Getting into the art of DJing is a challenging yet rewarding experience. One of the most difficult decisions to make is which DJ equipment is best to start with. When setting up your home DJ studio you want to make sure that the equipment you spend your hard earned money on is going to meet your needs. You want it to allow you to have heaps of fun while also giving you all the tools to become a master DJ.
Technology has opened the doors to budding DJs with a massive amount of equipment available. From the ultra-budget options to the top of the line industry standard gear there is something for everyone. Picking through all the choices can be daunting so this guide is designed to make that choice easier. Let’s dive in and explore everything you need to know when it comes to DJ equipment for beginners.
Types of DJ Setups
In the old days, there wasn’t much choice when it came to DJ setups but as technology has evolved the options have expanded. Before you look at getting your first bit of gear it’s good to know the various benefits and drawbacks of the various DJ setups available.
Turntable DJ Setup
The original and still considered to be the best by many DJ’s. A turntable setup is the purest form of DJing. Up until about the year 2000, it was the only way someone could get into the art of DJing.
This setup is usually made up of two independent turntables connected to a central mixer but that’s not all you’ll need. You’ll also need two cartridges (the needles that read the vinyl records). Slipmats are also needed to place between the platter and your records and of course some vinyl records!
There is no denying that hunting down vinyl records is fun. You then have that intimate tactile control over the music which cannot be replicated. This is why many DJs choose this setup. Learning to scratch and beatmatch on turntables is very challenging but at the same time extremely rewarding. Once you have mastered the skills on turntables it will be very easy to apply those same skills to any other type of DJ setup.
As a beginner DJ, this can be a daunting prospect. The process of mixing is manual. It requires you to start the record at the right time and beatmatch the two vinyl records so that they are in sync. Additionally, it can take a lot of time (and a lot of money!) to build a solid collection of vinyl records. If budget is a concern this may not be the best option for you. This setup will also demand a fair bit of space as you will need the adequate storage for your vinyl records.
While turntables are considered old-school this type of DJ setup has also benefited from technology. You can now connect your equipment to your computer or laptop via an audio interface. This allows you to take advantage of modern DJ software that has been specially tailored towards the vinyl enthusiast. Keep in mind this is an added expense.
If you have the time and motivation to learn DJing from the ground up a turntable DJ setup is a great choice. If you’re on a tight budget and you would prefer to use CDs or digital files this setup will not be a good choice.
CDJ DJ Setup
As technology evolved so did the DJ setup. When CDs exploded in popularity it was only a matter of time before the DJ world had to adapt. This revolution transformed the DJ scene and to this day the CDJ setup is the primary setup you will likely find at any club.
This setup is usually made up of two CDJ units as well as a central mixer. These units tend to be built to withstand the rigours of endless nights of use in nightclubs. They tend to last a long time and often have the best range of connection options.
One of the downsides to this setup is cost. A proper CDJ setup will set you back a lot more money than an all in one DJ controller. If you have your heart set on learning on the equipment that is found in nightclubs this will be a good choice for you.
Modern CDJ’s can play music from CDs or from a USB thumb drive so you can jump right in with the music that is in your music library already. The CDJ setup also gives you access to a lot more features than a traditional vinyl setup. Once you have mastered the basics it will give you access to plenty of creative mixing options and features. This way you can continue to improve and hone your craft.
CDJ setups can be connected to a laptop or computer but you do have the flexibility of running them independently from your computer. Many DJ’s prefer to be able to focus on the equipment and music rather than having to stare at their laptop.
While not as tactile as turntables you can still scratch effectively on CDJ’s. If this style of DJing is appealing to you rest assured you can still get experience an authentic scratch experience.
If budget is no barrier and you want to use the equipment that the pros use this setup is a fantastic option for you. If you do want to start with a setup that is more compact and not as expensive you may want to hold off on committing to a full CDJ setup.
DJ Controller Setup
The largest growth in the DJ market has come from the invention of the DJ controller. What had before been an expensive hobby to get into had become far more affordable. No longer was DJing an elusive unattainable dream.
This setup is usually made up of a dedicated DJ controller that resembles a traditional CDJ setup. Instead of separate components, they are an all-in-one solution. While some controllers can be used as a standalone DJ controller the majority of them need you to connect them to a computer or laptop.
Initially, turntable and CDJ users looked down on these controllers. This has changed due to the rate of progress and the options they offer.
