The world of DJ controllers can be tricky to navigate. Say for example that you wanted to learn guitar - you would figure out your budget and pick a guitar. Any guitar at all would do the trick. Picking out a DJ controller is quite a bit more complicated, since compatibility with DJ software is such a big consideration. Another confusing thing is that DJ controllers are not all created equal. Do you go for an all-in-one controller, or a more modular setup? Does a Pioneer controller made for Serato only work with Serato? Will any DJ controller work with any DJ software? In this guide we’ll clear up the confusion, and make 5 recommendations for what we (and DJs worldwide) believe are the best DJ controllers under $600.
- All-In-One DJ Controllers
- But First, Software
- What To Look For When Buying an all-in-one DJ Controller
- How Did We Make This List?
- The 5 Best DJ Controllers
All-In-One DJ Controllers
In this article, we’re going to be focusing on all-in-one DJ controllers. That’s where all the components essential to DJing have been combined into a single unit; the two decks (i.e. turntables or CD/media players), a mixer to connect them, and a sound card. All-in-one DJ controllers are meant to work together with DJ software on your computer or laptop.
The other end of the spectrum is a modular setup, where all of the components are separate. You might have seen a typical modular DJ setup in a club or music venue, consisting of two or more Pioneer CDJs, and a DJ mixer in between them. Two Pioneer CDJs and a Pioneer DJM mixer is the professional standard, and a very expensive setup; we’re talking upwards of $5000. This setup can be cost-prohibitive for someone starting out, not to mention more complicated to figure out.
For these reasons, all-in-one DJ controllers have risen in popularity very quickly. They are more portable, more affordable, and simpler. Back in the day the only options for DJs was to lug around crates full of vinyl records. When CDJs came about, instead of vinyl, DJs just needed to carry their music collection around on CDs. Now even CDs are on their way out, and DJs prefer to keep all their tracks on ultra-portable USB sticks. This has resulted in the “CD” aspect of the CDJ to become largely useless. Pioneer has responded to this by making new media players (dubbed XDJ) which do away with a CD player entirely, and focus on playing media from USB sticks. With this shift to the digital world, it makes sense that the laptop (or even iPad or iPhone) becomes the center of a DJ setup. The all-in-one DJ controller then becomes a way to simply control the software, and retain that feel of having decks with jog wheels, and a mixer with faders and knobs.
But First, Software
Alright, this is important: The first step to figuring out the best all-in-one DJ controller for you is to sort out what DJ software you’re going to use. If you don’t know yet - while it’s not impossible to pick out a controller - it will be a much more frustrating experience. See, the core of digital DJing is your computer, and the DJ software that’s running on it. That’s where the brains of the operation is. Having said that, don’t fret - if you choose a DJ software and buy a requisite DJ controller, and later decide you don’t quite like the software you chose, it’s not the end of the world. DJ controllers can typically be “re-mapped” to be used with mostly any DJ software, but we’ll cover this later on.
If you haven’t given thought to your DJ software, we very highly suggest you read over our guide to choosing the Best DJ Software. Seriously. This is not a ploy to just get you to click on something else. It’s very important that you understand what your options are, and get a good idea of which one seems like the one you want to use. We cover TRAKTOR, Serato, and several other options. Again, go read over that article, then come back here.
The best DJ controller for you will be the one that most serves as a natural extension of the DJ software you’re using. This is where things get a bit messy, as several manufacturers have joined forces to make compatible hardware and software. Pioneer, for instance, makes some awesome DJ controllers, but they have partnered with Serato for maximum compatibility. Native Instruments makes the ubiquitous DJ software TRAKTOR, and they manufacture their own controllers. A host of other companies like Numark Hercules, and Vestax also have controllers made specifically for certain DJ software.
We hear what you’re probably thinking - does this mean I can only use a DJ controller for a single software??
Fortunately, no. In short, DJ controllers just transmit MIDI messages, and as such they can be re-mapped to function with the majority of DJ software (you’ll often see chatter in forums of people asking if anyone’s made a mapping for X controller for Y DJ software). If you’re just getting started or aren’t into tweaking and tinkering, it’s probably wise to just get a controller made to function with the DJ software you choose, so you can get to playing right away.
