DJ Controllers 101: What to Look for and How to Use Them

    Getting started as a DJ is never easy. Even though you love music and are interested in being a DJ, it is important to find the right equipment from the get-go. If you are a complete beginner, you do not have to get complicated gear. A simple DJ controller is a great place to start.

    What is a DJ controller?

    A DJ controller is a DJ unit with a mixer and two turn tables or jog wheels. In essence, it is both a turntable and a mixer combined. Unlike a DJ mixer, it is easy to set up and usually comes with DJ software. You also have almost everything in one place, making it ideal for beginners. They are also lighter and portable.


    DJ controllers range in price and technical specs. Most DJ controllers have audio interfaces, and all you will need to do is plug and play. Moreover, you can connect your mobile, laptop, or tablet to a controller, although this depends on the type of controller you choose.


    When compared to traditional mixers, controllers are more expensive. However, they are cheaper in the long run as you will not need to get CDJs or mixers on the side.

    Types of DJ controllers

    There are different types of controllers, each serving a different purpose.

    Stand-alone controllers

    These controllers are also known as all-inclusive controllers. You can use the controller without a laptop, and some standalone DJ controller picks also have a built-in UI or touch screen.


    All you will need to do is plug in your USB and play. Examples include the Numark Mixstream Pro Standalone, Pioneer XDJ XZ, Denon DJ PRIME 4 | 4 Deck Standalone Smart DJ Console, and the Gemini Sound Media Controller.

    Software based controllers

    All DJ controllers use some form of software that enables you to mix your tracks. Some controllers come with pre-installed software, while you will have to download the software for others. Some of the best DJ software include:

    • Serato DJ
    • Rekordbox
    • Virtual DJ Pro
    • Traktor Pro
    • Ableton Live


    Both Rekordbox and Traktor Pro are specifically for Pioneer and Native Instruments DJ controllers, respectively.

    Smart device DJ controllers

    As the name suggests, these controllers are compatible with smart devices. More and more controllers are being designed for android and iOS users. This makes it easy for you as the DJ able to use your most accessible device to perform.

    Common features

    There are several features that you will find in DJ controllers. They include:

    • EQ controls
    • Two jog wheels or turn tables
    • FX controls
    • FX pads
    • Tempo fader
    • Drum pads
    • Play/Pause buttons
    • RCA outputs

    What to look for

    Choosing a DJ controller suitable for you depends on several things:

    • Software. Most controllers are made for specific DJ software. For example, Pioneer controllers come installed with their software called Rekord Box, while others come with Serato, which is now the most popular DJ software. It is important to choose the software you need before you get your controller.
    • Build. In your search for controllers, look for quality. You need to find something that is durable. You will move around a lot with your controller and will need something that does not get damaged easily.
    • Your budget. You do not have to go for a professional controller if you are a novice. You can find a quality controller that ranges between $200 and $300. Remember that you will also need to invest in quality headphones and speakers.
    • Size. When getting your controller, size is something to consider. Smaller controllers are now becoming popular, and getting something very portable that you can carry around for your gigs is ideal.
    • The kind of DJ you want to be. This refers to both your professional level and the type of DJ you are (club, wedding, house party, etc.).
    • Looks. You definitely want something that looks good, so do not be afraid to get something that is aesthetically pleasing.

    How to use a DJ controller

    DJ controllers have made DJing more efficient. However, using it requires some level of skill. The first thing you will want to do is to read your equipment manual. I know you are eager to start setting up but do not skip this important step.


    Understanding your equipment is the first step in knowing how to play. Most manuals come with detailed instructions on what each button or function does.

    Using common functions

    Some of the functions you can start with include:

    • The FX station is used to control the sound FX. The controller does not have an integrated sound FX, but your DJ software will help with that.
    • A Tempo fader controls how fast or slow a song plays.
    • The cue button is used to determine when the music will play on a track. In other words, it sets when the track will start.
    • The play and pause button plays or pauses a track.
    • EQ knobs adjust frequencies.
    • EQ filter allows you to cut out high and low frequencies.
    • The sync button enables you to beatmatch two different tracks.
    • The shift button allows you to access secondary functions.


    As I mentioned earlier, most controllers come with pre-installed DJ software, but some do not. If your controller does not have any software, install it.


    Next, connect your laptop and speakers. You can use the USB port to connect your laptop and the speakers to the RCA ports. You can then start importing your music to the library of the DJ software. Once you do this, you can start exploring.

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