Best DJ Equipment For Beginners

Buying the best DJ equipmentBefore you begin buying any DJ equipment, you need to decide what kind setup you want to use. Some people will tell you a traditional setup of two turntables and a mixer is the only way to learn, while others recommend a computer and software setup for the low startup cost.

These days, you are better off choosing an option in between and most professional DJs would seem to agree with me: the majority use a set of turntables in combination with a laptop and DJ software. For that reason, a controller setup is the best DJ equipment for beginners.

Here are the basic setup options:

  1. Vinyl turntable setup (including both digital setups and traditional)
  2. CD turntable setup (including both digital setups and traditional)
  3. DJ Controller setup — my recommended beginner DJ equipment
  4. Computer-only setup

All links below go to the corresponding Amazon page, where you can find more info on the products.

 

I. Vinyl Turntable Setup

The traditional DJ setup using two turntables and a mixer. These days, most DJs use this setup in conjunction with a laptop and DJ software, allowing them to spin both vinyl and digital files using the traditional turntables. Here are the basic pieces of equipment you will need:

1. Two turntables

  • the Technics SL1200MK5 turntable is still the industry standard and the preferred turntable of most professional DJs. The problem? It has been discontinued. You can still find them if you look hard enough, though (the link goes to Amazon who sometimes have them available).
  • the Audio Technica AT-LP1240 is almost as good and is quite a bit cheaper
  • the Audio-Technica AT-LP120 is even cheaper, but still an excellent alternative to the 1200MK5; I recommend this turntable for beginners

2. Two Cartridges (included with some turntables)

3. A mixer

  • the Rane TTM 56S Mixer is one of the most popular among professional DJs, but it has the price tag to match
  • if you want something more basic, the DJTECH DIF1S is an excellent choice
  • personally, I would just get a controller, like the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MKII; not only is it a great mixer, but it comes with an audio interface, Traktor Scratch Pro 2 software and control vinyls and CDs, allowing you to mix CD or vinyl turntables as well as a laptop or USB. See the Controller Setup section below for more options

4. Two Slipmats (included with some turntables)

 

5. Headphones

  • a lot of beginning DJs spend too much on other equipment and end up skimping on headphones; they always end up regretting this decision; I recommend the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones, which aren’t cheap,  but still cost less than most, while delivering similar quality
  • if you can’t afford to spend quite so much, the Audio-Technica ATH-M30 headphones cost $100 less and are perfectly fine while starting out

6. Computer (optional)

 

7. Interface package (optional)

  • Many DJs prefer the Serato Scratch Live interfaces (SL2, SL3 or SL4), but they are much more expensive than Traktor and compatible mixers cost quite a bit more as well
  • I recommend Traktor as it is a much cheaper system and I find it offers everything I need; quite a few DJs actually prefer it to Serato; I’d get the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MKII (mentioned above), since it includes a mixer in the price, making it a great deal. If you don’t need a mixer and just want the interface package, you can get Traktor Scratch Audio 10 or the older and cheaper Traktor Scratch Audio 6.

The main advantage of vinyl over CD turntables is the lower cost. Apart from that, some DJs simply feel that this is the only “true” way to DJ and that turntables offer the most hands-on control over the record.

On the other hands, records are large and more cumbersome to lug around to a gig. They are also harder to find. While spinning, records can skip and they have to be cued manually by backspinning. Traditional turntables also require the purchase of cartridges, needles and slipmats, which are an additional expense.

 

II. CD Turntable Setup

These days, many professional DJs prefer a CD setup to traditional turntables, especially when combined with a laptop and DJ software. It offers the most flexibility among all the setups, but CD decks are not cheap. The basic equipment you will need:

1. Two CD Turntables

  • You can’t beat Pioneer’s CDJ line-up, but their players are pricey. The Pioneer CDJ-2000 is their flagship product and the one most pros use. If you’re strapped for cash, as many beginners are, the Pioneer CDJ350S is a much cheaper alternative and it still does a great job.

2. A mixer

  • the Rane TTM 56S Mixer is one of the most popular among professional DJs, but it has the price tag to match
  • if you want something more basic, the DJTECH DIF1S is an excellent choice
  • personally, I recommend the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MKII; not only is it a great mixer, but it comes with an audio interface, Traktor Scratch Pro 2 software and control vinyls and CDs, allowing you to mix CD or vinyl turntables as well as a laptop or USB

3. Headphones

  • a lot of beginning DJs spend too much on other equipment and end up skimping on headphones; they always end up regretting this decision; I recommend the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 headphones, which aren’t cheap,  but still cost less than most, while delivering similar quality
  • if you can’t afford to spend quite so much, the Audio-Technica ATH-M30 headphones cost $100 less and are perfectly fine while starting out

4. Computer (optional)

 

5. Interface package (optional)

  • Most DJs prefer the Serato Scratch Live interfaces (SL2, SL3 or SL4), but they are much more expensive than Traktor and compatible mixers cost quite a bit more as well
  • I recommend Traktor as it is a much cheaper system and I find it offers everything I need; quite a few DJs actually prefer it to Serato; I’d get the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MKII (mentioned above), since it includes a mixer in the price, making it a great deal. If you don’t need a mixer and just want to Traktor software package, you can get Traktor Scratch Audio 10 or the older and cheaper Traktor Scratch Audio 6.

 

III. Controller Setup (best DJ equipment for beginners)

This is the best DJ setup for beginners, as there is no real need for turntables if you do not already have a large vinyl or CD collection. A controller gives you the same physical touch aspect as a traditional turntable and allows you to manipulate digital files the same way you would a record. You still get the same control as you would with a traditional setup, at a fraction of the startup cost. Here’s what you’ll need:

1. DJ Controller

Serato System

Most professional DJs prefer the Serato software system. It’s expensive, but if you get the software bundled with a controller and an audio interface, you won’t have to buy any other equipment (assuming you already have a laptop).

Most DJs consider the Pioneer Pro DJ DDJ-SX2 DJ Controller the ultimate setup for Serato DJ software. I don’t disagree, but the Numark NV DJ Controller is almost as good and considerably less expensive.

Then, of course, there’s the beast: the Numark NS7III. It’s huge, heavy and expensive. It’s also amazing. You probably don’t need it though.

Traktor System

If you prefer the Traktor software system (as I do), your best bet is a Native Instruments controller (they make Traktor). With third-party controllers, jog-wheel performance suffers a bit and the software can be difficult to map to the controller.

The Traktor Kontrol S8 DJ Controller is their top-of-the-line model, but the Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2 is more than enough for most people’s needs and and especially for beginning DJs. It costs quite a bit less than the S8, too. Unless you need all the functions of the S8, you can save a lot of money here.

Cheaper Options

Check out this page for a ton of other controllers. You’ll see you don’t have to spend much at all to get a good one bundled with a top DJ software package. You can get everything you need to begin DJing (again, assuming you have a laptop) for around $250.

Just make sure the controller will do everything you need it to. And if you do plan on DJing professionally, you’ll probably want to go with a higher-end controller right from the beginning; but even then, you’ll see you can get a good one for a lot less than you might think.

2. Computer

 

3. DJ Software (included with a controller)

Controllers will always include DJ software, but many of the cheaper controllers do not come with the pro versions. Instead, they are bundled with an intro version of the software and you will have to upgrade, which will cost you more money. Make sure to read the specifications carefully, so you know exactly which version of the software you get.

4. Audio Interface (included with the controller)

Usually, you will get an interface together with the controller, but if you really just need an audio interface on its own, here’s a good one from Steinberg that offers all the functionality any DJs will ever need.

 

IV. Computer-Only Setup

This is the cheapest setup if you are just starting out, especially if you already have a computer. You simply need to get some DJ software and you can start mixing, although you’ll definitely want an audio interface to allow multiple outputs. You’ll need:

1. Computer

 

2. DJ software

  • I recommend the Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2 software. It is more complicated, but great if you also want to produce. It is best for electronic music, though, so keep that in mind if you spin other genres.
  • Many prefer the Serato DJ software, since it functions closer to the way DJing has always been done. It is less flexible, though.
  • The third major software system is Virtual DJ. It is good for DJs who take a lot of requests, but is a bit more expensive.

3. Audio Interface (included if you buy a software package)

  • If you buy a software package and not just the software on its own, an interface is included. If you you need an audio interface separately, the Steinberg UR22MKII is a great option and offers all the functionality any DJ will ever need.

 

Those are the different setups used by DJs. Again, the best DJ equipment for beginners is a controller setup. If you really want to learn to use turntables (something I always encourage) a controller setup allows you to hook up turntables as well, so you’ll always have that option going forward.

The only setup I’d recommend against is a CD setup. CDJs are by far the most expensive piece of equipment and I don’t see CDs enjoying the same longevity as vinyl. Digital music is the future and vinyl will always be around. I just don’t see CDs doing the same.

8 Comments

  1. is there a special bran din speakers that I may need. can you point me in the right direction as far as purchasing a dj set up

    • The equipment on this page is a good start. For speakers, it really depends on a lot of factors. Your best bet is probably Google. You’ll find a bunch of sites that review speakers. Those should help you find the best ones for your needs.

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