Photo: Pioneer DJ
A Musician’s Friend Buying Guide
Whether you're a seasoned pro who regularly plays at clubs and events or an aspiring DJ still learning the ropes, you want to be well-informed before dropping your hard-earned cash on DJ gear. However, with so many different options available, picking DJ equipment and software can be confusing.
That's why we've designed this guide.
We will walk you through the buying decision, helping you understand all the DJ gear options and technical terms you'll come across.
If you're buying your first setup or upgrading your current rig, you'll find the information you need in this guide to shop with confidence.
Table of Contents
The Essential Gear
Vinyl, digital … or both?
Why digital audio?
Turntables (aka Decks, Tables) Direct-drive or belt-drive?
The Complete Package
The Essential Gear
A Basic DJ setup includes:
- Something to play the audio (turntables, CD/digital audio players, mobile device, or a computer)
- Software and controllers (for computer or device-based digital setups)
- A DJ mixer
- An amplification and speaker system (if none is present in the venue)
This guide will cover everything that you'll be plugging into the PA. (If you're also looking to buy a full PA system, be sure you check out Musician's Friend's PA System buyer's guide as well!)
Vinyl, digital … or both?
An important choice that will have a significant effect on the rest of your buying options is whether you'll be using digital audio or vinyl. There is a long-running, heated debate among DJs about which medium is better—and that argument is not about to be settled here—but ultimately, the choice will come down to your preferences and how you want to approach DJing.
So, let's take a look at some reasons you might prefer one option over the other.
Why digital audio?
Digital audio formats such as MP3s or CDs offer greater reliability than vinyl since they won’t warp or wear out with repeated use. CDs enable you to burn additional copies, and if you use MP3s, you can take your entire music collection wherever you go. While this kind of portability won't mean you can avoid planning out your sets, it will give you more flexibility to mix in something on the spur of the moment—something that can greatly enhance your set, and even how much you enjoy DJing.
The rackmountable Gemini CDX-1210 MP3/CD Player is a great choice for mobile DJs with its highly legible display, endless loop and relooping modes, pitchbending, and multi-format compatibility.
With digital audio files, you can call up any tune you want instantaneously. This is more convenient than digging through crates or cases of vinyl records and spending countless hours cataloging and organizing your vinyl collection. Many digital players and mobile devices allow you to easily group music by genres and create playlists for instant recall.
When it comes to stability, digital also usually has an advantage. Vinyl setups have been known to skip in large clubs with a lot of movement from dancing, or when someone bumps the turntable.
And finally, digital audio allows for much more flexibility. You can easily manipulate tracks in ways that would be difficult or impossible with a strictly vinyl setup. You also have more options for how audio is played and controlled. Many digital controllers, for instance, can integrate devices like iPods as audio sources. Some mixers and controllers even allow you to use your iOS or Android device for external control.
Native Instruments TRAKTOR KONTROL Z1 works flawlessly with TRAKTOR DJ and TRAKTOR PRO 2 software as a 2-channel mixer, controller, and soundcard, and also integrates with iOS devices giving you hands-on control of all the latest DJ apps.
While digital audio offers much more ease of use and flexibility, many vinyl supporters will say that this comes at the cost of inferior sound quality. Because digital audio essentially takes a snapshot when capturing analog sounds, it does not reproduce the complete sound waves, and many feel this makes the music less clear and transparent.
Now, it’s important to keep in mind that almost all dance music is currently produced digitally, which should make this difference a non-issue. However, many still contend that a vinyl pressing of the music sounds superior to a CD version. Often, it's said that the difference is barely noticeable on a consumer stereo system, but somewhat more pronounced on refined, professional audio systems.
Another practical reason some choose vinyl is that you can actually see where a breakdown is in the groove of a record, so you always know when it’s coming.
Then, there are some much more subjective reasons that experienced DJs prefer vinyl. Many say that it allows for more creativity, and some will tell you it’s just plain sexier. Often, DJs will say that vinyl's somewhat more demanding approach is more rewarding and lends your sets more personality.
While you can’t exactly point to these factors on a spec sheet, DJing is all about enjoying the experience … so if using vinyl makes you happy, that’s a good enough reason to make it your choice.
With its bulletproof construction and digital output, the Stanton TR8-150 holds up under intense use and integrates easily with all your digital processing gear.
If you can’t decide, you can always incorporate both vinyl and digital components in to your system. After all, you don’t have to choose sides.
The Numark NS7II Controller combines an enormous number of functions, effects, and versatile channel control with the tactile experience of scratching using real vinyl discs.
Check out the Numark NS7ii in action.
Another option is a digital vinyl system (DVS) that uses DJ software such as Rane Serato Scratch Live. These systems let you play MP3s from your computer with special records on your turntables, so you can combine the feel of vinyl with the benefits of digital music.
