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Welcome to the world of DJing! If you’re looking to invest in your first turntable or computer setup, there are a few options to get you started. Before spending a ton of cash on equipment, though, you should consider your needs, budget, and reasons for DJing in the first place. For example, if you’re just looking to play music at a few house parties, you might want to start with a computer and a portable DJ controller. On the other hand, if you spend your nights scouring Discogs for rare records and dream of becoming a pro DJ, we recommend learning on turntables or CDJs.
Despite what many music lovers will tell you, there’s no right answer to the question “What do I need to start DJing?” In fact, there are countless examples of DJs slaying dance floors with just a laptop and a tiny controller (or no controller at all). Ultimately, the most important aspect of DJing is music selection and sequencing. Vinyl can have a warmer, richer sound than a lot of digital recordings, but almost every major club on Earth will also have CDJs in the booth. Below, we’ve outlined four beginner DJ equipment packages, their pros and cons, and why they might be the best choice for you.
Basic Computer Setup
What do I need to start DJing? Not much, in fact. If you already have a laptop, free software like Virtual DJ will get the job done, and it’s easy to load new songs into the program via the trackpad and keyboard. This is the most compact system for DJing by far, and you’ll be able to select from the vast library of digital music online. However, you’ll still probably want to invest in a basic audio interface, which converts digital audio and sends it to the DJ mixer.
- Audio Interface: At the most basic level, audio interfaces like the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 or the PreSonus FireStudio offer a couple of inputs and outputs for sending digital audio to a club’s sound system. As it passes through an interface, music is also converted from a digital to an analog signal, which sounds better when amplified. Most interfaces also offer a headphone jack, so you can preview music before mixing it into your set. Audio interfaces with more than two inputs/outputs are great for studio recording, but for DJ purposes, this is all you need.
If you’re just using a laptop to DJ, it may become frustrating that you don’t have more control over the mix. Simple tasks like crossfading and beat-matching have to be performed with the keyboard, but they’re undoubtedly easier when you have faders and knobs. Most beginner DJ equipment packages will incorporate a USB controller, which can trigger music, effects, loops, and many other functions.
There is still a certain stigma within the veteran DJ community about using controllers, but times are changing fast. As a new generation of DJs raised on the Internet takes charge, controllers are becoming accepted within the mainstream. We think that if you can start a great party, it makes no difference whether you’re using turntables, CDJs, or a controller.
- DJ Controller: There are dozens of unique controller styles, which range from basic portable units to massive all-in-one decks. Popular models include the Traktor Kontrol Z1 — which offers a two-channel mixer, crossfader, and basic EQ functionality — or the larger Kontrol S2 MKII, which includes remix decks and jog wheels for hands-on cueing. Similarly, there’s the Pioneer DDJ-SR, a two-channel controller that’s designed to work seamlessly with the Serato DJ software.
For those who wish to master the intricacies of beat-matching and mixing, we recommend starting with a classic turntable setup. Turntables offer a tactile feeling that can’t be replicated with software or controllers, and the sound of vinyl records is hard to beat. However, turntables can be highly impractical when you’re lugging a ton of records to a venue, and they limit your selection to whatever vinyl you currently have on hand. If you see these aspects as positives (and many DJs do), you’ll probably love the turntable approach. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Two Turntables: Far and away, the most popular DJ turntable is the Technics SL-1200, but it’s out of production and commands absurdly high prices online. However, there are plenty of high-quality alternatives out there. New DJs can’t go wrong with a pair of Numark TT250USBs or Stanton T.92s.
- Mixer: Next, your turntables connect to a DJ mixer, which gives you control over the volume, EQ, and effects for multiple audio channels. Just like the SL-1200 turntable, it’s common to find a Pioneer DJM-800 or a high-end Rane mixer in a club, but you don’t need to spend that much for a quality unit. If you’re on a serious budget, go for the Numark M101USB, but if you want a solid two-channel mixer with additional features, we highly recommend the Pioneer DJM-350.
- Headphones: Finally, you’ll need a decent set of DJ headphones to cue up and mix between tracks. Unlike studio headphones or consumer models, DJ headphones are designed to replicate low-end and treble frequencies like you hear them in a club, while also using a closed-ear design to isolate the sound. You can’t go wrong with headphone models like the Pioneer HDJ-2000MK2 or the Sennheiser HD 25.
When CDs overtook vinyl as the medium of choice, the DJ world had to adapt, and CDJs became a popular alternative in the club space. Using CDs or a USB stick, DJs can cue up and mix tracks using jog wheels, while also having access to an LCD screen with info about frequencies, cue points, tempo, and more. Today, CDJs are arguably more popular than turntables among professional DJs, because they offer a great mix of tactile control and quick access to digital files.
Although CDJs are more expensive than the average controller, they might be worth the investment if you’re serious about DJing. For those on a budget, we recommend the Gemini CDJ-700 or MDJ-1000.
Think you're ready to start? Check out our dj equipment packages