What To Look For When Buying an all-in-one DJ Controller
In the section above, we covered what is probably the most important thing to look for when selecting your DJ controller: what DJ software are you going to be controlling? Aside from that, here are a few other things that should factor into your buying decision:
Budget: Budget is important no matter what gear you’re shopping for, but in the world of DJ controllers you’d be surprised how big the price gap is between a cheap DJ controller, and a top-of-the-line “pro” one. For TRAKTOR, you can get the solid S2 for around $400, or the flagship S8 for well over $1000. The difference is even more drastic between Pioneer controllers. A good Pioneer DJ controller to control Serato can run you $250, up to $2000! The difference is mainly going to be in features, control, and build quality. The less expensive controllers are generally more compact and portable, and as such sacrifice features that you might want to use in the DJ software at the touch of a button or knob (i.e. the more knobs/buttons/sliders, the more things can be mapped to them for you to have at your fingertips). Remember that this is not necessarily a must-have, since during a DJ set there are some features of your DJ software you might not ever care to mess with. Also remember that the bigger and more expensive your controller gets, the less portable it becomes. A reason to splurge, however, might be the improved build quality. High-end controllers have more robust components, and things like bigger jog wheels, more indicators and LEDs, and sturdier knobs and crossfaders could be desirable for the performing DJ, or if you’re into things like scratching.
Portability: Quite simply, how portable do you need your DJ controller to be? Do you bring your own equipment everywhere, or do you just need something as a backup in case the club’s setup is not adequate? Are you just practicing at home? Need the controller to fit in your backpack? Smaller and more portable controllers are going to be less expensive, but also have fewer features.
Mappings for Other Software: This stems from the DJ software thing - let’s say you want to DJ using Serato software, and because of that you get a Pioneer DDJ-SR controller. If you decide you don’t like Serato and switch to TRAKTOR, have people made mappings for it that you can download and use?
How Did We Make This List?
Narrowing down our choices to just 5 DJ controllers was more difficult than we had anticipated. For starters, there are a lot of DJ controllers out there. Also, the word “best” is so subjective, as it’s nearly impossible to do an apples to apples comparison between all controllers. So here’s how we went about it: We scoured the web for forums and discussions where people were asking what all-in-one DJ controller they should buy. We then looked at other best DJ controller lists to look at what was being recommended, and cross-checked all the sources against each other. This gave us a good idea for the 10 or so controllers that are being recommended the most often, granted they are all different price ranges and work with different DJ software. We then researched them all in depth, and tried them out for ourselves. In the end, we decided to keep all our recommendations under $600, which we believe is ample enough budget to get a fantastic DJ controller. We are recommending two controllers compatible with TRAKTOR, and three DJ controllers compatible with Serato (they of course are re-mappable to work with other DJ software).
The 5 Best DJ Controllers
Without further ado, let’s jump into the list and talk about the 5 best all-in-one DJ controllers under $600. We cover the two TRAKTOR ones first, then the three Serato controllers.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2
Software Compatibility: TRAKTOR
Bundled Software: TRAKTOR Pro 2
Suitable for Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 is a really nice option for a beginner to intermediate all-in-one DJ controller, especially if you’re looking to use TRAKTOR DJ software. That should come as no surprise, since Native Instruments created both of those things. The S2 is fully mappable, so if you like you can use it with any DJ software. Its bread and butter, however, is its very tight, seamless, fine-tuned integration with TRAKTOR, as many of its buttons and knobs correspond directly to features within that particular DJ software. If you’ve decided on TRAKTOR as your DJ software, then you should definitely keep reading.
The Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 is a 2-channel controller, and is the little brother to the more full-featured, 4-channel S4. In fact, many people getting into TRAKTOR have a hard time deciding between the S2, or spending the extra couple hundred dollars on the S4. Not only does the S2 cost less, but it also has a significantly smaller footprint, it’s lighter, and overall it’s just simpler. It’s not necessarily better or worse than the S4. The TRAKTOR software has a ton of features, and the S4 handles a lot of them. The simplicity of the S2 however makes it slightly less daunting, and easier to get into and get going. It’s also pretty portable, and is MUCH more likely to fit into a bag or backpack.
