Whatever side you sit on the vinyl turntable versus DJ controller divide, you will likely agree the debate about which is better is needlessly polarizing.
With the way the technology is improving, that DDjs aren’t going anywhere is an irrefutable fact.
As such, smart disc jockeys are getting with the program. They are exploring ways to best use DJ controllers in their gigs.
One question we find most asking is, what are the best DJ controllers for scratching?
Another one is, can you get a decent scratch out of a DDJ?
With answers to those questions, a common follow-up question would be;
What are the most important considerations when shopping for a DJ controller?
To find answers to these questions, we trawled forums, eavesdropped on Facebook discussions, and read the best articles that dispel myths about using DJ controllers for scratching.
We will dive straight into the most prevalent question:
Can You Scratch as Well on A DJ Controller as You Can on Vinyl?
Most DJs who have trained on vinyl turntables will answer this question with a NO.
To some vinyl purists, controllers don't come anywhere near reproducing the ‘warm tones’ and ‘artistic expression’ you get with a vinyl turntable.
Somewhat fair points!
After all, save for a few models, platters on most DJ controllers do not spin, which is what the whole art of scratching evolved from.
Vinyl purists are also quick to claim most jockeys who come close to mastering scratching on DJ controllers themselves learned on vinyl turntables.
The truth is, because of the subtle nuances of vinyl and the tactile feel of the spinning record, transitioning from vinyl to a DJ controller is unlikely to be seamless. But it is not as hard as they make it.
If you choose to train on a DDJ, you can develop an impressive repertoire of cuts as one playing on vinyl. You just have to get over your inhibitions.
And if you needed inspiration, many DJs, including celebrity ones like Jazzy Jeff have made the transition from vinyl to DJ controller.
Fact is, if you don’t have the skill to begin with, you can be equally poor on a DJ controller as you are on a vinyl turntable.
Remember too, unless you are playing for a crowd of experienced vinyl scratch DJs, very few people will pick the differences between a vinyl and a controller scratch.
As long as you can bring it and can entertain your crowd, it matters little what you are scratching on - vinyl turntable or DJ controller.
With all that said:
The All-In-One Convenience of a DJ Controller Is Its Biggest Selling Point
Let’s face it, using a vinyl turntable to perform if you are a mobile DJ is a punishing business.
Yes, flight cases are cool and they make it easy to haul your gear around. But all that stuff is heavy and is hardly portable. You will be nursing a sore back every night.
DJ controllers bring everything together in a compact, portable unit.
Because you can now dispense of all those crates of vinyl records and cases of CDs, a controller DJ’s setup can now be a fraction of the size of a turntable DJ’s gear.
Portability aside, a controller DJ will not have to contend with warped platters and other issues associated with analogue equipment.
And besides all that, performing on turntables takes real skill. You essentially depend on your ear to match beats. Not to mention that you have to manually control the pitch at the same time.
Controllers make this that much easier. They will, pretty much beatmix for you.
Unlike DJ controllers that can be had for under $500 for a decent set, turntable setups are also very expensive to put together. In a nutshell, with controllers, we all can try our hand at scratch DJing.
If you don’t have the time to invest in learning to scratch on turntable or CDJ, which admittedly will improve your scratch skills, there is nothing wrong in taking a short cut and just grabbing yourself a DJ controller.
Buying Guide tor the Best DJ Controllers for Scratching
If you look around in the right places, you will find more than enough robust DJ software.
The important question is;
Can you find the hardware of exacting quality that can manipulate the software well enough to deliver scratches rivaling the best vinyl cuts?
The answer is, you should be able to, if you know what to look for in a DJ controller.
What Scratch DJs Must Look for in a Digital Controller
As you shop for your controller, one thing is for sure:
There is more than enough choices out there. The challenge is to find the right controller for your needs and budget.
That said, your choice is unlikely to be guided by one feature or quality. Let’s look at the more important considerations:
Which Software Do You Prefer?
DJ controllers are designed as the physical interface for DJ software. They give you external control of the software and simplify tasks like changing BPM, tweaking FX, editing and changing cues, and syncing tracks, among others.
The software platform you choose to run with your controller will determine what you are and aren’t able to do.
Increasingly, though, manufacturers are taking away that luxury of choosing which software to run, with DJ controllers made to be used with specific software.
Even though there are controllers that you can still use with other software, those controllers will work best when used with their recommended software.
However, there is still software you can use with any DJ controller of your choice, with Serato being the most notable. But you want to avoid using software that is not recommended for the controller as that raises digital latency issues.
If software is an important consideration, you would want to do your research and only buy your controller after you have determined the software it has the tightest integration with.
