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DJ Equipment Buying Guide

Whether you plan to perform for a crowd of 1,000 or 1, making sure you have the right equipment is the first step to success. This guide will take you through the different equipment options and some of the lingo you'll need before you start looking at products.

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Finding the Right DJ Equipment

Whether you plan to perform for a crowd of 1,000 or 1, making sure you have the right equipment is the first step to success. This guide will take you through the different equipment options and some of the lingo you'll need before you start looking at products.

Vinyl vs. Digital The big decision you have to make is what you plan to spin. Are you more traditional and prefer vinyl? Or do you love the portability that CDs and digital music (MP3s, hard drives, SD cards) offers, allowing you to carry a huge collection of music from gig to gig? Even if you have trouble deciding, you can start with one and add the other later.

Separates vs. Package You've got two ways to go when looking to purchase DJ equipment: buy each piece of gear separately or go for a package that gives you all the pieces in one box and at one price. While professional or aspiring DJs typically choose pieces separately in order to customize their setup, beginners and hobby DJs usually do well to start with a package. With a package you get a system with components that are designed to work with one another, at a price that is usually lower than the sum of the components.

Now you're ready to start learning about all of the components that go into a DJ setup.

Turntables Things like how much torque you have in your turntable motor and which kind of tone arm you use can impact your overall performance. Because you want to sound your best every time you play, it's important to get the best tables you can afford.

1. Direct-Drive Turntables vs. Belt-Drive Turntables For beginners on a budget, belt-drive turntables are a common choice. Although they are more affordable than direct-drive, they can take some time getting up to speed. Speed recovery after scratching is faster with direct-drive turntables, and because motor torque is transferred directly to the platter, the record can be manipulated in ways not possible in a belt-drive. This means that direct-drive turntables might be a good option for you, even if you don?t scratch. Be sure to compare torque speeds when shopping: the higher the torque the faster your speed recovery times.

2. Start and Stop Buttons Some tables let you adjust the start and stop times so you can start music up quickly or wind it down slowly. The ability to change start/stop speeds can make a difference in your playing style.

3. Speed Selector and Pitch Control Playback speeds are usually set to 33 or 45rpm, and some tables also offer a 78rpm setting. You can fine-tune all speeds by using the pitch control, which can speed up or slow down the music by up to 8% or more. The pitch control feature is used for beatmatching one record to another. You can also use a ?Key Lock? or ?Master Tempo? feature to change the tempo without modifying the pitch.

4. Straight Tone Arm vs. S-Shaped A straight tone arm minimizes the risk of skipping and is ideal for scratching due to its tracking ability. One downside is increased record wear and decreased sound quality. The S-shaped tone arm offers better sound quality and is the best option for non-scratch DJs.

5. Output Options: Line vs. Phono vs. Digital The standard output for most turntables is phono, which requires a mixer that has a phono input. In addition, some turntables offer a switchable line-level output that sends a pre-amplified signal and can connect into the line input of your mixer. Another option is the digital out: most mixers do not have this, but it?s ideal for direct recording into a computer or CD burner.

6. Cost If you?re a hobby DJ spinning in a friend's basement or at small family parties, you can still play decent music on turntables offering minimal features. But for those looking to go pro, check out the more expensive tables with the stronger motors. Investing in quality decks now will serve you well in your longer-term plan.

Mixers Often considered the heart and soul of any DJ setup, the mixer can be the difference in you sounding like an amateur or sounding like a legit DJ. Your mixer connects your gear together and houses many of the controls and features that help you customize your sound.

1. Channels Each turntable or CD player you plug into the mixer is assigned its own channel, and every channel has its own set of controls. For DJs just starting out, a basic mixer with two or three channels and enough inputs for your turntables or CD players is usually enough to get you spinning.

2. Inputs and Outputs RCA inputs let you plug in your turntables and line inputs are for plugging in CD players. Also common are outputs which send sound to your amplifiers and ground posts that reduce the possibility of a ground loop. Some mixers also offer inputs for sound effects. Make sure the mixer you choose has the connections you are most likely to use. If you are using turntables that do not have a line output, it is important that your mixers can receive a phono signal (please see "Turntables").

