These days, most DJs – mobile, club, and everyone in between – use a DJ controller and a laptop. The controller is basically a midi device that controls what is playing on the laptop, using a specific type of software.
In this article, we will look at the 5 best DJ software available for beginners.
While there are many different options available, we will look at my top 5;
Another reason I have chosen just the top 5, rather than some cheaper alternatives, which may suit beginners better is because I believe it is more beneficial to learn what you are likely to use long-term. Learn the features as you go along, practice in your bedroom and then when you are ready to play at a live gig you will know your equipment inside-out, without having to switch to new software and learn that. Although most are similar in their layout, there are some subtle differences between them.
Now we’re in a bit of a chicken or egg situation – by that I mean, should you look for the controller or the software first? There isn’t really a correct answer, but in my opinion, I would probably test the software first and then check which controller/s it works with afterwards. That being said, you can often try controllers in your local DJ store before committing to buy, and you shouldn’t be pushed into buying there and then. Make sure you check if the controller requires a separate audio interface.
The software, on the other hand, can be tested from the comfort of your own home, assuming you already have a laptop or computer.
All the software programs we will look at today are available with a free trial and should be useable without a controller just to get the overall look and feel of it, but to get the true test it would obviously be better to try with a controller. You should also be aware that the free trial versions are usually restricted, either by fewer features and/or time limit – so don’t go and play at a live event as the software will close after 15-30 minutes or so.
All software is available on both Windows and Mac computers, for use with midi controllers, some are also available on tablets and smartphones.
Used by many professional, club DJs, Serato DJ Pro is apparently “the most popular DJ software globally”. It features a sleek, high-definition interface, following a 64-bit upgrade, making it a much smoother user experience.
Serato is compatible with a whole range of hardware from controllers, mixers, interfaces and CDJs. The full list is available on their website.
You can go and download Serato DJ Pro for free straight away to have a play with the software. If and when you are ready to use it with your controller, simply upgrade to the full version, currently priced at US$99, or start a monthly subscription. If you buy a Serato-designed controller, chances are you will have Serato DJ Lite licence with it. Serato DJ Pro-enabled controllers come with the full software included.
Additionally, you can upgrade to Serato Play (US$29) and use the software with just your laptop, although this can be quite fiddly having to use your mouse/trackpad and shortcut keys.
- Sampler – One of the best features of Serato is the Sampler. With 4 banks (A, B, C & D) you can upload up to 8 in each bank. You can control the volume of the sampler, and even the volume of each individual sample. Samples can be synced, looped, and you can adjust their tempo and pitch, meaning you can really get creative with your mixes.
- Practice Mode – A great new feature of Serato is Practice Mode, allowing you to mix with two decks, crossfader, tempo controls, hot cues and your full library without a controller plugged into your laptop. This is great if you just want to test out some features using the software and your laptop without having to setup and plug in your controller.
- Streaming – You can actually mix music from streaming sites right within Serato, though the options are limited to SoundCloud and Tidal. Both offer a 30-day trial, following which you can upgrade for the paid monthly subscription service.
On top of the Serato DJ Pro licence, you can purchase any of 6 available Expansion Packs to give you more creativity;
- Serato DVS – Add control vinyl and CD integrations for supported hardware
- Serato Video – Add video to your sets with in-depth effects and transitions
- Serato Play – Add advanced functionality for laptop-only DJing in Lite and Pro
- Serato Flip – Create, save, and play back custom edits of your tracks.
- Serato P’nT (Pitch’N’Time) – Key shift and key sync with perfect audio quality
- Serato FX – Make a set your own with a variety of customisable effects
Prices vary from US$29-99, see Serato website for individual, or package price
Whilst there is no standalone tablet app from Serato, they do have Serato Remote, which allows you to control the main features of the software running on your laptop wirelessly from your iPad or iPhone – USD$19.99
Serato DJ Pro includes some pretty impressive effects built in, 13 in total. For an additional US$29 you can upgrade with the FX Expansion Pack and get even more.
Serato DJ Pro is definitely one of the best DJ software choices you will find. You can use your full music library from your laptop, and customise your setup, whether you use CDJs, turntables, mixer and/or controller, Serato lets you use what you like.
- Full of features and add-ons,
- Great audio quality
- Crisp user interface
- Good hardware compatibility
- Lack of full midi mapping – which means you can’t map certain controls such as jog wheels and shift buttons, so it is important that you choose the right, compatible controller if you opt for this software.
Traktor Pro is, in my opinion, the second of the two ‘professional DJ’ software options available, next to Serato. Growing in popularity and features for 20 years, the latest version 3.1 is the best yet.
It features a clean user interface, with a unique design layout.
Installation and Hardware Compatibility:
Traktor is compatible ‘plug and play’ with Native Instruments controllers. You can also use a range of third-party ‘Traktor-ready’ controllers. The full list is available on their website.
For non Traktor-ready controllers, many manufacturers will provide MIDI mappings (.tsi files) on their websites, or search on the internet.
With included DVS, Traktor is compatible with timecode vinyl for turntablists, MIDI syncing and other external devices.
