The Best DJ Controller – My Recommendation for 2019

Tl;dr: My favorite controller is the Pioneer DDJ-SB3. It’s versatile, well-built and reliable. It’s great for beginners as well as veteran DJs. It’s a very responsive and affordable controller.


Whether you are just starting out as a DJ or have been doing it for over twenty years, there comes a time when you need to get new equipment (after all, nothing lasts forever).

The amount of choices for DJ equipment can be downright ridiculous- a quick visit to any audio/visual store is all you need to see that there are seemingly endless possibilities of what to buy. One of the most important things all DJs need is a controller, because let’s be honest here- without a controller, there is no show. In some ways, buying a DJ controller is a lot like buying a cell phone or a car- you can either buy a good one the first time, or waste your money until you finally decide to get something quality that will last you a long time.

Fortunately, I’m here to help advise you on this. I’m not trying to get you to spend a fortune on a new DJ controller. Yes, quality controllers are a bit more expensive, but they will last you for years, and you will be spared the agony of having to replace yours every few months because it was low quality. If you are in the market for a new controller, I highly recommend the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 Controller (click here to see it on Amazon). I have used it several times, and it’s highly acclaimed within the DJ community.

Features and Specifications

Before I get into the nitty-gritty details about why I recommend the DDJ SB-3 and the features it comes with, I thought it would be a good idea to start off with the fast facts about the system’s specifications. Without further ado, here are the device’s specs, courtesy of Amazon.

  • Width: 482.6 mm.
  • Height: 58.5 mm.
  • Depth: 272.4 mm.
  • Weight: 2.1 kg.
  • Soundcard: 24 bit/44.1 kHz.
  • Frequency Range: 20 – 20000 Hz.
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 103 dB.
  • Distortion: < 0.005 % (USB).

Terminals:

  • Inputs: 1 MIC (1/4-inch Jack).
  • USB: 1 USB B port.
  • Outputs:
  • 1 Master (RCA).
  • 1 Headphone Monitor (Mini-jack). 

Reasons Why I Chose the DDJ-SB3 Controller

When I was looking for a new controller, budget was important to me. At $249, the DDJ-SB3 controller was appealing because it wasn’t so expensive that I felt like I’d be be paying for features I wouldn’t need, but it also wasn’t so cheap that I feel it would fall apart a few months after purchasing it.

Co-developed with DJ Jazzy Jeff, the great thing about the DDJ SB-3 controller is that it has all the features of a more advanced controller but is easily accessible for beginners as well. The controller comes with Serato DJ Lite software, which is very easy to set up on Serato’s website. The software is USB-powered- there’s no need for external power, which is also nice, because it means it takes less effort to set up and is less stuff you have to transport to and from your gigs.

The controller feels small, light, and almost plastic-like in use, but that’s ok, because it’s sturdy and acts like a basic, scaled-down version of larger controllers. It’s a very modern design, and for a beginner device, it actually has a lot to offer (asymmetric decks, eight performance pads per side, and individual channel features to name a few).

Features & Controls

Besides the affordable price, easy set up ability and sleek design, the features the controller offer was another important factor that lead me get this and recommend it to you. Here’s a quick rundown of the features and controls that come with this device (some of which have been mentioned above).

Features:

  • USB Powered
  • Access to Serato DJ Lite Software (register online)

Performance Controls:

  • Two channels
  • Four deck controls
  • Trim knob
  • Durable aluminum jog wheel
  • High and low pass filters
  • FX fade
  • Scratch pad (aka “Jazzy Jeff” option)
  • Trans
  • Hot cues
  • Manual loop
  • Autoloop

Jogs, transport and tempo controls

I must say that I am a big fan of the jogwheels on this device. As is standard with DJ controllers, they have the vinyl/CDj behavior modes. Though small, the jogwheels are responsible, reliable and easy to use. For example, holding ‘Shift’ when turning the wheels allows you to quickly go through your playlist- this is very convenient, and something I’m sure people will like when playing live. Plus, the transport buttons (Play/Pause and Cue) have been significantly improved from those on the DDJ-SB2, as they are hard and set up like those on pro models.

The pitch controls are also quite good- though small and with short range, they are responsive down to 0.02%, which is more than enough for quality manual beat-mixing (though you may have to play around with it a few times to get good at it). You can adjust the tempo range between 8%, 16% and 50%, and use the key lock button to adjust the pitch when altering tempo.

Mixer and Browser Controls

Mixer and browser controls are another important thing to consider when in the market for a new controller, and these controls on the DDJ-SB3 are certainly live up to expectations. The mixer section is concise, and does the job required on a beginner controller. It only has two channels, but has switches where you can flick through all four decks. In addition to volume/EQ/filter options, the device comes with both master and headphone levels, as well as headphone cue (“PFL”) buttons for the active decks and master decks. Unlike previous models, the headphone cue control replaces a knob for the master/cue mix, which depending on your preference, could be an improvement or not.

