The Beginner DJ Blog
The Beginner DJ Equipment Guide: Building Your First DJ Setup
Choosing equipment can be quite a task if you are inexperienced or just getting started.
There are many different pieces of equipment and factors to consider before making any purchase to ensure you make the best choice to begin your DJ career.
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There are many different pieces of DJ equipment for sale and many factors to consider before making a purchase depending on the musical format you wish to spin: vinyl DJs use vinyl records, CD DJs use CDs and Digital DJs use MP3s.
Regardless of the type of DJ you choose to become, there is always a basic set of equipment each DJ must purchase:
- 2 x Turntables
- 1 x Mixer
- 1 x Headphones
- 1 Pair of monitor speakers (optional)
- 1 Pair of PA speakers (optional)
As you can see, it’s not an entirely large list of equipment but each of these are just as important as the last.
What you need to know before you buy
Before you make any decision on the DJ gear you plan to buy it’s best to determine your budget. Many people rush into making a purchase only to pick up gear which breaks within a few years or is unreliable. Like the old saying goes “you get what you buy”.
I highly suggest you make a budget of what you can afford along with a wish list, this way you can distinquish between needs and wants.
Set aside a bit of money from each paycheck to go toward your gear funds. You may be tempted to buy some pieces with the money you have saved, try not to make any purchase just yet to ensure you’re buying top notch stuff.
It’s always better to go into a deal with enough money to buy exceptional gear than to buy in the heat of passion and end up with mediocre gear.
Turntables are your most important decision when building your DJ set up, you need to remember that the quality of turntable directly relates to the amount of money you’re willing to spend.
All of the other pieces of equipment can be upgraded at a later time but starting off with a great set of turntables will help you avoid costly mistakes.
There are dozens of manufacturers of turntables but only a few of them produce quality equipment required for DJing. Buying quality turntables will gaurantee that your set up will last you for many years without major problems.
For vinyl DJs, there are two types of turntables:
- Direct Drive
- Belt Driven
Both of these turntables have their pros and cons as explained below.
Direct Drive Turntables
Direct Drive Turntables are the best bang for your buck.
Direct Drive “DD” turntables use motors which are directly connected to the platter to provide optimum torque and durability in comparison to belt driven turntables which use … belts.
The platter is directly connected to the motor giving the Direct Drive turntable more torque. Torque allows the turntable to speed up rapidly after being held during the cueing letting it start and stop without making distorted sounds from speeding up.
Belt Drive Turntables
Belt driven turntables are exactly how they sound: the platter is spun using a belt system. The belt of the turntable is connected from the motor to the platter.
Belts eventually stretch and cause your vinyl to sound distorted which is why Belt Driven turntables should be avoided.
If a belt breaks in the middle of your set, you’re pretty much screwed. You will also need to buy a new belt, additional money wasted.
If a belt is stretched you will have a difficult time trying to beatmatch your records. A streteched belt will spin the platter at a slightly slower speed, throwing off your beatmatching efforts.
Many beginner DJs become discouraged while beatmatching because the tracks keep going out of sync. The problem may not be the DJ, it may be the belt driven turntable.
Finally, belt driven turntables do not have the same amount of torque as a direct drive turntable. When you release the vinyl on a belt driven turntable, it will start just a bit slower than you expect, throwing off your beatmatching.
What vinyl turntable should I buy?
The most common and important question to ask before you make your first set of turntables is “which type of turntable should I buy?”. If you have been setting aside money for your turntable budget, I highly recommend the Technics 1200/1210 family line, let me repeat that:
You should buy Technics 1200′s or 1210′s
The reason why I suggest buying Technics is they have become the industry standard of vinyl DJing turntables. For nearly 40 years they have seen the abuse of DJing and have always stood the test of time.
Technics also hold their value well after the date of production. In the event that DJing isn’t for you, you’ll be able to resell your Technics for nearly the price you’ve bought them.
Replacement parts can also be easily be found on forums, eBay, Craigslist and other websites.
Finally, and although not a particular reason for purchasing, the Technics 1210′s have a certain nostalgia and reputation to them. There’s a certain vibe and stigma behind owning 1210′s which cannot be described until you own a pair (sort of like spinning vinyl vs. digital).
Cartridges, Needles and Slipmats
A few items that are often overlooked when buying vinyl turntables are the cartridges, needles and slipmats.
Each of these pieces of equipment make up the vinyl turntable in whole, without these pieces you simply would not be able to DJ.
Most vinyl turntables come with a basic set of cartridges, needles and rubber slipmats. You will want to replace these components if you are serious about DJing as they are very basic.
Cartridges come in two major flavors:
- Shell Mounted
- Concord Design
Both of these designs will work perfectly with your DJing, it’s mostly a matter of personal choice and opinion.
Most cartridge come with a set of needles but it’s always worthwhile to invest in few more in case they break.
Needles are another important piece to accompany your turntable cartridge.
