2-Channel vs. 4-Channel DJ Controller – What to Know

2-channel vs. 4-channel dj controllers

If you’re looking to upgrade or planning on buying your first controller, you might want to know the difference between 2-channel and 4-channel DJ controller. Why some controllers have 4-channels but only two decks? Is it worth it to spend more on a 4-channel controller?

Don’t worry, you’re not the only one. We’ve all been there, and soon as you learn the basics, you can decide what’s the right controller for you and start progressing.

Firstly, for pure beginners:

The difference between a 2-Channel and 4-Channel DJ Controller is the number of actual routes you have to play music. Channels are inputs on the controller’s mixer – the columns of knobs. Each channel indicates you play the sound from that channel and change features individually for that channel.

On average, every channel contains the channel fader, cue button, EQ, and a trim knob.

4-channel vs. 2-channel dj controllers

How Does a 4-Channel Controller Work vs. 2-Channel?

2-channel controllers can control only a pair of jog wheels, while on a 4-channel controller you can have a pair of jog wheels (two controller’s decks) and two turntables hooked up and control all four decks with four faders (channels).

For example, you could even have your digital music source playing through channels 1 and 2, a turntable in channel 3, and a microphone through channel 4.

Most DJ software will allow you to have four decks to play with (some even more).

With 4-channel controllers, you can control all four channels by pressing a button and having one side swap between decks 1 and 3 and the other swapping between decks 2 and 4.

Depending on how good your controller/mixer is, there can be various other buttons and knobs, like channel input selector (something like CD/Phono/USB, for example) and FX assign buttons.

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While 2-channel controllers don’t have this option, some more expansive 4-channel controllers will actually remember where your faders/EQs were set on each deck, so when you switch decks it won’t adjust until you get the fader/knob back to where the memory point is.

So, if you have the lows out on channel 1, then you switch to channel 3 and bring the lows in, then switch back to channel 1, you’ll have to turn the low knob back to zero before it will “kick in” and start allowing you bring the lows back up.

Four channels unlock a whole other world that is unavailable to you with only two channels. As someone who DJ’d exclusively with vinyl on two turntables for years, I can tell you that having four channels was a game-changer and is now part of my gear.

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When do DJs Usually Use a 4-channel Controller?

Turntablists/scratch artists tend to stick to 2-channel controllers, while more club/EDM DJs tend to go for 4-channel controller.

  • 4-channel controller comes in handy when DJs want to hit an acapella (a vocals-only version of a track) on top of two other tracks they’re mixing, and maybe an extra drum loop as well.
  • They use them as regular decks if the mashup gets intense and need to keep it going to prevent the mix from losing energy.
  • DJs also tend to use them for mic input as well as input for a phone.

Techno DJs tend to layer lots of tracks. They let one song be their base (many techno tunes are 8+ minutes) and continuously weave other songs in and out of that base. For example, they have the base track playing, deactivate the crossfader on that channel, and swiftly cut between two other songs that are playing. Or, they’ll have a vocal playing on one channel and continually mix beats in and out. With only two channels this becomes a much more challenging task to pull off.

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House artists mix on a 4-channel setup as they have slow transitions, and it’s nice to be able to bridge a transition between two tracks with vocals or use loops from later in a song to then transition into the same tune.

Most DJs would rather be able to just layer an acapella over a track vs. having to have it edited over top of it so that they can change the acapella they use on the fly.

Mobile/Wedding DJs most frequently use the extra decks because they can let a playlist play (dinner jazz, for example) on deck 1 and let that play out while having dance tracks ready to go on 2 and 3. They can use deck 4 to keep the next track from the wedding list ready, as the garter toss tune, for instance.

In a bar setting, they can mix two songs and scratch sound fx on 3, while setting a request on 4 until an appropriate time to play it. Either way, they always have two decks for mixing all the time.

Here’s an example of how my friend uses a 4-channel controller:

Studio Mix: 2 channels for digital mixing. The other two are hooked up to the Pioneer PLX-500-K turntable for straight vinyl.

Radio Shows: 2 channels for digital mixing, one channel for the microphone, one channel for voiceovers/third track cue.

Live Shows: 4 channels free for digital mixing – very rarely four-channel mixing, three tops, 4th for Accapella use.

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Do You Need a 2-Channel or 4-Channel Controller as a Beginner?

Two channels are all you technically need, mixing from one song to another. It’s simpler and better for a beginner. 

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More advanced DJs might use 3 or 4 channels (often for backup vocals or a backing drum track in addition to songs playing on the first two decks, or if you’re mixing in a speedy style like in drum and bass DJs), but it’s less common. 

With a 4-channel mixer, you essentially have more room to expand if you wish to do so in the future. Such as upgrading to four decks. With two channels, you can only ever use two. 

You can do pre-mixing with four decks and a bunch of other cool stuff mentioned in this article.

If you think four decks are what you need, I always advise getting a 4-channel controller. While you still will only have one couple of jog wheels, the error margin gets much smaller if you have 4-channels for a 4-deck setup.

If you were to buy a four-channel one, my advice would be to ignore the other two channels for a long while anyway. 

If you just want to mix track-to-track-to-track without bringing in extra layers on top, two decks and two channels are okay.

There are plenty of excellent DJs who do fine with just two channels, so I wouldn’t say they are necessarily a need, but once you get used to using four channels it seems truly limiting going back to two.

Tray Fiddy

Tray has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous DJ.... but that hasn't stopped him from mixing and researching audio equipment. Tray has over 12 years of experience DJing at home and events.

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