The inputs and outputs on the S2 provide a nice level of flexibility. It has an on-board audio interface, so you can connect it straight to a sound system of your choosing. On the back of the unit is a 1/4” mic input, and you get both MAIN and BOOTH outputs (BOOTH with its own dedicated volume control knob). On the front of the S2 you have a 1/4” headphones jack, CUE VOL and CUE MIX knobs (which pop in and out so they don’t stick out all the time), and a switch to turn the unit on/off. One thing that’s missing is an additional input apart from the mic for an extra deck or music player, just to have as backup in case of an emergency (e.g. your computer or TRAKTOR crashes).
The build quality of the Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 is good, not great. It’s a mix of plastic and aluminum, and at first the plastic makes it seem more flimsy but generally in the field these have been holding up well. The knobs have a rubberized coating which feels nice, and the jog wheels have an aluminum top which is pleasant to the touch (jog wheels are a tad on the small side, but we quickly acclimated). If you’re a jog wheel person, they are very responsive and you can scratch to your heart’s content. The crossfader feels a little cheap, but its functionality is good.
Layout-wise, the S2 MK2 pretty much conforms to the all-in-one DJ controller standard. You’ve got left and right decks with jog wheels, connected by a 2-channel mixer in the middle. Decks have FX controls on top of the jog wheel, and below the wheel you’ve got loop controls, and eight rubberized pads to control hot cues, transport controls and more. Tempo adjust sliders are out to the side. The channel strips are nice, with 3-band EQ, level meters, and headphone pre-listen CUE buttons (to cue up your next track in your headphones so you can mix it in, and not let the crowd hear). Some users lament the lack of a dedicated Filter knob. To control the filter on the S2 you hold down the SHIFT button and twist the GAIN knob.
Here’s the really cool thing about the Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2: It comes with the FULL version of Native Instruments’ DJ software, TRAKTOR Pro 2. This is not a lite or demo version; it’s the full deal. Basically this means that, aside from your laptop and your music, you have everything you need for a pro-level DJ setup here. No upgrades necessary. You can think of that as more or less a $100 value. Hooked up to your laptop via USB, the S2 is fully powered. Well... almost. As a power-saving feature, the lights will dim slightly and you’ll have slightly less volume output. For full power, you’ll still want a proper power supply. We should also mention that iOS DJing is a standout feature of the S2 MK2, especially with TRAKTOR DJ for iPad and iPhone.
Bottom Line: The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 is a fantastic DJ controller, and if you’re going with TRAKTOR as your DJ software it’s nearly a no-brainer (if budget allows you might want to consider the larger S4 for 4-channels and more features, which we'll review next). It’s also a no-brainer if you’re looking to do an iPhone or iPad based DJ setup. Calling the S2 entry-level is not giving it enough credit. Sure, it’s compact, and some features from the larger S4 have been stripped down, but it’s in the name of portability. We only wish it had an input for a music player just in case you need backup music if disaster strikes, and the crossfader could stand to feel a little more solid. Still, these are minor gripes. Considering it comes with TRAKTOR Pro 2, the price is very fair, and as far as DJ controllers go it’s actually quite budget-friendly. It’s definitely the most cost-effective way to jump right into DJing with TRAKTOR, and get all the desirable features of an all-in-one DJ controller.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2
Software Compatibility: TRAKTOR
Bundled Software: TRAKTOR Pro 2
Suitable for Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 DJ controller has become a bit of an industry standard when it comes to all-in-one DJ controllers. The Traktor Kontrol S4 MK1 made its debut in 2010 but has since seen an upgrade in the MK2 model, which was released in 2013. Needless to say this controller has been around for some time. While many controllers come and go, though, the S4 has stood the test of time in the constantly evolving world that is DJ equipment. To give you an idea, notable users of the S4 include Porter Robinson (who relies on it as the centerpiece of his DJ set), Zedd, Andrew Bayer, Matt Lange, and many more.