The Rane Serato Scratch SL3 USB Interface lets you scratch and mix standard vinyl from two turntables as well as digital music files from Mac or Windows PCs using included Serato Scratch Live software.
With its seamless TRAKTOR integration, the Native Instruments TRAKTOR KONTROL Z2 makes a great club mixer when used with turntables and DJ digital media players and is an ideal hub for running remix decks and controllers.
Turntables: Direct-drive or belt-drive?
Turntables, also referred to as “decks” or “tables” by DJs, come with two different types of mechanisms that make the vinyl go round and round: belt drives and direct drives.
These feature a motor attached to a smaller spindle that turns a large rubber-band-like belt, which is linked to the platter. Belt drives take longer to get up to speed, and respond more slowly to pitch adjustments making them less useful for some DJ purposes.
Since it's harder to lock tempos manually with belt drives, they are not recommended for multi-turntable setups.
The belt-drive Stanton T.52B Turntable s a good choice for the novice DJ looking for solid build quality, pitch control, and mix versus battle switching options.
This type of turntable includes a motor with a ring of powerful magnets that drive the platter, which decreases the time it takes to get up to speed. Direct-drive turntables are the overwhelming favorite among experienced DJs. Direct-drive tables are universally recommended for scratch DJs.
With its direct drive mechanism, the Stanton T.62B Turntable comes up to full speed and comes to a complete stop in under a second. Start/Stop switches can be configured for mix or battle setups.
DJ turntables take a beating, so build quality is an important concern. Here are the main parts that go in to a turntable:
Platters, spindles and strobe dots
The platter is the round plate that the record sits on, and the spindle is the metal tip on which the hole in the record is centered. The spindle can be used to make adjustments in speed; you’ve probably seen DJs pinching and twisting it. Strobe dots are marks on the side of the platter that are used to ensure your turntable is rotating at the correct speed. When the platter is spinning at exactly 33rpm or 45rpm, the beam cast by the strobe light mounted alongside the will cause the dots to appear as if they are standing still.
The slipmat reduces friction between the platter and the record, allowing the DJ to stop the record with his or her hand and not affect the platter’s movement. Turntables usually come with a slipmat, but they can also be purchased separately to replace worn out ones.
Serato Mix Edition Dr. Suzuki Slipmats are designed to enhance all your scratching moves, including slip-cueing and backspinning.
Power on/off and start/stop
You want to leave the power on while you play, and that's why turntables incorporate start and stop buttons to manipulate the platter while the power is still running. You can find features on some turntables that let you adjust the start and stop times so you can wind the music down or slowly start it up.
When shopping for turntables, take note of the time it takes for the turntable to come up to full speed and make a complete stop. As noted above, direct-drive turntables offer the fastest response. Turntables with higher torque specs will have faster startup times, and some high-end models offer torque control settings.
Speed selector buttons and pitch control
Modifying playback speed is an important element of DJing, and different turntables will give you different levels of control.
First, there is the playback speed selector, which sets the initial playback speed to 33rpm or 45rpm (some turntables also have a 78rpm setting).
After setting initial playback speed with the speed selector, you can fine-tune speeds with the pitch control. Most turntables let you speed up and slow down up to 8% (sometimes more). A turntable with an 8% pitch correction range will show that specification as ±8% pitch control.
The pitch control is used for cueing and beatmatching. And since these are such fundamental capabilities for DJs, buying a turntable that gives you precise control, while typically somewhat more costly, can be well worth your investment once you start performing.
The Vestax PDX-3000mkII Direct Drive Turntable generates powerful torque that enables advanced scratching techniques while its advanced electronics allow RPM synchronization with MIDI gear.
Tone arm: S-shaped vs. straight
The tonearm is mounted alongside the platter and holds the cartridge headshell. The stylus mounted in the cartridge follows the grooves in vinyl records transmitting the vibrations contained in the grooves to the cartridge. The cartridge converts the stylus movements into a low-voltage electrical signal that is transmitted through the tone arm to the turntable’s outputs and on to an amplifier that boosts the signal in order to drive speakers and headphones. A well designed tone arm accurately tracks the grooves in the record while preventing undue wear on on the outer wall of the groove—a tendency caused by the centrifugal force of the rotating platter.
You'll see two basic types of tone arms on professional turntables: straight and S-shaped. There is considerable argument among DJs and audiophiles about which design is better. There is no definite answer as to audio quality and tracking ability as there are numerous models with both types of tone arms that perform equally well.
That said, most DJ turntables employ a straight tone arm that is designed to keep the stylus in the groove while scratching. DJ tonearms generally exert a stronger tracking force (downward pressure) to help keep the stylus in the groove, where audiophile turntables have a lower tracking force to minimize record groove wear.
The Stanton T.92 Turntable has USB and S/PDIF outputs plus included software that make it easy to convert and archive vinyl records to digital music files on your Mac or PC.
