Allen and Heath's DJ mixers are known for their robust build, cool filters, crisp sound and high end circuitry, so it comes as no surprise that their professional MIDI USB controller range follows suit very nicely. The DX is fully integrated with Serato Itch but as it is MIDI you can map the controls to just about anything. Key features include a built in 20 Channel USB soundcard, 24bit/96kHz audio system and a built-in hardware MIDI interface. Looking at the controller it's reassuring to see that the case is made out of decent quality metal - too many controllers on the market these days are happy to remove in excess on £500 from our wallets in return for little more than a plastic pizza box. Nothing is loose or wobbles this is due to each control section being mounted on its own PCB rather than one universal board. This is particularly handy if you happen to spill your drink on it as any short circuits can be easily and cheaply rectified!

On first impression the jog wheels on the decks look a bit small but with Itch fired up we can assure you that they are rock solid and will handle almost any amount of punishment. The rotary pitch control may not be to everybody's taste either but once you're familiarised you'll be wandering why we ever switched to faders. Chances are you probably won't need to use it anyway as the sync mode Itch will match the tempo of the track pretty much perfectly every time. On each player you've got four hot cue buttons which make on the fly editing of tracks a walk in the park. The censor or reverse feature is also very slick, returning you to the point of the track you would have reached if the function had not been activated.
Marketed by Native Instruments as the culmination of ten years vision and experience, the S4 is a premium-quality 4-channel DJ mixer with a built-in 24 bit/96 kHz soundcard custom tailored for S4 version of Traktor. Up on deck the S4 feels sturdy - the multi functional electromagnetic jog wheels are rock solid, while the pitch control, channel faders and cross-fader move freely yet not of their own free will. Upon software launch you can customise your S4 set up between the sample decks, track decks and live inputs. You can load samples (up to 48 seconds each) from the browser to each cell (eight in total) or set loop points in the playing deck, the contents of which can be moved to one of the cells.

The layout of the S4 console is clean and well thought out - you can tell a lot of care has gone into positioning certain controls in close proximity to others. The player's loop, sample trigger, play, cue and shift controls are situated beneath each of the two jog wheels. These resemble those on a professional CD deck and can be used to browse files, cue and scratch tracks or samples as well as nudge the tempo. The central mixer module has four channel strips, two for each channel with illuminated cue, filter, 3 band EQ control, gain and effects sends. The loop sampler is situated in the very middle and is made up of a dry/wet mix knob as well as record, play, loop size and undo keys. Along the top of the unit to the left and right we have the effects controls: we all know how much fun these are to use in Traktor and the S4's deliverance doesn't disappoint. It doesn't take long to familiarize yourself with the S4, even those of us who don't know our way around Traktor Pro will find it easy enough to learn the basics with advanced operation not far around the corner.
Numark's NS7 USB DJ controller is optimized and ships with Serato's Itch software. Numark have really done their homework on the requirements of the digital DJ and have clearly upped their game for this venture. Looking at the NS7's top panel Numark have included a strip search feature which is useful for jumping to a particular point in the track and by placing a finger on a point along a sensor. Directly below this, you'll find the track forward and back buttons, which are for skipping to the next or back to the previous track. Below this is a tap tempo button which when tapped in time with the track playing, helps the software detect a more accurate BPM reading. There's a handy bleep/reverse switch to change the direction of the platter and to the right are the start time and stop time knobs which control the rate at which the playback shifts from play to pause and vice versa.

In the centre of the deck is the platter, which has a high torque motor akin to that of any professional turntable and although it's only seven inches in size, doesn't feel small or flimsy. Above the platter are the loop controls, which have all the necessary buttons for creating loops and changing their length or position in the track. The mixer in the centre of the NS7 is primarily a two-channel scratch mixer. All the controls you'd expect are present, along with the additional navigation controls at the top of the mixer. These controls are used for scrolling through and selecting the tracks in Itch without having to touch the computer.

