Ending the Debate: The Real Difference Between DJ Controllers and CDJs
Today, we live in a more open-minded world where it’s not so taboo for DJs to mix with controllers or CDJs. Of course, some hardline purists are still banging the “vinyl only” drum, but reasonable people have accepted the benefits and drawbacks of each format. If you don’t have a huge vinyl collection, it might be smarter to go the digital route, but which modern option is best for you? Below, we’ve shared some insight about controllers and CDJs to help you make an educated decision.
With a few hundred dollars and a laptop, you can instantly create a portable DJ setup and play peak-time sets with your digital music collection. For a beginner DJ, controllers are an excellent first purchase because the barrier to entry isn’t high, digital software like Serato and Traktor make mixing much easier to grasp, and the interfaces are usually less intimidating than CDJs. Although vinyl and CDJ users tend to look down at controller DJs, the stigma is starting to wear off, and we’re seeing more and more professionals with controller setups. Furthermore, the latest controllers allow you to chop up samples, deploy effects, and layer tracks in extremely creative ways.
On the flip side, laptop DJing can look uninteresting when viewed from the dancefloor, so using a controller requires more mindfulness on a DJ’s part. With entry-level controllers, you sometimes get what you pay for — cheap plastic buttons and poor responsiveness — but high-end models like the Numark NS7II can go toe-to-toe with the best CDJ options.
Unlike controllers, CDJs don’t require a computer to run, so they’re ideal for a DJ booth setting. In fact, most respectable clubs will have two turntables and CDJs behind the booth, so they’ve become an industry standard around the world. Using CDs or a USB stick, you can load songs on a built-in digital display and then cue them with the jog wheel, without plugging in any extra devices. Perhaps more clubs will adopt controller setups in the next few years, but right now CDJs are ubiquitous, so they’re good to learn on if you hope to become a touring DJ. In addition, you’ll never end up staring at a laptop screen, so you can focus on building a connection with the crowd.
Compared to the average DJ controller, buying a pair of CDJs and a decent mixer can be a much more expensive prospect. A single CDJ like the Pioneer XDJ-1000 can cost around $1000, but just like turntables, you’ll need two of them to have a mix-ready setup. These devices are built to withstand some serious wear, so they’re extremely durable, but that means they’re also heavy. If you plan on traveling with gear, you may need an extra suitcase just to store your CDJs, mixer, and CD collection, whereas a portable controller might fit into a small carrying case.
All in all, there isn’t a right answer to the DJ controller vs. CDJ debate. It really depends on your skill level, mixing style, need for portability, and where you plan on DJing in the first place.