Standard mode and Battle mode
The orientation of the turntables in your setup will depend on where you want the tone arms based on your playing style. In standard mode, the turntables are oriented so that both tone arms are on the right side of each turntable and close to your hands. In battle mode, both turntables are turned so that the tone arms are on the far side of the turntable from you. Battle mode is used mostly by DJs who need to move quickly between turntables since it reduces the risk of bumping the tone arms. Though there are many exceptions, it’s generally true that DJs in dance venues orient their turntables in standard mode whereas hip-hop DJs and others who use a lot of scratching techniques tend to orient them in battle mode.
Browse the Musician’s Friend assortment of turntables.
Cartridge and stylus
That little mechanism at the end of the tone arm might seem like a small detail, but it has a great deal to do with sound quality and stability.
The mechanism is made up of two separate components: a stylus (or needle), and the cartridge that holds it in place. As noted above, the grooves on a record cause the stylus to vibrate. Magnets in the cartridge detect these vibrations and turn them into an electrical signal that is then amplified for output through speakers. So it's important to have quality components, in peak condition, if you want to get the best sound out of your vinyl.
Unfortunately, a stylus will naturally wear out over time. But most are replaceable separately from the cartridge. A strong magnifying glass will help in inspecting your stylus for wear. It’s important to replace worn styli promptly, as the deformed tip of a worn stylus can do a lot of damage to record grooves.
Cartridges also are replaceable, and it's important to buy a quality, professional component rather than a consumer-grade cartridge. A consumer cartridge won’t hold up to the stress put on the cantilever (the part that holds the stylus) from back-cueing and scratching. DJ cartridges have stronger cantilevers to handle this abuse.
The stylus used with the Ortofon Pro S Corcorde Cartridge is supported by an aluminum cantilever designed to hold up to the demands of back-cueing while producing excellent audio response.
Different types of styli
Even when it comes to the stylus, you have plenty of choices to make. Usually though, you’ll want to replace a worn stylus with one recommended by the cartridge manufacturer. Most replacement styli are intended for use with specific cartridge models.
Elliptical styli provide better high-frequency response and are ideal for general-purpose use. Their egg shape lets them get deeper into the record groove and spread the tracking force over more area to reduce wear during normal play. Since this shape gets deeper in the groove, you need to be even more careful about cleaning dust off your records with a record brush.
The Ortofon DJ E Elliptical Stylus is designed as a replacement for Ortofon's Concorde DJ E and OM DJ E cartridges.
Spherical (conical) styli feature a small sphere at the tip, which contacts the V-shaped groove in a record at one point on each side, which concentrates the force on two small points. However, during scratching, a spherical stylus wears out your records less than an elliptical stylus because there’s less contact area. For this reason, spherical styli are the choice of scratch DJs.
The Ortofon Spherical Night Club S Stylus gets high marks from DJs because of its combination of rugged design that holds up under back-scratching and cueing and superior audio performance.
Browse the complete Musician’s Friend selection of phono cartridges and styli.
The counterweight allows you to balance the weight of the cartridge and tone arm to ensure the needle applies the right amount of tracking force – the downward pressure required to keep the stylus inside the grooves of the record. Too much force causes excessive wear on your record grooves.Too little can cause skipping and let the stylus lose contact with the record, damaging the groove when it lands.
The position of the counterweight is usually adjustable to match the specs provided by the cartridge manufacturer which are usually given as grams of tracking force. Scratch DJs sometimes turn the counterweight around to add more tracking force so that the stylus stays inside the groove during the most demanding scratch maneuvers.
We've covered the many variations available in vinyl turntables, but there’s an ever-increasing variety of options for the digital DJ as well. Here we will take a look at the many options to select from when it comes to a digital player.
iOS Devices / MP3 players / USB drives
As digital audio has evolved, DJ gear has evolved along with it. iOS devices, MP3 players, as well as portable hard drives and thumb drives allow you to carry an entire music collection around with you. With the right DJ gear, you can plug your device in to access that entire collection for your mixes.
With the many DJ apps now available, the iPod Touch can become the heart of a DJ rig, storing up to 32GB of music files, ready to mix.
If you want to use your portable device as part of your setup, look for players or controllers that can incorporate them and support the types of files you'll want to use (e.g. MP3, WAV, AAC, AIFF, FLAC).
The Novation Launchpad Mini gives DJs hands-on control of Ableton Live and Novation's suite of Launchpad apps for the iPad, and even includes Ableton Live Lite software.
A quick video overview of the Launchpad Mini's amazing control capabilities.
Laptops and Computers
Increasingly, laptop computers find their place at the center of the digital DJ's setup, covering both playback and manipulation of sound files. This configuration is often ideal for DJs who want as much control and flexibility as possible. Using specialized software, operated by an external controller, gives DJs the tools and features that go far beyond the capabilities of strictly hardware-based setups.