Switching on the NS7, the backlit buttons become illuminated in red and white. In a darkened club or general low-light conditions, this is a huge bonus as almost all of the buttons are backlit so operation is unhindered in inferior conditions. A quick perusal of the Itch interface reveals a simple, user-friendly program that doesn't over-complicate or lack either. Anyone who's previously used Serato's Scratch Live DJ software will instantly feel at home but newcomers needn't worry as Itch is very intuitive. As you'd expect each of the controls and parameters are mapped to a corresponding knob, button or fader on the NS7. The responsiveness of the NS7 is equally as impressive mimicking almost perfectly a professional vinyl turntable and DJ mixer. The NS7 can also be used in conjunction with Numark's NSFX effects unit making for some interesting and creative results.
German manufacturers Reloop have been quietly mastering their craft since 1996. These days they are a household name (well, at least in DJ friendly households). The advent of their Digital Jockey controller and interface series paired with Native Instruments' Traktor software has left the DJ more time to concentrate on the creative process whilst eliminating the need for complicated set-ups without compromising features, usability and style. The Digital Jockey 2 Master Edition combines the might of a 24bit/96 kHz soundcard with a professional DJ/USB controller. Top of the impressive list of features is Reloop's all new standalone mixing function, which enables two CD players or turntables to be utilised without the aid of software or a computer. The controller will work with many MIDI platforms but was made with Traktor in mind, hence shipping with the LE version and serial number.

We tested the Digital Jockey 2 in two deck internal mixer mode with surprising ease, yielding some very professional results early on. The jog-wheels, although small, perform well in search, scratch or pitch bend mode they can also be used to browse your file menus which is a convenient feature. They contain a two part sensor meaning that pressure exerted to the top rim will operate a different function to when it is applied to the side wall meaning that the operation is very similar to a pro CD deck. If you'd rather make the fine adjustments to your mix outside the jog wheel environment there are +/- tap buttons located diagonally above. The crossfader feels solid and the curve is easily adjusted, and the channel faders have the same reassuring feel to them. The cup, cue and play buttons are of solid plastic and feel as if they'll handle the sustained tapping that they will doubtlessly undergo.

The effects buttons and knobs on the controller really bring this controller to life. The activate buttons are directly below the parameter control knobs which have a reassuring encoder style click with each adjustment making precise tweaks to complicated effects error-free. The loop buttons are placed in between the effects and EQ bank meaning that on-the-spot bursts of creativity can be achieved with only the slightest movement of the hand. Headphone monitoring is professionally delivered and microphone control will keep the hip-hop MC's and wedding DJs more than happy! Just for the record we couldn't resist tipping our hats to Jeff Mills or Carl Cox, who'll be happy to know that in 4 deck internal mixer mode, with the aid of the shift button everything works as above.
2008 saw the introduction of the award winning VCI 300, designed in collaboration with Rane as a dedicated, compact interface for Serato Itch with an analogue feel. Unperturbed by the legions of feature packed wannabes, Vestax have opted for pure and complete functional simplicity. There are no fancy effects or multiple deck setups - it's all about doing what it says on the tin. Fast forward to 2011 and they've updated the console in the form of the MK2 edition based on customer feedback. First impressions are that it's not light for its size, tipping the scale at 3.2kg you'll notice this in your bag. The design is sleek and contemporary with the craftsmanship having an almost handmade feel to it - very nice. The jog wheels resemble reel to reel tape spools rather than the usual tractor tyre imitations and the bevelled corners are protected by rubber bumpers. The interface is built of metal and the top panel is of black plastic.

Operating the DJ system brings together all the conveniences of digital DJing yet allows the user to concentrate on the crowd whilst putting full trust in the console at hand and thus eliminating the need to constantly squint at a laptop. The jog wheels are very smooth once set to your desired torque and the grid feature on top of Itch's waveform display makes it very difficult to do a machine-gun out of time mix. You can be as heavy handed or as precise as you like with the pitch control which makes it incredibly quick and easy to set it at the correct value. With this taken into account you're free to beat sync the tracks and get to grips with the loop and reverse functions making for some very creative soundscapes.
The Xponent is M Audio's all-in-one DJ MIDI USB control surface, fully mapped and optimised for their tried and tested Torq software. It is also a 4-output 16-bit/48kHz USB interface that will work with any other software that has a MIDI learn function. It's built from the same solid plastic as the X-Session pro and Torq Connective units and has the same functional yet no frills air about it as the Torq DJ software. The controller itself is a decent slab at 3.7kg, with the impressively sized 8cm diameter jog wheels taking pride of place. These can be used to cue tracks in turntable, CD or hybrid mode complete with sturdy rubber side coating and embossed no slip grip on top. One thing that also distinguishes the controller from others is the addition of an XY trackpad for navigating the screen. This was originally groundbreaking however with other units having dedicated or shift controlled knobs and switches to control almost every aspect of their host software it took a bit of getting used to.

