DJ Equipment for Beginners: What DJ Gear Do You Really Need?
So you’ve decided to take the first step to become a DJ. First of all, congratulations!
DJing is one of those things where the best way to get started is to just dive right in and begin. If you have a passion for music — and a desire to curate your own parties — you have everything you need to begin. In this guide, I’ll cover some considerations as well as offer you some “philosophical” insight into not only the “what” but the “why” of making your decision.
This article on DJ equipment for beginners is broken down into the following sections:
- Buy the right DJ equipment
- Understand what pro DJs use
- Decide to NOT be a Laptop DJ!
- Consider buying the XDJ-RX or XDJ-RX2 (USED!)
- Buy robust headphones that get LOUD!
How do you choose the right equipment when there are so many options competing for your attention and dollars?
In any case, the first step is to commit to buying SOMETHING and to just get started.
So let’s dive right in!
Bet on Yourself: Buy the Right DJ Equipment
One of the best moments of my life was when an older friend encouraged me to buy two Technics turntables and a mixer in my freshman year of college. At the time, I was flat broke and the cost seemed insane to me. He convinced me to take on extra shifts at my job, bite the bullet, and just “make it happen” even though I was a poor college student living on ramen.
In short? It was the best decision of my life.
In those days, it was immediately clear what equipment was needed for a serious DJ. Technics were the de-facto standard for vinyl DJs. These days, there are many, many more competitors on the market.
Ranging from cheap, entry-level controllers all the way up to Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2, it’s clear that you can spend either a few hundred getting started or north of $6,000.
While I don’t believe that you need to start by spending $6,000 on beginner DJ equipment, I also don’t believe that the cheapest controller is worth the money either.
I’ve spent years looking at the options and I believe I’ve found the perfect choice for something that’s serious enough to work for you but that won’t break the bank.
That said, if you’re in a position where you CAN spend the money, you can’t possibly go wrong with buying the industry standard Pioneer CDJ-2000NXS2 and DJM-900 system.
Simply put, virtually every club and festival in the world uses this system, so if your goal is to someday be playing these venues, eventually you WILL have to understand how to use this setup.
So why buy something today that won’t translate to the “pro” gear later?
Understand What Pro DJs Use and Plan Your Roadmap Accordingly
Sometimes in life, we tend to ask “why” and get paralyzed.
Many of my students often say “but why should I choose Pioneer when Denon is just as good?” And so on and so forth.
Is Denon just as good these days? Probably!
But does it matter?
Because as I said, every club and festival in the world that you care about will have the Pioneer set up. And a comparative few will have Denon or any other brand.
So even though we COULD buy anything, trust me when I say you will make your life infinitely easier if you practice with the same equipment you will ultimately find in the club when you book your first gig.
So the question is: if I can’t afford the top-of-the-line system today, are there any beginner DJ systems that will teach me what I need for the best system? How can I practice without wasting time?
The first answer is to stay in the Pioneer ecosystem.
Many of Pioneer’s cheaper controllers have the same layout and feel of their “pro” systems.
In practical terms, this means that devices like the XDJ-RX2 will “translate” to the CDJ/DJM system very easily: The buttons are in the same general location, the concepts are the same, and your muscle memory will serve you well down the road.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other brands!
I should note at this point that I’m NOT affiliated with Pioneer or endorsed or paid by them in any way. It’s simply the industry standard. When the whole world changes, my opinion may very well change, but until then, it is what it is….
Decide to NOT Be a Laptop DJ!
You’ve heard the expression “every square is a rectangle, but not every rectangle is a square”, haven’t you?
Well in my experience, any DJ who can play seamlessly with vinyl turntables can achieve sheer perfection on CDJs or newer equipment.
But the opposite is 100% NOT TRUE.
If there’s a single “problem” with aspiring DJs today, it’s that they rely too heavily on technology to mix for them.