The Kontrol S4 has a pretty standard controller layout. There are four decks each with their own volume fader, cue button, filter, gain, and HI, MID, and LOW EQ knobs. When you use the S4 with the NI TRAKTOR Pro DJ software you will be able to utilize all four decks. This means you can have four tracks going at once if you so desire, or you can use one of the decks as a remix deck (which we’ll get to shortly). There are two jog wheels made with sturdy, aircraft-grade aluminum on either side of the central mixer. Both sides of the S4 have color-coded RGB buttons for hotcues, loops, and samples, as well as an FX bank. The S4 also has a cross fader and master volume knob, so it is similar to many standard club mixers. The S4 has been criticized by some for its “plastic-like feel.” We find the S4 to have a sturdy build, and while it is made out of plastic it’s sturdy, and definitely doesn’t feel “cheap.” The RGB pads are also made of a rubber that is satisfying to press. The LED lights look pretty cool, as well.
Standard inputs and outputs allow you to connect the S4 directly to a club sound system, hook up a microphone, or even connect turntables or CDJs. Did you learn on some Technics with vinyl but want to ease your way into the world of digital DJing? The S4, used with the TRAKTOR Pro digital vinyl system (DVS) and connected turntables, allows you to play vinyl and mp3 files at the same time! It should be noted that the S4 cannot be used as a standalone mixer, though - it must be connected to a computer to work.
Beginners love the S4 for its simplicity and range of capabilities. If you’ve never mixed a single track before, the S4 makes learning as easy as it can be. Because it’s mapped for use with TRAKTOR Pro it has an almost identical layout to the software. DJs can choose to use the jog wheels to practice beatmatching (lining up the beats of two different songs), which is an important skill if you ever want to play out in a club some day, or to use the SYNC button to focus on seamless mixing and EQing. TRAKTOR Pro software allows you set up to eight hotcues or loops per sample which are represented in the RGB buttons, blue for hotcues and green for loops. These buttons make live performance a breeze, as you can set cues in the software prior to your set to help with preparing the mix or remixing tracks live. If you use TRAKTOR Pro’s remix decks you can save a bank of up to 64 loops, samples, or one-shots to bring an added level of creativity to your set, all controlled by the color-coded RGB pads. The FX options give you you access to classic audio effects like delay and reverb as well as some custom ones designed by NI, such as “Mulholland Drive.”
If you’re using other DJ software, such as Serato, be prepared to make a software switch if you start using the Kontrol S4 MK2. Made specifically for use with TRAKTOR Pro, the S4 can be difficult to map to other DJ software, through its MIDI mode makes it easier to map to programs such as VirtualDJ. Like its little brother the S2, the S4 comes with the full version of NI TRAKTOR Pro 2 DJ software. If you want to hook up external hardware, such as MIDI controllers or live instruments, the inputs on the S4 allow you to easily incorporate extra gear. Often a dilemma for people interested in TRAKTOR, you may be considering if you should save a couple hundred dollars and get the smaller Kontrol S2 MK2 over the S4, and the decision here really depends on if you want the extra two decks. The S2 is also a fantastic DJ controller with great value for money, but if you want the extra decks for layering several tracks at once or for connecting extra gear the S4 is undoubtedly the right choice for a little more money.
Bottom Line: The Traktor Kontrol S4 is an excellent choice for beginning DJs, old school DJs who want to transition to digital DJing, or anyone who wants a great controller for bedroom practice, all the way to performing in huge clubs and on stages.
Software Compatibility: Serato, rekordbox
Bundled Software: Serato DJ Intro
Suitable for Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
There’s a lot to like about the Pioneer DDJ-SB2 DJ controller. It’s affordably priced, super portable, has all the functions essential to a performing DJ, seamlessly integrates with Serato software, and it’s constructed and backed by the Pioneer brand (a powerhouse in the DJ industry). While it’s considered more of an “entry-level” controller, it’s actually surprisingly packed with features that a more experienced DJ and controllerist would appreciate (especially considering its budget-friendly price tag).
So first, it’s important to understand that this controller is designed for maximum compatibility with the Serato ecosystem (and is branded as such). What this means for you is that when you plug it into your computer via USB and fire up Serato DJ software, it’s going to be mapped perfectly to the software and will just work. Because the DDJ-SB2 is priced on the lower end of the controller spectrum, you get Serato DJ Intro bundled with it, NOT the full-featured version of Serato DJ. This is good if you’re starting out and learning, but eventually you’ll want to upgrade to the full version. That’s not to say that you can’t use the DDJ-SB2 with the likes of TRAKTOR or Mixxx, but you’ll want to do a little searching on Google for pre-made mappings. Do your research here if you don’t plan on using Serato.
