Lots of fun to use and the audio quality is superb. But the buttons and controls could be more clearly labelled. More details

The ReloopMixage Interface Edition DJ Controller with inbuilt Audio interface is one of the innovations that can transform the way in which DJs perform.

For those who want to create and sculp music which is capable of making people get up on the dancefloor the right tools are needed. There have been so many innovations which are offered in the market today and one of the best types of DJ controller is made of Reloop. It is reasonable to call it one of the best DJ controllers of all time for it is very innovative and provides a variety of features that are ideal for today’s digital DJ.

By using these innovations DJs are able to express their creativity in ways that were previously restricted to the studio. Read on for more details on what this device can do.

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#7 M-Audio Torq MixLab DJ Controller Review

M-Audio Torq MixLab DJ Controller Review

This is a great out of the box controller. Simple to use, very affordable and with a top class pedigree. Read the details

The M-Audio Torq Mixlab is the best choice if you want to touch the sky with digital DJ-ing. This device provides the complete package that will propel your digital DJing to a whole new universe.

This M-Audio Torq MixLab offers one of the simplest and most intuitive user interfaces of any of the DJ controllers that I have checked out. The controller with the USB port immensely easy to install and use.

It truly is plug and play. No need to install any other hardware driver to support the USB because you will find it instantly recognized by the Mac OS X and Windows XP.

The software provided is all you need to mix up some killer sets. The USB controller included gives you easy access to all parameters and if you get to grips with all of the available features you will be rocking the dancefloor in no time. Are you feeling this?

Click here to check the latest price and reviews on Amazon


#8 DJ-Tech 4Mix DJ Mixer Controller Review

DJ-Tech 4Mix DJ Mixer Controller Review

Some great features on this device such as the comfortable trigger pads. But you need to test this before you buy and make certain it works with your laptop and software. [Details]

The DJ-Tech 4Mix is highly popular with people who work in clubs. If you want to try one of these you should have no problem in finding one in stock at your nearest DJ equipment store. Availability is one of the things you have to consider when you are planning to buy DJ devices. But what does the DJ-Tech have to offer?

The word ‘compact’ ideally describes this DJ-Tech 4Mix. The controls are round buttons with non-slip rubber feet and is covered in black –plastic. It is also supported with a silver and black bushed cover. The well made knobs are made from silver–effect plastic look unnecessary, but the knobs are sturdily built.

It is very easy to remove the cover to change the VCA cross-fader. The virtual DJ LE is built with four types of controller. Big pads offering joint control of four lines with filters and samples are amazing features. The controls are simple, bold and chunky. In the middle of the device, there are four lines with equalizers, line faders, knobs, and buttons and there is also a cool red LED button.

The DJ-Tech 4MIX is an amazing controller and a nice concept even though the virtual DJ LE provided doesn’t support fully support the device and the software is not really brilliant because of the bizarre mapping. But, other devices have the same problem, and you can’t dwell on it as you have to remember the other great features.

It’s likely that the limitations that I encountered were due to my trialling a pre-release unit and the manufacturer will most likely update the firmware to overcome the reported limitations. You can use the popular Traktor software for performance mapping.

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#9 Behringer BCD3000 DJ Mixer Review

Behringer BCD3000 DJ Mixer Review

A very affordable DJ mixer and controller. Ideal for those on a budget who want to break into digital DJing. Details

For budding DJs on a budget, the Behringer BCD3000 DJ Mixer may be exactly what you are looking for. This device lets you play and mix any WAV, MP3, MIDI, or other kinds of audio format with its real vinyl feature. This Mixer is suitable for use with your PC with Windows XP and MAC OS X operating systems.

Behringer are a reputable audio kit manufacturer with a presence across 5 continents with 1,500 employees. Over 13 years, this company has become well respected since it has introduced many sound-related products including mixers and headphones.

This DJ equipment won an award as best TRAKTOR 3 controller.

Ease of operation and the no nonsense interface makes this an ideal beginner setup. You can easily take it anywhere because of its small size and you do not need to bring stacks of CDs with you as you can store all of your digital audio files on your laptop.

The Behringer BCD3000 DJ Mixer has 4-channels with USB audio interface. This enables you to control all DJ applications by using the TRAKTOR 3 LE software. It also has a high quality microphone and 3 band kill equalizers for each channel which are the absolute basics needed to mix tracks live. It is perfectly suited to those who like to party, due to excellent sound quality.

