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What Equipment Should a Beginner DJ Have?

Noah Feasey-Kemp

Noah Feasey-Kemp

So, you want to get started in DJ mixing and are wondering what type of DJ equipment you’ll need? I’m here to help you out.

When I started DJing back in the early 2000s, DJing was all about hardware. You needed the best turntables, DJ mixer, records, and accessories to put together a decent DJ set. All of that was incredibly expensive, time-consuming, and hard to learn.

These days, learning to mix is a lot more simple and more affordable(more affordable). Advances in technology have made DJing accessible to everyone. Here, I'll tell you how.

TL;DR#

  • All you need to start DJing is a laptop & DJ mixing software.

  • DJ.Studio is the ultimate beginner's DJ app.

  • Build a music library either from digital music stores or streaming platforms.

  • Enjoy your mixing to the max with good headphones and monitor speakers.

  • Take your DJing to the next level with a controller or a standalone CDJs or turntables.

The First Things You Need to Start DJ Mixing#

Today, the only two things you need to get started in DJing are a standard laptop computer, and an intuitive DJ mixing program like DJ.Studio.

Laptop DJing is fun.

DJ Laptop Specifications#

Laptop Speed#

Traditionally, music software made for live performance such as Ableton Live required fairly high-powered machines. To run smoothly, producers and DJs needed the latest Macbooks or gaming laptops with powerful processors and plenty of RAM.

Nowadays, specialized lightweight DJing programs like DJ.Studio can be used even with a modest notebook, especially if you’re using it without any hardware.

Any laptop with at least a 2-core processor and 8GB of RAM should be enough to provide a smooth performance.

DJ Laptop Physical Storage Space#

High-quality MP3s and especially WAV files eat up a fair amount of space on your physical storage drive. Whether you have an SSD (Solid State Drive) or an HDD (Hard Disk Drive) in your laptop, you’ll want at least 16GB of free storage space to file your tunes, and store your recorded mixes.

As your digital music collection expands, you’ll need more memory, and you might consider storing some of it on an external SSD or HDD, or cloud storage.

DJ Laptop Screen Size#

 DJ Laptop Screen

How big your screen will be for your DJing hobby is a personal preference, but most DJs enjoy using medium-large screens.

  • A 13” screen gives you the most portable laptop and is handy to slip into your bag if you enjoy working on your mixes while on the train or at your local cafe. But many people find the size a bit restrictive when checking out waveforms, playing with effects panels, etc.

  • A 15” screen is a happy medium for most DJs. It’s small enough to be portable, and large enough to fit everything you need on your screen easily.

  • 17” screens are popular with some music producers and DJs looking for a bit of extra space on their interface. For concise programs like DJ.Studio, 17” might be a bit overkill, but if your eyesight is not so sharp, a bigger screen can make things easier on your eyes.

Laptop Operating System#

The debate about Windows vs Mac is now a bit outdated. Macbooks, which are favoured by numerous professionals, continue to be exceptional tools for DJing.

Modern Windows operating systems, however, are now very stable, and as long as you have a fast enough processor and enough RAM to drive it, windows should be just as good.

At present there is only one DJ software app for Linux operating systems, and that’s Mixxx.

Number of Laptop Ports#

As you progress in your DJing journey, you may find yourself plugging more and more accessories into your laptop. External hard drives, sound cards, and controllers all require USB ports, so having a laptop with enough ports is a good idea from the beginning. Don't forget to buy a USB cable too!

DJ Mixing Software#

Now that you know which type of laptop you’ll need, let’s talk about DJ mixing software.

What is DJ Mixing Software?#

DJ.Studio Carousel View

DJ software is basically a virtual version of a physical DJ setup, in other words: turntables or CDJs and a DJ mixer.

Instead of two vinyl, CD, or media player decks, most DJing software offers four or more virtual decks to load tracks onto. Just as with physical decks, you have a Pitch fader to adjust the track speed, and usually a looping function, too.

In place of a physical mixer, you get virtual mixing controls on the screen which offer you the same basic volume faders, crossfader, and EQs.

Because space is not an issue, your software's mixer may also offer you extra features like filters, effects, and editing tools that go beyond what you can fit on a physical mixer.