3. Controls Mixers offer many controls, some are standard and others are not as common. Gain control is usually above each channel section and is used to control input levels. EQ knobs let you adjust the tone (bass, treble, midrange) for each channel. You may also find a kill switch on some mixers, which lets you turn off the lows, mids or highs.

4. Faders and Crossfaders Like the names suggest, these sliding levers let you fade the volume in and out. Channel faders control the volume for one source. A crossfader on the other hand allows you to simultaneously fade in one channel while fading out another. Because the crossfader tends to wear out due to heavy use, look for a mixer that has a replaceable crossfader. If you plan to scratch, make sure that your crossfader has a curve adjustment. Scratch DJs are not interested in fading from one channel to the other, but prefer a steep curve that transfers immediately from one source to the next.

5. Cost Mixers have a wide price range mainly because they offer a wide range of features. For beginners, a few channels and essentials like gain control and EQ knobs, plus the basic inputs and outputs, should give you what you need. You can always upgrade to a mixer with all the bells and whistles later, or purchase external effects modules. If this is the case for you, look for a mixer with an effects loop.

CD Players The improvements in digital CD players in the last few years have caused many DJs to leave their turntables behind. In the end it's up to you whether you prefer spinning vinyl or CDs. If you choose to go with CD players, here are the features to look for.

1. Tabletop vs. Dual Players Tabletop players look a lot like traditional turntables and have room for one CD. Dual rackmount CD players include one unit with two front-loading CD slots or trays and another unit with the mixer controls. Neither option is technically better or worse, but DJs moving from vinyl tend to be more at home with the desktop player because it feels more like a turntable.

2. Looping This is a handy feature when you need to extend a song or when creating your own mixes. The looping feature lets you select a specific section of a song to play. All you need to do is define your start and end points (cue points) and the loop is ready to play by pressing a button. The reloop button lets you play the loop over and over.

3. Memory A common fear for DJs who spin on traditional turntables is the needle skipping when the dance floor shakes. Shockproof memory ensures that the music you are playing won't skip a beat. Some CD players offer data storage with removable memory cards, which let you store cue and loop points for play later.

4. Fader Start/Stop Some digital players offer a fader start feature that lets you crossfade over to a channel without having to press ?play?. The fader stop automatically stops the player as soon as you fade out its channel. DJs who like to beat juggle will especially appreciate this feature.

5. Pitch Control A digital CD player is actually more flexible than a turntable when it comes to pitch control. Pitch control faders let you adjust the playback speed in order to match one record's beat to another?s. Pitch bend buttons give you more precise pitch adjustments and a pitch lock keeps the pitch the same at different speeds. ?Key lock? or ?Master Tempo? allows the user to change the tempo without modifying the pitch.

6. Other Features Several other features are available in CD players and vary from brand to brand:

  • Effects like echo, filter, phase, flanger, transform and pan are available.
  • Cue points let you go to a spot in a song by pushing a button.
  • Eject lock prevents accidentally ejecting a disk during play.
  • LCD displays help you see in the dark; the brighter the better.

7. Cost What typically separates lower priced players from the higher ones is the feature set. At the lower end look for a player that can perform the basics well and has a good design. At the higher end, features like looping, different sound effects, sampling and scratch effects all add to the overall price.

8. MP3 Functionality Although most CD players will play MP3s today, it is worth double-checking. You may also want to make sure that it has full MP3 functionality, allowing for the creation of sub-directories on CDs.

9. Jog Wheel Some DJs prefer CD players with a jog wheel, which allows you to scratch and beat juggle just like a turntable.

All-In-One-Packages If you're making your first leap into the world of DJing and you don't know what you want, a package is an easy way to get everything you need at a reasonable price and without the stress of researching and buying each piece separately.

What's in the box? Packages typically include a pair of turntables (or a dual CD player), slipmats, cartridges and stylus' (needles), mixer, headphones, and all the cables you need to connect everything together. Amps and speakers are usually not included.

How much does it cost? That depends on what brand you buy and the features that are included. Some packages start in the mid-hundreds and others can run you several thousand dollars. Refer to the other tabs in this buying guide for more details on each piece of equipment and then make yourself a checklist of which features are must-haves for you.