A Responsive Crossfader and Good Jogwheel are Important Scratch DJ Tools
Scratching for DJs involves speeding, pausing, slowing, and reversing a record to alter how it sounds when it plays.
Needless to say, the jogwheel - the digital emulator of the turntable platter - needs to be responsive, with a natural feel. So too should the crossfader.
This is important for avoiding latency issues, which is a common problem with digital controllers.
As you would imagine, for a jog wheel to emulate the natural feel and experience of scratching an actual spinning record, a lot of things have to come together.
The feature to look for here is the jog wheel tension adjustment. Bear in mind that only a select few controllers come with this functionality.
The jog wheel also needs to be a full size for any realistic scratching to be possible. A jog wheel that’s too small will literally cramp your style.
How Much Control Do You Require from Your Controller?
Different DJ controllers avail different features and tools. Individually, these open up different controls.
All-in-one controllers typically pack in the basic digital DJ features and others you would normally find in standalone equipment like mixers, MIDI, drum pads, and audio interfaces. These will cost significantly more than the basic, deck-only, entry-level controllers.
It is critical to know which features are important to you before you go out shopping.
The number of channels and connection ports on the controller also determine how much you can do with your controller.
How many input and output ports does the controller have? Having more input and output options gives you flexibility to take on gigs of different sizes.
Also directly related to this:
A Mobile DJ Will Require a Compact, Portable DJ Controller
If you travel a lot for your gigs, it goes without saying that your set needs to be sturdy but portable.
All the movement between venues will eventually take its toll if you have to lug around heavy equipment.
A compact, all-in-one controller will thus be a great convenience.
Controllers are generally compatible, with a manageable size and weight, especially when you compare them to vinyl turntables.
What’s perhaps more important is to choose one that comes with a good sound card so you don’t need to have an audio interface too, which will add to the equipment you have to carry with you.
The 5 Best Scratch DJ Controllers on The Market
The technology behind DJ controllers and the software they run is constantly improving. As such, our picks will not stay the ‘best’ forever.
Others, including upgrades on the same, will come and assume the mantle. For that reason, we will regularly refer back to the market and update the list.
However, it is also good to avoid the shiny object syndrome - assuming that every latest release is an improvement on the old. Sometimes it isn’t.
At this point, we feel that the following DDJs are a close representation of the best controllers for scratch DJing across several price points.
Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 USB DJ Controller
This is a great starter controller, the Numark Mixtrack Pro 3 is an update on the original Mixtrack Pro.
This version features a sleek and more naturally feeling design. The wider shape allows for spaced out knobs and sliders, and long-throw pitch controls.
If you are familiar with the Mixtrack Pro 2, you will love the two-channel Mixtrack Pro 3’s deeper jog wheels, which are more practical. Per-channel filters are also an improvement on the controller’s predecessor.
This controller runs on Serato DJ Lite, which you can download free after you register online. You will have to pay extra to get the full version.
An onboard sound card means you will not have to worry about having to hook up an external audio interface. The inputs and outputs are standard for this price range, with two headphone jacks, one ¼” TRS mic port, and a twin RCA master out.
Other Features and Benefits
- Touch capacitive metal platters have two zones for stopping and scratching your tracks, while touching the side will bend the song’s pitch,
- Long, 100 mm pitch control faders make manual beat matching a lot easier than controllers in the same class,
- Three single effects controls for each deck simplifies the controller’s interface,
- The body is made from plastic, but the build quality is sturdy,
- The controller sells at a great price for its range of features.
- The supplied Serato DJ Intro software has limited features, meaning you will have to upgrade before long, which adds to your budget.
Denon DJ MC4000 Premium 2-Channel DJ Controller
Not quite in the big leagues, the Denon DJ MC4000 has just about enough power to be suitable for digital DJs breaking into the professional ranks.
With this controller the Denon brand succeeded in creating a clean, ergonomically designed control panel. Using it the first time you can’t help but feel everything, including looping and hot cue sections - is right where it should be.
The designers didn’t go crazy with the jog wheel either. It is touch activated, with a tactile, almost natural feel.
Long-throw pitch faders give you a CDJ-like feel, while the sample pads and hot cues also feel just right under your fingers.
The controller runs pretty much any software. The supplied Serato DJ Lite software is about adequate for beginners. More advanced DJs will want to upgrade to the full version to unlock the best features.
Other Features and Benefits
- Lifting it up, the controller’s steel chassis immediately points to a strong build quality,
- Integrated 24-bit sound card means you don’t have to lug your audio interface to and from gigs,
- Two low distortion mic inputs with dedicated band shelving EQ,
- Compatibility with most major DJ software means you can use the controller with any software of your choice,
- Its portability makes it a good fit for mobile DJs,
- The Serato DJ Intro software will start to feel inadequate before long.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 DJ Controller
This 4-channel Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 is an update of the old S4, with iOS compatibility being its most recognizable feature.