Different Types of DJing Software#

Here are some of the most popular DJ software options currently on the market:

  • Serato DJ Pro - Compatible with most brands of controllers and good for live performance. Serato DJ lite is a free version with limited features.

  • Native Instruments Traktor Pro – Operating since way back in the year 2000, this powerful software is useful for experimental DJs who enjoy playing with endless effects and the ability to chop tracks into separate bass lines, vocals, percussion, etc.

  • Pioneer rekordbox DJ - Fairly limited in features but with useful music library management tools. A copy of rekordbox DJ always comes with Pioneer DJing hardware for mapping with their controllers and CDJ players.

  • DJ.Studio – A brand new innovative app that allows even beginners to create polished mixes. Also a great time-saving tool for radio DJs and those looking to put out abundant mixes in a short space of time. Let's find out why.

Why DJ.Studio is Ideal for Beginners#

There are a few reasons why DJ.Studio can beginner DJs to learn DJ mixing. The tool is very great at helping you with some basic DJing principles, which you will gradually learn while making your DJ mixes. You can even use it on a mobile device like your phone or tablet!

Beat Matching#

Beat matching is the art of synchronizing the beats and tempo between two tracks so that you can transition from one to another in a seamless way.

Each track has its own tempo that’s measured in BPM (beats per minute), and different tracks (and especially different EDM genres) have different BPM rates. To mix tracks together, you need to choose two songs within the same BPM range and make fine adjustments to sync them perfectly.

This used to be one the hardest skills to learn in DJing, but modern technology has changed that. DJ.Studio not only beat matches different tunes for you but also arranges playlists in an intelligent sequence so that tracks with a similar BPM sit side-by-side. This way each track’s original BPM only needs to be shifted by the minimum degree to transition perfectly.

Harmonic Mixing#

Harmonic mixing

Just as every track has its own tempo, each song also has its own harmonic properties known as its musical key. Since the tracks in a particular key will only pefectly harmonize with other tracks in a compatible key, DJs would traditionally have to use tools like the Camelot wheel to figure out which tracks could be mixed harmonically.

DJ.Studio also identifies the key of each tune and arranges your playlist in the perfect order so that tracks with compatible harmonics are lined up one after another.

This takes a lot of the pain out of learning to DJ and also can save massive amounts of time for even pro DJs when sequencing a long playlist.

Automix Functions#

When I used to make radio shows, I was always amazed at how long putting together and mixing my playlists would take.

The automix function in DJ.Studio uses algorithms to compile and mix your playlist in an intelligent sequence. You can then tweak the playlist order and transitions as you wish.

Build Your DJ Music Library#

Music library

Now that you’ve got your laptop and software, all you need to get started is some tunes!

In the days of vinyl records, DJs used to spend their lives scouring record shops for the latest 12 inches and lug around huge sacks of records with them to live venues.

Nowadays, the digital revolution has meant you can keep an almost indefinite music library on a single hard drive, and online stores have made it easier than ever to discover and collect amazing music.

Digital Music Formats#

The main two music formats that DJs use are MP3s and WAV. While MP3s are lightweight and don’t take up so much disk space, WAV files have a superior quality sound.

Sound quality, or bitrate, is measured in kbps (kilobytes per second) and while MP3s have a maximum sound quality of 320kbps, WAV files are encoded at 1411kbps.

Whether you can hear this sound quality difference is up for debate, with many experts arguing that you’d need an acoustically perfect environment to hear the difference between 320kbps MP3 and WAV. If storage space is an issue, I’d recommend 320kbps MP3s! The difference will be easily heard on a club sound system not just an acoustically perfect environment. To make sure that your tunes are really the quality that their bitrate says they are, though, you’ll need to buy and download from reputable digital stores!

Where to Source Digital Music#

Beatport MP3 Store

You can find plenty of music within the EDM genre from all the usual digital music outlets like iTunes, Amazon, and 7digital.

But for keeping the pulse on the latest EDM releases, and unearthing some underground gems, you might want to check out specialized stores such as:

  • Beatport.com – the kings of the EDM scene, Beatport has been the go-to online store for DJs for years. Search by precise EDM categories, and even sort tunes by their musical key!

