DJ Controller VS CDJ -What Is Better?

One of the big debates within the DJ world is one that centres around DJ Controllers and CDJs, both of which are music devices that allow you to play and mix tracks digitally.

Originally there were vinyl turntables which are the start and foundation on which DJing today is built.

We then saw a shift to the digital age and with that came the rise of CDJs and DJ controllers. These devices allow you to play and mix tracks digitally, using a laptop, USB drives or SD cards.

Below we aim to explain what both devices are, the pros and cons of each device, the difference between both devices, and a conclusion on which device we feel is the best fit for you no matter what level you are currently at.

So don’t worry if you’re not sure about anything, choosing a device can be a daunting process and we’re sure you will be ready to make a decision by the time you finish reading.

DJ Controller

What is it?

A DJ controller has taken the traditional 2 x CDJs and a DJ mixer and encompassed this into an all in one device that is used to play and mix music via DJ software that is installed on a laptop and is considerably cheaper than a CDJ + DJ mixer setup.

DJ controllers are becoming more powerful and more accepted in the DJ world, they are rivalling traditional setups and are the perfect choice for someone starting out.

All In One Unit

As mentioned above, a DJ controller requires no external mixer in order to mix the audio signals as this is carried out by the DJ software running on the computer or laptop.

A DJ controller has compressed a traditional CDJ setup into an all-encompassing unit consisting of faders, EQ controls, jog wheels and pads which can be used for effects, sampling or setting hot cues.

How It Works?

A DJ controller is a MIDI device that connects to a laptop and by using the controls on the controller the console will send signals to the DJ software to tell it how to mix the audio.

This allows you to plug in your controller via a USB that will connect to the DJ software you have installed on your laptop which allows you to control the software via the use of the controls on the device i.e the jog wheels, faders, EQ knobs and effects the same way you would use them on CDJs.

The DJ software seamlessly integrates with the DJ controller and allows you to be creative with your sound, you can map effects or samples to the drum pads on the controller, you can see waveforms and a host of track information. Having this information is invaluable to a DJ.

DJ controllers are becoming better and more powerful, rivalling any setup a DJ could want, on the other hand, they have many cheaper alternatives which can be great for a beginner or hobbyist DJ.

What Will I Need To Use A DJ Controller?

1 – A DJ controller, generally consisting of the following components;

  • Jog Wheels – These are used to nudge the track forward or back allowing you to keep the tracks in sync with eachother
  • Control Knobs – These have various uses, you can use the EQ controls in order to control the low, mid and high frequencies, effects & volume controls.
  • Faders – Channel/Volume Faders allow you have control over the tracks volume. The crossfader is used extensively when scratching, it can also be used during transitions.
  • Drum Pads – These have multiple uses, they can be used to programme effects, sampling and hot cues.

2 – A Laptop on which you will install your desired DJ software, you will then plug in the DJ controller to the laptop and begin to mix.

PROS

  • Can Find Excellent Devices For Low Prices
  • Compact & Lightweight Making Them Easy To Transport – Great For A Mobile DJ
  • Tightly Integrated With The Software – Offering Great Customisation
  • Easy To Set up & Start Playing
  • Great To Learn On – Perfect For A Beginner DJ

CONS

  • Some Parts Of The Controller Are Sacrificed To Keep Costs Down – I.E Small Pitch Faders or Smaller Jog Wheels
  • Cheaper Controllers Have An All Plastic Build Which Can Feel Flimsy
  • Requires A Laptop To Use A Controller
  • Learning To Scratch Can Be An Issue

CDJs

What Is It?

A CDJ is a digital music player used for DJing, they are industry standard and are being used in the best and most respectable clubs around the world.

CDJs can play music from files stored on SD cards or USB flash drives that plug into the DJ mixer and do not require a laptop or DJ software in order to play your music.

External DJ Mixer

As previously mentioned, CDJs do not require a laptop to use them and the devices are usually plugged into an external DJ mixer which will then mix the audio signals instead of the DJ software.

A DJ mixer consists of channel faders and a crossfader, EQ controls which allow you to control the low, mid and high frequencies along with effects controls. Effects vary on the quality of the mixer you are buying.

Audio files can be kept on SD cards or USB flash drives, which can then be plugged into the CDJ and loaded up onto the built-in display, removing the need for a laptop entirely.

How It Works?

A CDJ is a music player that plugs into an external DJ mixer that will control and manipulate the audio signals.

Typically a normal setup will consist of 2 x CDJs and an external DJ mixer, you can then plug in your USB flash drive or SD card which will allow you to load tracks onto the device and play, removing the need for any laptop.

The tracks will then load onto the display which will show waveforms, BPM along with a host of other information at the glance of an eye.

You can use the jog wheels and EQ controls and faders on the external mixer to manipulate and mix the tracks together. The number of channels and effects vary depending on what mixer you have.

2 x CDJs and an external mixer is industry standard across the world, it is a timeless and excellent setup to have but you have to ask yourself if they are worth the considerable price difference in comparison to a DJ controller, especially if you are just starting out.

PROS

  • No Laptop Required – Standalone Devices
  • CDJs Are Industry Standard Globally – Used In Clubs All Around The World
  • Great Quality Jog Wheels, Faders & Controls
  • Only Need A USB Or SD Card To Load Tracks & Play

CONS

  • Considerably More Expensive
  • Need An External Mixer In Order To Mix Tracks
  • No MIDI Control
  • Features Are Dependant On The Quality Of Mixer You Buy
  • Bulky & Not Easily Transportable – Not Good For A Mobile DJ

Key Differences Between A DJ Controller & CDJs

When it comes to choosing between a DJ controller and CDJs there are a few key differences to take into consideration;

Price

The first thing is the price, DJ controllers are considerably less expensive than CDJs and no matter what your budget is, there is a DJ controller for everyone.

CDJs are expensive and they are sold individually so you will need two of them along with an external mixer in order to complete the set-up, which leads to a hefty price tag.

As mentioned above, DJ controllers are an all in one unit, this means the unit comes with 2 x jog wheels and a DJ mixer that are built into the console, removing the need to buy an external mixer.

No matter what your budget is, there will be a DJ controller out there to suit your needs.

Transportability

If you are a mobile DJ this is definitely something to consider, while CDJs are very durable they are also heavy, making it much harder to transport especially having to pack an external mixer as well.

A DJ controller is light, compact and much more easily transported, a simple carrying case will be perfect to take your device to and from venues.

Laptop Vs Standalone

Another thing to consider is how you want your music to be stored and played, with CDJs you can store all your music on a USB flash drive or SD card making it easy to when moving gig to gig presuming the right set-up is available.

The majority of DJ controllers require a laptop and DJ software in order to use, there is a lot of track information and customisation available within the DJ software and can be beneficial to a DJ.

So Which Is Better?

So which choice is better? A DJ controller or CDJs? Unfortunately, there’s no right answer to this question.

If you’re just starting out DJing or you are working within a budget we recommend a DJ controller, they are great to learn on and there is an array of DJ controllers for any price range.

If budget is not an issue and you want the best set-up possible then CDJs and an external mixer could be for you, but don’t forget about some of the high-end DJ controllers on offer, some of the best controllers out there are rivalling CDJs in every aspect.

Overall it’s something that only you can decide, there are a few factors explained above to consider before you buy, what type of DJ you are, what skill level you are at, where you will be playing and your need for portability.

We hope this article has helped you, thanks for reading.

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