Difference between DJ controller and Launchpad

If you are new to DJing, we know how confusing all the different types of DJing devices can get. Oftentimes they may seem a bit similar and differentiating them could be difficult at first glance. DJ controllers and launchpads are such devices. As sometimes DJ controllers have launchpad-like features.   

So, what is the difference between  DJ controller and launchpad? 

In short, DJ controllers are mainly to operate a DJ software with physical controls allowing you to mix and create music at a faster pace. It is usually a combination of multiple types of devices like turntables, mixers, pads etc. Launchpads on the other hand, consist of multicolored buttons each of which can be assigned to a melody, drum, snare, track or loop to create catchy beats and tunes. 

Let’s take a deeper look into the differences of these devices. 

What is a DJ controller?

A DJ controller is an equipment of the latest technology used by a professional DJ to help mix track records on stage. This is a combination of a turntable and DJ mixer which has overthrown these devices for simplicity and convenience thus it now retains the aptitude of performing all the functions of these two.

A DJ controller only requires itself to be plugged to a laptop with a music mixing software installed. Though you might have been reminiscing the good old days of the Vinyl and the CD music this controller brings all the tracks of all the Vinyl and CD decks in one place through its USB or some portable drive implanted to it. They mostly only require a USB port to form a connection, however, if preferred, MIDI or Ethernet can be used as well.

Whilst mixing, the DJ controller holds immense control over the software. Controllers with their variegated FX tools offer much diversity in the sound tuning, therein your mixing will always be topnotch. 

How does it work?

Upon establishing the connection between the computer and the DJ controller, the audio signals are transmitted to the controller and sometimes to an external sound card. This is the instant when the DJ has to make his moves and manipulate the audio to his favorable terms and bring the audience to his playful grasp. The actions made by the controller, subsequently, are conveyed back to the software. 

All your mixing moves are kept under surveillance by the software and DJ apps. Filters are applied and effects that have been selected prompt further samples, modifying music waveform and execute bunches of tricks hid right from under their sleeves by the software and apps. Now all these wouldn’t have been possible back in those days. 

The DJ can even make the DJ controller do astonishing things that it wasn’t meant to do as per the manufacturer by remapping the components of controllers. The DJ controller’s aptitude is surprisingly amazing when you become aware of it.

It is indeed a piece of rather wholesome equipment, which is perfect for the DJ industry.

Should you get a DJ Controller? 

Well, if you are a hobbyist and just starting out then no. But we still do recommend newbie DJs to at least start with an entry level DJ controller to make the learning process a bit easier. On the other hand, if you are thinking of becoming a professional then a buying at least a controller is a must. 

Usually, more professional DJs prefer personalized DJ setups with each component being handpicked. But beginners who are just entering the industry need at least a good quality DJ controller. 

And we will pinpoint exactly why you need to possess the DJ controller if you have the slightest desire of reaching the zenith of your career:

  1. Super Compact

Controllers are like a combination of the most essential DJ equipment like turntables, mixers etc. Allowing you to DJ where ever you want when ever you want. You can even find some controllers that easily fit in your back pack. 

2. Practicing is so much easier now 

You can carry this mobile device where ever you go and experiment with your tunes and your skills are enhanced and you can get accustomed to its features such as buttons, pads, job wheels, and knob.

  1. Super Potable 

DJ controllers are light weight and have all the essential DJing devices built in. So, you can carry it with you anywhere you go. This is especially great for DJs on the go. Allowing them to take with them all the essential equipment they need where ever they go. 

4. Welcome a more professional DJ within you

Your demeanor also has a say in your professionalism and keep that demeanor gleaming with the stylishly designed DJ controller before you.

What is a launchpad?

As we’ve said before, Launchpads consist of multicolored buttons each of which can be assigned to a melody, drum, snare, track or loop to create catchy beats and tunes. The difference between the DJ controller and Launchpad is, the DJ controller is the mixing equipment while Launchpad is the MIDI that is attached to it.

So launchpad is a MIDI device, abbreviated for Musical Instrument Digital Interface Controller which is used to launch clips in software. It is a sort of keyboard where you assign different sounds to different keys, except there aren’t any keys on the surface, just on the sides. 

So, this single keyboard-like instrument can assign sounds of any musical instruments to its keys and then you can mix them all while the lights flash and turn any space around with a chill vibe like that of nightclubs. 

But this RGB coloring is not just for show. They provide visual feedback that helps you to navigate through your devices. This allows you to easily remember which tracks are assigned to which buttons.  

How does it work?

First, you put a song down in the samples and slip the samples on every key on the launchpad and memorize the order they were put. And as easy as that, you play the song out. So, what the DJ intends on doing is that this gives him the authenticity over the song by making it easier or harder or giving it just about any tune he likes.

And this gets even more comfortable as it can be used even without software by just connecting to a mixer. However, there are several things you need to do and have before it’s ready to jam:

1. A Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) is a requisite here since a workstation to a launchpad is like an engine to its car. You can’t plug it to just about any port or charger and anticipate its performance, it will turn on but as that as a stone. This is what drives the launchpad.

2. Install Ableton Software which is the company that had created the DJ controller, however, any other software will do. 

3. Set feedback for the launchpad, which is a pretty simple task as well and you can do that by checking out the manual or looking up online.

So there are three modes that you will find in every version of the launchpad ( so far Ableton released 4 launchpads), they all allow you to do different things and experiment differently.

Session mode:

Audio loops can be played synchronously. This is optimal for jamming sessions or if a song of yours under progress is being loaded. So, you can practice with this.

Mixer mode:

This is done manually. Starting from rewinding, panning left to right, record tapes to changing volumes, this does everything you want- on your own. And then you mix it up and tune it to your heart’s desire. Apart from concerts and gigs, you can compete with your other DJ friends and jam.

User mode:

This mode allows you to play the launchpad like an instrument by assigning sound clips and amalgamating all sorts of beats giving you a unique rhythm.

Bottom Line 

DJ controllers are used to control DJ software. If you are new to DJing or just looking for a portable device then the DJ controller is going to be at the heart of your craft. They usually a bit of various types of DJ devices like turntables, mixers and even launchpads. 

If your DJ controller doesn’t have any pads or if you want to build a professional DJ setup then you might want to buy a launchpad as they are quite useful for DJing and creating complex tracks.    


We understand the struggle of just getting into the music industry. Especially, DJing is pretty complex at first. But in time with a bit of experience everything should start to make more sense. We have tried our best to teach you the difference between DJ controller and launchpad. But the best way to learn about these sorts of equipment is to use them yourself. 

So, our advice would be that you try to experience these devices as much as you can to truly understand their purpose and use. 

Hope this article was helpful to you. We wish you the best of luck in your new found hobby. Thanks for stopping by.

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