The Top DJ Controllers with Performance Pads for Creativity and Expression

DJing has come a long way from simply playing and mixing tracks. Modern DJ controllers now allow for much more creative expression and musicality during performances. One of the key features that enables this is velocity-sensitive RGB pads that allow DJs to launch samples, cues, and loops in sync with their mixes.

If you’re looking for a DJ controller that will give you options to do more than just mix tracks, controllers with performance pads should be at the top of your list. But with so many options out there, how do you know which controllers deliver the best pad performance?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover the top 5 DJ controllers with performance pads available today. We’ll highlight the standout features of each controller, discuss their benefits and drawbacks, and help you figure out what to look for when deciding on a controller with pads. Whether you’re a beginner looking to add more creativity to your DJ sets or a pro wanting a dedicated controller for pad performance, you’ll find the best options for your needs here.

The Top 5 DJ Controllers with Performance Pads

1. Pioneer DDJ-SP1

Pioneer is well known for making some of the best gear for professional DJs, and the DDJ-SP1 is their flagship controller for pad performers. It’s a simple 2-channel controller focused solely on pad playability.

The DDJ-SP1 features large, multicolored velocity-sensitive pads for each deck along with dedicated buttons to switch between cue, loop, roll, and sample modes. You get onboard effects like echo, filter, spiral, and noise to spice up your pad performances. The pads have great tactile feedback and are very responsive, ideal for playing beats and finger drumming.

This is a MIDI controller, so it needs to connect to DJ software or external gear to produce sound. It has Pro DJ Link to sync timing with other Pioneer gear. The slick minimalist design makes it easy to incorporate alongside existing setups.

Benefits:

  • Large, responsive pads with great tactile feedback
  • Versatile performance options from pads and modes
  • Onboard effects add creativity
  • Easy to learn and use
  • Pro DJ Link for syncing with Pioneer ecosystem

Drawbacks:

  • Only 2 channels means limited mixing capabilities
  • No onboard audio interface, needs software or external mixer

Overall, the Pioneer DDJ-SP1 is the best dedicated pad controller available. The superior pad feel and performance options make it a must-have for DJs focused on pad playability.

2. Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX

If you’re looking for pad performance on a budget, the Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX is a great option. It builds on the popular Mixtrack controller line by adding 16 velocity-sensitive RGB pads for each deck.

The Mixtrack Platinum FX features large LCD screens, touch-capacitive platters, and dedicated controls for looping, cues, and samples. You get onboard effects including echo, filter, phaser, and bit crusher to enhance your mixes. This controller has great build quality for the price.

Highlights:

  • 16 velcoity-sensitive RGB pads per deck
  • Great value controller with pads and effects
  • LCD screens for visual feedback
  • Large touch capacitive platters

Good for: Beginners looking to add pad and FX control on a budget

Limitations:

  • Mostly plastic build construction to keep costs down
  • Only 2 channel mixer with no standalone capability

Overall, the Mixtrack Platinum FX gives beginners an affordable entry into pad and effects control to start unleashing their creativity. It works great with most popular DJ software. Just don’t expect a full professional build quality or feature set at this price.

3. Denon DJ MC7000

Denon has made a name for themselves by packing pro features into controllers at reasonable prices. The MC7000 is their flagship 2-channel controller aimed at mobile DJs who want club-style gear.

Standout features on the MC7000 include motorized platters for a true vinyl feel, 8 performance pads per deck, and a full standalone mixer with EQ and filters. The pads have dedicated modes for hot cues, loops, rolls, and sampling. You also get onboard effects like echo, flanger, phaser, and filter.

Highlights:

  • Motorized platters mimic vinly for authentic tactile feel
  • 8 velocity-sensitive pads with dedicated modes per deck
  • Full mixer section with EQ, filters, and faders

Ideal For: Mobile DJs who want club-style gear without the club price tag

Limitations:

  • Not as many performance options as more expensive controllers
  • Only 2 channel mixer

The Denon MC7000 hits a sweet spot between features and affordability. It’s a great choice for serious mobile DJs looking for pro features without breaking the bank.

4. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3

For DJs invested in Native Instruments’ Traktor ecosystem, the Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3 is the best 4-channel controller available. It’s specifically designed for use with Traktor Pro software.

The MK3 version steps the S4 up to large high-resolution color screens. The redesigned jogwheels are high resolution and give great tactile control for scratching. Where this controller shines is the 16 RGB pads per deck. The pads are larger than previous S4 models and feel very responsive.

