A DJ controller is a device used to assist a DJ in blending music using DJ software using tools, such as encoders, knobs, faders, jog wheels, touch strips, backlit buttons, and many similar parts.
A DJ controller can offer much simpler controls of the DJ software compared to a computer touchpad and keyboard on most laptops, or a touchscreen on a smartphone or a tablet computer.
However, a DJ controller will not be able to mix audio signals, for which you will need a DJ mixer. Instead, it sends audio signals to computers to instruct the software that is being run on the computers how you can mix the audio. A majority of DJ controllers also come with built-in sound cards with up to four output channels and two pairs of stereo.
This feature helps a DJ to test the quality of music on the headphones before you play it on the main source of output. A lot of DJ controllers utilize the typical HD or MIDI protocol to communicate with computers through a USB properly.
Plenty of modern DJ controllers tend to imitate 2 CDJs or turntables and DJ mixers. However, you will be glad to know that a DJ controller is usually much more economical compared to 2 CJJs or turntables and a mixer combined.
A DJ controller, as opposed to turntables, can take full benefit of the flexibility and different features offered by computer software. For instance, it allows a DJ the luxury to store several cue points relating to music files.
Also, DJ software offers users the ability to remap or reconfigure the various parts of a controller to carry out many functions than those intended by the manufacturer of a controller.
Many contemporary controllers distinguish themselves from the traditional mixer and two jog wheels layout designed in a manner which allows the user to map them however they like easily.
A few DJ controllers are specially designed for use in either live PA performances using software like Ableton Live or using DJ software. Some controllers, on the other hand, are precision designed for use with a timecode vinyl. The most famous ones in this category are the Novation Dicers.
Difference Between DJ Mixers And DJ Controllers
DJ mixers are a mixing console for blending audio, and DJs use them for a variety of purposes. A majority of DJs use DJ mixers for making seamless transitions when switching from one track to the next while spinning sets at dance clubs.
Turntablists and hip-hop DJs often use DJ mixers to play various record players in the form of musical instruments and come up with new and unique sounds.
Unlike the majority of DJ controllers, a DJ mixer does not need a computer to operate. This feature makes it ideal for most DJ booth settings. Many highly regarded clubs usually have a DJ mixer and two turntables in the booth; as a result, they have now become the industry standard throughout the world.
With the use of a DJ mixer, DJs can easily load different songs on their built-in displays. Then all a DJ has to do is cue these songs using their jog wheel, without having to plug in any additional device. It is likely that in the future more dance clubs are going to adopt DJ controller setups.
However, at the moment DJ mixers are ubiquitous. If you plan to become a DJ, you should see them. Moreover, you will never have to stare at your laptop screen for hours on end and will be able to concentrate on developing a strong bond with your crowd.
Parts Of DJ Controllers
There are many different components used in a DJ controller. Here is an overview:
A knob along with a level meter is used to adjust and check input volumes on different channels. The knob is used to set the volume level for each channel.
The knob allows the user to ensure all the different signals that come into a DJ controller have nearly similar overall volumes. Therefore, in case your record seems too quiet or low, you can increase it using the knob on your controller, and vice versa.
An audio DJ encoder is an assortment of software and hardware that is used to convert analog signals into organized digital files. The resulting digital files can have many different formats. The standard output of the software used in an encoder is usually in the AUP format; this is an editable structure.
A jog wheel (also known as the shuttle wheel or shuttle dial) is a kind of ring or dial which is used to allow the users to jog or shuttle through different types of audio and video media. It is a standard feature on most DJ controllers and found on certain models or types of CD players. These players are ideal for DJs.
Jog wheels have two main types. The first type of jog wheel lacks any stops and, as a result, you can spin it the whole way around, as it has a rotary design. These types of jog wheels depend on how you can track the movement of the dial.
If you spin it faster, back or forward, it will rewind or fast forward much faster. When the dial is no longer moving, your media will either continue to play or stay paused. The other type of jog wheel comes with stops on both sides and usually has up to three or four speeds, depending on how far the user turns it.
Once you release the wheel, it will move back to its original position (called the middle position) and your media will either pause or start to play once again.
Faders are devices used for fading (decreasing or increasing an audio signal's level). They are an important part of DJ controllers and take the form of a button or knob that can slide along the slot or track. In principle, it is a potentiometer with variable resistance and is also known as a pot.
