Scratching on DJ controllers — Myth or Reality?

A new era of DJing is here — Turntables almost became obsolete as they are very expensive and vinyl is hard to come by. CDJ’s are a popular option but DJ Controllers are even more popular due to their affordability and features.

A lot of DJ’s these days switch to DJ controllers as they are more compact, cheaper and have some extra features that CDJ’s and some mixers don’t have. Some DJ’s love to scratch and love that vinyl feel — so can you actually scratch on a DJ Controller? Read this article and I’ll tell you what I think..


1. Some say it doesn’t sound as well

Vinyl purists will definitely say you can’t scratch on a CDJ or a DJ Controller as it will never sound as good as vinyl does.

In one way this is true, but then again with the development of new technology and digital formats. I would say this is a myth.

sratch on vinyl

DJ technology has come a long way in the last few years and honestly you wouldn’t even notice the difference in sound. If you have bad speakers or poor quality headphones, then even scratching on vinyl will sound awful, but if you have good speakers it will sound just as good.

If you scratch a 192kbps MP3 file, yes it will sound horrible, but if you have a 320kbps or a wav file of a track, it will sound amazing. Vinyl does have a very crisp sound, but that’s because the music is directly printed onto vinyl instead of being digitally compressed. Honestly, you will not notice the difference, so people saying it doesn’t sound as well just have no idea what they’re talking about.

2. Lagging

Another popular opinion is that there is a great deal of lag (sound being late when manipulated) when scratching on a DJ controller. This may be true in a way, but again it just depends on what kind of DJ controller you are scratching on.

If you have a very cheap controller, there is a high probability it will lag slightly. Yet, if you have a flagship model, then there is absolutely no lag.

make music on laptop

Some DJ Controller models perform even better than the turntables as you can adjust certain parameters like resistance of the Jog wheel, slow down the speed and touch sensitivity.

Again, lag depends on your laptop strength, if it’s a weak laptop, you might get a massive lag even just by playing normally, without scratching.

If you have a really powerful laptop you will have no issues.

This is a two sided opinion which varies on many factors. The verdict is: with perfect conditions there is absolutely no lag, giving the same effect as vinyl.

3. Jog wheel size and scratching

DJ Controllers come in different sizes and the quality of build varies. Some come with very small Jog wheels and some are designed with larger CDJ sized ones. Obviously, the smaller the Jog wheel is, the harder it is to scratch precisely.

  • I have seen some DJ’s still scratch perfectly using smaller Jog wheels but when I tried it I couldn’t do it properly. Size does matter in this case, the bigger the Jog wheel, the better scratching. When using vinyl it is very easy to scratch as the vinyl actually turns, which gives you resistance and definitely a better feel.

There are some DJ controllers which have Jog wheels turning giving you that vinyl effect and feel — for instance Denon and Numark DJ controllers. High end Pioneer DJ Controllers have larger Jog wheels which makes scratching effortless.

It’s still a little unusual as the Jog wheel is not turning constantly but it is really easy to get used to it and allowing you to perform some amazing scratches that you couldn’t do using turntables. I will say there is some truth to the motto — size does matter.

4. It’s not the same as turntables

Using CDJs or a controller is definitely not the same, as I mentioned before, there is a huge difference. Yet don’t let it stop you! You can still have a DJ controller and scratch like a pro.

There are DMC competitions where DJ’s scratch on vinyl but that is a completely different world (their scratching makes the music).

If you plan on scratching like that, maybe vinyl is your better option, but for some simple scratching during your sets, using a DJ controller will be just fine.

vinyl record

There is always an option to get turntables — Traktor Scratch Pro with Timecoded vinyls and hook up your laptop. With that you will get the same functionality and reaction time as you would with vinyl, only you will see the track wavelength on your laptop screen and it will be even easier to scratch and do crazy tricks with your tracks like looping, hot cueing and sampling.

This is a pricier option, but if you want a realistic vinyl feel — this is the way to go. Have that in mind, people that say it’s not the same as turntables will be right, as it’s not the same but it’s close enough.

5. Scratching with electronic music

A lot of scratch DJ’s scratch strictly with Hip Hop, RnB or just with random samples. That’s all good, but should you also scratch with electronic music? My answer is simple — yes you can do it.

  • All types of music come from a mixture of samples and any sample can be scratched and manipulated. It will not sound amazing, but it is possible.

You can do some great things if you scratch with electronic music, especially if you scratch before a drop for a bigger hype or in the middle of a breakdown — just be sure that your songs actually match, otherwise you’re about to cause an absolute mess.

You can scratch to anything, if you know how to do it properly. So train lots, know your songs and try it out!

6. Is it easier or harder?

is it easy to learn scratching

DJ technology is very advanced today. There is no need to carry crates of vinyl to your gigs anymore and search a certain track and then find a cue point and start playing it.

Now you just need a DJ controller and a laptop, or even just a DJ controller and a USB stick as the newer controllers have a built in screen that shows you everything about the track.

My verdict is — it’s easier to scratch today. With a DJ controller you have multiple effects and possibilities that turntables don’t have. You can do some crazy things with a DJ controller that turntable purists are very envious of.

If you have a DJ controller with 4 channels and a good software, you can do things that turntable DJ’s couldn’t do as they would have to spend years and years of training and funds to have 4 turntables and a mixer to do the same thing you are doing. Yes, I’ll say it’s easier.

7. Should you even scratch

If that’s the style you’re going for, sure, do it. If you play hip hop and RnB, go for it as it will make it sound better and you can make some amazing mixes.

If you play house or EDM, do it sometimes as otherwise it might completely ruin the song played.

should i scratch

My opinion is that you should do whatever makes you happy and whatever sounds good to you and your audience. Just please, at least from my perspective, don’t be that DJ that constantly scratches for minutes on end, with every song, on every mix even if it sounds horrible. Having moderation is the key here.

  • But if you plan on being a scratch DJ, go for it, go to DMC competitions or play at a hip hop club. Just don’t scratch like a maniac at an electronic music event as the audience will just look at you like you’re crazy.

To sum it up — scratching is good fun and a very useful skill to show off. Train hard, build a great playlist, scratch and impress everyone. Just do it right and don’t worry what the turntable purists say. Enjoy your DJing and scratching. You will love it!

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