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The war between digital and analog gear has been raging for decades now. The conflict is centered around a singular tension: digital is more convenient, while analog setups have more heart.
As a DJ, you can conquer the world with nothing but a controller and a laptop — no more lugging around crates of vinyl! But, when you go digital, some things get lost in translation.
To lighten your load, you have to sacrifice analog warmth and feel, the absence of which, can really take the magic out of scratching, but what if I told you not all DJ controllers are cold, clinical machines?
That’s right, friend; there are some DJ controllers out there designed to feel and sound as “natural” as possible, combining modern appointments with traditional soul, and I’m going to show you the best of the best, right here, right now!
Best DJ Controller For Scratching — Reviews
OUR TOP PICK
The Rane One boasts motorized platters with acrylic tops that feel so real, if you closed your eyes, you wouldn’t know the difference between this controller and your actual turntables.
There’s a lot about the One that makes it a great all-around controller, but the thing you’ll be most interested in as a scratcher is the super light, customizable Mag Four crossfader.
It’s built to endure millions of interactions, and the response can be sharpened to perfection for some insanely articulate scratching sessions.
The layout is well-spaced and surprisingly intuitive for the amount of functionality stuffed into this unit, and the zero-latency performance with the included Serato software makes scratching an absolute joy.
One small gripe is that it doesn’t feature any onboard effects, but that just means you can get crazy with your plugins and peripherals!
- Motorized Platters - Torque feels like real turntables.
- Serato Included - Comes with the most popular DJ software.
- Customizable Crossfader - Facilitates faster scratching.
- Price - It’s a premium controller.
- No Onboard Effects - But who really cares?
Featuring large, vinyl-effect jog wheels, the DDJ-FLX6PDJ from industry stalwarts, Pioneer, is one of the most natural feeling controllers on the market, making it a fantastic option for any scratch enthusiast making the vinyl-to-controller transition.
In fact, this whole controller is very much geared towards the art of scratching.
The wheels feature on-jog displays, so you’re always aware of the play head as you cut up your tracks, and you never lose your rhythm when you decide to get hands on.
Then there’s Jog Cutter mode to consider. Jog Cutter mode assigns scratch pads to zones of the jog wheel that you can activate simply by moving the wheel past the threshold of the sample with a single hand — no crossfader necessary!
This means that you can wow the audience with some sick scratching whilst keeping one hand free to work on the mix or perhaps even play with the all-new “Merge” effect that beat matches tracks for you.
But it’s when you combine this controller with Rekordbox software that you unlock the coolest scratching feature of all… Sample Scratch.
In a nutshell, Sample Scratch lets you sample your favorite scratch sounds, and upload them onto your controller to use in Jog Cutter mode.
Hypothetically, you could even record yourself scratching on your real turntables, then upload the audio onto your controller via the Rekordbox software, placing that analog sound you love so much into a purely digital context.
- Large Jogwheels — They feel very natural, folks!
- On-Jog Displays — Lose yourself in the scratch without losing your place.
- Sample Scratch — Upload your favorite scratch sounds onto the controller.
- Jog Cutter Mode — Beginners can scratch like pros.
- Ease of Use — Some may consider Jog Cutter mode cheating.
- Mechanical Jogwheels — The lack of a motor is disappointing.
If you’re looking for a scratching machine on a budget, or you need a super portable controller for keeping your scratching skills keen on the road, then the Starlight should be a serious consideration.
Being that it’s so small, there are a few obvious downsides. For one, the jogwheels are tiny, but they’re also pressure sensitive and incredibly responsive when the time comes for some hands-on DJing.
It doesn’t have full 3-band EQ, but the dedicated bass control is all you need to mix your tracks without creating too much of a muddy overlap or overwhelming your speakers.
In order to cram as much functionality as possible into such a diminutive device, many knobs have secondary modes, which is great, but it’s a strange workflow that takes some getting used to.
In the grand scheme of things, there are better scratching controllers out there, especially as the Starlight arrives with the watered-down Serato Lite, but considering the form factor, it’s impressive nonetheless.
- Form Factor - Fits in your backpack.
- Responsive Jogwheels - Surprisingly accurate for scratching.
- Secondary Functions - Tons of functionality in a small package.
- Price - You won’t need to smash your piggy bank.
- Serato Lite - Comes with basic software.
