How Do DJ Controllers Work?

How Do DJ Controllers Work

Have you ever wondered how DJs do all those mixes seemingly without effort? You’ve seen them at parties and clubs in front a gadget, turning knobs and adjusting sliders. What they’re using is a DJ controller and it is what allows a DJ to make magic with their music. As technology has evolved, so have these controllers, and you need to understand how DJ controller work before you can effectively use one.

What is a DJ controller?

A DJ controller is a MIDI device used to manage DJ computer programs which are installed on a computer or another system. USB cables and connections are used to link a DJ controller to a computer.

A DJ controller is designed to simulate the operation and setup of a CD player/turntable and mixer. There are differences however; a traditional DJ setup consists of 3 or 4 devices, whereas a DJ controller is a single, all-in-one unit. With a DJ controller, you get the mixer-computer interface, the DJ mixer and the turntables.

Another difference is that the connections on a DJ controller is already configured so you don’t have to mess around with it. USB connections are standard on computers, so hooking it up on your laptop is no different from any other electronic gadget.

How a DJ controller works

The classic DJ combines two or tracks to create a mix. In the past, a DJ would carry a bunch of CDs or vinyls, but now DJs pack their music on hard and flash drives,  and laptops.

The DJ controller collects an audio signal from the computer as soon as the two are linked. As the DJ, you use the controller to work, manipulate and play around with the audio; the DJ controller serves as your interface, and your actions are relayed back to the computer.

The computer—or more accurately the computer software—interprets the data, takes the appropriate action and sends it back to the controller. Most DJ controllers have a built-in sound card and this broadcasts the audio into the speakers, amps or whatever output system you have set up.

Audio files are mapped on a virtual vinyl or the jog wheel. Quality jog wheels are also very responsive and simulate the functions of the typical turntable. DJ mixers are also built into a DJ controller so you can modify the signals on the jog wheels. With these features, a DJ can do all the things a DJ with a turntable and mixer can.

How to set up a digital DJ controller

  1. If you haven’t already, connect the controller and computer to a power source. Turn both on.
  2. Use the provided MIDI/USB cable to link the controller to your computer. If the controller does not need an independent power source, it’s going to turn on automatically.
  3. Hook up the controller’s audio output to your sound output or amplifier.
  4. Launch the DJ application on your computer.
  5. Put one of the files on the jog wheel.
  6. Click the play button and make adjustments to the volume.

That is all there is to using a DJ controller. Once you have mastered the basic controls, you can start adding loops and different kinds of special effects.

What are the benefits of a DJ controller?

A DJ controller brings all the functionality of the traditional DJ gear to one convenient package at the same time. Rather than buy separate pieces, you have the software, the sound card, the effects, etc., so there’s no need to do extra shopping.

These controllers are also portable; they’re small enough to put in a bag so you can easily carry it with you anywhere you go. If you’ re a professional DJ, portability alone makes a huge difference. You play music at various locations? No problem, just pack the controller and you’re good to go.

Contrast this with the typical DJ setup which is a pain for traveling. You have to carry a lot of heavy equipment which requires careful handing. The larger equipment also means they’re more expensive.

Not only do DJ controllers offer convenience, but performance wise, they’re better than traditional DJ gear. With today’s DJ computer software, you get access to more special effects than before.

Latency used to be an issue, but today’s computers are more powerful than ever, so DJs quickly get results. Although features have increased, they’re easier to use. There are also DJ controllers and software for beginner- and professional-level users.


And that is basically how a DJ controller works. Yes, these controllers come in different styles and the features vary. However, the basic operation is the same. Furthermore, today’s DJ controllers are compatible with popular DJ software so you can customize their use. With so many brands and even more products to choose from, it’s easier than ever to play DJ.

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