Holiday 2012: DJ Controllers

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Everyone wants to be a DJ these days, and with good reason—DJs are cool. Movie stars are doing it. Sports stars are doing it. Guess what? You could do it, too.

Digital DJ Controllers are all-in-one workstations that include software to interface your laptop to a crossfading mix surface with dual decks and jog wheels. Whether you want a controller to lay down beats in a club or just a smaller-scale creative outlet for living-room soirées, the benefits of a digital DJ controller are undeniable. You won’t even need to fumble with CDs or vinyl; the necessary media is already in your computer—your personal music collection. We’re going to look at three kinds of controllers: entry-level controllers for getting your feet wet, intermediate control surfaces with more FX and functions and professional-level behemoths for when you’re ready to bring down the house.

All of the DJ Controllers in this roundup will connect to a laptop by USB 2.0, some of which will also have built-in sound cards and analog functionality as well.

For Entry-Level DJs

The portable Numark DJ2GO features basic transport controls, allowing you to start/stop, crossfade and pitch bend your tracks. The DJ2GO fits nicely at the end of your laptop and includes Virtual DJ LE software to take full advantage of your digital music library. It easily connects by USB and offers plug-and-play functionality with Virtual DJ. Its backlit LED function controls guide you through mixing your favorite tracks with no need to touch the mouse. DJ2GO’s 13 ounce lightweight build is ideal to carry around with you from party to party.

The MIXTRACK DJ Software Controller, also by Numark, is an interactive mixing surface with a full, touch-sensitive jog wheel and looping/effects capability on each side, and a crossfader in the center. The two-channel design features independent gain levels and 3-band EQ, instantly impacting the mix engine on the included Virtual DJ LE software. The left and right decks also feature one-touch EQ kills and pitch bend sliders. The MIXTRACK DJ is USB powered and boasts wide audio file compatibility.

The Numark iDJ3 Digital DJ Controller adds a few more bells and whistles, featuring a built-in sound card with an iOS dock, allowing you to play tracks directly from your iPod or iPhone. You can also use the dock to record your performance. This three-channel controller includes Virtual DJ LE software to get you started immediately. Its tactile interface features a dedicated iPod fader, dual touch-sensitive platters, large rotary knobs, 3-band EQ and built-in looping. The 1/4” TRS mic input lets you fire up the crowd, while the RCA outputs connect directly to an amplifier or the house PA.

The Hercules DJControl Instinct features an internal sound card with digital audio resolution up to 16-bit/44.1k Hz. Its intuitive layout clearly divides the dual decks from the central mixer. The DJControl Instinct is premapped for the included DJuced software, bringing to life all the features of both hardware and software, while also allowing you to record your mix. The pressure-detecting jog wheels make each virtual deck act like a real vinyl player, with the zero-latency scratching and easy pitch bending. The integrated function buttons let you cycle between hot cues, loops, effects and samples. The onboard mixer features 3-band EQ on each channel, large level faders and a crossfader. Its output section offers left/right RCA connections and a 1/8” stereo jack. An additional 1/8” headphone jack is available for previewing your mix.

The Vestax Typhoon looks like the ultimate Nintendo controller, but in reality, it’s a two-channel DJ controller with a very intuitive and touch-based layout. It includes the Virtual DJ Vestax version, which is specifically designed for Typhoon. The high resolution, touch-sensitive jog wheels look slick, while the large channel faders and transport controls make mixing easy. Beyond simple scratching, a single button allows the jog wheels to create sweeping filter effects. In addition to tempo sliders, the Typhoon has 3 EQ and 1 gain slider on each channel, conceivably allowing 4-finger total tone manipulation. The integrated sound card features RCA outputs, a 1/4” TRS mic input and a 1/4" stereo headphone output.

Intermediate Controllers

The Pioneer DDJ-WeGO introduces the next level of DJ controllers to our roundup. Its straightforward, minimalistic design keeps all its functionality stylishly incognito. This two-channel USB controller has two layers, allowing you to work with up to 4 tracks at once. Additionally, WeGO includes Virtual DJ LE software, for all the behind-the-scenes processing. The Pioneer user interface helps you make creative mixes with assisted beat matching and jog-wheel effects. Each channel also features four hot cues, 3-band EQ and a tempo slider. Its built-in soundcard has a 1/4” mic input, dual headphone outputs and RCA main outs.