VU meters are split on this device: the meter on the left controls the pre-fader volume for the deck(s) on the left, and the same goes for the one on the right. There is no master VU out, and some people would have liked to see this included in the product.

There is a single rotary encoder at the top of the device which allows you to search for tracks in your library, and pushing down on it allows you to switch between your folder and the currently selected tracks. ‘Load” buttons let you set the left and right decks accordingly. There is also an “instant doubles” option which allows you to load and play the same track on both decks at the same time, should you wish to do so.

“Fader start” is another option on the controller, where the track starts to play as soon as the fader is “live”. I was happy to see this feature included, as it comes in handy when I want to switch things up and get into more creative mixing styles.

Effects

The effects that come with the DJ Serato Lite program are fairly limited, but as I said before this is a beginner’s controller, so they cover the basics. The effects are post fader, which is nice to see, since this hasn’t always been the case with budget devices like this one.

There are two effects engines, each with three effects. Each effects engine has a single knob that controls the intensity across all three effects at once. This may seem like a somewhat boring format for some, but fortunately, the Fade FX option adds an exciting new element to the effects already offered.

Performance Pads & “Jazzy Jeff” mode

Hot Cues, FX Fade, Pad Scratch (aka the “Jazzy Jeff” option), Sampler and Transformer (“Trans”) are accessed via the performance pads. The Sampler and Hot Cues options are not terribly exciting in my opinion- the other options are really where it’s at.

Fade FX brings together filters, loops/loop rolls and spinbacks with a slow reduction in volume for as long as you hold one of the pads, with the idea being that you can sync two tracks and use the buttons to achieve a smooth transition. Trans, meanwhile, uses a transformer to switch a track on and off rapidly in time to the beat- a cool element which works well with vocals, and will certainly help you spice up your routine.

The pad scratch/ “Jazzy Jeff” option was included to introduce new DJs to scratching and show them what to work on. Essentially, whatever track Hot Cue 1 is set to is automatically scratched when holding one of the eight performance pads, and everything happens at about the same time with any other tracks that are playing. The patterns are simple but fun, and work well for anyone. Scratching is another exciting feature of this controller and helps make the DJ experience more fun overall.

A Word for Beginners

Whenever you start something new, there’s always going to be a learning curve before you feel comfortable. It is not surprising, then, that new DJs may encounter some unfamiliar territory when using the DDJ-SB3 controller. The biggest obstacle for new DJs with this device would probably be the fact that you can’t DJ from Spotify or your iTunes playlist, and you can’t use your laptop’s speakers, either. So, you’ll have to go for MP3 files, and plug in some powered speakers, or whatever else you have for a sound system. You’ll also want your own pair of headphones with a 1/8” mini jack connector, since headphones aren’t included. 

What People are Saying

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to go for the DDJ-SB3 controller, it can’t hurt to ask around. Luckily, there are plenty of DJ forums online where people talk about equipment, as well as product reviews on Amazon. Here are some reviews from Amazon customers who have used this controller.

“This is a great affordable DJ controller. Very solid build quality. Buttons are very responsive; jog wheels feel just as sensitive as the higher end Pioneer controllers. Pad scratch feature is cool, not overpowered lol. Cross fader moves smoothly for clean cuts and scratches. Mixer section has all the features for professionally sounding performances. Pitch sliders are a bit short ranged, these could have been longer like the similarly priced Unmark Midtrack Pro 3. Comes with Serato DJ Lite which offers a few improvements from Serato DJ Intro such as monitoring line meters for volume management. The unit has a good weight and offers grip ridges for handling. I’m very satisfied with this product and strongly recommend it.”

“Just got this SB3 to add to my portable gear set. Coming over from using a Mixtrack Pro 3 for a while, it is a little different. More functions and the ability to control 4 decks. Ran it through some paces for about 45 minutes so far. Very happy I got it. Trim controls are great to have which were missing on the MTP3. Pad scratch, I heard all the noise over it. Its ehhh for me. I probably will not use them even to learn with. Fade fx are a nice touch for mixing in to the next song. This is a great unit to start on or even for a lightweight mobile setup like I use it for.”

As you can see, some people do not like the pad scratch option and range of the pitch sliders offered by this controller. This is understandable, since people aren’t going to like everything about a certain product. Yet, the majority of reviews and discussions on online DJ forums are in favor of this product, so if it’s worked well for others, it will likely work well for you, too.

Conclusion

The DDJ SB-3 is certainly an upgrade over previous controllers I’ve used. The layout is better, the buttons are better, and it’s just a better machine overall, plain and simple. It feels more modern than the DDJ SB-2, but with the same price tag, why not go for the SB-3?

The bottom line is that if you are looking for a new controller that is affordable, easy to set up and transport, has the things you need and will last a long time, the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB3 Controller is the way to go.