A contact usually moves between the two ends of the device. With this motion, the circuit's resistance can either decrease or increase. The resistance ranges from infinite on one end of the scale to nil at the other end.
A digital fader is also known as a virtual fader, as you can view it on the screens of audio workstations. A majority of high-end and modern DJ mixers and controllers usually have flying faders. A flying fader has many piezoelectric actuators that are attached to it.
These faders have multiple uses and can move to the right spot for many different selected functions or saved settings. You can also automate a flying fader; this allows the fader to move strictly following a previously defined path whenever you present a time code to your equipment.
A majority of DJ controller manufacturers now provide a variety of mixers for several purposes along with a slew of fader styles. These styles include beat mixing, scratching or cut mixing, etc.
Backlit Buttons And Touch Strips
A touch strip is used to offer nuanced or subtle musical controls as well as visualization for a DJ and many laptop musicians. Colored LEDs and backlit buttons react to changes in touch, volume, and MIDI.
The touch strip is very versatile and flexible and can accommodate many controllers at a time, providing the user to come up with new and unique ways to play tracks and other effects.
The ability to handle multiple controllers at the same time offers users the luxury to do things like simple track fading or more complex virtual instrumentation. Touch strips have various outputs such as pressure, position, release and pitch wheel. A majority of touch strips allow for fast response and the ability to switch to different levels.
How To Get Accustomed To A DJ Controller
If you see an expert DJ working with a DJ controller with many shiny buttons and flashing lights, you can easily feel overwhelmed. If you want to get accustomed to a DJ controller, we have understandable and clear instructions to help you get started.
The picture below shows a popular and standard DJ controller. However, even a cursory glance at the picture can intimidate you as there are so many controls on this DJ controller. But do not get discouraged as we will break down what the different buttons do.
- On most DJ controllers you are going to find a few ports that will connect to the PA systems. The ones in the picture have RCA output, and you can use them with a red or white audio cable. You may find the output in various sizes. Most DJ controllers will connect to the PA system with cords
- This button of your DJ controller is used to control the sound FX. This section helps you to manage the performance of the controller when using DJ software. Using it is very simple when you work with the suitable software
- You can find this feature on most DJ controllers, and it controls the song's tempo. You can play the song faster by sliding it toward the plus sign and vice versa. A majority of DJs tend to speed up or slow down the tempo at a rate of four to five BPMs gradually and carefully throughout the track to make the transition to the subsequent track. The trick can also allow users to transition to tracks that have eight to ten BPMs and still sound great
- The platter of a DJ controller has two functions. You can use the wheel to momentarily modify the tempo of a song to emulate a different song, or it can generate a scratching sound like vinyl
- You will not find this feature on every DJ controller. You can use the button to change how little or how much to adjust the tempo with a tempo fader. In case you would like to change the tempo drastically or quite rapidly, the button will be helpful in customizing the range and sensitivity of a song's tempo
- Plenty of DJ software can incorporate four decks, and this button allows the user to move to channel 3 or channel four on the DJ software, which allows you to operate the DJ controller with four separate channels
- As we discussed above, the platter on a DJ controller has two functions: to change the tempo or produce a scratch. This button will allow the user to toggle between the two features
- You will not find this button on every controller. Pressing the button will allow the user to end the song smoothly with the use of drum pads. You will find it particularly helpful when you would like to swiftly cut a track to make a transition or stop the music completely
- These buttons have a variety of functions such as hot cue, manual loop, auto loop, and sampler.
Types Of DJ Controllers
DJ controllers come in different forms and sizes with a plethora of different functions. The different DJ controllers also vary in price, and most high-end models have a steep price tag.
The market for DJ hardware has grown at an incredible rate in the recent past, allowing professional DJs and beginners to choose DJ controllers that are suitable for their work needs, fit their budget and work well with their software.
Beginner DJ Controller
A majority of beginner controllers are portable and have two channels, which usually allows new DJs to jump right in and access all of the different features of the DJ software from the start.
They can easily fit in small bags, and most of them come with up to 8 performance pads on each side, which is due to the increase in competition between different manufacturers.
Beginner DJ controllers have buttons that can play hot cues, loops, samples, and effects. These controllers come with their software which makes it easier to load your complete music collection and be ready whether you would like to jam on a CDJ, or simply export it to your USB stick.