As far as layout is concerned we found it difficult to choose between calling it classic (as it has been out for over 3 years) or nothing we hadn't seen before with the two players complete with transport, cue set/trigger, loop and keylock snuggling up to the mixer section. Directly underneath those fabulous wheels of joy you've got four knobs and switches for effects modulation. The total kill switches alongside each of the sturdy EQ knobs have a fantastically tight action to them and you've got an eight segment type level meter just in case you get carried away. The pitch control is rather on the loose side however it almost redeems itself in length being more similar to that of a Technics SL1210. The channel faders and curve adjustable crossfader also fall short on free-movement however this is often down to personal taste.

When operating the Xponent you'll find that the workflow is just as streamlined as that of the higher spec models on the market at the moment. The soundcard is crisp, the 64 assignable backlit buttons feel professional. Although M Audio have possibly cut a few corners financially in the manufacturing process (particularly with the faders), overall the system is robust and after extended testing also proved very reliable. It may not look as futuristic as some of the newer models on offer but we'd say it was one of the safest choices within its price bracket.
The Denon SC2000 is a single deck, MIDI-only USB powered compact controller designed specifically for use with Traktor Scratch and Virtual DJ, although it can be manually mapped to work with all other leading brand digital DJ solutions. It's effectively a two deck controller in one box and eliminates the need for any mouse or keyboard interaction with your laptop whilst playing. The build quality is bomb proof, the multifunctional jog wheel is heavy duty and the pitch slider seems to go on for miles in each direction. Also included on the top panel are rubber illuminated play and cue buttons, vinyl bend cursor keys, four split function cue keys and a shift key. The track select encoder and control keys are centralised flanked by the deck change button to the left, key lock and sync are positioned to the right. At the very top are the effects controls which consist of four very sturdy push activated knobs, effect selects and on/off buttons.

Prior to operation it is necessary to get over to Denon's website and pick up the latest .tsi file for the SC2000 as it is too new to be supported by the current version of Traktor. This will ensure 'plug & play' operation and needs to be inserted into Traktor's controller manager device set-up preference. With that said and done the controls are mapped and we can use as intended. The deck change function selects each player illuminating the button and track select encoder in blue for left or red for right whilst on screen this corresponds to the visual A/B deck highlighting. For four deck control you'll need to pair up another SC2000. The jog wheel can be used to cue or tweak your track speed operating much the same as on a CDJ. With shift depressed it can be used to scroll through files in your crate. The pitch control is precise but unfortunately soiled with a pitch lock at zero. The 15 illuminated rubber buttons are responsive with almost no latency making adding cue points and looping very easy and accurate. The track selection features are as user friendly as you'd find in any larger controller with the previous, next and duplicate keys navigating your rotary encoder through the various browser view options. The effects unit control was our favourite feature, allowing simultaneous modulation of up to three effects activated with push to make knobs.

As far as design is concerned there's not really anything that could have been added to make this controller any more functional than it already is. For those of us that need a reliable lightweight controller to throw in a Ryan Air compatible bag at the weekends then this is the answer. Anyone who's already purchased the Native Instruments Kontrol X1 and Faderfox users should definitely take note as this will add CDJ style flexibility to your set up at a fraction of the price.
Faderfox's first and second generation of compact MIDI controllers were some of the first devices that allowed DJs and live performers to truly travel light without compromising on features and build quality. They were seen by many as the true professional's choice but weren't to everybody's taste due to their standard MIDI only connections (providing supreme accuracy yet limited compatibility with some of the newer digital audio systems) and their lack of included power adaptor with thirsty battery consumption. The recently launched 2010 third generation addresses these quirks, bringing the range right up to speed with USB bus powered and connection at less than 500mW /100mA.