- Small Jogwheels - Quite tricky to scratch at first.
Featuring large 6” capacitive touch jogwheels, not only does the Mixtrack Platinum from Numark give you plenty of space to manipulate the track in a tactile manner, but it offers a high-fidelity touch response similar to that of real vinyl.
With mechanical jogs, you have to apply a certain amount of pressure to the surface to interact with the track, which can feel counterintuitive to a turntable DJ.
With the Platinum, this isn’t an issue, as the light touch you developed to keep your records safe while scratching is all you require.
And speaking of touch, these jogs feel amazing! In fact, if they were twice as large, I’d bet you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between them and your actual vinyl without looking… that’s how realistic they are.
The wheels also feature high-resolution displays keeping you in the know in terms of key/pitch adjustment, BPM, beats remaining, and platter position, so no matter how lost you get in the moment, all the info is right there in front of you when you need it.
Topping it all off, we have integrated Serato DJ compatibility, meaning it’s primed and ready to cooperate with the most popular DJ software in the US.
Simply load the program on your laptop, plug the Platinum in, and start spinning!
- Large 6” Jogwheels — Not a far cry from your 7s.
- Touch Capacity Jogs — Responsive jogs make scratching feel natural.
- Vinyl Feel — The surface genuinely feels like vinyl.
- Serato DJ — Built from the ground up to fit into the Serato ecosystem.
- Included Software — Only comes with Serato DJ Lite.
The S4 Mk3 from industry stalwarts Native Instruments features two large, motorized jogwheels, providing that essential torque and realistic resistance during scratching.
They don’t feel much like a vinyl record, but that’s not to say that it’s an unpleasant experience to scratch on them. On the contrary, the brushed metal surface feels nice and tactile, but it takes some getting used to.
They’re marketed as “Haptic Feedback” jogwheels, and what that means is that they’ll alert you when the playhead crosses a cue, so you can get lost in your performance instead of keeping a watchful eye on your laptop.
In the S4, Native Instruments treats you to 8 baked-in effects and three types of filter, giving you plenty of tools to experiment and keep things fresh for yourself and your audience.
Unfortunately, the crossfader lets the S4 down. It’s just not up to scratch (pun definitely intended), but after a swift aftermarket mod, this would be one mean DJ controller!
- Motorized Jogwheels - Realistic resistance while scratching.
- Haptic Feedback - Lose yourself in your performance without losing your rhythm.
- Built-In Effects - Some fantastic sonic options for you.
- Carbon Crossfader - Not the best for scratching.
Best DJ Controller For Scratching — Buyer’s GuideThere are a few key features of a DJ controller that will significantly improve the sound and feel of scratching. Here’s what you should be looking for.
Essential DJ Controller Features For Scratching
Most DJ controller jogwheels don’t move, which is an issue for the analog scratchers out there. As you’re aware, turntables, well...turn, creating torque. This force creates resistance when scratching real vinyl.
When making the transition from turntables to controllers, the absence of torque can really throw you off your scratching game.
Of course, if you knuckle down and practice on static jogwheels, you’ll get used to the feel, but why put yourself through the hassle if there’s an alternative?
They’re not too common, but DJ controllers with motorized jogwheels do exist. As they replicate the feeling of spinning platters, they smooth out the transition from turntables to DJ controllers a great deal, especially when it comes to scratching.
For the uninitiated, a crossfader controls the signal inputs arriving from either side of your deck. When scratching, a DJ will use one hand to manipulate the vinyl and the other to slide the crossfader, which is how that choppy, rhythmic sound is achieved.
As a current or future scratch lord, you’re going to be subjecting your crossfader to some serious abuse, which means it needs to be sturdy. Unfortunately, many DJ controllers drop the ball in this department.
Your crossfader should feel smooth, but not too loose. A small amount of resistance is perfect.
A lot of affordable DJ controllers arrive with carbon track crossfaders, but in my experience, they feel a little flimsy.
What you need is a DJ controller with a magnetic or capacitive crossfader. They’re usually highly accurate, tweakable, and stand the test of time.
Crossfader Curve Controls
A crossfader curve refers to the immediacy of one signal fading into another when you slide the crossfader. A crossfader curve knob allows you to adjust the rate at which the signals blend.
For example, if you set the curve knob to its slowest rate, as you slide the crossfader, the second signal will fade in ever so gently, which is fantastic for mixing.