Standout Features:

  • 16 large RGB pads with great feel per deck
  • High-res color screens for visual feedback
  • Redesigned, high-resolution jogwheels

Good For: DJs using Traktor Pro software wanting great pad control

Limitations:

  • On the expensive side
  • Only works with Traktor software

If you use Traktor Pro software, the Kontrol S4 MK3 gives you best-in-class integration and pad performance for creativity in your DJ sets. The tight software integration does limit flexibility with other software, so factor that in.

5. Roland DJ-808

More than just a DJ controller, the Roland DJ-808 is made for performance. It integrates TR drum sounds, vocal effects, and sequencing options beyond traditional DJ gear.

The DJ-808 features an advanced sequencer and over 50 different drum sounds from Roland’s iconic TR-808, TR-909, TR-707, and more. You can build drum sequences on the fly, trigger one shot samples, and control vocals with the onboard vocoder. The large RGB pads give you flexibility to launch clips, cues, and samples as you mix.

Highlights:

  • Iconic TR drum sounds and sequencing options
  • Vocal effects like vocoder and reverb
  • Performance pads for launching clips and samples

Good For: Creative DJ performances and music production

Limitations:

  • More expensive than most controllers
  • Steeper learning curve than traditional DJ gear

If you want to create music and not just mix, the Roland DJ-808 is a versatile production studio and DJ controller in one. The extended creative options do mean a steeper learning curve. But for creative DJs, it can take performances to the next level.

What to Look for When Choosing a DJ Controller with Pads

Beyond just these top 5 controllers, there are a few key factors to consider when choosing any DJ controller with performance pads:

Size and Portability

If you plan to travel with your controller a lot, you’ll want something more portable. The Pioneer DDJ-SP1 and Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX are lighter and easier to transport than the larger 4-channel controllers.

Pad Size and Sensitivity

Bigger pads, like on the DDJ-SP1, give you more room for finger drumming. But you also want pads sensitive enough to register soft taps and presses. Try out a controller in person to test pad feel if possible.

Number of Channels

2 channel controllers offer fewer mixing capabilities versus 4 channel controllers like the S4 MK3 and DJ-808. Think about your performance needs and if you need a standalone mixer.

Standalone Mixing vs Software Dependence

Some controllers offer standalone mixing capabilities while others need a laptop and DJ software. The Denon MC7000 vs the Traktor S4 are good examples of each approach.

DJ Software Compatibility

Most controllers will work with different DJ software programs. But some like the S4 MK3 are designed just for their proprietary software like Traktor Pro.

Built-In Audio Interface

Some controllers like the DDJ-SP1 need an external audio interface while others have onboard sound cards to connect directly to speakers or a PA system.

Budget

DJ controllers span a wide range of pricing depending on features. Consider what you’re willing to spend and where you may want to compromise.

Frequently Asked Questions About DJ Controllers with Pads

If you’re still unsure about choosing a controller with pads, here are answers to some common questions DJs have:

How Many Pads Are Enough?

Most controllers have at least 8 pads per deck, but serious pad performers will want 16 or more. The DDJ-SP1 only has 8 but they’re high quality.

Do Controller Pads Work With All DJ Software?

While many controllers are pre-mapped for Serato or Traktor, most can be manually mapped to work with any software. Check for custom mapping options.

Are Rubber or Metal Pads Better?

It’s personal preference – rubber pads feel softer and quieter while metal pads are more durable. Try both to see what feels best for your performance style.

Should I Get Motorized Platters?

Motorized platters emulate the feel of real vinyl for an authentic DJ experience. They’re great but add cost, so not essential for beginners on a budget.

Is Visual Feedback Like Pad Lights Necessary?

Pad light feedback looks cool and helps you learn, but isn’t mandatory. Some pros turn lights off and go by feel and memory alone. Prioritize tactile feel first.

Conclusion – Unleash Your Creativity With Pad Performance

Whether you’re producing beats on the fly with the Roland DJ-808, finger drumming like a maniac on the DDJ-SP1, or launching cue points on the Traktor S4, today’s DJ controllers give you so many options for creative expression.

If you want to move beyond just mixing with crossfaders, look for controllers that offer large, velocity-sensitive pads, dedicated pad modes, and onboard effects. For budget buyers, the Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX packs great pad performance at a reasonable price. Or on the high end, the Roland DJ-808 is a versatile production studio for creative DJs.

The most important thing is finding a controller with pads tailored to your performance style and budget. We recommend trying out controllers at local music stores first to get hands-on with features like pad feel. And remember – the gear doesn’t make the DJ. Focus on being creative and having fun with it!

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