Some of Traktor’s best features include Loops, Hot Cues and Beat Jumps, giving you great tools to boost your set and remix some of your favourite tracks.
The updated user interface is sleek and more streamlined, giving you just what you need to see during your set.
Traktor Pro comes with over 40 pre-installed effects with Deck FX.
The main effects are:
- Dual Delay
- Time Gater
- Barber Pole
- Dotted Delay
Native Instruments has a standalone app for your iPad (or iPhone), which you can use straight to speakers, or with compatible controllers. The features in this version are quite different to the Mac or PC version, taking advantage of the touchscreen functionality of the tablet.
Traktor Pro 3.1 is another solid choice for all levels of DJs, from beginners right through to professionals.
- Updated audio engine and user interface
- DVS support included
- Excellent remix features, sync and effects
- No video mixing function
- No streaming functionality
- Can be overwhelming for beginners
Virtual DJ has been around for some time and is continually improving. While it is suitable for all DJ levels, I would suggest it is more suited to the beginner. That said, it is a great piece of software
The latest version has added yet more features to its predecessors, including a new, customizable layout and Advanced Harmonic Mixing (see below).
Installation and Hardware Compatibility:
Virtual DJ claim the software is compatible “with more controllers and mixers than any other software”. Like most top-level DJ software, Virtual DJ is ‘plug and play’ with compatible controllers, so you don’t have to go through a long, drawn out process to get mixing.
It also comes with MIDI-learn capability so you can easily customise the functions of certain buttons and knobs to suit you playing style.
The overall look and feel of the graphics is similar in colour to that of Serato and Traktor, going for the dark theme, but with their well-known red and blue feature. Everything is well placed and easy to find.
Virtual DJ is packed full of features, which can even be used without a controller connected.
- Video Mixing – It offers video mixing for an external display with full-HD and 4K support so you can show off video effects, transitions, text-to-screen, song titler, camera support and more.
- Karaoke – You can easily offer karaoke with the built-in feature.
- Live Streaming – There is even a video broadcast function to enable live streaming to social media.
- Song Requests – Another great feature is Ask The DJ, where guest can request tracks from their smartphone.
- Lighting Control – Built into the software is Virtual DJ’s DMX Light Control, which allows you to control DMX lights, scenes and fog machines using your controller, keeping the lights synced with the music beat.
- Harmonic Mixing – The Advanced Harmonic Mixing function allows you to automatically mix two or more tracks with the same or similar key.
Audio and video effects come pre-installed with Virtual DJ.
The audio effects include: Flanger, Filters, Echo and Beatgrid
Video effects: Slideshows, Vizualizations, On-screen-text and camera support.
Additional effects are available with plugins.
Music Library Management:
You can manage your library with ease using the search function, smart filter folders, playlists and virtual folders.
Virtual DJ offers a wireless remote-control app for tablets and smartphones, connecting via Wi-Fi, USB or Bluetooth, with or without the need for internet.
Virtual DJ is a software full of features, offering more than their competitors. I have used Virtual DJ in the past and found it a good overall software, but there are others that I found more reliable. I was also not a great fan of the display, but that is down to personal preference.
- Endless list of features
- Karaoke option as upgrade
- Quite expensive, compared with other, similar software
- User Interface is not as nice as other DJ software
Virtual DJ is available to download and purchase from the Virtual DJ website.
Platform: Mac and Windows
MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS: Windows 7 / Mac OSX 10.8 | RECOMMENDED: Windows 10 / Mac OSX 10.13
Djay Pro was initially released as a Mac-only application, but it has just been released on Windows for PC too. It is designed to be used by all; beginners, professionals and casual DJs alike. They have just recently moved over to a subscription-only service for the Pro version, meaning you get all the extra features and the latest updates for one low monthly fee.
I have used this at many live events, and actually find it very good, very solid.
Installation and Hardware Compatibility:
Djay is quick to set up and you can get a 15-day free trial, to try before you buy.
There are over 50 controllers compatible with Djay Pro 2, with few being plug and play.
The user interface is quite simple-looking, being aimed at all levels of experience – not breath-taking, but it has what you need, and follows the standard dark colour theme. You can choose to show or hide additional display sections, such as FX, loop controls and hot cues. You can also opt for a 2 or 4-deck display, with horizontal or vertical waveforms.
There are more features in Djay that you may expect;
- My Library – lets you manage your music from iTunes and the file system, viewable in normal or split mode view. There are also Smart Filters and Playlists.
- Automix DJ – If you need the loo, or simply don’t want to be stuck behind the decks you can set the software’s Automix function, and the music will mix between your list of tracks with clever transitions.
- Video – Show videos in up to 4k quality with transitions, visuals, FX and titles, or display photos that change in time with the music.
- CDJ Integration – Connect up to 4 CDJs and browse your music library direct from the CDJ.
- Sampler – Choose between 6 or 12 sample slots, with six sample packs included. There is currently no way to record or add your own samples.