The DDJ-ERGO DJ Controller by Pioneer can also control up to four virtual decks and includes Virtual DJ LE software. DDJ-ERGO is also compatible with Traktor and Serato DJ Intro software. Its ergonomic design arches underneath to tuck in the keyboard of a laptop, keeping the computer screen very close and visible. The ERGO’s dual decks feature low profile jog wheel platters, tempo sliders, 4 sample points, 4 hot cues and easy FX manipulation. Pioneer's Pulse Control illuminates the platters and control section in real time with its pitch, beat, effects and loading parameters to aid beginning DJs; it also enhances the controller's profile and flair during any performance. The built-in audio interface includes 1/4” and RCA master outputs, a mic input, an aux line in and dual headphone outputs.

The MC2000 DJ Controller by Denon DJ offers more professional sound and connectivity options. This two-channel controller features Serato DJ Intro software and a built-in audio interface. The jog wheels and faders are identical to those found on Denon’s professional-grade controllers, while the backlit buttons easily trigger hot cues, FX and looping functionality. The mixing center features 3-band EQ, large faders and track-selection controls. Additionally, the sound card includes a 1/4" TRS mic input as well as an RCA line in for connecting external gear, such as a sampler. RCA outputs connect to an amp or powered speakers, while a 1/4" headphone out lets you monitor what you’re cueing up.

For those who excel on vinyl turntables, the Numark N4 4-Deck Digital DJ Controller and Mixer affords you the opportunity to embrace new technology without sacrificing your roots. This four-channel controller not only includes Virtual DJ LE and Serato DJ Intro, but also provides connectivity for two of its channels to be analog line/phono inputs. Two of your channels can be software-based playback, while having a real turntable or CDJ player on either side as well. Each of the four channel strips has a gain control, 3-band EQ and a volume fader. Additionally, each side of the crossfader can be variably assigned to any channel. The two jog-wheel decks each feature FX, cue points, sampling and looping. They also include pitch sliders and beat-matching controls. The integrated sound card offers two 1/4” TRS mic inputs, a 1/4” stereo headphone jack, two stereo pairs of RCA line/phono inputs, booth outputs and both RCA and XLR main outs.

Professional DJ Controllers

The Numark 4Trak 4-Deck DJ Controller has solid-metal construction that looks like it belongs at NASA. It is designed for use with Traktor, and includes a custom edition of the software. It features a wide array of hot cue, FX, looping and sampling functionality, including a 12-knob FX Kommand Console. The jog wheels are touch sensitive with 3,600 ticks of resolution per rotation. In addition to its software-related capabilities, the 4Trak is also a fully functional analog mixer, offering a stereo pair of RCA inputs per channel. Each channel strip has a gain, 3-band EQ and volume fader. Also included on each channel is a PC/Line switch, which allows you to dynamically switch between analog/software playback during sets. When playing back from software, the Strip Search virtual needle drop allows you to locate a specific point using a tactile seek strip. The built-in soundcard features two 1/4” TRS mic inputs, two line inputs, two line/phono inputs, two headphone outs, RCA booth/zone outs, and both RCA and XLR main outs.

The DN-MC6000 by Denon DJ is a 4-channel controller with flexible routing. It includes Virtual DJ LE, but also has a built-in sound card with connectivity for 4 analog players and 2 microphones. Essentially, it is both an analog DJ mixer and digital DJ controller. It can be used in either domain or used dynamically in both. The MC6000 is built with a solid-steel chassis and sturdy faders and knobs. Each channel strip begins with a 4-way source selector switch, continuing to a level knob and 3-band EQ. In addition to the usual looping, cueing and FX, the MC6000 features echo and ducking effects for both mic channels as well as 3-band EQ.

For the ultimate DJ setup, the Numark NS7FX Motorized DJ Controller features 7” vinyl records on real slipmats resting on motorized, adjustable-torque turntables. The NS7FX interacts seamlessly with the included Serato ITCH software, for professional-level performance boasting USB data transfer rates more than 10 times faster than standard MIDI. The two-channel mixer features a built-in sound card with 24-bit/44.1 kHz digital resolution. Each deck has looping, cueing, pitch bending and sampling functionality, in addition to Numark’s Strip Search virtual needle-drop control. The NSFX effects controller enhances on-the-fly tweaking. On the mixing surface, the channel strips feature gain, 3-band EQ and level faders, outputting to both XLR and RCA jacks. The front panel includes Aux and Mic inputs and a headphone output.

In Conclusion

We’ve looked at a wide variety of DJ controllers, from simple to advanced. When shopping for one, be careful not to go overboard. Find something that complements your skill level. If you’re a beginner, a professional-level machine might have too steep a learning curve to provide an enjoyable pastime. Find something in your wheelhouse, and start spinning! To answer any questions or concerns you may have, please contact a B&H Sales Professional via live chat, on the phone or in our SuperStore.