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How do you pick the right DJ equipment?

Actualizată în: 14 mar. 2018

Are all types of quipment suitable?

As I promised, we’re back at it with another piece designed to help beginner DJ’s to rise above and beyond on their careers in this industry. Before we dive in head first there are a couple of things we need to discuss.

1. What type of DJ are you grinding to be?

The right answer to this one is "the best", but that is besides the point. If you didn't know already, there are several types of DJ's based on the equipment they use. There are two main types here, and to be honest with you this will be one of the biggest decisions you need to make. I've been walking around the subject here so let's break it down: "turntablists" and "button pushers".

Either way you go, criticism will be there, but from behind the decks there are several distinctions you need to know about.

In the first category, the turntablists use... (you clever cookie) Turntables. Now this brings you the much deserved "street cred" but also probably a couple more years to develop the "mastering the technique" side of things that we touched up on in the last post (You can check it out here). You don't get any screens (other than your laptop's) to show any information about the track; you cannot press the PLAY button and expect songs to be perfectly in time with each other as latency caused by the turntable's engine plays a huge part, and also you don't really get a lot of time for transitions, as purist turntablists will change the track anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute into the track. Also, generally, turntablists do not produce music in the lab; their specialty is cutting, slicing, fading and scratching their way from bangers to memorable performances. Now, that doesn't limit anyone in anything, the more you do the better, but keep in mind that you might need a steady build in all your skills at once in order to make it, and that might be difficult. Check this guy out to see what "making it" in the turntablism world means.

Now, the purists will call this category "button pushers" and for good reason! I am currently one of these "button pushers" because digital DJing gives you so much more space to be creative, and also brings a lot of upsides for when you are actually playing your gigs.

There is nothing wrong in looking down on DJ's who use the SYNC function to make simple transitions, but there is something wrong in not making the quintessential distinction between someone using the advance in technology to bypass hard work and training and someone who is using the same features to go off the wall crazy with 4 tracks simultaneously, a sample, some looping and a double drop all within the 5 second span of an EDM buildup.

What you get with turntables is pretty much what you see: an engine, some vinyl, a slip mat, some third party DICER hotcue triggers and the world's best crossfaders in all the designated mixers.

Now industry giants like Pioneer like to experiment with the two, and from my experience they have encountered success as early as their release of their flagship console, the DDJ-SZ (which I still use and love to bits by the way). How did they do that? Well, they added these tiny magnets on each side of the crossfader so when you attempt cutting techniques the simple physics of the whole ensemble make sure every movement is well intended and comes out clean.

What you get with digital DJ systems however is a little bit more than what the eye catches at first glance. First: you are no longer limited by engines, you press play and the song starts playing full speed, no latency (unless your laptop needs a serious overhaul). Second, your effects rack isn't limited to what your analog mixer came with when it was brand new in the box. Now, given, the analog effects sound a million times better, cleaner and generally work better because it's all a summation of well picked transistors and wires etc. But nowadays, softwares like Serato come with a shit-tonne of effects, and if you get bored you can buy extra packs of effects on the go!

Hail-capitalism I guess, but my point here is that the console I bought in 2014 has the potential of keeping up with its younger flagship brothers purely because of software updates.

You also get the option to have 4 decks instead of just 2 that you see physically at the push of a button, (all 4 channel DJ consoles fit in this one. It's the best thing ever.)

Going to our next point here is, in my opinion the best part about digital DJ systems: You get to choose

a) Your desired size of the equipment - in case transport is an issue

b) Your price point - in case budget is an issue

c) If you want to be a digital turntablist! (Weird, i know!) - special thanks from all of us to our friends at Numark for putting this baby out.

All the turntablism advantages in an all digital package. Serato compatible too!

Watch a review here.

2. What's your budget?

Ok, now if you've decided what kind of DJ you want to be, it's time to talk business. In case you decided to go for turntablism here's a couple of suitable options for you. Unfortunately this requires a little bit more money but I'm going to give you a short list with what I consider the best bang for the buck. What you need is something reliable, that you won't outgrow quickly and that you won't easily get bored of.

  • Audio-Technica AT-LP120-USB

This is easily the most popular turntable at the moment, and for good reason. The build quality is absolutely phenomenal, the ergonomics of it follow a design that never fails and to quote the famous Breaking Bad: "If it ain't broken, why fix it?"

Added to that, you also have USB compatibility so you no longer need to take your vinyl crates around. A simple laptop with your music will do.

