DJ equipment covers everything from the most expensive top-grade gear offered by the likes of Pioneer to cheaper equipment perfectly suited to entry-level DJs who are looking to get involved in this awesome culture and activity.
DJing is superbly accessible, fun, exciting and can lead to great things so there’s no question over how or why it’s become so popular in recent years – it’s time to get involved!
When you’re starting out, you might be overwhelmed with the myriad of equipment available to you. There are lots of ways to get into DJing and a few different routes you can take:
DJ controllers are in many ways the future for the industry. They’re pretty much all-in-one solutions for DJs who are looking for a means to mix in almost any situation and at any level. DJ controller’s unique strength is that they combine decks with a mixer in one unit.
They also have buttons for extra functions, e.g. loop and FX control. DJ controllers are powered by software installed on a laptop or PC, or sometimes even a phone or tablet, this means you will need one of these devices, typically a laptop, to utilize a DJ controller. You could say that DJ controllers are only the cheapest options if you own a laptop but overall, they’re the most affordable, effective and easiest way to get into DJing.
- DJ controllers provide all-in-one solutions for DJing
- They are often cost-effective
- You’ll need a laptop to use them
Turntables and Mixer
Second, we have the turntables and mixer setup which remains the traditional choice and also the setup we still mostly see in larger venues. Of course, many DJs bring their controllers to gigs and events but the in-house system will usually comprise of CDJs, most frequently Pioneer Nexus CDJs and a mixer.
Purchasing two turntables and a mixer is costly but it’s arguably still the most powerful pro setup for DJs. It is possible to buy budget mixers and turntables, a cheap vinyl setup, for example, can cost under $200 but then you’ll need to buy records and most importantly, learn how to mix vinyl!
- You’ll need a two-channel mixer at least and two turntables
- Turntables include both vinyl decks and CDJs
- CDJs are generally not cheap
DVS – Digital Vinyl System
Thirdly, and perhaps less common now than 5 or 10 years ago, we have the DVS system. This combines turntables with a digital setup that runs through a laptop. DVS uses timecodes, which are specialist discs or vinyl records.
These allow DJs to operate decks in the traditional way whilst benefiting from the flexibility of a digital system. DVS systems primarily run through Serato and Traktor, this setup is still popular for scratchers and battle mixers.
- DVS systems combine traditional mixing setups with turntables and a mixer with digital software, e.g. Traktor and Serato
- To run a DVS setup, you’ll need CDJs or vinyl decks, a mixer, a laptop and a DVS soundcard with timecodes
The Best Entry Options
Let’s look at some of the best equipment in each category and how these can come together to provide entry-level gear for beginner DJs.
DJ software is needed for using both controllers or DVS but it provides a platform for DJs to experiment with the fundamentals of mixing. In DJ software, a DJ can take two tunes and mix them using the built-in software mixer which emulates a real mixer – tt has a crossfader, channel faders, and EQ, etc.
By lining up tunes with the beat grid and testing them together, beginner DJs can get to grips with how it sounds to mix two tunes together.
Bottom Line: Serato Lite allows DJs to experiment with DJ software without spending a dime. By experimenting with Serato Lite, you can mix and blend tunes using its offline Practice Mode, for which you don’t need a DJ controller.
First things first, Serato Lite should be the first thing you download as a beginner DJ. Why? It’s free for one, you can download it immediately and get to know that DJ software looks like including waveform views, BPM, beat grids and a software version of the DJ mixer. With Serato Lite, in Practice Mode, you can load up two similar tunes, sync them and fiddle about to get them to mix. You don’t even need a controller!
If you do then grab a controller, it’s likely it’ll be easy to set it up with Serato Lite. You can then start to apply your experimentation to the controller. Of course, Serato Lite isn’t limitless and there may come a time when you need to upgrade or if you really can’t get used to Serato, Traktor or RekordBox or move to a more expensive CDJ setup.
However, Serato Lite is pretty genius in that it attracts aspiring DJs to Serato. It’s great for learning the basics of DJing, with Practice Mode you can mix and blend tunes using just your laptop – the perfect piece of DJ equipment for beginners.
Controllers, as we’ve said, are an all-in-one unit for mixing so long as you own a laptop with DJ software installed. Once you’ve fiddled with some DJ software like Serato Lite and have an idea of a set of tunes that work together, it’s time to grab a controller and start putting those ideas into practice.
Bottom Line: The Numark PartyMix has become the most popular budget DJ controller in the world. It’s superbly accessible and really does put the power of a fully functional DJ setup into the hands of almost anyone.
Numark are excellent manufacturers of cheaper DJ equipment and they certainly offer some of the best DJ equipment for beginners. The PartyMix is quite small, portable and comfortable to use. It’s not built to top-spec by any means but it’s strong and durable, perfect for its primary use as an entry-level controller suited for partying!
The Numark has a 2-band EQ, which is pretty basic but still facilitates good mixing and it’s perfect for sussing out when to cut the highs or the bass. A 3-band EQ will come naturally once you’ve practiced enough with a 2-band. The PartyMix also has 4 pads on each deck which are useful for triggering loops, FX and cue points.
