The B&H Guide to Control Surfaces for the Digital DJ
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The B&H Guide to Control Surfaces for the Digital DJ

By Sam Mallery

The past several years have seen radical changes in the ways many DJ's work. The laptop computer has become as ubiquitous in the DJ booth as the turntable. The sudden change in workflow, moving from CD decks and vinyl to using the computer almost exclusively, has created an intense demand for dedicated hardware control surfaces featuring the ergonomics, style, and tools needed by today's digital DJ.

While some of the advantages of DJ'ing with a computer are obvious, others are less apparent. A hard drive loaded with music files weighs dramatically less than a crate filled with records. The advantage in portability is clear, but less obvious is the new-found ability to completely manipulate the music being played. DJ's are now able to fundamentally morph a prerecorded track into something new, essentially turning a regular DJ set into a string of off-the-cuff live remixes.

The powerful tools found in the DJ'ing software that make live remixing possible have special commands, and often require a fair amount of mouse clicking to achieve. This is why there is a need for DJ control surfaces with specialized buttons and knobs for creating loop points, launching clips, dropping markers, etc. In the digital realm, there's a lot more going on than just crossfading and headphone cues. Many manufacturers have answered the call, so we created this guide to show you what's out there.

DJ Control Surface Breakdown

Evolution UC-33

Evolution UC-33 Among the first DAW controllers to be embraced by DJ's, the UC-33 was a hit due to its simplistic design, easy integration, and because its layout and size just fit well into the scheme of computer-based DJ's. Green LED lights on each of its 8 faders also aided its appeal to the DJ market. Being able to see your faders through the din of a fog machine is a nice touch. It includes graphic overlays for popular applications like Ableton Live and Reason.

Behringer BCF2000

Behringer BCF2000 Of the myriad products released by German manufacturer Behringer, the BCF2000 is one of their most universally lauded designs. Originally intended as a control surface for a home studio DAW, the BCF2000 was quickly adopted by digital DJs because of its useful faders and knobs, plus it's physically and dimensionally the perfect size to sit in the place of a traditional club mixer. The BCR2000 is a similar unit with 32 rotary encoders instead of faders. The two are often used together in the DJ booth.

M-Audio X Session Pro

M-Audio X Session Pro On the more inexpensive end of the spectrum, the X Session Pro from M-Audio is a solid, albeit somewhat basic, DJ controller. It's bus powered via USB, it's class-compliant so you'll never need additional drivers to use it with a Mac or PC. It's got 27 assignable controls and is packaged with Torq LE, a light version of M-Audio's DJing software.

M-Audio Torq Xponent

M-Audio Torq Xponent The Xponent features all of the controls you need to mix, scratch, and manipulate M-Audio's Torq DJ'ing software. They've even included a scrolling touch pad, so you'll never have to grab your mouse and look like you're checking your email when you're in the middle of a live DJ set. This system includes a USB audio interface, and it can be used to control other software through ReWire.

CME-Pro Bitstream3X

CME-Pro Bitstream3X The Bitstream3X is in the class of DJ controllers for users who really want to dig into their software for more precise control. Beyond the standard crossfader, channel faders, and knobs you'll find a ribbon controller, an arpeggiator, and an LFO generator. It also includes presets for Ableton Live and Traktor, two of the most popular DJing programs.

Novation ReMOTE ZeRO-SL

Novation ReMOTE ZeRO-SL In addition to sporting rows of assignable rotary knobs and faders, the ReMOTE ZeRO-SL features auto-mapping technology to load preassigned commands to its controls and automatically sync with popular audio software. Each row of controls includes a brightly lit LCD screen so you can see your parameters. Eight sensitive pads are included for laying down beats and triggering samples.

Edirol PCR-300

Edirol PCR-300 There's no shortage of USB keyboard controllers on the market, but with the introduction of the PCR-300, Edirol has addressed the digital DJ's needs with the inclusion of a prominently placed crossfader. Keyboard controllers can be a good option for a budget-minded DJ, because not only do you get the standard buttons, knobs, and faders to assign, but you can also use the keys themselves to trigger samples and launch clips.

Jazzmutant Lemur

Jazzmutant Lemur Probably the number one complaint among digital DJ's is not what's wrong with any given control surface, the problem is what's missing. No matter what layout a manufacturer comes up with, there are going to be DJ's who wished there was an extra fader here, or more buttons to launch clips over there, etc. The Lemur is the one product that makes everyone happy because its touch-screen interface is fully customizable to suit your needs. It also solves the problem of allowing you to almost fully detach yourself from your computer, making digital mixing a fully hands-on interactive and immersive experience.

For more detailed information on both old school analog and digital DJ equipment, we encourage you to contact us at 1-800-416-5090, online at, or in person at our SuperStore in New York City.

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