  • Bleep.com – a precious underground music resource for the digital age. Find music from talented producers and exciting labels that other DJs have never heard of.

  • Bandcamp.com – for every type of music, including plenty of EDM. Most of your purchase goes straight to the artist, so it’s a great way to support up-and-coming producers!

Once you’ve established your musical library, your software will index your songs so that you easily search for and select them for your mix. DJ.Studio lists every track’s musical key as well as BPM, so you can see right away which tunes will make the best fit your mix.

Streaming Music for Your DJ Sets#

These days, modern software has made it possible to stream music directly into your DJ mix. Programs like DJ.Studio allow you to search music on streaming services like Youtube, and Spotify to get inspiration. You do need to buy the songs before you can export an official mix.

In the long run, though, it’s a good idea to have copies of your favorite tracks in MP3s or WAV that you can always rely on. Remember that buying music helps to support hardworking artists, too!

To get your first taste of mixing, don't listen to anyone who says you can't use your laptop speakers! But to get the most out of the sounds you’re working with, it’s a great idea to invest in a good pair of headphones and some decent monitor speakers, too.

DJ Headphones#

DJ Headphones

A decent pair of headphones is a must-have for any serious DJ. For starters, headphones allow you to enjoy mixing discreetly. Whether you’re on a train, or just don’t want to disturb your housemates at 3 am, headphones allow you to enjoy your music at full volume without anyone else needing to know about it.

High-definition headphones also allow you to hear your music in crystal clear quality so that you can appreciate the production skills of your tunes to a new level.

As you progress with your DJing skills, headphones also allow you to preview and ‘cue’ incoming tracks before dropping them into the mix. This is crucial when playing live with hardware controllers or mixers – we’ll talk more about that in a minute...

DJ Speakers#

Although you can enjoy learning to mix with a pair of headphones or a mini Bluetooth speaker, at some point you’ll just be itching to know how your mix would sound in a club. Your best option to get a simulation for that in a small space is a pair of monitor speakers.

Monitor speakers or ‘studio speakers’ are smallish speakers that a DJ or musician uses to listen to or ‘monitor’ an accurate representation of their sound output. They’re also used in clubs, facing back to the DJ so he or she can hear the output clearly without distortion.

How much bass you’ll be able to produce with your speakers depends on the size of the woofers. A pair of monitor speakers typically come with 3, 4, 5, 6, or 8-inch woofers. Studio monitors are typically designed to be positioned close to you (near-field) at ear level, so you can enjoy the full impact of the sound without crazy volumes.

For most bedroom DJs, 4-5 inch woofers will be plenty. The last thing you want early on in your career is constant hassle from your neighbors, complaining of the bass frequencies that are making their bed tremble in the middle of the night!

Monitor Speakers vs Hifi Speakers#

Whereas monitors are active speakers with their own amp and EQs built in, Hifi speakers are passive, meaning you need an external amp to power them.

A Hifi system is not designed to give you the same accuracy and clarity of sound that studio monitors provide, but if you already have one set up, there's no harm in plugging your laptop into it before investing in monitors.

DJ Hardware - Taking Your DJing to the Next Level#

DJ hardware accessories

If you’ve mastered your DJ mixing set using just a laptop and a mouse pointer, you might start thinking about stepping up your game with some DJ hardware.

DJ Hardware Accessories#

DJ Controllers#

DJ controllers make the 2-dimensional world of DJ programs 3D by giving you a hands-on tool that you can use to control the DJ program.

Usually, controllers come in a single unit that mimics the functions of two decks and a DJ mixer. They incorporate a set of jog wheels, tempo faders, volume faders, and a crossfader, along with several buttons and knobs, which enable you to effectively manage your software.

DJ Controller

These knobs and dials are 'mapped onto' your DJ program, either automatically, or manually, so that, for example, when you raise the volume fader on your controller, it also goes up on your screen. Jog wheels are used to jog or nudge a track back or forth for precision beat matching, and high-quality jog wheels can even be used for scratching!

Controllers help you to take command of your mix in real-time by making the DJing experience more tactile. With one hand you can be boosting EQs, while you’re raising the volume fader with the other.

Many DJ controllers will also feature built-in sound cards. More on that in a minute.