You can base a digital DJ setup on a Windows PC, a MacBook, tablet, smart phone, or even a Linux system. Many DJs prefer Macs for their ease of use. Apple products tend to be more tightly integrated with the DJ apps and software that run on them, making for a simpler plug-and-play process.
Many DJs work with laptop computers like the MacBook Pro that serve as the core of their DJ show, storing a vast music library and running the mixing and scratching applications needed to put on a seamless show.
Learn more about the ins and outs of choosing the right computer interfaces with our expert Audio Interface Buying Guide.
On a computer-based rig, DJs handle playback, beat juggling, scratching, effects processing, and other sound manipulation using software that's specially designed for the job. Most DJ controller models come with bundled software, but there is also software available for separate purchase.
Two of the most popular software programs for digital DJ setups are Serato and Native Instruments' TRAKTOR. Each of these is available in several versions, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Generally, those looking for a more straightforward approach that still offers lots of effects and features might prefer Serato software. And if you're looking to incorporate video DJing in your set, you might want to consider Serato for its support of video formats.
TRAKTOR SCRATCH A10 has a 10-channel audio interface allowing connection of up to 4 turntables and a suite of tools and effects that make scratching and mixing choices practically limitless.
On the other hand, for DJs looking to get more features out of their software, such as advanced MIDI mapping and beat grids, TRAKTOR might edge out the competition. Many DJ mixers are certified as being TRAKTOR-ready making configuration a snap.
A third contender offering a unique feature set is Ableton Live. As a hybrid application that supports both production and live DJing, those who like to create their own sounds and handle the live mix will find a lot to love with this software suite. It comes in several versions that can be tailored to your needs.
The Ableton Live 9 Suite is a complete DAW solution that that offers DJs a huge range of performance and production options.
It's possible with most software to use a mouse and keyboard for control. However, this method can be non-intuitive and involve digging through endless menus. That's why most computer-based DJs use a hardware controller to operate and configure their software.
You must consider several factors in selecting a controller. Build quality, of course, is very important, especially if you’re a mobile DJ—you want gear that holds up to the rigors of the road.
It's also critical that you can make your way around the controls easily. Pay attention to the controller’s layout to make sure it's arranged in a way that makes sense to you. Not only should all of the buttons and dials be easy to navigate, but they should also be set up so that you can access them independently (e.g., you don't want to knock one knob out of position when you’re reaching for another).
Software-specific or software-agnostic controllers
When it comes to selecting controllers, one of the biggest considerations is software compatibility.
Some DJ controllers are designed to work with specific software products. If you are set on the software package you want to use, these can be an excellent option, as they integrate closely with the software and often provide functionality that you won't get with more generally designed controllers.
The TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 DJ System is tightly integrated with TRAKTOR PRO 2 software allowing you to control 4 decks simultaneously using a highly intuitive interface.
Check out the DJ KONTROL S4 MK2 in action.
The downside to software-specific controllers, however, is that they won't be compatible with all types of programs. If it's important to you that your controller be able to work with a wider range of software options, you will want to look at MIDI-compliant, software-agnostic options that you can use with many different software types.
The universal MIDI Allen & Heath Xone:K2 Controller has 52 assignable controls giving it enormous flexibility in working with just about any DJ software.
USB and wireless controllers
There are multiple ways to connect your DJ controller to your PC or mobile devices to interact with your software. A common connection type you will find on many of them is USB. You will find lots of options for USB-based controllers that interact with MIDI-based DJ software programs.
The Numark DJ2Go USB Controller has a simple layout that’s easy to master and works with just about every MIDI-compatible DJ software.
Another option is to ditch the wires completely. Although fewer models are available, you can find a selection of low-latency, wireless controllers that will allow you plenty of flexibility and freedom of movement. Some even include cutting-edge features like accelerometer-based MIDI controls that allow you to run your show using body movements and gestures.
The Numark ORBIT Wireless Controller has a highly customizable interface that matches your performance style, and it responds to physical motions to create a head-spinning array of effects and mixes.
Check out the ways motion control and pad configuration give the ORBIT plenty of customization options.
Keep in mind that if you are planning on connecting external, MIDI-based hardware to your controller, you'll want to have these connections available.
It can be helpful to have visual confirmation that you have everything set up the way you want for your mix. Some controllers have better methods for providing this than others, especially considering that you might be using your setup in dark clubs and venues.
If it’s important to you that your controller incorporates highly visual cues, you might want to consider a model with LED feedback. In addition to lighting up active buttons, some models include color-coding that makes it easier to quickly scan and tweak your settings.
The Electrix Tweaker Performance Controller has velocity-sensitive pads and works seamlessly with Ableton, TRAKTOR, Serato and many more applications to create dance-floor filling shows.
External tablet/mobile device controls
Many newer DJ controllers and mixers are right up to date with the mobile computing revolution, allowing you another level of control using apps on your Android or iOS device. This can be a great way to extend your setup and make use of technology you already own.
Browse the entire Musician’s Friend assortment of DJ controllers and interfaces.