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#10 Allen & Heath Xone 4D Universal DJ Controller Review

Allen & Heath Xone 4D Universal DJ Controller Review

This is a top end controller with advanced features developed by respected DJs and producers and from a reputable manufacturer in this field. Highly recommended.

If you are looking for a serious professional DJ controller to use in conjunction with your personal laptop, you would do well to consider the Allen & Health Xone: 4D Universal DJ Controller. This professional DJ controller is an updated version of the previous DJ controllers: Xone: 1D, Xone: 2D, and the Xone: K2.

This device combines comprehensive DJ features and high specifications which makes it highly desirable as both a great device for bedroom DJs or as a truly professional digital DJ system.

Check ratings, price, and reviews on Amazon


 


The Evolution and History of DJ Technology

 If you go to any club today and take a look at the DJ booth you will probably see a variety of devices, levers, wires and machines that the DJ skilfully uses to get the club jumping night after night. You may not recognise every piece of equipment each DJ uses but the modern, highly technological set up definitely marks a huge departure from the simple two deck vinyl record based systems that were used right up until the 1980s.

DJ technology history has come a long way in recent years, moving from simple turntable systems to modern DJ Midi Controller Technology and you can track it from it’s earliest origins right here!

Laptop DJ Midi Controller by AskDaveTaylor

Laptop DJ Midi Controller by AskDaveTaylor on Flickr

The Earliest DJ Decks

Did you know that the history of DJ technology can be traced right back to the 1890s? Well, 1892 to be precise when Emile Berliner first introduced gramophone records to the world. Thomas Edison had been the first man to create the phonograph cylinder in 1877 but the competition between the two ultimately saw the German-American inventor win out. His records, which were later to be commonly referred to as “vinyl” after manufacturers switch to vinyl from shellac, allowed people to buy music and provided the technological advancement that gave rise to the first DJ.

Old School Gramophones - Early DJ Technology - by CLF on Flickr

Old School Gramophones – Early DJ Technology – by CLF on Flickr

The very first DJ, Californian Ray Newby, actually used a small spark transmitter to broadcast over radio waves in 1909. This allowed him to play a record here and there in between news items and discussion. However, technology moved on rapidly between the 1910s and the start of World War II. By the 1940s, instead of using basic spark transmitters to play records in between discussion, turntables had been introduced.

Turntables changed the face of DJ-ing and it was British DJ Jimmy Savile who proved to be the pioneer that took it to the next level. He used two decks simultaneous to enable him to play music continuously. This use of turntables allowed for the very first DJ dance party in 1943 but the use of twin turntables allowed for the opening of the very first commercial discotheque, Whiskey a Go-Go, in Paris during 1947. More followed in the United States and Europe so DJ technology essentially changed the face of entertainment.

Innovative British DJ and alleged pervert Jimmy Saville by surprise truck on flickr

Innovative British DJ and alleged pervert Jimmy Saville by surprise truck on flickr

Revolutionising the Decks

Two deck vinyl systems were commonly used from the 1940s right up until the 1970s. During that time, a variety of new techniques and new technology ensured that the role of the DJ was constantly changing. For example, the 1950s saw the introduction of sound systems, whereby the DJ would play records through huge speaker systems in clubs and in the streets so that they were able to interact with the crowds during songs as well as in between records.

DJ performance styles also evolved in the 1970s. For example DJ Grand Wizard Theodore accidently invented scratching in 1975, using the turntables to create a unique sound that has become iconic over the years. Tempo also became a tool that DJs would used to create transitions between songs on the turntables without any hesitation or jumping. This seamless manoeuvring from one song to the next is taken for granted by clubbers today but it was a major technological innovation at the time, and all made possible as a result of Technics.

In 1972, the Technics SL 1200 was released. A Hi-Fi turntable it has +/- 8% pitch and a direct drive motor that allowed DJs to beatmatch. It also had features that meant it was highly reliable, maintained speed and made DJ-ing much more flexible. It allowed DJs to develop signatures and cutting edge techniques that revolutionised the art of DJ-ing. The Technics turntables became a staple of the DJ-ing scene and were heavily used until the turn of the Millennium and beyond.

Technics SL1200 Turntable - Closeup by marcoPapale

Technics SL1200 Turntable – Closeup by marcoPapale.com Flickr

Spinning the Discs

DJ technology undoubtedly placed the turntables at the forefront of the music world but it did eventually move on but this time towards a different type of disc. Vinyl was out and CDs were in. The very first controller that allowed DJs to use CDs was the Pioneer CDJ 1000. Allowing analogue control, the digital turntable was released in 2001 and emulated the vinyl turntables of the day. It also allowed DJs to use various techniques, such as scratching and adjusting the tempo.