CDJs and Standalone DJ Systems#

You may have seen DJs playing with the legendary Pioneer CDJs, XDJs, or other similar standalone media players. From the outside, they may look quite similar to controllers, so what’s the difference between them?

The biggest difference is that CDJs and other similar standalone media players don’t need any software to run off. Pioneer CDJs were originally created for mixing CDs, and later developed the capacity to play digital files directly from USB drives and SD cards. Now Pioneer has also created the XDJ series that is similar but without the CD players.

Pioneer standalone system

Standalone systems indicate the musical key and BPM of each track to help the DJ with beat matching and harmonic mixing without external software in a live setting.

As well as playing from USB drives, stand-alones can also be plugged into a laptop and used as controllers for various DJ software apps. So which one should you choose?

Software Controllers vs CDJs and Standalone DJ Systems#

Usability#

If you’re a beginner, there’s no doubt that software can make life a lot easier for you. Modern DJ programs match the beats and harmonics, and can even order your playlists to save you a lot of time and struggle in learning.

Quality#

Since standalone DJ players tend to be made for professionals playing live, they’re usually made from top-quality components. The jog wheels are made to feel and function like the best vinyl decks, and the onboard sound cards on premium CDJ and XDJ models are second to none.

DJ controllers, on the other hand, vary enormously in terms of quality. Jog wheels and faders on beginner DJ controllers can be flimsy and unreliable, and those with built-in sound cards may leak a lot of the signal strength, rendering them unsuitable to use with a PA system.

The best DJ controllers, on the other hand, give you most of the same benefits as the standalone players, except for needing software to power them.

Cost#

One of the biggest differences between DJ controllers and standalone decks is cost.

CDJs and XDJs traditionally came as two decks that you’d need to plug into a DJ mixer. Since its premium DJing gear, buying all three units separately can cost you a large amount!

In recent years Pioneers have put together an all-in-one standalone XDJ system that includes two decks and a mixer in a single unit. Examples are the Pioneer XDJ-RX3, Pioneer XDJ-XZ. Other brands have also come up with similar units like the Denon PRIME 4.

These all-in-one solutions have made standalone DJ systems much more affordable, but they still tend to cost much more than even the best DJ controllers.

Weighing it up!#

If you’re a beginner, I’d always recommend getting to grips with DJing software and a controller before leaping into expensive stand-alone players. Controllers are much more affordable, and give you all the help of DJ software to make mixing easier.

The excellent pioneer DJ DDJ controller series for example costs a fraction of the price compared to their standalone XDJ and CDJ cousins!

Audio Interfaces and Sound Cards#

External sound card

To DJ live, you need to be able to split the audio of the two tracks playing into two separate stereo outputs. This allows you to listen to and prepare (or 'cue') the next track in your headphones before transitioning it into the main output. For this, you'll need some sort of sound card or audio interface with multiple output channels.

While high-end DJ controllers and all standalone players will have a sound card built-in, entry-level models may simply work as MIDI controllers without any outputs or headphone sockets. If your controller doesn’t have a sound card built-in, you’ll need to buy a separate audio interface to be able to cue the tracks when playing live.

Sound cards, whether external or built into a controller, vary in quality. Cheap sound cards tend to lose a lot of signal strength as the audio output passes through them and are unsuitable for use with PA speakers.

Sound cards also differ in the types and numbers of inputs and outputs they have. While entry-level controllers typically have RCA (aka phono outputs), more advanced models have XLR outputs, which are essential for a larger sound system to overcome signal loss and hum.

If you’re thinking about playing live, you’ll also want the soundcard in your controller to have a ‘BOOTH’ output for the monitor speakers. A mic input is handy if you ever want to be accompanied by an MC!

Mic input for DJ MC

Summary#

To get started in DJing, the only DJ equipment you need is a laptop and some good software.

Decent headphones and a solid speaker system will also help you listen to your mix in higher definition and give you an idea of how it will sound live.

DJ skills to the next level, I recommend getting a DJ controller to control your software. When you become a pro, you can start thinking about investing in standalone DJ setups!

Beginner DJ Gear FAQs

Can I use a desktop computer for DJing?
I don't have a musical background, can I still learn to DJ?
How much does a beginner DJ setup cost?

Excited to start mixing?