DJ CD/Multimedia Players
When looking at CD and multimedia players, an important consideration is whether you would rather mix on a dual rackmount player or on two tabletop players.
Tabletop players are usually set up on both sides of the mixer, just like turntables. Some of these digital turntables feature pressure-sensitive platters that let you simulate scratching or cueing a record by spinning it forward or backward. Some players also offer platter effects like reverse, brake, and more.
The versatile Numark NDX400 Tabletop Scratch CD Player has a large scratch wheel, 3 hot cues for fast access to specific track points, and works with a wide variety of media.
Dual rackmount players offer versatile setup options with two rackmountable units—one with two front-loading CD slots, the other with the controls. Dual rackmount players come with speed-sensitive jog wheels that let you speed up and slow down the song as you would a record on a turntable for scratching and beat juggling. A dial around the wheel lets you fast-forward and rewind a song.
The Stanton C.502 Dual Rackmount CD Player allows fast access to tracks and easy cueing functions while dual jog wheels offer vinyl-like control of CDs.
When buying a digital player, be sure to check out the audio formats it supports; most newer players support MP3s but if you use less common lossless formats such as FLAC files, you’ll want to ensure the player can read them. If you’re considering MP3 players, look for features like ID3 tag support that displays title, artist and album; BPM tags that automatically recall the BPM of tracks; and MP3 file search systems that allow you to easily locate files by name or folder.
You can find some advanced models that will even let you play audio from wireless sources, for the ultimate versatility.
Shockproof memory is one of the strongest arguments for digital players, especially for rave and club DJs who have had needles skip when the dance floor shakes or their gear is bumped. A standard feature on DJ CD players, shockproof memory ensures the music won’t skip a beat.
Many players offer an eject lock button that prevents accidentally ejecting a disk during play. This feature can be turned off if you want to do quick disc switches.
If you plan on playing in dark clubs, make sure your digital player has a bright, backlit LCD display (most players do).
Your ability to control the pitch on a digital player is usually much more versatile than on a turntable. Digital audio players, like turntables, have a pitch control fader, but in many cases you can select and change the range of the fader, say between ±8%, 16%, 25%, or 100%. In addition to the fader, digital players offer pitch bend buttons to allow precise pitch adjustments. Many players also offer a pitch lock button (sometimes also called "key lock"), so that when you adjust the pitch bender, the speed changes but the pitch remains the same.
Some high-end players make beat syncing an absolute no-brainer, as they can match tempos simply with the push of a button.
Most digital players let you set cue points so you can instantly access a certain spot in a song with the push of a button. Some players let you save cue points to a removable memory card (see the Memory section below). Even entry-level models will offer a limited number of programmable cue points.
The Gemini CDJ-300 Deck handles a wide variety of music media and offers an affordable entry point for new DJs while delivering a solid range of control options.
The looping feature on digital players lets you select a given section of a song to play. All you have to do is give the player two cue points, the start and the end, and your loop is set and ready to play at the touch of a button. If you want the loop to play over and over, simply press the reloop button. This feature is called seamless looping because you can play the loop over and over without a break in the music. Seamless looping can be used to extend songs, which is handy when creating your own mixes or creating extended base tracks on which to add new sounds. Seamless loops are a great way to add a consistent bass and drum rhythm track that helps pull your music together.
Many digital players offer effects like filter, echo, phase, flanger, transform and pan. While the effect is enabled, the platter and other controls can be used to change the parameters of the effect to create dynamic remixes.
If you want to add digital effects into your mix directly from the player, make sure you review the player's specs to ensure it includes the effects you want to use.
Fader start is a common feature that works with compatible mixers so that when you cross-fade over to another channel, the cued song automatically plays without your having to press a button. Fader stop is similar in that it will stop the player as soon as you fade out its channel. Fader stop can be configured to reset the CD to a given cue point. This feature is especially handy for beat juggling.
The American Audio Radius 3000 Player features scratch and beat-juggling modes, 9 on-board effects, MIDI compatibility, and allows you to create music databases on your USB drives.
Some DJ CD/MP3 players offer data storage with removable memory cards. For example, Pioneer’s CDJ-2000 has a memory feature that lets you store wave data as well as cue and loop points to a removable memory card (MMC or SD), the player’s internal memory or an external device. The removable memory card can also be used in any CDJ-2000, so once you’ve stored your favorite cue and loop points they’re stored for life.
Pioneer’s flagship CDJ-2000 Nexus Player offers an astounding level of performance controls, effects processing, advanced storage options, and it works with wireless sources.
Browse the complete Musician’s Friend selection of DJ CD, MP3, and Media Players.
The main differences among DJ mixers are their number of effects, inputs/outputs and channels they offer. For beginning DJs, a basic mixer with two or three channels and enough inputs for your turntables and/or CD players will be adequate.
