You have the option of buying and using vinyl, using turntables, CDJs (as the name suggests is a digital music player designed to play music from cds, but can also play music from USB drives too), outboard controllers or you can DJ straight out of your laptop. I’ll avoid the usual argument over which is better and simply go over the basics of getting your DJ Setup at home. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on turntables as that is my primary choice for DJing. You can easily swap in a pair of CDJs in place of the turntables for the set ups. The biggest benefit of having a digital set up is having the ability to play and mix any type of music without having to go out and purchase the hardcopy version, which can be costly!
- Two turntables / cdj / outboard controller
- A mixer
- Amplifier and speakers / studio monitors
- A laptop and software
- Various cables.
Let’s start with the traditional DJ Equipment Setup.
For the uninitiated, the traditional Dj Set up includes two turntables and a mixer. The turntables used for Djing differ from regular home turntables as they include pitch control allowing you to increase or decrease the speed of the record allowing you to match the tempos of one song to the other. The industry standard was the legendary Technics 1200 (which had since been reissued with a much heftier price tag), but many other budget friendly and capable brands exist. The mixer, as the name suggests allows you to blend the audio from your turntables and outputs it to your speakers. In most cases the mixers include bass, treble and midrange controls helping you shape your mix and make the transitions sound better.
I have two Technics SL1210’s paired with my trusty old Rane TTM52 Mojo Performance mixer. The basic connection set up is as follows:
- Fig 1. A) Connect each turntable to the corresponding input on the mixer.
- Fig 1. B) Be sure to connect the ground wire to the mixer.
- Fig 1. C) Connect a pair of active monitors via the master out (Booth), or alternatively, to an amp via the audio (Master) out.
- a laptop and software
There are lots of options for DJ software these days. One of the more popular DJ software applications is Serato, which has revolutionized Djing, as DJs can bring their entire collection with them, instead of a small curated selection.
The software also allows you to record your set. How does it work? The records that are included with the software are imprinted with a control signal that is picked up by the needle and routed into the box via RCA connections. This audio signal is then decoded by the hardware and sent to the computer via USB, telling the computer how fast the record is spinning, where on the record the needle is located, and the direction the record is spinning. Pretty neat! I use the oldest model named the Rane SL2. The SL1 has since been discontinued in favor of the SL2, SL3, and SL4. The Rane SL2 is an upgraded version of the SL1, it outputs a 24bit/48khz signal vs 16bit/44.1khz on the SL1 and it uses USB 2.0 vs USB 1.1. The SL3 and 4 allow for additional decks to be used with the interface denoted by the number. In case you’re wondering, you can also play regular vinyl with a flick of a switch.
- A laptop with Serato Dj Software installed.
- All necessary Cables (usually included the purchase of the Rane SL package).
- Control discs (records) for your turntables.
- Fig 2. A) First, the signal from the turntables needs to go to the box. Connect your turntables to the Deck inputs on the box.
- Fig 1. B) Connect the ground wires to the mixer as you did on the traditional set up.
- Fig 2. B) Now you need to make sure the sound can get back from the laptop to the mixer. Be sure to connect the line outputs
- Fig 1. A) From the Rane to the LINE inputs of your mixer.
- Fig 2. C) Lastly using a USB cable (supplied), connect the box to your computer making sure it goes directly and not through a hub.
- Fig 2. D) Set the switch to your desired setting, phono or CDs.
Mixers have been heavily upgraded to include DJ software in the box, which makes setup much simpler. Keep in mind DJ Music Mixers with this functionality, all within the box, are much more expensive than those without. Using the Pioneer DJMS9 for example:
- Simply connect the turntables to the mixer as you would in a traditional DJ setup. See fig. 1
- Connect the USB from the mixer to your laptop and you’re off to the races! The mixer has built-in functionality that allows you to switch between actual vinyl and digital music so you can easily switch between the two on the fly!
If you don’t own turntables or CDJs you can still use DJ software right off your laptop or purchase an outboard controller like the Pioneer DJ DDJ‑SB2 which mimics the tactile nature of DJing and adds a whole slew of functionality too. So go ahead and get your DJ setup at home; it’s another great way to enjoy your music!