If you’re reading this, chances are very good you are new to DJing or looking to upgrade your current DJ equipment. No matter whether you are a seasoned professional, or a beginner who is still trying to work out beat matching, one thing is certain – you’re going to have to go digital in some way.
Going digital could mean an all in one controller, like the Traktor S4 or the NuMark Mixtrack. These types of units, in conjunction with a laptop running software, are designed to be all a DJ will ever need. Think of them as CDJs, or turntables, and multi channel mixers compressed into portable units. This can be very useful.
However, you may not want that. You might already have a fully analog system at home, like a set of classic Technics 1200s and a basic yet reliable 2-channel mixer, but you’re gigging and travelling and don’t want to carry 100 or 200 pieces of vinyl with you. In this case, you’re looking for a hybrid set up. You then would want something that blends analog with digital, allowing you to use your laptop in conjunction with the decks or CDJs that most clubs provide.
Or perhaps you’re somewhere in the middle. Perhaps you want a system that utilizes a laptop’s ability to replace the record crates as well as not relying on the quality CDJs or turntables in the DJ booth. In this case, you might want a smaller controller that links to the laptop but still uses the house mixer provided by the club.
Confused? Don’t worry. We’re here to help you make an informed decision on what is the best dj equipment for you.
DJ software can be as basic as a digital record crate, or as complex as a full system with 4 digital turntables. If you’re new to DJing you will have to decide what kind of set up you’re going to use because that will determine your software.
In a nutshell, there are two major players in the market – Traktor and Serato. While they both have the same objective, to create a digital DJ booth inside your laptop and on your screen, they have a few significant differences.
We’ll go into the differences between these two systems here, but for now let’s look at the one that will impact your hardware decision. Put simply, Traktor is an open system, while Serato is closed. What this means is that Traktor can be used on a wide variety of controllers and devices, from a range of third party manufacturers. Of course, Traktor can also be used with the equipment made by Native Intstruments.
Traktor can also be easily modified and adapted to the way that you want to DJ with your hardware.
Serato lacks in these two areas. Serato software only works with Serato certified equipment, including mixers, controllers and soundcards. Serato is also difficult to modify and remap beyond the factory presets. For many DJs this is becoming a deal breaker. However, Serato is the software of choice for DJs who still mix with vinyl and turntables. This is most common with scratch DJs and hip hop DJs.
In this category you’re going to find the most choices. By and large all of these controllers will be ready to work with Traktor right out of the box. Serato is just coming into this market, as is Pioneer.
These controllers offer deck control similar to a CDJ, as well as a built in mixer. Many of these models also offer an internal soundcard. Therefore, all a DJ needs to do is plug in to the sound system, connect the laptop and everything is ready to go.
The major players here are Native Instruments and NuMark. However, there are quite a few other options worth considering.
If you’re already a professional DJ and looking to integrate a digital controller into your set up then a modular system is probably the best choice for you. These systems require the use of an additional sound card to interface the audio between your laptop and your mixer. A modular set up is also much more portable. A whole system can easily fit into a laptop bag or carry-on bag. This compact quality is the preferred choice of many professional touring DJs.
Put simply, a sound card allows a digital instrument to output an audio signal that can be amplified on an analog system. While the field for controllers tends to be dominated by a few big names, the sound card field is much more varied.
The first thing to ask yourself here is – do I need a sound card? If your controller, whether it is an all in one or modular, doesn’t have an internal sound card then the answer is yes. Also, if you’re going to be expanding your set-up, perhaps by adding other mixers or instruments, then you’ll want a sound card that will allow these work properly.
The primary function of headphones for DJs is to cue or monitor a track before bringing it into the mix. The environment in which a DJ does this is extremely noisy. Therefore, the first feature to consider is not necessarily the volume output of a pair of headphones, but the ability to block other sound. While you may think of doing this with something like Bose’s noise cancellation headphones, that’s not really what you want. What you want are headphones that will cover your ears but not completely block the music from the booth monitors.
If you have gone the route of buying a modular controller, or even CDJs or old school turntables, you’re going to need a mixer. However, the type of mixer you should buy is going to be based largely on your style and your needs.
First things first, you don’t need to spend a ton of money to get a great mixer. Let a club owner invest in that. What you do need is a mixer that’s going to allow you to practice and develop the DJ skills you desire.
We can split DJs into two main categories – mix DJs and scratch DJs. Each does very different things, although they do each require some common features from a mixer. We’ll go more into the details elsewhere, but for now let’s stick with our differences.
Scratch mixers are designed primarily for battle DJs who use the mixer in a very different way from mix DJs. These mixers should feature very durable cross and line faders, which are a primary tool used to perform a scratch routiune; it’s more than just making the funny noise with the record. Take a look at a DJ Qbert or a DMC routine if you’re not sure what I mean.
Because of the nature of scratch DJing a good battle mixer must be customizable. It is normal now for scratch DJs to swap out factory stock faders for more high performance faders, such as the Innofader. If you want to be a scratch DJ, you’re going to need the right mixer and you’re going to need to learn how to maintain and customize that mixer so that it does not hinder your performance.
If you’re not a scratch DJ, say you’re going to be mixing house or techno, then your preferred mixer will a standard club mixer.
These mixers allow DJs to employ EQ, filtering and line fading as part of their mixing, as opposed to heavy manipulation of the cross fader.
Pioneer and Allen & Heath are the industry standard for clubs, and rightly so. They both offer solid built multi-channel mixers with the features that club DJs require. These include high and low pass filters, dynamic EQ, on board effects and a range of other features that are more common to electronic dance music.
These days, the primary reason for using a turntable with vinyl is for scratching. DJs who try to scratch on controllers or CDJs find that they are unable to perform as quickly or as accurately as they can on a turntable. Also, vinyl is still very much available for scratch DJs, whereas it is dying out in other music genres.
The most famous turntable, the Technics 1200, is no longer in production. However, for hip-hop and scratch DJs, Vestax, Stanton and other brands are in many ways superior to the old school icon. These brands have gone on to create very innovative turntables that are well suited to the needs of hip-hop and scratch DJs.
Every DJ’s practice space needs speakers, or more accurately monitors. Similar to mixers, you don’t need to go all the way with speakers. What do you do need is a pair that deliver a dynamic audio range, from sub-bass to high.
If you’re only going to be using your dj equipment at home for yourself then you may be able to get by with a set of higher end computer speakers or basic monitors. If you’re going to be recording sets or working with other DJs & musicians then you will want to go for higher end monitors.
A basic rule is that higher wattage will produce higher quality audio.
Where to go from here
Still with us? Awesome! We’ve laid out quite a bit of information here. Now it’s time to dig in and read reviews of what of the best dj equipment.
Have a look around and enjoy!