The Best DJ Controller under $400 – UPDATED 2018
A few years ago you needed at least 2 audio source devices, a DJ mixer and big budget to start DJing. Now you can have one of the best DJ controller for under $400.
In our days and with the current technology we have one tool to do all the job. In the market exist start-up controllers with mixer controls and two player simulators with jog wheels and cue points. But the truth is that with just a few extra bucks you can get a middle-range tool with extra drum pads, auto loop, FX controls and extreme connectivity to popular DJ softwares such as Serato DJ and NI Traktor Pro. And the best of those models we will see here are available for under $400. What an amazing time to be a DJ, if to imagine that a few years ago for two Pioneer CDJs and a Pioneer DJM mixer you will need a budget of minimum $2000.
There are two major factors that define the best DJ controller
-First is the compatibility of the controller with the DJ software that you are currently using. If you just start and you haven’t decide yet, don’t worry because most of the best DJ controllers come with trial version of the supported software. In addition, DJ controllers transmit MIDI messages, and like that they can be re-mapped to function with the majority of DJ softwares. However, we would suggest if you are a beginner to just get a controller made to function with the DJ software that you choose, so you can get to playing right away. Serato Dj, NI Traktor Pro and Ableton Live are the most common softwares for live performances.
-And second thing to consider, is whether or not you want a build-in audio interface. Most DJ controllers have one and all models in our list too. An interface is necessary to get upgraded sound and ensure high quality recordings. As well as extremely low transfer delay. In case there is no build-in audio interface, you can take a look for the best audio interfaces under $200.
What to look before you buy a DJ controller
So, except the compatibility of the DJ controller with your desired software such as Traktor Pro or Serato DJ, there are a few more things to consider.
- Built-in audio interface: The interface transmits audio and MIDI signals and effect processors and PA systems. Thankfully all items in our list for the best DJ controller have built-in interface.
- Controls and functions: Control surface with knobs, buttons, jog wheels, performance pads and faders are necessary. With a job wheel you will perfectly beat-match your tracks and scratch at your desires. Performance pads, buttons and faders maximize capabilities to get your mixing technics to the next level.
- Compatible DJ software: Is your controller compatible with the DJ software you are using? If not, you will have trouble manually map each button, fader, knobs etc. Almost every DJ controller offer Intro version of a DJ software to get you started. In a case you can spend big and search for the best premium DJ controllers, some even come with full software version. Saving you good money for other DJ or studio equipment. Find the best DJ softwares used by professionals all around the globe.
- Portability/Build quality: You need a portable tool that you will easily transfer it to your gigs. Furthermore if the controller won’t have a permanent place, it is very important to look for a tough construction that will last hardship and frequently transportations. Even if all DJ controllers are build to take abuse, there are some brands that stand out for their durability.
What you will need to start Djing with a DJ controller
As you will see from the graphic above, the tools and connections are pretty simple and basic.
- DJ Headphones – With a huge variety on brand, characteristics and budget you can choose between some great pair DJ headphones. Simply connected to your DJ controller or external audio interface, if your controller doesn’t offer one. If you are looking for a professional pair of DJ headphones that all famous DJs prefer, take a look at The best DJ headphones.
- DJ Software – If you haven’t given thought on which DJ software to pick, we suggest you to read more at The best DJ software for mixing. Serato DJ, NI Traktor Pro and Ableton Live are the most common softwares out there.
- Laptop or Desktop – Last but not least you will need a powerful and reliable laptop to install your DJ controller and software. That’s why we research and find for you the list with the best laptop for DJing.
Last but not least you will need a powerful and reliable laptop to install your DJ controller and software. That’s why we have for you the list with the best laptop for DJing (updated 2018 post).
The ability to work with waveforms and samples, apply effects, connect turntables, CDJs or an instrument to your setup will get you to the next level. DJ controllers that offer those capabilities are over our budget and we will find them in our TBA article “The best DJ controller in the market”.
If you have brand preference, NI, Pioneer, Numark, Behringer and Denon are just some of our options. All our choices below are ideally for beginner DJs who still want premium features on a fair price. Their size make them perfect to easily install and practice in your home recording studio.
Once again, the word “best” is subjective, and you can not perfectly compare any DJ or music tool with another. Our choices have been made according to features, budget, personal experience and user ratings and reviews.
5 BEST DJ CONTROLLERS UNDER $400
1.NATIVE INSTRUMENTS TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 MK2
Native Instruments have countless controllers that offer deep integration with their DJ software. Traktor Kontrol S2 MK2 is the perfect controller for every beginner. It is the most expensive tool in our list of the best DJ controller under $400. The package comes with Traktor Pro 2.5 , so you are good to go and mix your first tracks with a pro software.
The Traktor Kontrol S2 has 2 channels for decks plus one for samples. High sensitivity jog wheels and great quality performance pads along with microphone input and song management with direct iTunes integration are features cannot go unnoticed. The controller will integrate very well with your iOS device either iPad or iPhone.
Kontrol s2 MK2 is compact, portable and with a high quality build that will last for years. The built-in audio interface offers superb sound quality making it powerful enough for advanced and pro DJ’s. It also provides precision control, cueing, and club-ready output levels.
conclusion: As we mentioned before, NI Kontrol S2 MK2 comes with the Traktor Pro 2, but it can also be mapped to Serato DJ. It is a bit pricey for beginners with tight budget, but it worth every penny. In fact if you can invest a bit more, you can go for the Kontrol S4 MKII with 4 channels where you can connect extra 2 cdjs or turntables.