The cool thing is, though, the PartyMix has its own built-in light show. Yep, really. It’s quite simple and comprises 3 bright color-changing LEDs that flash in patterns to the beat of the music playing through the controller. It’s pretty cool, add a cheap smoke machine in a dark room and it has a great impact.
- Cheap but very usable budget controller
- The built-in light show is a cool addition
- Works with all major DJ software
- 2-band EQ
DJ mixers are one of the two main components of a non-controller two turntable setup. DJ mixers feature your main mixing controls such as crossfaders, channel faders, and EQ. They’re simple to set up and connect to a speaker system. DJ mixers range from cheap two-channel mixers to top-of-the-range multi-channel mixers with tons of extra features.
Bottom Line: Behringer has a mixed reputation but the NOX range of mixers bucked the trend. They’re superbly well-built and at the price, they provide an excellent means to build a classic vinyl turntable or CDJ mixing setup on a budget.
The Behringer NOX series are available with different numbers of channels but the smallest and cheapest, the NOX101, has just two channels. It’s compact and well-designed, intuitive and simple to use, but it also features some excellent hardware including a quality mic pre-amp and decent faders.
All inputs and outputs are also built to an excellent standard and the unit as a whole is reliable and sounds great. For the money, it’s a superb little DJ mixer that can be hooked up to two turntables of your choice, or a DVS system.
- Excellent hardware
- Intuitive and easy to use and set up
- Only two channels
To be honest, the word ‘budget’ seldom applies to CDJs or barely any Pioneer DJ equipment really. CDJs aren’t cheap and never really have been, whether they will come down in price at some point remains to be seen. CDJs are powerful as they’re somewhat universal – they bridge the gap between all DJ setups.
You can use them with CDs which is becoming somewhat old-school, use them with timecode discs and a DVS set up with Serato, Traktor or RekordBox or use them with USB sticks which have become the industry benchmark.
This involves loading up prepared tracks to a USB, typically with Pioneer’s software RekordBox, which are then inserted into the CDJ from which you can load your sets. With top CDJs e.g. the Pioneer Nexus range, you can visualize the waveform alongside other track information like cue points.
Bottom Line: The Pioneer CDJ-350 lies towards the cheaper end of Pioneer’s CDJ decks. It packs a lot of functionality and allows DJs to accustom themselves to a setup used in most venues and clubs.
This is one of Pioneer’s cheapest CDJs but it isn’t exactly cheap when compared to controllers, etc. Still, this is pro kit that enables beginner DJs to learn on a platform they’ll find in clubs and venues around the world.
The CDJ-350 is small and portable but it’s also very well made with excellent hardware. At its core, it is quite simple. You can think of CDJs as glorified high-tech CD players with USB functionality, you’ll be able to use CDs or plug in your USB with a library prepared on RekordBox.
The CDJ-350 has a great jog-wheel, hot cue buttons, and a looping section. Crucially, it displays BPM to one decimal place which allows for more accurate mixing compared to older CDJs that only featured whole number BPMs.
Once you’re used to mixing with the CDJ-350, the step-up to other Pioneer decks should be easy. Although there are more features, advanced Pioneer decks are probably easier to use than the CDJ-350.
- Helps beginners get used to industry benchmark setups
- Can be used with CDs (and timecode CDs) or USB
- Small and well-built
Vinyl turntables for many will always reign supreme. Firstly, they’re simply just cool and you command a degree of authority by being a master of vinyl – it’s very hard! But, with DVS software, vinyl turntables can be used to combine the unparalleled touch and feel of a turntable which the power and flexibility of a digital system running through DJ software.
Bottom Line: A great and very well-priced turntable suitable for use with normal vinyl or timecode vinyl for DVS. A classic re-made in budget form.
Numark built a quality affordable turntable in the TT250 USB. It is a fairly basic deck and thus, it’s easy to use for beginners. It does, however, have a high-torque motor that provides direct drive to the platter, which is excellent. Out of the box, you’ll get decent quality heads and needles too which is a massive bonus.
This deck also has a USB feature that allows you to convert vinyl into digital files. It’s a bit of a gimmick if you don’t need that function but still, it’s a worthy extra feature.
Overall, this deck is a superb option for beginner DJs who want to stick to the origins and mix vinyl, or want to use timecode vinyl to link up to a DVS set up. Remember, to do this, you’ll need a soundcard and software such as Serato DJ Pro or Traktor Pro.
- A budget deck for vinyl or DVS
- USB enabled
- Bundled needles and heads are good
- None really to mention
No matter what path you want to take into DJing, there’s some great gear out there to suit your vision and aspirations as well as your budget. DJ gear choice has really flourished recently and prices are coming down, a cheap mixing setup can now cost you well under $100 so long as you own a laptop.
Of course, if you want to dig a little deeper and go for a more classic setup rather than a controller then it’ll cost more but for many, the mixer and two-deck setup is the only way to mix.
The low down is then, for entry-level mixing on a budget, opt for a controller but if your budget extends, consider either a CDJ setup with USB song libraries, classic vinyl or CD setups or a DVS setup which combines the best of all worlds. The choice is yours!