The biggest benefit of DJ controllers is the flexibility in price point. There is a range of affordable DJ controllers. For a few hundred dollars and a laptop, you can be well on your way to playing amazing sets. They allow you to explore and grow your skills with what are often far less intimidating pieces of gear compared to traditional setups. Coupled with great DJ software options it can ease the initial steep learning curve that those traditional setups have. Even a cheap DJ controller can help you learn the basic skills needed for DJing. Many DJ controllers mimic the layout of more traditional setups as well so it isn’t hard to then move up to more advanced gear down the track.
Generally, these setups only play digital files. Considering that most people have a digital music library nowadays it isn’t that much of drawback.
If you do have your heart set on been as authentic as possible a DJ controller may not give you the feeling that turntables or CDJ’s will. Having said that you can get a professional DJ controller that has all the bells and whistles of classic DJ setups. If you are looking for a budget option to get your feet wet in the world of DJing getting a DJ controller for beginners may be your best option. If you do have a larger budget the quality of higher-end DJ controllers can match that of traditional CDJ setups.
You can learn more about the best DJ controller for beginners in our detailed guide here.
Ableton DJ Setup
Accessibility to quality music creation software has grown over the years. You no longer need bulky equipment to create amazing music, especially electronic dance music. If you create music using Ableton you can take your creativity to the next level with this setup.
This setup usually involves a dedicated Ableton controller that you can map specific tracks you have created in Ableton. You can also program in effects or even individual elements so that you can compose and mix your music live.
This type of DJ setup is for those that have already created their own tracks. If you’re an absolute beginner and only looking to play the music you own this setup is not for you. If you have created your own music and want to now explore the world of DJing this setup is a good option. It will allow you to mix your music in the most creative way possible.
Computer Only DJ Setup
You can begin to explore the world of DJing without buying DJ gear.
This setup only requires your computer and an audio interface along with some software. It’s by far the most budget-friendly option but you’ll not get that hands-on feeling that comes from using turntables, CDJs or a controller. It can still be a useful tool if you travel a lot and want to continue to develop your DJ skills or try out different mixes.
If you want to get that “feeling” of DJing this setup is not something I’d recommend. Even if you don’t have much to spend I recommend getting the best budget DJ controller you can afford. However, if you want the absolute most compact setup to be able to mix one track into the next a computer only DJ setup is worth exploring.
Now that we have gone over the various DJ setups you should have a clearer idea of what type of setup you are looking for. We can now narrow that down further by exploring DJ software.
While there are differences between the major DJ software platforms they all will help you to get the basics of DJing right. Don’t worry too much about this if you’re not familiar with the various DJ software platforms.
These days irrespective of what type of setup you use DJ software can play a role in your purchasing decisions. If you already have a particular DJ software package in mind you can explore what gear will be compatible with that software. You can then begin to make choices based on that.
Many controllers can be mapped to different software. A controller sends MIDI signals to the software. These signals can be linked to specific functions in most DJ software platforms.
Many controllers come bundled with the software. When you’re starting out it’s usually best to stick to the software that the controller is designed for. Keep this in mind if you do have a favourite piece of software you want to use.
As a beginner, this will likely be your main determining factor when it comes to the types of equipment you end up getting. Unless you have a lot of money to spend it’s likely your best option will be an entry level DJ controller. Any other setup will go way beyond the budget levels listed below. Where possible try to spend as much as you can afford. Generally the more expensive the controller the more features it has. More expensive controllers tend to also offer better build quality. Let’s check out what you can expect at various budget levels.
Even if you are on a tight budget you can still get the best cheap DJ controller you can afford. They often will be light on features but they still allow you to learn the basics of DJing. The build quality on controllers in this price point tends to be on the lower side. Extra features can also be limited on controllers in this budget range.
Keep in mind what software comes with the controller as well. Often the software included is intro level software so you may need to factor in an upgrade into your budget as well.
If you’re on a tight budget and want to try out DJing you’ll be able to get started at this price point. Just make sure you get the best DJ controller under 300 by checking out DJ controller reviews. Keep in mind if you end up wanting to DJ more often and in a more creative way, you’ll likely need some better gear down the track.
This level gives you extra flexibility to start exploring better brands of equipment. At this price point, you can get a quality Pioneer DJ controller. Other options include a Numark DJ controller or even a Roland DJ controller.