They use their computer screen…
They line up tracks with their eyes and not their ears…
They use the “sync” button to mix…
They are lost without the aids of modern technology.
People think that DJing is about seamless mixing. That’s partly true.
Another major part is dealing with when things go wrong. If you can imagine something going wrong in front of a crowd, it WILL go wrong.
If you rely on technology to DJ, and it fails you, you won’t have any fundamentals to fall back on. What if the sync button doesn’t work? What if the BPM detection is wrong?
That’s why, in truth, the best thing you could do to be a “real” DJ is to learn to mix on vinyl. Since that’s not really practical these days, you can at least commit to NOT needing your laptop to DJ.
Here are a few reasons why I don’t recommend you use laptops to DJ:
- It creates a worse experience for the crowd. When you’re looking at your computer, you aren’t looking at the audience. You could be checking your email for all they know.
- You need to bring all kinds of extra cables and gear with you, you need a power source, etc.
- I’ve personally seen even big DJs have their laptops crash MULTIPLE times on stage.
- When things go seriously, unrecoverably wrong in a live setting, a laptop is usually to blame.
- If your computer DOES crash (which it will), it takes several minutes to reboot it and get up and running again.
- You basically need to bring two laptops with you to every gig to be safe (which is what Paul van Dyk does, and yes, I’ve seen his computer crash twice in the same live set.)
- It takes longer to set-up and breakdown.
These days, if you don’t use a laptop to DJ, you will be playing off USB sticks.
Here are a few reasons why playing off USB sticks is better than DJing from a laptop:
- You can interact with the crowd!
- The only thing you need to bring to ANY gig is two/three USB sticks and your headphones.
- It’s extremely easy to set up and leave a gig — just plug and play, unplug and leave!
- No club or venue will have to do anything special to accommodate your set, which everyone will appreciate. Trust me.
- You will learn to mix with your ears and not your eyes.
You don’t need to buy professional DJ equipment new! This gear holds its value extremely well, and Pioneer makes products that are built to last for years in harsh conditions. You can save hundreds of dollars by buying used, and if you change your mind, you can probably sell the gear for the same amount you paid for it.
Consider Buying the XDJ-RX or XDJ-RX2 (USED!)
Once you’ve made the decision to ditch the laptop, you’re well ahead of the pack.
This is where I recommend the XDJ-RX series of Pioneer controllers.
Why is the XDJ-RX a good choice for the beginner DJ?
- You don’t need a laptop — you use USB sticks just like the “pro” systems.
- The controls are VERY similar to the CDJ/DJM set-up, so when you use these advanced systems, they will feel 100% familiar to you and your muscle memory.
- It’s an all-in-one package that you can bring with you in a suitcase to a gig if the venue doesn’t have a set up
- It’s extremely easy to plug-in and disconnect from a sound system.
- It’s modestly priced.
So yes, you’ll have to spend over a thousand dollars, but this is the case of “make it happen.”
Just do it.
The cheaper options won’t serve you as well, and they won’t translate as well.
If you’re going to start, you might as well start with the right gear that will increase your chances of long-term success.
Here’s the best part:
You don’t need to buy professional DJ equipment new! This gear holds its value extremely well, and Pioneer makes products that are built to last for years in harsh conditions.
You can save hundreds of dollars by buying used, and if you change your mind, you can probably sell the gear for the same amount you paid for it.
Buy Robust Headphones That Get LOUD!
This is a big one.
Since all you need to go to gigs is your headphones and some USB sticks, make sure you get good headphones that are designed for DJing.
They need to get loud enough to compete with the soundsystems of large venues, and they need to be sturdy enough to withstand years of abuse.
As for which brand, this is really more of a personal preference thing. V-Moda, Pioneer, Sennheiser — there are many great brands now. Just go to your local audio store and find the ones that are right for you.
Again, make sure they get LOUD without distorting and that they have a sturdy construction.
That’s all for now, I hope this helps you!
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