A quick word on using this controller with Mixxx: If you read our Best DJ Software article you saw we named Mixxx as the best value, since it’s 100% free. The DDJ-SB2 is supported by Mixxx (read about it on the Mixxx Wiki here), so using these two together makes for a VERY INEXPENSIVE way to get into DJing. However, be aware that the mapping is not 100% airtight, so make sure to read up on the details.
Okay, software compatibility aside, let’s talk about the controller itself. Considering that it hovers around the $250 mark, it’s really an impressive piece of gear. It’s very portable (19” wide and weighs 4.63 lb) and USB powered (meaning you don’t need to plug it in with a wall-wart power supply), and it boasts an impressive build quality, which isn’t surprising considering it’s a Pioneer product. It has a built-in sound card, so you can just connect the MASTER OUT RCA outputs to speakers or an amplifier. We would have preferred balanced XLR outputs, but it’s not a huge deal. You also get a headphones output with choice of 1/8” or 1/4” jack, and a 1/4” mic input.
ThePioneer DDJ-SB2 can control all four Serato DJ decks. The left side can control deck 1 or 3, and the right side can control deck 2 or 4 (selectable by a button). You have a standard 2-channel mixer, performance pads, effects controls, and the list goes on. We won’t cover every single spec, since a lot of it is fairly obvious from looking at the front panel of the unit. Considering the low price point, it’s nice that you have trim pots and level meters for very accurate volume control. The jog wheels are large and outstanding, almost CDJ-quality (again, a perk of Pioneer’s experience). There’s nearly zero latency, so if your game is scratching, backspinning, and beat juggling, you’ll love the feel you get from them (they don’t light up like on Pioneer’s flagship DJ controllers, which isn’t a big deal).
There are couple of interesting extras here. There’s a Quantized Pad Trans beat effect, which lets you use the performance pads essentially as a volume gate in time with the beat. This lets you easily chop up your track in pretty interesting ways. There’s also Filter Fade, which adds high pass filters to the crossfader, so as you fade out of one track and into the other using the crossfader the bass cuts and then comes back in (which frees a hand up to do other things). These aren’t game changers by any means, but they can certainly spice things up.
Who else likes it? The DDJ-SB2 gets pretty high praise everywhere we look. For starters, it’s the #1 Best Seller in DJ Controllers on Amazon, with over 100 people rating it 4.5/5 stars on average. Digital DJ Tips also gives it 4.5 stars and calls it “the controller to beat in the sub-$250 range,” and DJ TechTools says that aside from some minor build quality issues, the DDJ-SB2 is “very much the king of the Serato DJ Intro controllers.”
Bottom Line: The remarkable thing about the Pioneer DDJ-SB2 is that it’s hard to find any outright fault with it. Is it the end-all, be-all controller? No. But it’s also nowhere near $1000. The DDJ-SB2 is a perfect way to get into DJing, especially if you’ve decided Serato is the DJ software for you. The jog wheels are also a standout feature here, and we’re impressed at how tight and responsive they are. Perhaps the ONE flaw is that Serato DJ Intro is included, so you’ll have to shell out a bit more cash for the full version. Still, for under $300, this is impressive. Check out Pioneer’s intro video for it to see it in action.
Software Compatibility: Serato, rekordbox
Bundled Software: Serato DJ
Suitable for Skill Level: Beginner to Advanced
If you wanted to get your hands on Pioneer’s flagship all-in-one controller for Serato DJ, you’d want the DDJ-SX2. But as good as it is, it’s not portable, and costs around $1000. Luckily, for about half that price, you can get your hands on its very comparable little brother, the Pioneer DDJ-SR. Compared to the full-featured DDJ-SX2, the DDJ-SR is much more compact and portable, and because of its smaller footprint has a slightly smaller jog wheel and pads, and a 2-channel mixer as opposed to the SX2’s 4-channel mixer (luckily you can control all four of Serato’s decks from the DDJ-SR with the push of a button). The DDJ-SR is on the upper end of our $600 price limit, but it’s one of the best Serato controllers around. It’s packed with features, built well, and truly plug-and-play (provided you are indeed planning to use it with Serato).