There are two basic types of needles for DJs:
Spherical stylus’ have a rounded tip that prevent the needle from skipping. These spherical stylus’ are great for scratch DJs but they also wear down your vinyl.
Elliptical stylus have a pointed end which fits snuggly between the vinyl grooves. These elliptical stylus’ do have a tendency to skip easier but they provide a better quality of sound.
The slipmat is another component you will need to pick up as you purchase your turntables. Turntables usually come with a set of rubber mats, these are no good for DJing (they make your vinyl stick, eliminating your ability to rock the record back and forth).
There is no “best” slipmat. You will, however, need to make sure you purchase felt slipmats. These felt slipmats are very cheap and often have some really cool designs (for personal flare).
CD turntables have seen a rise during the 90s and especially the 2000′s with the increase in music being produced on CDs, easier access to gear and some very cool features built into each deck.
Many DJs are taking the route of using CD turntables because much of today’s music isn’t being pressed on vinyl any longer.
With the addition of the internet, DJs can buy their tracks on websites like Beatport, iTunes and many other online retailers, burn the tracks to CD and be ready to play the new tracks without having to take a trip down to the record shop.
It’s no doubt that the Pioneer CDJ-800′s and CDJ-1000′s have become the standard for CD turntables. The CDJ’s are used globally in clubs, bedrooms and most parties for their reliability and features.
Not having to buy cartridges, slipmats and needles are an additional benefit of using CD turntables.
Pioneer has just released their newest version, the CDJ 2000′s. For a very detailed review of the new CDJ 2000′s, check out DJTechTools review.
Midi Controllers and Time-Coded Systems
Midi controllers and time-coded systems have seen a tremendous rise over the last decade, prompting many veteran DJs to drop their vinyl and CD collections for this new format.
Being able to play virtually any available song is one of the main appeals to digital turntables and time-coded systems.
In digital systems, DJ’s use controllers connected to programs on their computer and cue up MP3′s/WAVs which they have downloaded or ripped from their collection.
Digital is increasingly becoming a great choice for beginner DJs due to the ease of building a massive song collection on their computer without having to hunt down vinyl and CD’s in shops and across the net.
With a midi controller setup, you will be controlling your mixes via a midi device that is plugged into your computer.
This midi controller sends midi signals to the computer which controls the program such as Traktor, Virtual DJ, Serato and many others.
Midi controllers are often very inexpensive, easy to hook up and will allow you to use any music you have available on your computer.
Additionally, many midi controllers and programs come with built in mixers and effects which could save you quite a bit of money.
You can easily start on less than $100 by going with a simple midi controller setup such as the Hercules DJ Console MP3 e20.
Midi controllers give you a lot of control over your music but many DJ’s frown upon full midi setups because of tradition and that many mediocre DJs abuse built in processes like auto beatmatching.
Time-Coded systems such as Serato Scratch Live, Traktor Scratch Duo/Pro, Torq Connectiv and many others have seen their share of popularity by bridging the feel of vinyl with the limitless potential of computers.
With a time-coded system, special time-coded vinyl is used on regular turntables to control the packaged program.
This does mean that you will have an additional piece to hook up throughout your gear but if you are a die hard fan of vinyl but would like to spin exclusive released only available in MP3′s, time-coded is for you.
The DJ Mixer
The next essential piece of DJ gear is the mixer. Quite simply, the mixer allows the DJ to hook up their turntables, mix and connect to speakers.
To be a bit more in depth the mixer allows the DJ to control the sounds from each turntable and mix them properly before sending them out as sound.
The main considerations when buying a DJ mixer are:
- Will it allow me to connect my turntables and other pieces of gear?
- Does it have a crossfader?
- Can I control the Low, Mids and Highs?
Let’s take a look at a fairly basic mixer and learn more about the parts do:
The crossfader is very important for DJing because it allows you to easily transition between the two songs playing. Although you may still mix between songs using the volume controls, the crossfader makes your job much easier while also giving you the ability to cut and do many other tricks.
The Lows, Mids and Highs
Most standard DJ mixers come with knobs which controls the low (bass), mids (synths and other middle sounds) and highs (snares and such).
These knobs should be fully adjustable to give you full control over your mixes.
In order to hook up your turntables to your mixer you’re going to need inputs on the back of the mixer. The inputs allow you to hook up external devices such as turntables then output them through speakers.
Unless you plan to mix soley by ear, you’re going to need a way to hook up your headphones hence the headphone jack.
With this connection, you’ll be able to listen to a track in one ear and cue up the next track without having to guess where you’re mixing or do it using monitor speakers (although you may be faced with this one day – in shitty clubs).
A Sound Meter
The sound meter allows you to see how loud your music is playing over the speakers. The reason why you want a mixer with this is simple: if it goes red, you’re probably going to blow your speakers (don’t do that).
A Few Misc. Things
You may also want kill switches which “kill” the low, mids and highs – this adds the ability to do some fun effects on the fly.