While these controllers don’t have the features of pro-level gear they do offer a good range of features. They often include FX controls and performance pads. These features allow you to evolve your DJing as you become more experienced. The increased build quality is also useful for those that want to scratch as you can get controllers with decent jog wheels at this price point.
Most controllers in this price point will be straight 2-channel controllers. If you want to be able to mix up to 4 tracks at once you may need to spend a bit more to get a 4 channel DJ controller.
As a beginner, this price point is quite attractive as it gives you good gear at an affordable price. It just won’t have all the bells and whistles that come with more expensive controllers.
This level opens up your choices in controllers and offers a good balance between features and affordability. The build quality takes another step up with much better knobs and buttons.
All the major manufacturers have high-quality controllers at this price point and they’re all great choices. It will often come down to personal preference at this stage.
One of the benefits at this price point is you can get controllers which are packed with features. Even with all the extra features, you can still get a solid portable DJ controller. They often resemble the flagship controllers for each manufacturer. This gives you a smooth transition if you end up upgrading to pro level gear down the track.
Many manufacturers offer 4-channel controllers at this price point. If that is something you’re interested in you should be able to find a quality controller that will suit your needs.
With technology improving you can even get a controller that offers screens. This allows you to spend less time looking at your computer. While these are fantastic it can create a more cramped layout as controllers in this price range still try to be compact.
Good build quality and flexible options are easy to find at this price point. You should have no trouble finding a great controller to meet your needs.
In this price range, you’ll find the top DJ controllers. They strike a great balance between pro-level features without pro level price tags. They do tend to be larger than the more budget controllers so if space is an issue keep this in mind.
4-channel controllers are very common in this price range and the materials used are premium quality. Fantastic knobs and pads and intuitive designs make these controllers the premium option for a beginner DJ. The increased quality also translates into better screens for the controllers that do have them. If you want to spend less time staring at your screen consider the controllers in this price point.
While they can appear to be overwhelming the workflows tend to still be straightforward. You can incorporate the other features as your skills improve.
These controllers aren’t the most budget-friendly. They will give you a long-lasting, high-quality controller with all the tools you’ll ever need to become a quality DJ.
Your Setup and Needs
Irrespective of budget there are a few other things to keep in mind when it comes to which gear will be ideal for you as a beginner.
Keep in mind the available space you have to work within your home DJ studio. If you don’t have much space there is nothing wrong with getting the smallest DJ controller even if you can afford a larger more expensive setup. You want to be comfortable when mixing and not spend time setting up your gear every time you want to mix. A smaller controller may also be a better option if you do plan on taking your gear around to a friends house or to parties.
Something else to consider is what your goal is when it comes to your DJ setup. Do you want to master high-level DJ skills with the thought of becoming a professional down the track? If you want to be a professional it’s worth investing a bit more in your DJ setup. You’ll inevitably find your gear is holding back your creativity and progress. It’s also best to begin learning on the best gear you can get your hands on. Do you want to mix your favourite tracks and have some fun at home? If you have no ambitions to be a superstar DJ many of the extra bells and whistles that come with higher end setups are things you’ll likely never use. You can certainly have heaps of fun with a budget controller.
Also factor in the type of DJing you want to do. If scratching is your thing you’ll want a turntable setup or a controller with responsive jog wheels and solid parts. If you want to be throwing samples into your mix and adding layers of effects aim to find a controller with plenty of performance pads and knobs.
Also, don’t get too hung up on the price of the gear. I’ve heard amazing sets performed on entry-level controllers. Building up your skills and practising is more important than how much money you spent. Having said that keep in mind you do get what you pay for and there is a fine line between good value gear and poor quality gear.
Your needs should play the biggest role in your choice even if it means saving up for a bit longer so you can buy the gear you want.
So Which One is The Best For Beginners?
Unfortunately, there is no definitive answer to this as it often comes down to your own needs. Many people go out and buy gear without considering what they plan to use the equipment for. You need to know what type of DJing you want to do. Take a little time to figure this out before spending your hard earned money.
If you had to twist my arm I’d likely recommend the best DJ controller that is appropriate to your budget as the best starting point. It’s a great combination of function and affordability. Gone are the days where DJ equipment was out of reach based on price. If you’re passionate about music and mixing you’ll find plenty of great choices to get you started in the world of DJing!