Let’s look at some of the basic features of a DJ mixer:
On the back panel of a DJ mixer, you’ll usually find RCA inputs to plug in turntables and aux inputs to plug in CD players. (If your turntables have built-in phono preamps, you can plug them into the aux inputs.) You’ll often find a 5-pin DIN connector to plug in the power cord, balanced outputs to send the sound to your amplifiers and a ground post to ground potentially harmful electricity and reduce hum.
There also may be insert points used to send and return the signal through external signal processors or effects. Some mixers have additional inputs and outputs; just be sure your mixer provides the number and type of connections (RCA, 1/4" and XLR) you’ll need.
Other inputs include USB, MIDI, and FireWire for connecting digital devices such as laptop computers and MIDI-enabled controllers.
Basically, each signal input into the mixer is a channel. The right turntable and the left turntable, for example, will each get their own channel. Every channel on a mixer has the same controls, so once you learn how to control one channel, you’ll know how to control them all, no matter how many there are.
Phono/line selector switch
Most channel sectors have a phono/line selector switch, which you’ll set to “phono” with turntables and “line” with CD players. This switch can also be used while mixing to cut out a channel quickly.
The gain/trim control usually is at the top of each channel section and it’s used to control the level of the individual input channel. Most DJs use the gain/trim control for setting the initial level of the signal source and use the fader for adjusting the volume in performance.
EQ (HI, MID, LO)
Below the gain control, you’ll usually find the EQ knobs, which let you adjust the response of the bass, treble and midrange for each channel. These are also called "rotary kills" because they can be used to smoothly silence a frequency band.
Some mixers offer kill switches that let you turn off the lows, mids or highs. You can pull them down to kill a frequency band momentarily and they’ll pop back on their own, or you can flip them up and the frequency band will remain off until you flip it down.
Channel faders and crossfader
Each channel fader allows you to control the volume of one channel at a time. The crossfader allows you to simultaneously fade in one source in while fading out another. For example, if the left turntable is connected to channel 1 and the right to channel 3, then you would assign channel 1 to crossfader side A and channel 3 to side B. Then you would move the crossfader to the left to fade into channel 1, the middle to play both, and the right to fade into channel 3. Look for a mixer with a replaceable crossfader—especially for turntablists—because it’s usually the first thing that gets worn out.
Some mixers come with a curve control, which lets you adjust the amount of fading it takes to switch channels. For example, if you set it to a smooth curve, your mixes will be gradual as you slide the fader from side to side, but if you set it to a sharp curve, the transition will be much faster. A curve control is especially handy for scratch DJs.
The hamster switch (usually found on scratch mixers) lets you reverse the crossfader positions so that you move the crossfader to the right to fade into channel 1 and the left to fade into channel 3. This feature allows DJs to scratch using the same motion regardless of which turntable is in use.
The level of the final mix can typically be adjusted by one or two master controls.
Peak meters show the level of each channel or the master output and indicate any signal clipping (distortion) that occurs. They are usually LED lamps; some mixers use multicolored LEDs to help monitor how close you are to clipping.
Mic input & talkover button
Most DJ mixers offer a mic input, which can come in handy even if you don’t have a microphone; it sounds funny, but in a pinch you can plug in your headphones and yell into the earpiece. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. Some mixers have a talkover button that lowers the level of the music while you’re talking and is often used by mobile DJs to announce tunes and direct the even .
Cue level & cue mix
The cue level controls the volume in your headphones and the cue mix is a crossfader for your headphones so you can preview mixes before the audience hears them.
Some mixers feature BPM (beats per minute, or tempo) counters, which let you see at a glance if the BPM of your sound files match up.
The Denon DN-X 4-Channel Mixer handles up to 8 input sources via a matrix assignment scheme that allows very flexible configuring of larger DJ rigs.
For all-out control of complex pro DJ systems and the ultimate in building beats and head-spinning mixes, the Pioneer DJM-2000nexus Mixer has a formidable set of functions worthy of the most creative beat jugglers.
Browse the entire Musician’s Friend selection of DJ Mixers.
It's ultimately your speakers' job to broadcast your sound to your audience. So clearly, it's important to have a good set. Whether you need speakers as part of your DJ rig depends on the venues you play in. If you perform in clubs or other venues that have their own PA systems, you will likely simply plug directly into them. If, on the other hand, you perform at parties and places where there’s no sound system, you’ll need to have your own amplification system and speakers. In that case your best bet will be to go with powered PA speakers, which eliminate the need for a standalone amplifier.
Unlike specialized speakers for specific musical instruments, your DJ speakers need to cover a full range of frequencies to reproduce all the sounds your music contains. That means you will need a good set of full range speakers that incorporate both a low-range woofer, as well as tweeters to handle the high frequencies. For dance music a subwoofer that can reproduce the deepest bass and kick drum sounds is essential.
Musician's Friend carries a wide selection of speakers that will suit any setup. And if you need additional guidance finding a good set, you can check out the speaker section in our PA system buyer's guide.