You may also want to find a mixer that has additional inputs incase you eventually use an additional turntable, midi controller or musical device.
What mixer should I buy?
Unlike turntables, I do not have any definitive suggestion for you.
To be truthful, it doesn’t really matter as long as you buy one that cover the basic requirements for DJing. It’s very easy to upgrade some of the smaller pieces of DJ gear such as a mixer at a later point.
With that being said, I do usually recommend the DJM-800 mixer or the cheaper alternative: DJM-400.
The DJM-800 mixer has it all and is becoming one of the most used mixers for professional DJs. If you have the money to buy one, I suggest you get one right away – you won’t be sorry.
Almost essential to every DJ set up is a proper pair of DJ headphones.
Headphones provide DJs with a way to listen to cue’d tracks in one ear while monitoring the track currently being played, the basis of beatmatching.
As a DJ, you’re going to be in situations where the music is extremely loud all the while people are shouting and making noises. The DJ headphones provide a way to drown out the sound so you can accurately listen to your mix without getting distracted from the rest of the sound.
Most standard headphones you find in large retail stores will not be able to handle the type of abuse and monitoring you’ll need while DJing.
You’ll want to get a pair of headphones which can handle the lows and highs of the music you’re playing.
Look for headphones which a very wide range of frequency response, often 20 – 20,000 Hz. Avoid brands like Skull Candy because they are mostly fashion statements and not really meant for DJing.
Another major point to look for when choosing your DJ headphones is how comfortable they are.
You should look for closed ear headphones, the kind which completely wrap up and over your ears, these give you an added touch of isolation without completely blocking out all noise and are very comfortable.
You have your turntables, your mixer, headphones and tunes ready to play but uh-oh, there’s no sound!
Obviously you now need to invest in a pair of speakers and I’m not talking about just plugging in your computer speakers (although I bet you’d try anyway).
For DJs, there are 2 speaker systems you’d be using:
- Monitor Speakers
- PA Speakers
Additionally, there are generally two types of speakers for each:
- Active – self contained amp and power
- Passive – needs additional amp and power supply
Each of these speaker systems provide a different purpose in DJing which is explained below.
Monitor speakers play back the music at a very flat level, nothing dynamic because they are soley made to be able to monitor the music.
These speakers are the ones you see pointed toward the DJ in their booth.
Music played on PA speakers are too loud and filled with bass which would make monitoring the music virtually impossible. DJs often use monitor speakers to help them hear the mix besides using their headphones, giving them an accurate representation of what the party people are hearing.
Monitor speakers are very inexpensive and do not necessarily need to be included with your DJ setup however they will help you understand your mixing and come in handy when you forget your headphones.
I suggest you go with active monitor speakers. Active monitor speakers will allow you to hook up directly to your mixer without any extra amplifier but may include an additional power chord to connect.
Unlike monitor speakers, PA speakers are meant to be loud and bassy, these are the speakers you see in front of the booth and around the dance floor.
PA speakers have a large dynamic range and can handle the abuse of cranking up the tunes to peak levels for prolonged periods of time.
Keep in mind that passive speakers will require an additional amp and power supply when hooking up.
Active PA speakers are your best bet because they include the amplifier and power supply within the cabinet, making it very easy to lug around from venue to venue.
For a great guide to learn about DJ PA speakers, check out SweetWater’s Buying Guide.
You’re good to go!
I hope you found this guide incredibly helpful and lets you know what you need to start DJing immediately.
As noted in the beginning, knowing what to buy before hand will help save you many headaches and unnecessary purchases.
I recommend saving about $1000 – $2000 before you make any definitive purchase, this way you’ll be able to pick quality gear from the beginning.
You can check local shops, browse online or find local deals through Craigslist. There is always people selling their gear to upgrade or DJs that are getting out of the game.
Try to test out every piece before you buy, make sure nothing is broken and that it will work well with your other pieces of gear.
This should help you get started as a beginner DJ. I hope everything goes well for you, DJing can be a lot of fun and open up a world of opportunity.
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- How To DJ: DJ Headphones
- Becoming a DJ: Playing to an Empty Dance Floor
BDJ Current Gear Picks
1. Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2
The NI Traktor Kontrol S2 is an incredible digital DJ controller that comes packaged with Traktor PRO. Those that want to get started with DJing should definitely consider the S2.
Learn More: Traktor Kontrol S2 on Amazon
2. Numark Mixtrack Pro DJ Controller
The Mixtrack Pro DJ controller is perfect for those on a tight budget; it has everything you need to get started with digital DJing and continues to drop in price every few months.
Learn More: Mixtrack Pro on Amazon
3. Hercules DJ Console MK4
If you're really itching to start DJing and don't want to spend a whole lot than the MK4 is for you. You'll have complete control over your mixes plus it's packaged with Virtual DJ.
Learn More: Hercules MK4 on Amazon