Pioneer introduced a range of CDJ models, all of which had various features that allowed DJs to make the transition from vinyl to CD. Until then, most clubs had been resistant to it because of the lack of DJ functionality the existing CD players allowed them. However, CD machines have not had the longevity that turntables had in terms of the durability of the technology. Why? Because controller technology has taken over.

DJ Booth Decks, Mixer and Speakers

DJ Booth by kayintveen on Flickr

DJ MIDI Controller Technology

DJ MIDI controller technology has revolutionised DJ-ing in recent years, adding a digital dimension to sets and employing computer technology that allows DJs to play music from a wide variety of files, from MP3 to .wav, and deconstruct and edit songs as and when they like. Software did not immediately take off as a result of the sound quality of the tracks but, as it improved, DJs have increasingly turned to DJ MIDI controller technology.

DJ MIDI controller technology incorporates computers, digital musical instruments and various other devices as a single entity. MIDI is short for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and it allows each of the elements that are connected together to communicate with each other and integrate together seamlessly.

Incorporating a range of features, software elements and hardware machines, turntables and CD decks, the most up to date DJ controllers allow the individual DJ to inject a little creativity into his or her set, providing a simulated vinyl experience without the limitation that laptop DJ software often provides.

Native Instruments Traktor S2 DJ Midi Controller by sebilden on Flickr

Native Instruments Traktor S2 DJ Midi Controller by sebilden on Flickr

Choosing Digital Vinyl Control Systems

There are numerous DVS, or Digital Vinyl Control Systems, available today but two are more popular than others. Serato’s Scratch and Traktor by Native Instruments. Scratch was released in 2004 with the label of vinyl emulation software.  It is designed to offer DJs the option of manipulating tracks and is compatible with most digital audio file types. It utilises CD players or vinyl turntables so as to combine the versatility of the software and the control of the hardware.

Serato also released Itch in 2008, which is an integrated hardware and software that links directly to hardware controllers. It is also simplified as compared to the Scratch system and connects to compatible hardware via USB.

Native Instruments’ Traktor is also a software package that offers a massive range of options, from seamless looping, advanced beat detection and track beat gridding through to automatic synchronisation of tracks. It uses the MIDI clock functionality to sync hardware and gives the DJ the ability to layer four sound sources via the four playback decks feature. There are associated Native Instruments Traktor hardware products that are optimised for the software but there are numerous other hardware options that are compatible with it.

Serato Scratch DJ Setup

Serato Scratch Live 2 DJ Setup

Getting the Best Hardware for Your Software

Of course, there is plenty of hardware available to use alongside the Traktor, Itch and Scratch software. For example, the Numark NS7 USB DJ controller is an intuitive controller that comes with a two-channel scratch mixer, a responsive turntable and high torque motor, amongst other features. Alternatively, the Vestax VCI-300 MkII offers functional simplicity. Both are optimised to work with the Serato Itch software.

But some manufacturers of hardware also offer their own software. For example, M-Audio created the Xponent, an all in one DJ MIDI USB DJ controller to work seamlessly with their own software, Torq. Although it is not the most intuitive combination, it is highly reliable and has all the features you would want in such a system.

If you did want to enjoy DJ techniques like scratching during your sets then you may opt for the Hercules DJ Control Instinct instead. The pressure detecting jog wheels feel incredibly natural and mimic the way in which you would scratch a vinyl record. They also bend the pitch within tracks. The mixer area is clearly separated from the deck area too so you can make the most of every track.

There are also other elements of hardware available, such as the Akai APC40 Ableton Live Controller, a dedicated performance controller that has high quality controls, 16 endless encoders, 9 45mm faders and 109 buttons overall, all of which are designed to give the DJ complete control over real time mixing, production and remixing.

Akai APC40 Live DJ Set by stevedocious on Flickr

Akai APC40 Live DJ Set by stevedocious on Flickr

As you can see, DJ technology has come an awfully long way in a very short time. Although history has proved that DJ technology has always opted for quality over innovation and so only embraced CD and digital technology widely when it’s been highly developed, it is advancing more quickly than ever before today. With version after version of software being released with more features than ever, it will be interesting to see what the next developments will be!

Check out this live Tech House DJ set from Matt Akita using an Akai APC40, Native Instruments Maschine along with a Macbook Pro and iPad.

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