Imagine the situation — it’s a sunny day in the rural idyl where the Worxlab is situated. The desire to do actual work is at an all-time low, and the draw of the local coffee shop (also my landlord) is higher than ever. Giving in to temptation, Dan and myself duly locked up, sat in the sunshine and hoped to get inspiration in the bottom of a coffee cup.

Empty coffee cups courtesy of Cobbles and Clay, Haworth.

We bounced around many subjects, none of which were especially DJ related. But we did eventually get into quite a humdinger of a lively outdoor DJ debate, that after finishing our respective latte and cappuccino thought would be an ideal discussion to extend to our excellent community.

So here’s the thrust of the debate:

If there were no financial or logistical constraints, people would generally buy a turntable/CDJ and mixer setup in preference to an all-in-one controller. 

This is Dan’s stance. I however strongly disagree with this sentiment. So in true debate style, we’re putting our cases forward, and then leave it to you to post your own thoughts.

A video of our face-off would have been more entertaining. Seeing grown men argue about DJ stuff while drinking coffee on a tourist-filled cobbled street would have made for great content. But arguments happen spontaneously, and we’re not quite famous enough to be followed around by a film crew for our non-existent reality TV show. So this will just have to do.

Dan’s take

Yes, with zero constraints, DJs would overwhelmingly prefer to own separate DJ units over an all-in-one controller.

It’s important to state that I do say ‘mostly’. There’s always going to be the outliers (right, Mark?), but in my experience, people would rather own any sort of turntable or media player along with a mixer, than a MIDI controller. You can argue you have a controller for X/Y/Z, but those are just reasons for ownership, not how you feel.

It’s not just about money that people go for all-in-one controller, either. Whether due to space, logistics, children, or ease of setting up, convenience isn’t a choice as more of a forced decision. People settle on an all-in-one because it’s what they can fit into their life. There’s a huge difference between hating the equipment you own and desiring the idea of separate units.

People around the world love playing on their controllers, but the reality is that all-in-ones are – and will continue to be – seen as toys. Whether the beasts like the TRAKTOR S8 or the DDJ-RZX, or the trusty affordable Mixtrack Pro, they just aren’t aspirational. Separate DJ gear is, because that’s where the mystique is. Where the history of DJing is. Where the professionals are.

Even when a famous DJ like Carl Cox is seen using a controller, they inevitably end up back on CDJs, or a more modular setup with a club mixer in the middle. The Paris Hilton thing really doesn’t help, either. The easiest way to tank sentiment in a concept is to attach it to something negative, and that’s especially true in such a passionate scene as ours.

I wrote not too long ago about my distrust of mixers with built-in audio interfaces, and I think there’s also a similar sentiment towards controllers. With separate gear, you can upgrade parts as you need or want to, whereas a controller is take-it-or-leave-it. Something breaks? Replace everything! New model comes out? Sell everything (for a big loss)! But that’s a story for another day, I think?

And I’m not shitting on all-in-ones from a personal opinion. I can have just as much fun on the S8 as I could with DVS (just a different kind of experience). Some of my closes friends have all-in-one controllers. They’re still cool people.


People buy controllers for a lot of reasons. But my genuine belief is that the majority do so because they want an all-in-one unit, and do not hanker for a larger separates based setup.

Why? Convenience and features. It’s one off-the-shelf box, with one power cable, a USB cable and no audio cables bar hooking up to the sound system. It’s compact, generally cheap for what you get, and just works. On the whole they do everything most DJs want and more in a single easy to use box. They often do more too than a separates setup — just look at the plethora of extra features that are included as standard, and the ones you can add with just software.

Controller buyers have a huge choice of options open to them. Right now, they can grab a complete Pioneer DJ DVS setup for £899, or a CDJ setup for £1399 — just add a laptop. But they don’t. Why buy a bunch of individual units when you have more for less in one single box?

I largely leave cost out of this because if DJs want costly setups, they always find the money somehow. It’s my belief that if DJs want CDJs or turntables, they’ll save up and buy them. But I feel that most will look at a complete separates setup and realise that a controller will do exactly what they want.

I do get all the reasons for buying turntables and mixers over an all-in-one. But it is my contention is that most DJs who buy controllers do so because they want controllers, and not because they’re a cheap version of #realdjing, or that they can’t afford separates. For them, it’s deliberate and not a make-do measure.

controller separates debate


Just so you know, we wrote our pieces independently, and haven’t altered anything after sight of each other’s opinions. I’m sure we’ll expand on our thoughts as the comments come in too.

So controller owners — would you actually prefer turntables, CDJs, and a mixer? Or did you buy a controller because that’s what you really wanted to buy in the first place?


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