But you feel an iPhone or iPad docking station would be have gone some way in justifying the noise Native Instruments made about the controller’s new iOS support.
As you may demand of a controller that sets you back by this much, the controller comes with the full version of the Traktor Pro 2 software that works out of the box and is offered free to download.
The look of the controller is admittedly not a lot different from the old S4, but the new aluminium jog wheel tops give it a distinctly shiny, industrial look.
Added to that, the jog wheel’s scratch control feels a lot smoother. In fact, it is when you start to scratch that you see this controller is up there with the best DJ controllers for scratching..
Other Features and Benefits
- Makes it easy to manually beatmatch by disengaging the keylock and sync,
- Control for Traktor DJ app is imminently convenient, especially for mobile DJs,
- Adds the remix deck control and booth output, which marks an upgrade on earlier models,
- The fader responds fantastically quick with no bumps or distortions,
- The buttons and knobs on the controller are more playable, with a more natural feel over earlier models.
- Though it has iOS support, some features work best when the software is run from a computer, which is a disappointment if you want to dispense of your laptop and lighten your gear.
PIONEER DDJSR Pro DJ Controller
If Technics is the standard for vinyl turntables, then Pioneer can claim the honor in the digital DJ space.
This PIONEER DDJSR Pro DJ Controller is smack in the mid-tier of the DJ controller market. It is reliable, is sophisticated just about enough to grow with your skills, and would be great introduction to pro-level DJing.
Scratch DJs will love that the big silver jog wheels immediately stand out the moment you pull the rather weighty controller out of the box.
The jogs metal facade extends to the whole control panel, which makes for a durable unit that will take heavy use in its stride.
The 4-channel mixer (including two that are button enabled) sits between the two large, 6-inch diameter jogs.
There are also 16 performance pads with different functions right below the platters.
If you are looking for the same level of quality but with slightly more control and pro-level features, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2 Professional DJ Controller can be had for around $200 more.
Other Features and Benefits
- Comes with the full version of Serato DJ software, whose online registration is easy,
- Can also run with other software, provided you download the needed mapping,
- The jogs’ generous elevation off the faceplate gives ample room for accurate pitch bending,
- The rubber knobs in the EQ section will give a solid grip and so too will the faders, which are smooth but sturdy,
- Full size jog wheels that have excellent and accurate response to scratch.
- A few users have complained about platter latency and mic input issues.
Numark NS6II | 4-Channel Premium DJ Controller
The Numark NS6 had been going strong for over five years, with many loyal fans. But it needed an upgrade, which the brand duly obliged with.
To their credit, the company chose to keep most of the controller’s more celebrated features while adding a few new ones to the upgraded Numark NS6II.
New features added to the controller include, two USB ports for multiple computer connection, capacitive touch jog wheels and knobs, and full version of and seamless integration with Serato DJ software.
The 4-channel mixer alone is worth the price of this controller. Though the fact you only have inputs for channels 3 and 4 may be a wrinkle for some.
Looking at its feature set, there isn’t much between this controller and the more expensive NS7lll, whose major distinguishing feature are those direct drive platters.
The only thing we wished this controller had is integration with iOS. For that our recommendation would be the Reloop Mixon 4 - a very capable controller in its own right.
Other Features and Benefits
- Intelligent touch capacitive platters self-correct and ensure reliable operation,
- Touch sensitive knobs guarantee instantly responsive effect control,
- The heavy duty platters are built to withstand heavy use,
- Rubber performance pads are comfortable to the touch and allow quick access to manual loop sampler, slicer, hot cues, and auto looper,
- Comes with a DVS ready preamp, 2 stereo RCA inputs, and ¼ inch mic inputs with dedicated EQ, and balanced XLR outputs,
- A great price that is lower than both the original’s and that of competing models like the Pioneer DDJ-SX2 and Denon MC7000, which have the same features.
- The layout is rather bland and not much of an improvement on the original.
And Our Pick Is…
The Numark NS6II.
We love it for its touch capacitive platters and touch sensitive knobs that make make for accurate and effortless scratching. That it is DVS ready and has those two USB ports also sets this controller apart.
The competitive price is another reason the Numark NS6II is so popular with other digital DJs.
Prefer Pioneer, or something a little cheaper? Then the PIONEER DDJSR Pro will be a great alternative pick.
If you are a fan of the Traktor Pro 2 software - a favorite of many digital DJs - our recommendation would be the Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2. Otherwise all five of our picks would be reliable choices at their price points.
Yours is the fun part. Now, grab any one of these DJ controllers and get scratching already.