Backup playout is something I would hope that all DJs have, but all too often I have seen DJs only carrying their main playout and, at the very most, a phone with a few tracks on. It’s a bit rich of me to take the high ground though, as I fell foul of this in my very first year as a DJ back in 2008. I had to buy a new MacBook Pro, as mine died suddenly, and I unwittingly chose one that was under spec’d for my Serato Scratch playout software. Of course I tested it at home, and it seemed to be working fine, but halfway through the first dance I realized the play bar was quickly catching up with the track loading speed and then suddenly the music came to an abrupt halt! Being good at thinking on my feet, I just played the track again in iTunes and did the whole night using that. Fortunately the client was more than happy, but I was far from it. I expect my DJ sets to be flawless, especially when it comes to the first dance.
Since then I have always had a duplicated MacBook and spare controller under my car seat as well as an iPad loaded with Algoriddim’s djay software ready to go at a moment’s notice (plus another duplicated iPad in my bag). I also have a 128GB iPhone 6 Plus, which is actually quite nice to use as well and can hold all my music. However, with all of these iOS devices, I would not want to try and mix on them without decent control hardware.
For my main playout controller, I moved from my beloved Vestax VCI-300 when the Denon DJ MC4000 came out. It costs around £310 new (although I managed to pick up a nearly new one for £225), so it’s very affordable and I believe that it’s probably one of the best DJ investments I have ever made. I continued to carry my VCI-300 as a backup, but when I felt it was getting very old I sold it and started considering a smaller backup controller. I wanted something that could run Serato Pro, so I could switch over in an instant, as well as a unit that I would be immediately comfortable mixing with. Obviously another MC4000 was the perfect option, but it’s quite large and I also needed something smaller for remote ceremony music locations. In my quest to find the perfect backup controller, I did a lot of research and tried out many of the options first-hand, so I thought I’d share my findings in this article in the hope that it will help you if you are also on the lookout for a mobile DJ backup controller! These were the options that I considered to be the main contenders:
Approx. Price: £56
Software: Serato (TRAKTOR, VirtualDJ & djay also supported)
Size: 340mm x 85mm x 31mm
I had no idea this unit existed until I started looking for a backup controller and to be honest I peed my pants a little when I found it, as it ticked all my boxes. It runs Serato, it is VERY small and light, and offers most of the features I wanted. The best part was that it only costs around £56! I actually thought it was too good to be true, but bought one anyway and I was immediately mixing on it and, despite the plastic build, I was very impressed with the quality. I have used it to DJ a wedding garden set and it was definitely up to the task. It has no EQ, and I like to alter the bass when I transition tracks, but that isn’t a deal breaker. There are also no level faders and using the Gain controls for mixing makes monitoring difficult, but I didn’t actually find it too bad. The crossfader is also terrible and my final gripe is that there is just one button that controls the mode for the performance pads across both decks. I tend to use Auto Loop quite a bit, which is a click after the Cue setting, so it’s very easy to accidently jump to a hot cue when you think you are looping and vice versa. If you want to get from Loop back to Cue you have to press the button a few times, which is annoying. Aside from these issues, it’s a very good option which is great value for money and I know a lot of pro DJs are using this device for backup.
Approx. Price: £205
Size: 271mm x 134mm x 42mm
I really like the look of this unit as it’s well-built, well-respected and also runs Serato. I almost bought one before I found the Numark DJ2GO2. The main issue with this option is the lack of jog wheels, which I personally use a lot, and pitch faders. It also lacks performance pads and I feel that it looks a bit too ‘clubby’, plus it’s almost four times the price of the DJ2GO2! On the other hand, this slick little controller offers a full 3-band EQ plus dedicated Filter control on each channel as well as level faders, a quality crossfader, analogue inputs (switchable between line and phono level) and VU meters for each channel plus Master. In my mind, the AFX unit is more suitable for tight club DJ booths or DJs who use vinyl/CDJs in addition to digital playback; but that has not stopped me looking for a deal, as it’s a very appealing toy to have at home!
Behringer CMD STUDIO 2A
Approx. Price: £72
Software: Deckadance (VirtualDJ & TRAKTOR also supported)
Size: 264mm x 193mm x 42mm
This is a great little controller with a quality metal build and a sleek design that makes it ideal as a backup for a more expensive pro unit. It’s also feature-rich with full 3-band EQ, level faders, touch-sensitive jog wheels and a whole host of other buttons and controls. I also considered including on this list the original CMD STUDIO 4A model (as well as the Gemini DJ Slate), but I decided they are a little too large for this round-up of compact backup controllers.
Hercules DJControl Compact
Approx. Price: £57
Software: DJUCED 18° (TRAKTOR, VirtualDJ & djay also supported)
Size: 340mm x 130mm x 100mm
This controller looks a lot like the DJ2GO2 and also has a lot of similar features. I love the fact that it has 2-band EQ, which is the major downfall of the DJ2GO2. However, it doesn’t have pitch faders, which would make mixing much harder. Despite that, it’s very versatile given the size and price. The controller comes bundled with the DJUCED 18° software, but a mapping is also available for VDJ, so a lot of mobile DJs might be interested in this as a cheap backup option.
Numark Party Mix
Approx. Price: £77
Software: Serato or VirtualDJ
Size: 330mm x 200mm x 60mm
This controller is essentially a larger version of the DJ2GO2. The benefit of this increased size is that it offers 2-band EQ, dedicated level faders, separate Pad Mode buttons for each deck as well as larger jog wheels and pitch faders. It also features a ‘built-in lightshow’, which involves three little LED-powered balls on the back panel which each project a cluster of coloured dots. This isn’t something that I could imagine any professional mobile DJ using, but if you let your kids play with it they’d probably enjoy them! The lights can be easily switched off, so aren’t really a negative, however the USB cable is hard wired which I really don’t like. In time it could easily break and there would then be no option for replacement. I am considering getting one as an upgrade for the DJ2GO2 as I would feel more comfortable DJing with EQ and level faders. There’s definitely no harm in having two cheapo backup controllers sat in the car, at least my kids can learn on them in a few years’ time!
Pioneer DJ DDJ-WEGO-4
Approx. Price: £269
Software: rekordbox dj or VirtualDJ
(WeDJ, djay & TRAKTOR also supported)
Size: 380mm x 240mm x 59mm
I have always been a fan of Pioneer DJ’s WEGO series of controllers as they offer the great Pioneer build quality and just look so cool! The DDJ-WEGO4 is the largest, heaviest and most expensive controller on my shortlist. However, because you can use it with an iPhone, iPad or computer, running a wide variety of software, it’s potentially the ultimate backup option. It offers 2-band EQ, dedicated Filter knobs, level faders, pitch faders and even a handy phone/tablet stand! The only downside is that it will not run Serato and it’s fairly heavy compared to the other options available, which is why I have never bought one. It’s also only a bit cheaper than an MC4000 and actually more expensive than Pioneer DJ’s DDJ-SB3!
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 92, Pages 66-70.