A majority of beginner controllers can be easily used with laptops and iPads using relevant apps. They have everything required for basic sound mixing and boast complete control with usually two effective units, and some beginner controllers have options to manage various pads with one knob.
These controllers have up to four decks with a filter fade feature that can be used to engage the filters for different decks while using the crossfader. When they are engaged, a pass filter on your deck allows you to mix tracks seamlessly and smoothly. It is an ideal feature for beginner DJs as it helps them get an appropriate feel of blending tracks.
Medium Range DJ Controllers
A majority of these controllers have a wide range of features that can be useful for both amateurs and professional users. DJ controllers in this range usually have a robust metal construction with a very intuitive layout for controls.
They have buttons for the hot cue, effects, trigger, play and sync that will light up with different colors for swift differentiation and recognition.
Most of these controllers have pitch control and jog wheels that provide an experience that is very close to vinyl, which is the best in class. Their ergonomic design is optimized to make the best use of the loop recorder and sample deck functions.
These controllers can play from both Android and iOS devices. Some of these controllers have two channels with a band EQ of 3 per channel and have backlit buttons for loops and transport controls, along with buttons to switch to flux mode.
Premium DJ Controllers
There are only some DJ controllers that can play almost anything. Premium DJ controllers allow the users to play standalone via many different media and they can also connect to users' laptops.
Most of them are full-featured controllers that come with two CD decks, specialized software packages, two USB flash drives (at least), and an integrated three-channel mixer.
Premium controllers are gig-ready, and everything you need to connect them to different sound systems is part of the system. These features include well-balanced XLR outs, up to three 0.25" mic inputs and 0.25" or 0.125" headphone output.
These controllers have a stunning built-in screen that displays all the relevant song information and offer the users the luxury to switch between CD, USB, and laptop. Many other features include multi-purpose jog wheels, dual-channel audio mixers, double deck computer control functions and jog wheel for scratching and searching.
There are many makers of DJ controllers in the market. Some of the leading brands are:
Pioneer is the leading brand of DJ controllers in the market. Their products are high-quality and durable. Most of their products have four channels along with performance pads that come with multi-colored cue points with several on-jog cue countdowns. The products feature Serato DJ DVS, which is a great update and boasts better jog wheel latency.
Their beginner products also have features like filter fade, trim pots, four-deck control and Pad Trans effect. These products have dynamic DJ play and large jog wheels along with manual filters on each channel.
Numark is another popular brand in the DJ equipment industry. A majority of their DJ controllers have a compact and convenient chassis for producing and performing with DJ software.
Their products have a familiar and intuitive layout with a mixer and two to three decks which you will find very helpful whether you are developing your DJ skills or have many years worth of experience.
The best part about their products is that they are easy and fun to learn and at the same time handle advanced and complex techniques. They also produce many portable products that you can take with you wherever your gig is.
Their mid-range products have useful features such as smooth crossfader, deck EQs, line faders and controls for effects and looping.
Hercules DJ controllers are well-known for their sleek and refreshing design. The producer uses top-notch materials to manufacture top quality and stunning controllers for both beginners and professionals that last several years into the future.
Most of their products have two decks, velocity sensitive pads, air control and jog wheels for pressure detection. Their products are compatible with iOS and Android devices along with laptops; they also have powered USB port.
Maintenance Of DJ Controllers
You know that dirt is unavoidable. Also, fibers, fabric, and pollen are all unpleasant elements that can harm your DJ controller. The sufficient accumulation of these elements along with dust can adversely affect the performance of various parts and lead to rigid faders and deterioration in aesthetics.
Prevention is often the best course of action. Use dust covers on your controller when you are not practicing. When you travel to gigs, take a bag or case with you. Another good practice is to elevate your controller when you are playing and keep it away from water and other liquids.
You can perform regular maintenance with a microfiber cloth and compressed air. Moreover, always follow the manufacturer's instructions for maintenance and cleaning.
We have discussed what a DJ controller is along with the differences between DJ controllers and DJ mixers. We have looked at the different components of a DJ controller such as knobs, jog wheels, encoders and faders and how they work.
We have provided some tips on how you can get familiar with a DJ controller. We have looked at the different types of controllers like beginner, medium range, and premium.
We have also discussed a few maintenance tips to increase the life of your DJ controllers. You also learned about the top manufacturers of DJ controllers. Our buying guide will discuss the different features that you should consider when buying a DJ controller along with some recommendations.