Musicians who use it: Avicii, Dj Pierre, Ilan Bluestone
|Software compatibility:||Traktor Pro and all major|
2.PIONEER DDJ-SB2 SERATO DJ
The best seller DJ controller in this category and with the most flattering reviews, is a Serato Dj software compatible. Pioneer DDJ SB2 comes with an Intro version for you to start and in a very good price range. Although, eventually you will have to buy the full version of Serato to perform at it’s full capabilities.
Same as the NI Traktor Kontrol S2, the DDJ-SB2 has two channels with two big job wheels for precise scratch & mix. The controller has filter fade function which applies a high pass filter to either side of the crossfader, that way you can control the volume and filter cut-off of each channel simultaneously with just one hand. There are 4 rubber pads that give immediate access to Play, Cue, Sync and shift functions, while further 4 trigger Hot Cue, Sampler, AutoLoop and ManualLoop.
It has a built-in interface with good audio quality and the construction is tough. A commonplace when we talk about Pioneer. It is also very light-weight and easy to transport everywhere you go.
conclusion: Pioneer DDJ SB2 is affordable, but that’s because it comes with intro software version and not a full one. Serato Dj is a software used by pro’s and it’s a good opportunity for you to build a career around it. I highly recommend this tool for any beginner that wants good sound-quality, pro features, brand name and a budget-friendly tool.
Musicians who use it: Fatboy Slim, Ronan Mullins
|Software compatibility:||Serato Dj and all major|
3.NUMARK MIXTRACK PRO 3
The big brother of the successful Mixtrack PRO 2, has features you would expect to find on higher priced controllers. Mixtrack PRO 3 is a Serato compatible DJ controller and the package comes with an Intro version of it. But same as the above, eventually you will have to invest for the full version.
The tool by Numark has a built-in audio interface, but exists also a simple edition with no sound card for a budget cut. The two descs have touch-sensitive metal jog wheels and below them 16 ultra-responsive back-lit pads that can be used to control hot cues, loops, sample triggering and more.
This little and affordable tool offers a huge variety of features such as browse knob for easy track-access along with a button to load a track and 16 effect controls (flanger, phaser, echo, etc).
conclusion: Pioneer is “industry standard” and that’s why DDJ-SB2 is preferable among DJs compare to mixtrack pro 3, otherwise these two controllers are equally worth. Numark Mixtrack Pro is a great controller for a beginner and intermediate as well. Except Serato Dj, it is also compatible with Traktor, Virtual DJ, UltraMixer and more.
|Software compatibility:||Serato Dj and all major|
Denon has a big selection of audio devices for professional DJ’s and MC4000 is a controller for pros. The model between MC2000 and MC6000 MK2 offers everything a beginner needs and with a new reduced price, check now on Amazon store. Includes Serato DJ Intro but is also compatible with most major DJ software such as Traktor and Virtual DJ.
This premium two channel DJ controller has a nice solid metal chassis and high quality built-in audio interface. The MC4000 also features dual mic inputs with a range of high quality FX, including a studio grade echo and a ducking effect that lowers the volume of the music when you use the microphone.
Light and portable naturally, so you can transfer it everywhere. Even for it’s size they manage to put also dedicated Hot Cue and sample trigger pads with illuminated feedback.
conclusion: The very few reviews on the web speak about a durable controller that is good for your bedroom and your live performances as well. With a price range like that, it is a good investment for a beginner. If you have experience with DENON you can also check the big brother MC6000 MK2.
|Software compatibility:||Serato Dj and all major|
5.BEHRINGER CMD STUDIO 4A
The last pick of the best DJ controller is by a brand based in German. Popular for it’s inexpensive and trustworthy music equipment. CMD STUDIO 4A is the most affordable 4-deck controller with a built-in 4-channel audio interface you will find in the market.
Behringer CMD Studio 4A doesn’t lack in anything, with touch-sensitive jog wheel, 100mm pitch fader, 3 band kill EQ, background illuminated buttons, effects and loop controller is everything you will need to start djing. Stand-out for the the LED feedback, a decent built-in audio interface and plenty of hot cues.
It is compatible with the most popular DJ softwares. Traktor, Serato Live, Ableton Live are some of them. But instead one of these they added a software called Deckadance LE software. I am a bit disappointed about that.
conclusion: If you really don’t care about the brand, then the CMD STUDIO 4A is perfect for you. The DJ controller by Behringer has a very attractive price range and some features that overtake it’s competitors. The only big minus of this controller is that it doesn’t come with any popular DJ software. So inevitably you have to invest extra for Traktor or Serato DJ software.
|Software compatibility:||All major|
If you have heard around by others that DJ controllers are for amateurs or for beginners only, they are wrong. All-in-one DJ controllers have risen in popularity very quickly. They are more portable, more affordable, simpler, and if you know to use them properly can offer more than the conventional DJ setup. The models by NI and Pioneer are widely more used and preferred by users but you can’t go wrong with any of the above models.
Fell free to post your thoughts, comments or concerns…