What to buy if you want to be a DJ!
Want to give DJing a go but don’t know your controllers from your turntables? Don’t worry, there are a lot of options out there as a beginner and it can all get very confusing. Thankfully, this guide will break down all the essential pieces of equipment you’ll need and explain the key differences in setup options. So no matter what sort of DJ you want to become, we’ll have a beginner set up for you!
What are DJ Decks?
Found at the centre of all DJ booths are the decks. Decks allow the DJ to control and manipulate different pieces of music before mixing them together for the audience to hear. The term “decks” usually refers to the whole DJ set-up (players and mixer), rather than individual components. There are three main types of DJ setups, each has its own advantages and drawbacks. Most beginner DJs will opt for a controller, these are usually the cheapest and in fact, they offer the most features. However, there are situations where a modular set-up or all-in-one is preferable as we’ll mention below!
DJ Controllers – DJ Setups that require a computer/tablet/phone
DJ controllers are the most popular DJ setup. These devices connect to a computer, tablet or smartphone and offer physical control over the devices DJ software. As the software is handling the actual playback of the music, controllers start at a very low price point. DJ controllers usually include two physical deck sections and an inbuilt mixer, meaning that no other equipment is required other than speakers and headphones. More advanced and expensive DJ controllers are available for those wanting more features and better build quality but as many of the performance features are software-based, most entry-level controllers can be upgraded by using more expensive software.
Styles of DJ controllers vary with some designed around certain styles of DJ. The Pioneer DJ DDJ-REV1 and Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX for example are designed to look and feel like a modular turntable setup. This design helps improve DJ skills such as scratching and beat juggling. Other controllers such as the Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000 are designed to look and feel like the CDJ’s found in a generic nightclub. So no matter what your style or preference, there’s a DJ controller that will best suit you!
Pro’s of DJ Controllers
- Cheap entry price
- Plug & Play experience with speakers and computer
- Convenient to carry/travel
- Ability to play music from streaming services
Con’s of DJ Controllers
- Requires a computer/tablet/smartphone to work
- Often cheaper build quality
- Looks less professional
It’s worth noting that most controllers are designed to be used with particular software. Choosing your software can often be a bigger decision than which controller you pair it with. With most controllers exclusively locked to one software, it’s an important decision. Below we will list the most popular DJ software and what makes them important.
Rekordbox (PC/Mac) – Pioneer DJ’s in house DJ software. Extremely capable but limited to use with Pioneer DJ controllers. A great place to start for those wanting to play on CDJ’s in nightclubs.
Serato DJ Lite (PC/Mac) – One of the simplest software to use, with support for selected controllers made by big-name brands such as Pioneer DJ, Numark, Hercules and more. Performance features are more limited than its rivals unless the user pays to upgrade to Serato DJ Pro.
Serato DJ Pro (PC/Mac) – The full Serato experience! Only included with more expensive controllers but impressively simple to use and rich in features. Heavily used by Scratch DJs and Open Format DJs thanks to its speed and layout.
Virtual DJ (PC/Mac) – One of the most powerful pieces of software ever created with support for almost every controller. Although it’s free to download, users will need to pay for a licence to unlock the software for use with their controller.
Traktor (PC/Mac) – Built for use with Native Instruments own controllers, Traktor is popular with electronic artists thanks to its impressive effects and beat gridding.
Algoriddim Djay (PC/Mac/iOS) – Impressively powerful with a rich feature set, Djay is most commonly known for being the leading DJ application found on iPhones and iPads.
Modular DJ Setups – Turntables, CDJ’s and Mixers
Modular DJ setups are most commonly found inside professional DJ booths at nightclubs and festivals. They are called modular setups because individual components are used to build the setup. Most commonly the DJ setup features an audio mixer along with 2 or 4 players. These players can either be traditional turntables, used to play vinyl, or more commonly, CDJs which are standalone media players. Modular setups are preferred in professional settings as they can be customised to each DJs needs and preferences. The modular set-up also allows damaged equipment to be swapped and changed with minimal fuss. If a drink was spilt on a controller or all-in-one, the whole set-up would be damaged, whereas modular systems allow for individual pieces to be changed out. It’s worth noting that a lot of cheaper mixers and players don’t include performance features often found on controllers, such as hot cues and effects.
Pro’s of Modular Setups
- No computer required
- Easy to update and upgrade
- Ability to customise to DJs preference
Con’s of Modular Setups
- Harder To Carry/Travel
- Fewer Performance Features
Most beginners will likely opt for the most cost-effective controller/all in one option as modular equipment is traditionally very expensive. That said, the modular set-up is the only way DJ’s can play real vinyl, making it extremely popular with turntablists. Each DJ will need at least two players or turntables, connected to one central mixer. Do note that certain mixers will feature USB connectivity, allowing the modular set-up to control DJ software running on a laptop. This setup method is known as DVS and requires compatible mixers and software. Media players may also require USB’s and other formats to be first prepared by a computer running DJ software.
Reloop RP2000 MK2 – Direct Drive for £200, it doesn’t get much better value for money than this.