Djay Pro 2 comes with 5 built-in effects: Echo, Flanger. Phaser, Bit Crusher and Gate, with a load more available via in-app purchase (although they may now be included with the Pro, monthly subscription version)
One of my favourite features of Djay Pro is the inclusion of Spotify streaming. With a Spotify Premium account, you can search and mix from the huge library. You will need live Wi-Fi internet access as you can only stream, even if you have the tracks downloaded to the laptop library.
Playing tracks from Spotify in a live venue is prohibited – check the T&Cs for more info.
Update: As of July 2020 Spotify will no longer work with DJay, or any other DJ Software – Read More
Download Djay for iOS/Android to become a truly mobile DJ straight from your smart device to speakers.
Djay Pro 2 is a great all-round DJ software for all ages and experience levels. With a nice, clean interface and some fun features. Not the best on the market, but certainly better than a lot.
- Some really good features
- Spotify streaming integration
- No controller needed
- Lower level user interface
- Automix DJ feature not excellent
Djay Pro is available to download and purchase from the Algoriddim Djay website.
Mac: djay Pro 2 requires macOS 10.11 or newer.
Windows: Requires Windows 10 Desktop Version 1607 or later.
IOS: Requires iOS 11.2 or newer.
Android: Requires Android 4.1 and up
Pioneer is probably the most well-known DJ equipment manufacturer in the world. They now produce a DJ software too. Initially it was designed for DJs to prepare their music sets with, particularly when playing off USB drives, but now there is the fully-functional Rekordbox DJ. It is available now on a monthly subscription, with a range of price points, and the option to try with a 30-day trial version.
Note: Rekordbox only works with Pioneer hardware.
Installation and Hardware Compatibility:
Installation is relatively straightforward.
It is important to note that Rekordbox DJ is only compatible with certain Pioneer controllers and hardware
The Graphics User Interface (GUI) as they call it is very similar to that of most other good quality DJ software, with everything you need at a glance, and again with the dark theme.
It can seem quite busy and overloaded.
The main options are;
- 2 Decks Horizontal
- 4 Decks Horizontal
- 2 Decks Vertical
- 4 Decks Vertical
The features on Rekordbox are similar to many other professional DJ software;
- Track Suggestion, Related Tracks and Match features to help you choose your next tracks
- Multi-Deck Mixing – Perform with 2 or 4 decks
- Sampler – 16 sample slots and 4 decks
- Split Screen – Use two screens: one for browsing and other for performance features
- Auto Mix – Let Rekordbox DJ for you using your chosen playlist
- Mix Upload – Share your mix to Mixcloud, YouTube and KUVO
- Lighting Mode – Sync your lights with your music with the application
- Rekordbox DVS
- Rekordbox Video
- RMX Effects
- Rekordbox Lyric
- Quantized Beat FX
- Customizable sound color FX
- Release FX – Vinyl brake, Echo, Back spin
- Key Shift – Automatically sync the key of the next track to match the master track
Stream music for your mix with Beatport LINK and SoundCloud Go+ (Subscription required)
Rekordbox DJ is designed by Pioneer, and aimed mainly at professional DJs, but even beginners will get to grips with it soon enough. It is disappointing that only Pioneer hardware works with it though.
- Good, quality software with good features
- Music streaming integration
- Upload mixes to social media
- Lighting control function
- Only compatible with Pioneer hardware
- Busy user interface
- Improvements to be made
Rekordbox DJ is available to download and purchase from the Rekordbox DJ website.
Memory: 4GB or more of RAM
Hard Disk: 2GB or more of free space (not including space for storing music files, etc.)
- Windows 10, 8.1, 7 (64-bit, The latest service pack)
- macOS Mojave 10.14 (Updated to the latest version),
- macOS High Sierra 10.13 (Updated to the latest version),
- macOS Sierra 10.12 (Updated to the latest version)
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The best and easiest DJ software to use are;
- Serato DJ Pro
- Traktor DJ
- DJay Pro
- Rekordbox DJ
The best DJ controllers for beginners are;
- Pioneer DDJ-SB3
- Pioneer DDJ-400
- Numark Mixtrack Pro 3
- Native Instruments Traktor S2 MK3
- Denon DJ MC4000
- Pioneer DJ DDJ-WEGO4-K
It is possible to DJ with just a laptop. Most DJ software has the ability to play music and DJ without a DJ controller, though you will need to plug your laptop into your speakers.
You can control the usual functions and controls using shortcuts - which are single buttons you press on your keyboard to trigger the function of the software.
You can use a number of music streaming services with DJ software. You just need an active internet connection. Or you can subscribe to a music download service and play tracks offline.
As of July 2020, Spotify has been removed from DJ software, meaning you cannot play or stream any of your Spotify playlists, or any of their catalogue directly in DJ apps.
We have covered the best DJ software for beginners, so hopefully, you have an idea of what to look for and what is worth trying for DJ mixing. This is more important if you are serious about your progression from a beginner DJ to a paid professional.
The best way to get into digital DJing is to download a free trial, have a play, practice beat-matching and enjoy. When you are ready to make the right decision for you, then is the time to upgrade to the full version.
If you want to see what else is available, simply do a search online and you will find some alternatives, free DJ software, and open source options.
You can even DJ with a laptop, without any other equipment! Read how here.