When going shopping for DJ equipment, it can get confusing and you could end up losing your hard earned money. Nowadays, there are so many hardware and software option, making it a very tricky affair. In this article we are going to look at some of the equipment and what they do so that it will be easier for you when you decide to go out shopping.
The Essential Gear
Below are some of the equipment that a DJ will need although nowadays the controller usually comes with the functions of a mixer, player and software control surface while providing connections for audio, USB or android/ iOS gear.
- Audio gear (a DJ controller, computer, mobile device, DJ media player, or turntables.)
- An audio interface for directing the audio to external hardware and software
- DJ Software and a controller for computer- or iOS/ android-based setups
- A standalone DJ mixer if mixing functions are not included in your other hardware/software
- DJ Headphones
- A passive or powered speaker system (if you perform in venues where there is no suitable PA)
Why DJs went digital
Back in the day, DJs played music from vinyl records. Whenever they went to a gig, they had to go with the bulky records. Nowadays things have changed and everything has gone digital. Music is now stored in MP3 and MP4 formats and can be carried around in CD’s, memory sticks, laptops and other external storage devices. This reasoned things for the DJs since it was more reliable, easy to transport and easy to manage the music library. It also makes music easier to manipulate and control.
In the same wave, DJ controllers, mixers and interfaces have grown much more powerful. Today, DJ software is often tightly integrated with specific hardware making it easier to configure the controller’s settings. The controller is used to manipulate the software, but it is the software that has revolutionized the DJing world to what it is today.
What DJ software and apps do
Software and apps designed for DJ use monitor all your mixing moves, apply the filters and affects you select, trigger samples, modify music waveforms and perform dozens of other cool tricks that in the old days would have been impossible or required external gear. Apart from basics like loading your music library into storage, DJ software provides the virtual transport controls for playback as well as creating the virtual decks on which you’ll be mixing.
In looking at software options you’ll find that many include the same or similar functions. In the end, how well those functions will work for you depend two factors: your comfort with the software’s user interface and how well your controller manages it.
What DJ controllers do
Controllers consist of three elements:
- A control surface that is full of knobs, buttons, jog wheels, pads or faders that give you hands-on control over software functions and settings.
- Displays and LEDs that show the status of the system and audio levels amongst other things. An audio interface that transmits the signal to external equipment including computers, mobile devices, effects processor and PA systems, depending on the type of connectors it has.
- Control of tablet and smartphone apps is found in some newer DJ controllers.
There are many things that one has to consider when buying a controller such as build quality, ease of control and does it make sense to you. Going digital could mean an all in one controller, like the Traktor S4 or the NuMark Mixtrack for your DJ tools. These types of units, in conjunction with a laptop running software, are designed to be all a DJ will ever need.
In the event that you want an analog system at home, you can go for classic Technics 1200s and a basic yet reliable 2-channel mixer. If you’ll be on the road a lot you might want to settle for something that blends analogue with digital so that you can use your laptop along with the decks. You could also opt for a smaller controller that links to the laptop but still uses the house mixer provided by the club.
The two biggest players in the market are Traktor and Serato, creating a digital DJ booth within a laptop. Their differences are very minimal. The major difference between these two systems is that 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 software only works with Serato certified equipment, including mixers, controllers and soundcards. Serato isn’t easy to modify and remap beyond the factory presets and that is an impediment to many DJs. The good thing about Serato is that it 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.
There is a wide variety of controllers to choose from, and the good thing is that they can all work with Traktor right out of the box. They have a deck control similar to a CDJ and a built in mixer. Some have internal soundcards and all that a DJ needs to do is plug in to the sound system, connect the laptop and everything is ready to go. Native Instruments and NuMark are the most commonly used systems.
A modular system is used to integrate a digital controller into the set up then a modular system is probably the best choice for you. You’ll need an additional sound card to interface the audio between the laptop and the mixer. A whole system can easily fit into a laptop bag or carry-on bag. Being compact makes it the favored option for most DJs.
A sound card allows a digital instrument to output an audio signal that can be amplified on an analog system. They come in many makes and it is necessary when the controller doesn’t have an internal one and also when adding more mixers or instruments.
These are used to cue or monitor a track before bringing it into the mix. The environment in which a DJ does this is extremely noisy and it is therefore very important to get one that blocks out sound and is not necessarily loud. One could consider Bose’s noise cancellation headphones for that purpose but what you want are headphones that will cover your ears but not completely block the music from the booth monitors.
You should get a mixer based on your style and needs. Don’t necessarily go for an expensive mixer but for something that will allow you to practice and develop the DJ skills you desire. They can be split into two categories, mix DJs and scratch DJs. Each does very different things, although they do each require some common features from a mixer.
Scratch mixers are designed primarily for battle DJs and they should feature very durable cross and line faders, used for scratching. It should be customizable and there are DJs who swap out factory stock faders for more high performance faders, such as the Innofader.
Club mixers allow DJs to employ EQ, filtering and line fading as part of their mixing, unlike heavy manipulation of the cross fader. The most popular ones in the industry are Pioneer and Allen & Heath. They come with 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 are used with vinyl is for scratching. They are quicker and more accurate than controllers and CDJs. The most famous turntable, the Technics 1200, is no longer in production but Vestax, Stanton and other brands are in many ways superior to the old school icon.
It is important to have good quality speakers, the ones with higher wattage having better quality audio. For practice purposes, you can get yourself some good quality laptop speakers to do the job.
Well, I guess that now you know the basic equipment that is needed for DJing. It is important to invest your money wisely in quality long lasting equipment like some of those mentioned.