The DJ3 model has been optimised for Native Instruments Traktor Scratch, which means that the included .tsi file maps the device controls to the channel faders, crossfader, EQ's, filters, effects, loops, pitch, key, cues, transport and browser. As it uses MIDI you can also control many other manufacturer's software with approximately 250 freely assignable commands. It is ultra compact, tipping the scales at just 350g. The knobs are now rubber coated, the faders are made by ALPS and the top panel is metal. Faderfox's positioning of each control utilizes the limited space perfectly. The three band EQ and filter control knobs grace the outer walls of the unit surrounding the two line faders and crossfader. Below are the cue and effects assign buttons which can be allocated to a total of four decks. These can easily be toggled between using the centrally positioned shift and deck selector buttons. The top of the controller has four push activated encoder knobs which have a wide variety of functions ranging from file browsing and selection to loop length parameters to shift activated pitch control and more.

Due to the inclusion of the barest essentials control-wise, operation takes a little bit of time to get used to as a lot of the controls serve a dual purpose. Once familiarized with the toggling and shifting you'll notice that impulsive manouevres can actually be executed in a quicker, less clumsy manner than say if faced with moving from one corner to the other on one of the larger controllers. Performance wise, like previous Faderfox creations, it's pretty much faultless, not once during our tests did it hang or stutter and will also store your deck assignments.
Akai's APC range (APC20 and APC40) are dedicated controllers for Ableton live. The main difference between the two is that the APC40 has two banks of four knobs, meaning you can control eight track parameters at a time. The APC20 is essentially an APC40 with the these controls removed - making it much smaller, lighter and indeed a lot more portable at less than half the price of its superior. The controller looks very slick and stylish, with its matt black finish, wedge-shaped edges and uncomplicated appearance. Housed in a metal casing, the APC20 feels solid enough to withstand the rigors of repeated gigging without any problems. The 87 buttons, nine faders and single knob also feel solid and sturdy enough for repeated heavy-handed use without failing or coming off in your hand.

The APC20 is incredibly easy to setup, only needing a USB lead and the included power supply to operate. It would have been nice if the APC20 was USB powered so you wouldn't need the power supply, but as the power adaptor switches automatically and operates with any voltage from 100-240V, it can still be used worldwide if you have the correct travel plug adaptor. It comes bundled with Ableton Live Akai Professional APC Edition software, which is a fully functional but stripped down version for performance and production. The APC20 is pre-mapped for instant use with the software, which is great for users who don't want to spend time mapping the controls beforehand. Experienced users needn't worry, as every single button and fader can be re-mapped and completely customized to their taste. In use, the APC20 is incredibly fun; the faders respond well to the touch, as does the rotary knob.

Finances aside, the ideal solution would be to have an APC40 just for studio work and an APC20 for gigs. The APC40 still has its place and is a fantastic controller, but being heavier and more cumbersome makes it less appealing for globetrotting, meaning the APC20 is a much more realistic option for travelling.
£169.99 £129.99
The Novation Launchpad is a simple, well-built USB bus powered controller with a total of 80 backlit rubberized buttons and feet. It has a USB socket, a Kensington anti-theft lock and the manufacturer proudly boasts that it weights in at just 717gms (one third the weight of a Macbook!). Launchpad ships with a dedicated edition of Ableton Live 8, but it can control almost any other music software using Novation's Automap control software. The buttons either illuminate in amber to show that the slot contains a clip or green to show that the clip is playing. Red displays that the clip is recording and no colour indicates that there are no tracks or scenes in that range. They look professional and the backlighting provides valuable information as to what's happening on-screen

The buttons can be used to sketch out beats with drum racks, however the fact that they aren't velocity sensitive makes us speculate as to whether Akai's MPD range , M-Audio's Trigger Finger or Korg's NanoPAD and PadKontrol controllers may be more suited to that particular task. The Launchpad can be used to control other functions in Live using Ableton's 'Learn' mode. The exclusion of knobs and faders does limit the Launchpad somewhat compared with Akai's more complete APC40 Ableton Performance Controller, but at £149 compared with the pricier and less portable APC40 (£379), the Launchpad is definitely worth considering.