When it comes to DJing, One of the most common debates among both DJs and EDM fans alike is which DJ equipment is the better choice overall: CDJs or controllers? If you didn’t know already, CDJs usually (but not always) refers to a separate player that requires a mixer to start DJing, while a controller is an all-in-one solution that combines both the player and the mixer in a single unit. Both of these choices have their own pros & cons, so the one that you choose will depend a lot on several factors such as your budget and your skill level.
That’s why I made this article. I wanted to provide the ultimate resource on the main differences between these 2 choices so that you can be better informed before purchasing any of them.
In general, the controller is the better choice for beginners for several reasons that I will talk about below, while CDJs are better for more experienced mixers. Both will do the job when it comes to the fundamentals of DJing though.
So as I was talking above, CDJs and controllers both do the same thing, while at the same time having their own pros & cons and differences. Some of these differences include:
One of the main reasons why you might want a CDJ setup over a controller is if you are looking for the gear with most features out there and aren’t willing to make compromises on anything. When compared to controllers, CDJs tend to have several exclusive features that aren’t super essential to DJing, but they do open up a lot of possibilities for creative DJs looking to spice up their mixes. Provided that the DJ in question takes advantage of these CDJ exclusive features, the differences between CDJs and controllers can be massive, at least when it comes to the mixing.
This does have a few cons though. The first one is the fact that more features mean a more complicated and convoluted setup, which might not be ideal for people looking to stick to the basics. Not only that, but CDJs with lots of added features tend to be quite expensive, which might not be ideal if you are on a strict budget. CDJs are already much more expensive than a controller, especially when considering the fact that you need to also get a mixer and another player, which brings me to my next point.
This is one of the reasons why controllers are very popular among new DJs: they can be thousands of dollars cheaper than an equivalent CDJ & mixer setup. Entry-level controllers tend to have 2 channels and a built-in mixer, with the only thing extra needed to play is a laptop to load the songs, a far cry from most modern CDJs which need another player and a stand-alone mixer. This makes the controller much more affordable and cost-effective.
That’s why I usually recommend new DJs to start with a cheap controller if you are just trying to get their feet wet. Most entry-level controllers cost under 250 bucks which will be very affordable for most people out there. Choosing a cheaper product is also a good idea because many people will eventually quit after a few weeks, so plunking 2 thousand bucks doesn’t really make that much sense for these guys.
One of the reasons why you might prefer a CDJ setup, specifically Pioneer’s CDJ line, is because they are considered the professional DJ standard around the world. Go to any decent club with some clout and they will usually have between 2 to 4 CDJ players with a mixer in their cabin. Some people really serious about this will only consider playing on this type of gear for this reason, and it makes sense: the more you play on it, the more you will learn about the intricacies of the gear and the more natural you will feel playing with it.
Because they are so commonly seen among very popular DJs, many high-end CDJ players are seen as a status symbol, such as the newest iPhone or sports car model. If getting the very best stuff is important to you, getting the CDJ might be warranted since they are considered the “cool kids” and professional DJ gear. If you don't really care about this, then you might want to choose a normal controller instead.
While many DJs consider controllers to be a great choice for the average newbie looking for a great bang for their buck, they also have a catch: they also lose value much more easily and quickly than the average CDJ. As you probably know already, controllers tend to be the cheaper alternative to CDJs, and many manufacturers tend to cut costs when it comes to them. The end result is a more fragile product that tends to lose value faster than an equivalent CDJ setup.
This is not the only reason why they depreciate more quickly though. One of the other reasons is the fact that CDJs are simply the more demanded DJ gear. Since they are very expensive, used CDJs are very sought after. This is not as true with controllers though, and so prices tend to be lower overall. Also, keep in mind that not all CDJs retain their value well though. There are some more obscure companies that do tend to make CDJs that depreciate harshly.
Most CDJs have a big advantage that controllers do not have: they can play music from more sources like CDs, USBs, and SD cards unlike many controllers, that tend to only accept music from a laptop. This makes them much more versatile in a sense: you can play music from your friend's drive and use them on your sets without much fuss. The added versatility is definitely a big plus and one of the reasons why you might want a CDJ over a controller.
Keep in mind that while this is not the case with most controllers, there are a few ones that actually do play music from the aforementioned sources above, but they are not as common though. Controllers with these added features tend to be a little bit more expensive than the more common kind, which kind of beats the purpose of getting this kind of DJ gear
So to answer the original question, the choice between CDJs and controllers will honestly depend on the type of DJ that you are at this moment. If you are looking to just get into this and don’t really have much money to spend, then the obvious answer is to get a cheaper controller like a DDJ-200. It has everything that’s essential for DJing, while at the same time being cheap enough for 99% of people reading this.
But if you already have a controller and already know a thing or two about DJing and want to upgrade your gear, then you really have to take looks at the CDJs in the market, specifically Pioneer’s CDJ line.