Audio Technica AT-LP120XUSB – Priced at just £249, this turntable even features a USB connection for making digital copies of vinyl.
Entry Level CDJ / Media Players
Pioneer DJ XDJ-700 – Pioneer DJ’s budget media player looks and feels like their flagship players and can handle the same files. This USB only player lacks some of the performance features and build quality of its bigger brothers though.
Denon DJ LC5000 – This unit was a flagship device until a few years ago. Capable of playing from USB’s and SD cards with no prior preparation, these amazing decks can also stream from Beatport, Beatsource, Tidal and Soundcloud using built-in Wi-Fi!
Pioneer DJ CDJ-900NXS – Capable of playing USB’s and CD’s, the CDJ900NXS is currently the cheapest way to experience CDJ players. Cheapest sadly doesn’t necessarily mean affordable when it comes to expensive media players.
Pioneer DJ DJM 250 – Like many of Pioneer DJ’s products, this baby mixer looks and feels like their flagship offerings. The DJM 250MK2 sadly lacks Pioneer DJ’s legendary effect.
Numark Scratch – Incredible crossfader, unlocks Serato DJ Pro and doesn’t break the bank. This mixer is ideal for turntablists who want to control their laptop with turn
Numark M101 – Cheap, simple and easy to get started with. This basic mixer is the ideal starting place for those on a tight budget.
All In One DJ Set-Ups – Standalone DJ Devices
All in one DJ setups combine everything you need to DJ in one handy package. With no computer needed to run the device, DJs can simply connect a USB stick and start DJing straight away. Some newer models can even connect to the internet over Wi-Fi and stream songs! These units usually cost more than controllers but are often a lot cheaper than modular setups, despite looking very similar! Although not the cheapest option, all in ones provide a lot of performance features and are used by many DJs wanting the club feel at home. Be aware that some models still require music to be downloaded, analysed and exported by a computer first, meaning a computer in the household will still be required.
Pro’s of All In Ones
- Easy setup
- No computer required (for playing)
- Controller-like performance features
Con’s of All In Ones
- No Customisation
- Hard to carry/travel
All In One DJ Systems
Numark Mixstream Pro – Although the cheapest all in one currently on sale at just £500, this amazing unit is also one of the most powerful thanks to running Engine OS. With built-in speakers, this is a beginner’s ideal choice!
Pioneer XDJ-RR – At £1000, this is the cheapest Pioneer DJ all in one. Although not as powerful as some of the other units, the RR offers a club-style layout and feel!
Denon DJ Prime 2 – Running the same Engine OS as the Numark, this is a very powerful unit that features a better layout and builds than its cheaper cousin. At £1200, it’s great value for money when compared to its similarly priced rivals!
Beginner DJ Speakers
No matter which decks you purchase, you’re going to need to hear the music! This is where monitor speakers come in! All beginner DJ equipment outputs with a line-level signal, usually with an RCA connection. This is a very common output and enables the user to connect to almost any household audio equipment. Sadly though some AV equipment such as home theatre equipment can introduce delays. It’s for this reason we recommend you use a speaker designed for DJing, These not only offer the best performance but are also tuned to deal with the bass-driven music, ensuring your mix sounds epic! When looking at DJ speakers, ensure your speaker is “active”. This means the speaker has a built-in amplifier. Passive speakers require separate amplifiers which will raise the cost and the setup time! Although balanced XLR connections are superior, unless your DJ decks support that connection, ensure your speaker also has unbalanced RCA inputs!
KRK Rokit RP5 – One of the most recognisable speakers thanks to its yellow cone. The Rokit has been a long time favourite with DJs thanks to its great bass! £145 Each
Pioneer DJ VM50 – Stylish, loud and sounding great, the VM50 is a superb speaker for most DJs. £130 Each
M-Audio BX3 – Cheap, small and ideal for smaller spaces! £89 Per Pair.
Every DJ needs their headphones! They enable us to get the mix perfect before introducing it to the audience. The great news is that good DJ headphones are becoming cheaper and cheaper, meaning you don’t have to break the bank to buy a pair that could last a lifetime! Remember that technologies such as Bluetooth introduce a lag, so can’t be used for DJing sadly!
Pioneer DJ CUE1 – At just £60 these headphones offer outstanding value for money with great sound and build
Sennheiser HD25 – The iconic HD25 is one of the most popular DJ headphones of all time and seen on the heads of some of the worlds biggest names!
Numark HF125 – Uber cheap at just £10, at this price you can’t really go wrong!
Now you’ve got all the equipment it’s time to learn how to use it all! Here at Crossfader, we offer a fantastic range of DJ courses that are all delivered online. This means you can access your course 24 hours a day, from anywhere in the world. Apple iPhone and iPad users can even download our fantastic app and download their lessons for easy viewing offline. Whichever setup you settle upon for your first setup, we’re here to help you make the most of it. Below you can find our most popular beginner DJ courses.
To view all available courses including intermediate and advanced level skills, click here.