Browse the huge Musicians Friend selection of powered PA speakers and subwoofers.
Browse the huge Musicians Friend selection of non-powered passive PA speakers and subwoofers.
Remember to include speaker stands when figuring your budget. Elevating speakers is usually essential for projecting your music throughout the venue.
Headphones are a critical part of a DJ’s equipment that shouldn't be overlooked. When shopping for your headphones, there are a few main aspects to consider.
One of the main factors you should think about when buying DJ headphones is comfort. You’re going to be wearing them for hours on end, so you don’t want to buy something that bothers your head.
Another important factor is flexibility. Since you’ll want to bend and twist them to many different positions, look for headphones with swivel earpieces. They should allow easy and comfortable listening using only one ear, as you’ll be doing that often when cueing your next song.
You’ll also want to look for headphones with a closed-ear design to isolate noise in the high-volume situations you’ll typically be playing in. The better they can isolate noise, the less you’ll have to crank up the volume and damage your ears. Check out our Headphone Buying Guide for more information.
Pioneer HDJ-2000 Headphones are a popular choice among pros for their excellent sound, comfortable fit, replaceable cord, and rugged design that will hold up under the demands of DJ use.
The Complete Package
If you are just starting out DJing and looking to buy a full setup, a complete DJ package with all of the components you'll need can save you some money. Buying a package ensures the components in your system will work well together.
The Hercules 4 Mx/Harbinger APS15 DJ Package includes everything you need to get your show spinning—just add your music.
Browse the Musician’s Friend assortment of DJ Packages.
Parties love a good DJ, which may be one of your motivations for becoming one. Aside from being a lot of fun, keeping the party rocking with karaoke can be a well-paying gig.
If you are a professional DJ or aspiring to become one, a karaoke machine might be a fun and potentially profitable addition to your setup. Between a killer dance mix and a nice catalog of sing-along tunes, you could make yourself into one powerful party machine.
Check out the quality selection of karaoke machines from Musician's Friend today.
If after reading this guide you’re still not sure what DJ equipment is right for your budget and music, we invite you to call one of our Gear Heads at (800) 449-9128 for friendly, expert advice.
1/4" connector: also known as phone plug. Unbalanced connection using a phone-patching cord
anti-skate: counteracts the tone arm’s tendency to pull toward the center of the record. Anti-skating controls adjust to match your cartridge’s recommended setting
balanced signal: uses a three-wire cord that provides noise-free transfer of audio in areas susceptible to electronic interference, like recording studios and live sound venues
beatmatching: also known as beatmixing. Matching up the beats of two tracks so they play simultaneously in order to create a new track or seamlessly transition from one track to another
belt-drive turntable: turntable design that usually has a motor below and to the side of the platter and drives the platter via a rubber belt
BPM: beats per minute. Measured by counting the number of beats in 60 seconds. Determines the pace or tempo of the music—for example, hip-hop will have a lower BPM (slower tempo) than jungle.
cartridge: converts the mechanical energy of the stylus to an electronic signal.
channel: a single path of audio through a mixer, processor array, recording device, or computer interface
clipping: distortion due to an overdriven preamplifier or amplifier
counterweight: located at the opposite end of the tone arm from the cartridge, it adjusts the amount of tracking force pressure exerted by the stylus on the record.
dB/Decibel: a logarithm that describes the ratio of two powers (1/10th of a Bel). Some approximate reference points: a normal conversation has a decibel level of 60dB, a ringing telephone is 80dB, shouting in the ear is 110dB, and a jet engine during takeoff is 150dB.
direct-drive turntable: turntable design in which the motor is located directly below the center of the platter, producing higher torque and allowing the platter to achieve full speed in less time.
EQ: short for equalization or equalizer. Usually refers to a circuit that provides control over the frequency response of an audio signal that passes through it. Can be used to balance frequencies for more pleasing sound and reduce undesirable frequencies.
fader: a sliding lever that typically adjusts levels. Has the same function as knob-based controls but provides a smoother response, more fine-tuned control, and visual feedback for quickly determining level.
frequency response: a measure of output amplitude (level or loudness) over a specific frequency range. Simply put, this is the frequency range (or bandwidth) that the unit will pass without severe decrease (attenuation) in amplitude. It is measured in dB and will usually be presented as follows: Frequency Response: +0/-1dB @ 35Hz - 20kHz. This means that there is no more than a deviation in level of -1dB from 35Hz to 20,000Hz, while frequencies above and below that range will be attenuated severely. Increases in amplitude are not discussed in the case of properly designed solid-state devices, since they are the sign of an unstable unit. Tube designs with output transformers will show an increase in amplitude. Even though frequency response is an objective measurement of a unit’s performance, it cannot predict sound quality.
frequency band: portion of the frequency spectrum, e.g., bass, treble, midrange
headphones: pair of miniature drivers (speakers) designed to be worn on the head for monitoring audio material. Headphones come in closed, open, and semi-open designs. Closed headphones seal the ear off from outside noise for better isolation and are ideal for monitoring during performances and playback. Open headphones sit on the outside of the ear but don’t seal it from exterior noises or the acoustics of the room. Semi-open headphones seal the ear, but usually have a semi-open ear cup, which allows the audio to interact with the acoustics of the room more naturally while still providing some isolation.
