By: Torrence Phillips
This series of articles will take a comprehensive look at the path of becoming a DJ, including equipment at different levels of expertise, from entry-level to mid-tier to upper-tier. It will cover everything from DJ hardware and software to stands and other ancillary equipment. The first article in this series will provide an overview of DJing and DJ equipment, while subsequent articles will delve into specific equipment options at different levels of expertise. The series will also recommend resources for aspiring DJs to help them achieve their goals.
In the past, DJ equipment consisted of two record players and a crossfader/mixer. However, with the advent of MP3s, record players are no longer commonly used for DJing. Instead, a controller is connected to a computer, allowing the user to control software on the computer. A controller typically includes two platters and a built-in mixer, with most non-motorized pseudo turntables, except for a few exceptions.
The two distinct styles of DJing, battle style mixing and CDJ mixing, have different equipment requirements. Battle-style mixing is commonly associated with hip-hop and turntablism and requires traditional vinyl turntables or digital controllers with motorized platters, as well as a battle-style mixer with features such as crossfaders, inputs for multiple turntables, and effects loops. CDJ mixing, commonly used in electronic dance music (EDM), involves using CDJs to play and mix music and requires a setup with CDJs, a mixer, and a computer or digital music library to load music onto USB sticks. Both styles require skill and practice and are associated with different genres of music. This article will focus on battle-style mixers, which are most used by classic hip-hop and R&B DJs.
At the entry-level, there are four main brands to consider: Pioneer, Numark, Traktor, and Hercules, with multiple software options available that are compatible with specific hardware. One popular entry-level controller is the Pioneer DDJ-SB2, which is a great choice for beginners. This model comes with two non-motorized platters and a built-in mixer, making it a versatile option for those starting out. It costs around $299 and can be found at music stores such as Sam Ash, Guitar Center, the DJ Hookup, Zzounds, and Sweetwater. These stores usually have competitive pricing, making them a better option than purchasing on Amazon.
Other entry-level controllers to consider include the Numark Mixtrack Platinum FX, the Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3, and the Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500. All of these controllers offer unique features and pricing options, making it easier to find the perfect fit for your specific needs and budget.
Moving up to a mid-tier controller, we have the DDJ-SX3, a four-channel mixer that costs around $999. Though it has some comparable peers, the DDJ-1000SRT is a better option for experienced DJs who use Serato Pro. Priced at around $1,100, it’s considered the new gold standard for mid-range price with its 7-inch platters. The DDJ-Flex is also a great starting unit, though not as nice as the 1000SRT. DJ DP has been seen to use the DDJ-Flex and excel on it.
We recommend controllers with moving platters for those looking to step up their game and learn how to scratch. This category has two worth mentioning: the Rev-7 by Pioneer and the Rane One. Both units have high-end “battle style” mixers/controllers, making them the best options available. The Rev 7 is priced at $2,100, while DJ DP was seen spinning on the Rane One ($1900) at the headshot lounge. Being a controller, it’s portable and easy to transport.
For individuals who are serious about DJing, it’s essential to conduct thorough research on which components will work best for their needs. If they plan to use records, they will need a high-torque record player and be selective about needles and stylus choices. Most DJs have moved to the digital vinyl system or (DVS). Controllers are all DVS based, and a piece of equipment called Phase allows DJs to control the playback speed and position of digital music files using traditional turntables. Phase costs around $400 for a set of two, while turntables can range from decent (Reloop at $700) to excellent (Technique at $1200). Most DJs prefer to have one turntable playing while the other is mixing, so you’ll likely need two turntables. An alternate is the Rane MK12 platter, the gold standard in a so far-competed market; this platter is pure DVS but functions similarly to a record player using Phase in both function and form.
Additionally, a mixer is required in this setup, as controllers have built-in mixers and turntables. Personally, we recommend the Pioneer DJM-S11, priced at $2,100-$2,500, with the best prices typically available from the DJ sources listed above. If the person is a Rane user, like DJ DP, then the Rane 72 is a comparable option and the goto equipment for many DJs. DJ DP and I both prefer the Rane MK12 platters over record players with Phase.
Although there are less expensive options available, the only other choice for this setup besides the Rev 7 is the DJM-S7, which is an upgrade to Pioneer’s previous top-of-the-line battle mixer, is the S9. Those on a tight budget can consider the Rane 5 or Reloop Elite as an entry-level option for battle DJ setups. However, Rev-7 or Rane One owner would likely skip this level and go for a higher-end mixer like the DJM-S7, S9, S11, or Rane 70 or 72. As for aspiring DJs, personal preferences vary, but the DJM-S11 is the target mixer for this author.
For those interested in CDJ mixing, which is typically used in club settings, it’s important to note that electronic dance music and MP3 technology were introduced around the same time. CDJ controllers are designed for use with CDs, as opposed to traditional vinyl records. The mixing style for CDJs is different from that of traditional turntables, as the emphasis is on multiple channels and looping rather than scratching. While my knowledge in this area is limited, I recommend the equipment discussed above up to the mid-tier level, as the Rane One/Rev 7 controllers are better suited for CDJ mixing. A quick search revealed that the DJM-900NXS2 and the DJM-V10 are popular choices for EDM setups.
- Pioneer DDJ-SB2
- Pioneer Rev 1
- Pioneer FLX4
- Pioneer DDJ-SX3
- Pioneer DDJ-1000SRT
- Pioneer FLX6
- Rane One
- Pioneer Rev 7
End Game (components)
- Pioneer DJM 7, 9 or 11 (9 predates 7)
- Rane 70, 72
- Reloop or Technique + Phaser
- Rane Twelve MKII
- Pioneer DDJ-SB2
- Pioneer DDJ-SX3
- Pioneer Rev 7
- Next up DJM-11 and Rane Twelve MKII (piece by piece).