One good reason to go with Pioneer controllers is that they have a premium feel, and the DDJ-SR is no exception. This unit has an excellent build quality, and definitely feels like it could take some abuse. It has an aluminum top, and plastic sides/bottom, all of which makes the unit feel very substantial. The pads, knobs, and sliders also all feel really great. While the cross fader is non-user replaceable, it feels very smooth and has a low cutting distance, making it ideal for scratching. The DDJ-SR is fully USB bus powered, meaning you don’t need to worry about a separate power supply; simply connect it to your laptop to fire it up, which is fantastic for portability. On the front panel of the unit you have a 1/4” and 1/8” headphones jack with level knob, a switch to reverse your cross fader and a knob to adjust cross fader curve, and a 1/4” mic input (again with a level knob). On the back you have AUX IN RCA inputs with level control (great for plugging in a backup source of music), 1/4” L and R master outputs, and a secondary master output which is switchable to BOOTH, with its own BOOTH LEVEL knob. In terms of I/O that’s a lot of flexibility, and we can’t really think of much more a performing DJ would need.
In terms of functionality, the DDJ-SR sits between the more entry-level Pioneer DDJ-SB2, and the flagship DDJ-SX2. A premium, but mid-level DJ controller is a good way to think about this unit. One really great thing is that it comes with the full Serato DJ software, so it’s truly plug-and-play when you get it. We do recommend installing the latest firmware from the Pioneer Website before you start using it, as it will fix some glitches that have plagued some users.
Looking at the front panel, you can see it’s a 2-deck, 2-channel mixer layout. However, using the DECK buttons you can control all four decks in Serato (the left side controls either Serato deck 1 or 3, and the right side controls deck 2 or 4). The mixing console in the center of the DDJ-SR has all the features you would expect; as we mentioned the cross fader feels and works well, each channel has a 3-band EQ with TRIM controls at the top, and navigation buttons to get around in Serato, load tracks to decks, and change around your views within the software. The jog wheels feel great with their aluminum top, though they are slightly smaller than the ones from the DDJ-SX2. Still, they are quick and responsive, and their resolution in Serato feels fantastic - scratching is definitely encouraged here. Above the jog wheels is the effects section (as is tradition with these all-in-one controllers). The TEMPO adjustment sliders are a bit short when compared to a vinyl turntable or a CDJ, but that’s only a minor annoyance. Below the jog wheels you have eight pads on each side. The pads are intuitive and really full featured, used to control things like HOT CUES, ROLLS, SLICER, and SAMPLES, for slicing up and retriggering your beats. PAD PLUS mode gives all the pads a second effect. The Pioneer DDJ-SR actually has a bit of a learning curve because of all that it can do, especially considering that the SHIFT button essentially makes every knob, button, and pad practically perform two functions.
The Pioneer DDJ-SR comes up quite a bit in forum discussions (which is exactly what made us take a closer look at it). At its price point, a close competitor is the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 controller. You might be thinking: Isn’t the S4 a controller for TRAKTOR, and not Serato? You would be correct, yet people like the premium quality of the DDJ-SR so much, that they are often curious how it fares when NOT used with Serato. The verdict is that the DDJ-SR is absolutely usable with the likes of TRAKTOR. Mappings are out there for you to download, and even if you want to do it yourself, it’s the type of thing you spend some time on once and don’t really need to do again. Where you’ll have to compromise is the resolution of the jog wheel. You’ll tend to get the tightest jog wheel control if you use your controller with the software it’s originally designed for. This won’t affect those DJs that strictly want to mix tracks in and out; It’s more of a concern for DJs that do scratching, where the resolution of the jog wheel really matters.
Bottom Line: With this controller, Pioneer hits a perfect combo between the more beginner DDJ-SB2, and the more advanced DDJ-SX2. We love the DDJ-SR, since it’s nearly as powerful as the SX2 but with a ton more portability. Especially if you’re using Serato DJ, you’ll have a fantastic and seamless experience with the DDJ-SR, no matter what music you mix and what type of DJ you are. This controller just feel incredibly nice and polished, and while the price is certainly not low, it’s justified for this quality.