For scratching, on the other hand, you’ll need a crossfader curve control capable of speeding up the fade to a stark stop at the halfway point. That’s what will give your scratching the classic cutting sound.
The sharper the control can make the crossfader curve, the shorter the travel of the crossfader to chop audio, meaning you can engage in some super speedy, rhythmic scratching.
Okay, so I know that one of the key benefits of a DJ controller is its portability, but it’s important you don’t choose something too small.
A smaller unit means the controls will be very cramped, forcing you into uncomfortable positions during a performance. If you're going to scratch to the best of your abilities, you need to feel relaxed behind the decks, so well-spaced controls are a no-brainer.
If you’re used to scratching your 12” records on a turntable, choosing a DJ controller with small jogwheels will feel wholly unnatural. A larger jogwheel(s) will help you feel more at home.
General DJ Controller Considerations
Most units will arrive with some form of software, and it can make or break a DJ controller. The DJ software is just as important as the controller itself. It needs to be well-designed, feature-rich, and easy to use — you need to feel comfortable using it!
As a general rule of thumb, you should never purchase a DJ controller before researching or trying out the accompanying software. Talk to other DJs about it, read up on some reviews, and source a trial version if you can.
If you’ve already got a go-to software, make sure your prospective controller fits well into its ecosystem, otherwise, latency issues will make scratching impossible.
Your DJ controller should have all the ports you need to hook it up to your other gear.
You should consider what gear you may pick up in the future too. Spending a little more for a future-proof controller with an expansive I/O array is definitely worth it, in my opinion.
P.S. An integrated sound card is also a must!
We all love a bargain, but the truth of the matter is that the features that make a DJ controller good for scratching bump the price up significantly, so I’d prepare your bank account for a hit!
Frequently Asked Questions
Still with me? Fantastic! Before we go our separate ways, let’s spin through a quick FAQ list.
Can You Scratch With A DJ Controller?
You can indeed scratch on most DJ controllers, even if they have static jogwheels, but it won’t feel or sound quite the same as scratching vinyl on a turntable. Your best bet is to choose a DJ controller designed to emulate real turntables as closely as possible.
With the right controller, as long as your scratching skills are on point, no one will be able to tell you’re using a digital rather than analog setup.
Does DJ Scratching Damage Records?
While you can learn to scratch in a relatively harmless manner, it’s inevitable that a record will pick up some damage eventually, no matter how good of a scratch DJ you are.
This is another massive feather in the DJ controller’s digital cap. You don’t need to touch or even be near a vinyl record to bring the house down at a gig, meaning your pride and joy record collection can stay at home, safe and sound!
How Much Should I Spend On My First DJ Controller?
It’s always a good idea to pump the brakes on a budget if you’re looking to pick up your first DJ controller. At this point, you don’t know if you’re going to enjoy using a digital setup or DJing in general.
For learning the basics, you only need a basic unit. Granted, it won’t be the best for scratching, but you can always sell and upgrade when you feel you’ve outgrown it.
I’d recommend spending between $100 and $260 on your first controller.
What DJ Software Is Best?
There is no one size fits all answer to which DJ software is best. It all comes down to your preferences, skill level, and what you’re trying to accomplish with your music and performances.
That said, there are certain programs that have found extensive notoriety the world over. These include…
- Serato (the most popular DJ software in the US)
- Pioneer Rekordbox
- Native Instruments Traktor Pro
- Virtual DJ
- Ableton Live
- Algoriddim DJPro AI
Why Does Scratching Sound Different On DJ Controllers?
Scratching on a DJ controller only really sounds a little different because there's no needle to jump, and you don’t hear any of the hissing or popping usually associated with vinyl.
Will I Be Respected For Scratching On A DJ Controller?
Okay, so here’s the thing...there are always going to be some purist snobs out there that look down on those who scratch on a DJ controller, but we are currently witnessing a seismic shift in perception.
Tons of world-class DJs swear by their controllers for all aspects of their art — scratching included. The general consensus in this digital revolution is that what really matters is your skills and your passion. If you have those spades, the digital vs analog debate is irrelevant.
Best DJ Controller For Scratching — The Final Word
I hope this article puts a lot of the myths about DJ controllers falling short in the world of scratching to rest, as they’re simply not true. There are plenty out there designed to make the transition from analog to digital as pain-free as possible!