  • Stanton STR8150

Here is the perfect example of modern turntables for purist DJ's. This is a direct drive turntable that is very much suitable for more analog DJ's. This, right here, has a high torque engine, very suitable for scratching, but people say it needs some getting used to. Safe to say, compatibility with a laptop might need some work-arounds, but this is very reliable, capable and will also keep your audiophile listeners invested on some real vinyl music.

Added with these two, I might as well recommend some additional hardware to make your life easy. Industry leader mixers and accessories to improve and ease your creativity.

  • DJM S9

This is a pretty expensive piece of equipment, but this is worth your iPhone X, some bundles for headphones and a night out to show it off. What you get for the value is a very ergonomic analog mixer, with 16 pads to trigger hotcues, rolls and other similar software track manipulation features. You get 15 analog effects plus 55 Serato digital effects (and you can buy more), you can customize every button and you also get two USB dedicated sound cards! Pair this with the Audio-Technica I mentioned above and you have yourself a €2000 turntablism powerhouse! With the two line inputs that are provided you can add some CDJ's to that setup and there you go - a 4 channel hybrid setup with control vinyls and digital libraries for days.

  • Novation Dicer

These babies right here come in handy if you don't have your 16 pads above. This equipment was very popular a couple of years ago in the RedBull Threestyle competition, because it enabled turntablists to use hotcues, loops etc and it led to one of the most interesting techniques in mixing: Arranging cue points differently to simulate your next track. You can click here to learn more about that technique.

Also, this costs nothing short of €100, so if you are on a budget this is a very nice choice.

Now on the digital side of things we have a lot to talk about.


Pioneer DDJ-SB vs Numark Mixtrack Pro

Now this is a picture of the second issue of these entry level consoles. This is a very good purchase for beginners. You get two channels, some performance pads and basic control of your tracks. This is perfect for learning beatmatching and basic mixing techniques. You also get the basic version of the compatible softwares, which means you'll need to buy the full version online, but with easy mapping on both Serato and Traktor you can work your way around everything.

From here on out, the internet gives you limitless sources. With manufacturers like Reloop, Denon, Pioneer and Numark riding the industry's wave you get a special console for every step along the way. What you need to take into consideration is how acquainted you are with your software (Be it Serato, Traktor, VirtualDJ or Rekordbox),

how many channels you need, how big it is and what options you have in the matter of existing cases for it in order to protect it.

For mobile DJ's I recommend the DDJ series. Whatever fits your budget and also allows you to buy speakers, lights, fog machines, stands etc.

I personally use this:

  • DDJ-SZ

A 4 channel standalone mixer, two actual CDJ sized Jog-wheels, XLR output, possibility to link external CD players or Turntables, excellent ergonomics, full version of Serato included, plus mapping support online for compatibility with Traktor. It also fits perfectly in the back seat of any car but beware: it is pretty heavy.

Today however, this console has a younger brother released by Pioneer, the all-new DDJ-SZ2, which in my opinion is the same dog with different fur. Price-wise... it's steep. Close to €2000 steep but it gets any job done and it's as sturdy as they come. Mine suffered club nights, drinks spilled by customers, falling, transport, a year of gigs without a flight case and was stored away in a humid storage area. However, it still works as good as new, no knobs falling, no paint chipped and weirdly no scratches.

Consoles are a whole realm to dive in so leave a comment below with your inquires and I will respond promptly with all the information you need.


Now, the term CD Player is no longer quite accurate as most DJ's prefer to link them to a laptop or plug a USB stick in, but this is what you need to learn to DJ on in order to make it anywhere in the industry.

First of all, DJ-ing on CDJ's to me was a big thing because I was working on a very expensive setup, which after extensive fan-boying, a strange fear of breaking something and eternally paying for it kicked in. It's in the same ball park as consoles, technically, at least that's what they tell you. In fact, the jogs move and feel entirely different, the track analyzing needs to be done on a software like Rekordbox in order to display all the right information, but the ease of multiple DJ's switching as simply as ejecting a USB stick and plugging another one in made Pioneer's CDJ's the most common thing you will find in your career.

Safe to say, nowadays DENON makes for a good competitor for Pioneer in this realm, but to be completely honest it's like David fights Goliath, only Goliath manages to always fight back.

Anyway, you might want to search for some used old Pioneer CDJ's to try your hand out. It most definitely speeds up your learning process and will train you to deal with any CD player you will encounter. Pricing wise, they go for decent money nowadays and you can easily get away with a home training setup that will improve your DJ-ing skills.

All in all I hope I was able to paint a clear picture of what exactly it is that you need to use for your DJ career. Let me know what you think in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions. I will answer promptly with documentation and honest opinions.

Thank you and see you next time!

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