CDJ vs Controller: Understanding the Key Differences & Similarities

CDJ vs Controller
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Having one of the best DJ controllers can make yourself stand out well in the professional world. These days, DJ controllers have the ability to create a professional sound that clubs and promoters around the world are searching for in a DJ.

DJ controllers are pieces of music equipment that help DJs mix their music with software using encoders, knobs, faders, jog wheels, and so on using MIDI controllers. CDJs are typically much larger, expensive and come with a platter that is similar to the traditional vinyl turntable. CDJs also do not come with mixers attached to them.

The major difference between CDJs vs DJ controllers is that CDJs are not attached to a mixer, nor are they always known to have MIDI capability. DJ controllers usually require DJ software and MIDI capability.

Initially created to play music from CDs, many CDJs can also play audio files saved on SD card or USB flash drives. Although many DJs will use two CDJs and a mixer, some CDJs have room for two channels.

DJ controllers usually play music using the files stored in a laptop. In order to connect them to the controller, DJ controllers typically require DJ software.

On this page, we will break down the many differences and similarities between a CDJ vs Controller.

CDJ vs Controller: DJ Controller Benefits & Drawbacks

cdj vs controller

Pioneer MIDI DJ Controller

You can create a pretty effective mobile DJ setup using your mp3 files, DJ software, and a laptop. Realistically, this could be done for less than a few hundred dollars. Controllers are a great first investment for starter DJs because they are usually pretty easy to use and pair with software such as Virtual DJ and Serato.

DJ Controllers are a great choice for DJs of all skill levels since they are also very portable and easy to carry around from gig to gig. This is why you will sometimes see professional club DJs using a small DJ controller rather than fancy CDJs and a Pioneer 4-channel mixer.

In the past, CDJ and vinyl users disapproved of controller DJs. Perhaps this was due to technical issues, or simply because it was a new type of technology which certain DJs simply couldn’t trust. However, more and more expert DJs are now beginning to use controller setups.

Also, the most recent controllers enable you to position effects, chop up samples, and layer tracks in artistic methods.

Laptop DJing can look super boring when seen from the dancefloor, therefore using a controller mandates hyperawareness for the DJ. Beginner DJ controllers sometimes have low-quality responsiveness, and cheap buttons, however, higher-end versions such as Numark can compete with the most prestige CDJ choices.

Benefits

For starters, DJ controllers are typically a lot cheaper than a CDJ. This is why many people who can’t decide because a DJ controller or CDJ choose to use DJ controllers. DJ controllers are usually one piece, making them simple to transport.

Most importantly, a DJ who knows who to use their controller will be able to produce high-quality sound on either a DJ controller or CDJ. Controllers are also typically very lightweight and portable. Even the biggest controllers are still easy to travel with.

  • Small & Portable.
  • Usually Very Affordable.
  • No CDs, USBs, or MP3 Players Needed.
  • Moves Your Sets to your Laptop.
  • MIDI Buttons Can be Customized.

DJ software, including Traktor, Serato, or Virtual DJ, is usually incorporated when you buy the controller. Depending on what type of controller you buy, premium DJ software can sometimes come included. This means that the manufacturer has already mapped the MIDI buttons for the controller to work with particular software. Controllers contain distinctive digital usages including loop and cue points enabling the DJ to be more artistic with their music sets. DJ controllers also have “sync” buttons that enable you to correctly synchronize their music without having to beat match using classic techniques.

Drawbacks

Just about every DJ controller mandates a laptop as the main source of audio. The majority of the platters are not as big as turntable and CDJ platters which can make it hard to execute several scratching methods. Additionally, DJ controllers which do not have motorized platters can be difficult to master if you are a DJ who was trained on vinyl turntables. Sometimes, there’s also a delay between performing a scratch and it being audible. Of course, this can also be affected by your audio interface and laptop.

  • Different Size and “Feel” for Scratching.
  • Usually Require MIDI Maps & Software.

CDJ vs Controller: CDJ Benefits & Drawbacks

cdj vs laptop dj

DJ mixing using a standalone CDJ and mixer setup.

CDJs do not need a computer to operate, unlike controllers, so they are perfect for DJ booth environments. Creditable clubs usually have two turntables and CDJs ready in the sound booth for each DJ that performs at their venue. This is part of the reason they quickly became the global model for the industry. You can upload songs on an incorporated digital display and then prompt them with the jog wheel using a USB drive or CDs, without needing any extra equipment. It is possible that more clubs and venues start to switch over to controllers in the future if the industry starts to standardize them as they once did with CDJs.

Benefits

No laptop is necessary when using CDJs. Of course, though, there are still various MIDI CDJs that you can use as part of a digital setup with a laptop and software. Usually, DJs play audio from a USB stick, external hard drive, or CD. You are able to perform digital tasks including loop points and hot cue. Just about anything you can do with DJ controllers and software. Using CDJs are less expensive than buying vinyl, and don’t require needle cartridges. Unlike vinyl, CDJs won’t skip easily when people start rumbling the dance floor.

  • Standalone Gear, No Laptop Required.
  • Larger Platters and Buttons.
  • Simply Require a USB hard drive for Music Files.
  • Closer to Traditional Vinyl Look and Feel.
  • Not Quite as Prone to Technical Problems & Skipping.

Although CDJs have a nice set of benefits, buying one pair of CDJs and a reasonable mixer is a much more substantial investment than the cost of a DJ controller. A single CDJ is usually priced around USD 1,000, however, you need two to have your mix-ready layout. These pieces of equipment are pretty hard to break, but they are also extremely heavy. If you want to travel with your equipment, you will possibly need additional luggage to stow your CD library, CDJs, and mixer, considering a DJ controller would fit into a smaller piece of luggage.

Drawbacks

As mentioned, CDJs are very expensive and you need a standalone mixer to use them. If you can’t decide between a DJ controller or CDJ, then consider whether or not you want to use a laptop and software. If you want a standalone setup which completely avoids laptops and software, then getting a couple CDJs and a mixer will be best for your needs. Just keep in mind that you will need to prepare each of your sets in advance, making sure that all your files are placed on a USB drive so that your CDJ will be able to access your music library.

  • Don’t Always Have MIDI Capabilities.
  • Typically Much More Expensive.
  • Features are Not Always Necessarily Better.
  • More Work is Necessary to Prepare Files for Sets.

The biggest drawback we notice when we compare DJ controllers vs CDJ controllers are that CDJs don’t connect directly with your entire music library as easily. Unless you have a couple external hard drives which can hold over 30,000 songs each, you will need to spend special time for each gig to prepare your files. Just about any DJ these days has access to a laptop and a has a decent audio interface as part of their setup. If this is the case, then you should heavily consider either using a controller, or CDJ with MIDI capability.

CDJ vs Controller: Major Points & Summary

There is no definite and universal answer to whether a DJ controller or CDJ is the best option. This is something that you need to ask yourself. Think about each of the benefits and drawbacks that we described above, and come to a conclusion which will best serve your personal needs. It comes down to where you plan on DJing, your skill level, need for mobility and personal mixing style.

In our opinion, a DJ controller is something that you should have in your setup. This is simply due to how affordable and portable they are. Along with the fact that they can do just about anything that a CDJ can. However, those who purchase a pair of MIDI-capable CDJs will be able to harness the same technology that is present in your typical DJ controller.

If you are interested in potentially getting a new DJ controller, here are our top choices for the best DJ controller.

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