ID3: stores information about a music file in the MP3 file itself, usually the song title, artist, album, year, comment, and genre
level: the amplitude/strength of a signal
monitor: speaker specially designed for high-fidelity playback of audio material. Varieties include near-field, surround, active, and passive. Near-field monitors are designed to be used in very close proximity to the listener to limit interference from the room acoustics. Surround monitoring arrays use all the normal speakers included in a typical 5.1 setup. Active monitors have built-in power amplifiers that eliminate the need for a traditional, separate amplifier component. Passive monitors are traditional speakers that require an external power amplifier.
noise floor: Usually measured in dBV or dBu, this spec is an absolute measure of the mixer’s noise. A mixer with a lower noise floor will be quieter than a mixer with a higher noise floor, hence a lower dB rating is better.
phone plug: also known as 1/4" connector. Unbalanced connection using a phone-patching cord connector. The most basic connection in audio.
phono plug: the more correct name for an RCA plug. This connection was developed and popularized by the RCA corporation in use with their audio equipment, resulting in it being called RCA. Most often used in stereo pairs.
pitch control (also called pitch bend): allows you to adjust the speed of playback in order to beatmatch one record to another. It’s called a pitch control instead of a speed control because as you change the speed of music, the pitch also changes.
power amplifier: Basically there are two types of amplification: the voltage amplifier, which boosts voltage, and the current amplifier, which increases current. The power amplifier is a derivation of the two. In electrical systems and mechanical systems, power is a measure of work, which can take the form of physical work, as in moving a speaker cone, or thermal work (heat), which is actually more common in audio. In an electrical system where voltage, current, and resistance are present, power can be calculated as the product of voltage times current, and is measured in watts, which represents work done over time. (P = V x I — where "P" is power in watts, "V" is voltage in Volts, and "I" is current in Amps.) In terms of physical work, voltage would equal an amount of weight being lifted and current would be the speed at which it’s lifted. In the audio chain, we generally have a preamp followed by a power amp. The preamp boosts a low-level signal to line level, which is an increase in voltage (but not a significant increase in current). The power amp, which is the last stage in the chain, provides current via its power supply and boosts both it and the voltage from the preamp in order to provide enough power to drive a loudspeaker.
RCA: see phono plug
RPM: revolutions per minute
S-shaped tone arm: tends to pull the stylus toward the outside of the record groove and uses an anti-skate mechanism to counteract this pull. S-shaped tone arms position the stylus at the optimum angle for sound quality and the S shape can help dissipate external vibrations. (See straight tone arm)
send: An output on a mixer that sends that channel’s audio to wherever the send is routed. Sends included level controls and can be used for routing audio to external signal processors and usually include a return input as well so that the audio can be returned to the mixer.
signal processor: generic term which loosely groups components such as compressors, limiters, equalizers, microphone preamps, noise gates, reverbs, chorus, delays, modulation, filters, and enhancers/exciters. All are used in audio to process sound in order to achieve a desirable effect.
signal-to-noise ratio (SNR): the ratio of the desired signal’s volume to the unwanted noise, usually measured in dB. Manufacturers measure this ratio in many different ways, but basically the higher the number, the better and cleaner the signal.
sound pressure level (SPL): the strength or intensity of acoustic sound waves, measured in dB. A typical SPL reading for a rock concert is 95dB.
straight tone arm: exerts no inward or outward force relative to the platter. Straight tone arms minimize the risk of skipping at the cost of increased record wear and decreased sound quality because the angle of the needle doesn’t line up straight with the grooves.
stylus (needle): the tip (and cantilever holding it) that picks up vibrations from the groove in a record so it can be translated into sound. These tips are usually made of industrial-grade diamonds to withstand the pressure and heat generated as the tip goes around a record groove. Spherical (conical) styli feature a small sphere at the tip and are better for scratching, while egg-shaped elliptical styli are better for general-purpose use.
THD+N: acronym for Total Harmonic Distortion plus Noise. Smaller is better when it comes to this spec, which measures how transparently the mixer will reproduce music without distorting it.
tone arm: the arm that holds the cartridge and points it in the right direction. The tone arm height is sometimes adjustable (most DJs leave it all the way up).
tracking force: the downward force that allows the stylus to stay between the walls of a record groove. Adjustable via the counterweight.
XLR: a balanced, circular 3-pin connector typically used for microphone and line-level signals. Developed by ITT Cannon, it is sometimes called a Cannon connector.
Tags: DJ Equipment