Numark Mixtrack Pro 3
Software Compatibility: Serato
Bundled Software: Serato DJ Intro
Suitable for Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
If you’re looking at a budget-friendly controller for Serato in the beginner to intermediate range, before fully committing to the Pioneer DDJ-SB2, you’ll want to take a look at the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3. Before we get on with the review, an important distinction when considering this controller is to make sure you’re looking at the version with Pro in the name; Numark also makes the Mixtrack 3 controller, with the difference being the non-Pro version does not have a built-in sound card. So if you want the ability to preview your next track in your headphones (which most DJs find useful) you’ll need to make sure you get the Mixtrack Pro 3.
The Mixtrack Pro 3 is fantastic entry level controller for aspiring DJs, and for more advanced DJs it offers great portability and can serve as a very solid backup. It gives you access to all the basics needed for a the common 2-deck setup. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but just to give you an idea of the impressive amount of features you get: cross fader, volume fader for both decks, pitch fader for each channel, up/down pitch bend buttons for each channel, high+mid+low filter as well as low/high pass filter for each channel, master gain knob, headphone cue and cue gain knobs, headphone buttons for each channel allowing you to cue/preview your next track, 3.5mm headphone jack, a browse knob for easy access to your tracks along with a button to load a track on either deck, solid metal jog wheels for each channel, a wheel button for each jog wheel allowing you to turn them on/off, 16 multi-function performance pads, shift button for each channel, play and cue buttons for each channel, and access to 3 effects buttons and a haptic strip for your effects. All of this comes in a compact 21.6” controller that only weighs a few pounds. One thing users particularly like are the Mixtrack Pro’s long-throw pitch faders, like you’d find on a Pioneer CDJ or actual turntable, which is great for DJs who want to mix themselves and avoid using sync.
A great aspect of the Mixtrack Pro 3 is being powered via USB which means not having to worry about being connected to an external power supply. The solid metal 5-inch jog wheels are a real treat as well since most of the entry level controllers (and even several of the pricier ones) have plastic jog wheels that don’t have the same meatiness that you get with metal jog wheels. Having that added bit of weight really makes a difference when doing slight bump adjustments in the mix. The 16 multi-function pads also add a large amount of variety to your performance if you utilize them.
As with most DJ controllers, the Mixtrack Pro 3 is not without a few drawbacks. The only output is a left/right channel RCA which means if you want a booth monitor while you’re spinning you need to have a splitter. Also being RCA the signal is not balanced, but that is an easy fix by just making sure you have an RCA to 1/4” cable with your gear. Other than that, there really aren’t too many features that you are missing out on when compared to some of the more expensive controllers out there, and diving into MIDI functionality to customize it exactly the way you want it essentially makes that a moot point. Another minor drawback is that, like the Pioneer DDJ-SB2, the Mixtrack Pro 3 does not come with a full version of the Serato software, so to get the most out of it you’ll need to purchase the full version (make sure you budget an extra $100 or so for that). You can also use this controller with TRAKTOR, VirtualDJ, Mixxx, or any other DJ software if you’re so inclined by either downloading a mapping for it or making your own.
Bottom Line: This is a solid controller for anyone that isn’t looking to spend more than a couple hundred dollars on a DJ controller, but also wants access to more than just the absolute basics. You get a lot of bang for your buck here. The Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 is perfect if you’re a beginner DJ (particularly if you’re looking to use Serato), since it has everything you could want to get started, and some. For the working or pro DJ it makes for a great backup or small gig controller mostly because of how extremely portable it is and the nice build quality.
One big question remains: Numark Mixtrack Pro 3, or the Pioneer DDJ-SB2? There’s no 100% clear answer, as both are very solid choices. Some DJs buy into the Pioneer brand, mostly because it’s more “industry standard” and smaller Pioneer controllers can be thought of as a gateway to eventually learning to use Pioneer CDJs and DJM mixers (to be honest this isn’t a great argument, since every fundamental you’ll need for CDJs you can learn with any all-in-one controller). A small advantage of the DDJ-SB2 over the Mixtrack is that the SB2 has trim knobs. Then again, the pitch sliders are superior on the Mixtrack Pro 3. These two controllers are pretty evenly matched, making it impossible to recommend one over the other with certainty. Trust your gut on whether Numark or Pioneer speaks more to you as a brand, and which of the two looks more inspiring to play with. Watch Numark’s Mixtrack Pro 3 tutorial/walkthrough video to see what you think: