Up until the early 1990s, a DJ’s only option for mixing records was with a pair of turntables. In the 25 years or so since, the advent of digital DJ technology has greatly expanded upon the notion of both what a DJ is, and how they do it.
For someone looking to take up DJing today, there are numerous entry points. Your route in will depend on the music you want to play, the way you wish to play it, and your budget. Regardless, choose carefully, and whichever option you take will serve you well for years to come. We’ve chosen some options that we think offer a solid mix of quality, features and value for money. Naturally, the more you pay, the more you get, but you only need look back at the history of DJing to know it’s possible to do a lot with even the simplest of tools.
Check out 10 recommended models below, plus the approximate price you’ll expect to pay, and then read on to learn more about the best controllers, CDJs and turntables on the market.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2 MK3 (£230/ €255/ $290)
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3 (£700/ €780/ $880)
Pioneer DDJ-1000 (£1050/ €1170/ $1325)
Roland DJ-202 (£260/ €290/ $328)
Pioneer XDJ-700 (£600/ €670/ $755)
Pioneer XDJ-1000MK2 (£1100/ €1125/ $1385)
Technics SL-1210 MK2 (£450/ €500/ $570)
Audio Technica AT-LP120-USBHC (£230/ €290/ $290)
Stanton ST.150 M2 (£410/ €255/ $517)
Pioneer PLX-500-K (£283/ €315/ $356)
Arguably the easiest way for a DJ to get started is by getting hold of a controller. There’s a pretty good chance you have, or have access to, a laptop or computer, and with that sorted all that’s left to do is plug in a controller, install the software, download some tracks and you’re good to go. The controller market is a heavily saturated one, though, with plenty of companies throwing their hats into the ring, and as such it can be hard to know what’s good and what’s not.
Native instruments have a proven track record in this field. The tight connection between their Traktor DJ software and the controllers they’ve developed alongside it has resulted in a synergy of hardware and software that’s proven hard to beat for almost 20 years. After a quiet period, with only minor updates across the board, they recently announced a slew of new products, including new versions of two of their most popular DJ controllers.If you dream of spinning your tunes at clubs and festivals, you’ve got to learn to play the equipment that’s available in those venues
Courtesy, DJ and Kulør label boss
The flagship model, the Tractor Control S4 MK3, features a take on the motorized jog wheel that’s been floating around since Technics gave it a shot back in 2004 with their SL-DZ1200. The idea never really caught the imagination of users, but it seems like Native Instruments have cracked it here. The jog wheels are accurate, weighty, and provide a number of intuitive methods of feedback through the use of Haptic Drive technology.
The cheaper of the two, the Traktor Control S2 MK3, is a more stripped-back offering, but with the same quality feel and construction as its more expensive cousin. Its compact size and USB bus power means it’s also perfect for slinging in a backpack and tearing up a house party. These models also feature a new layout that closely mirrors that of hardware found in venues around the world, making the leap from the bedroom to the club that much easier.
Moving further into the realm of the industry standard is the CDJ, specifically those from Pioneer. While mixers are interchangeable, depending on a DJ’s personal preference, the only CDJ you’re likely to see in the DJ booth today is Pioneer’s latest CDJ-2000.
Other manufacturers have attempted to challenge the status quo, but with DJs relying heavily on the company’s proprietary Rekordbox software to prepare their sets, Pioneer have essentially cornered the market. As DJ and Kulør label-boss Courtesy explains, “It’s expected of a professional DJ that they know how to use CDJs or record players. If you dream of spinning your tunes at clubs and festivals, you’ve got to learn to play the equipment that’s available in those venues.”
The problem with the CDJ-2000 is that, for most people, they’re prohibitively expensive, but Courtesy offers one potential solution. “My advice is to get together as a group, and invest in equipment you can share. Then you also have the gear to throw a party.”
While the cost of the CDJ-2000 puts them out of the reach of many, Pioneer does offer a somewhat more affordable range, the XDJ. These are smaller, with fewer physical controls and no CD drive. Importantly, the software found on the XDJs is almost identical to that of the CDJ-2000 NXS2, though, as is the touchscreen and the majority of its functionality. They’re an effective way to hone your skills at home without having to drop (comparatively) big bucks.
Last but not least, the decks that started it all. Want to play or collect vinyl? Then you’ll need one (but ideally a pair) of these. Panasonic stopped production of their iconic Technics SL-1200 series of turntables in 2010, and while prices for quality second-hand models have steadily risen, a number of new offerings have become available.
the AT-LP120-USBHC from Audio-Technica offers an impressive mix of quality and affordability. Audio-Technica products are renowned for their super-solid construction, and this direct-drive deck is no different. It shares the same basic, functional layout as the SL-1200, but features the added bonus of a built-in USB output for recording and digitizing your music. This isn’t only useful for archiving your record collection, but means that you should turn up to a club with turntables in less than ideal condition (still a fairly common problem these days), you’ll still be able to play your favorite tracks via USB using a CDJ.
While this guide is by no means exhaustive, it should hopefully help to give some idea of the options available to you. As we’ve mentioned above, there’s no substitute for hands-on experience, so hit up friends who already own equipment or take a trip to a music store, and have a play.