With the way music technology is going right now, DJ rigs seem to be getting smaller and smaller. While it would have been unfeasible to play a DJ set using only a laptop 15 years ago, today you could easily play a whole set using just an iPad. At the same time that some DJs are shrinking their rigs, however, others are looking for ways to expand them by adding DJ hardware equipment modeled after more traditional music making tools. If you’re looking for ways to get away from the laptop, here are a few pieces of DJ hardware to consider incorporating into your DJ rig.

Pad Controllers


A good pad controller is almost an essential piece of DJ hardware for serious DJs who want to add improvisation and live elements to their sets. Pad controllers come in all shapes and sizes, from portable controllers to huge flashing pads that could probably double as a light show. Some act as universal controllers, and others like Abelton’s Push controller are set up to work with specific pieces of software. Pad controllers are great creative tools because you can basically customize them to do whatever you want; not only do they allow you to do things like play with volume and EQ in a more organic way, they also allow you to create custom effects that you can play with on the fly to add a unique musical element to your DJ sets.

Drum Machines


DJs have been using drum machines alongside their turntables since the early days of DJing, and today using a drum machine in your DJ rig is a lot easier since you don’t have to worry about manually syncing the tempo of an analog drum box to match your tracks. Midi drum machines like the Roland TR-8 (modeled after the classic 808) allow you to get that classic analog drum machine sound along with the ease of midi clock integration.



Digital synths offer another modern spin on an old-school piece of DJ hardware. In this domain, modern DJs have two choices: you can either find a good keyboard midi controller and build up a library of software synths, or find a hardware synth with midi capability. Both give you the option to use the midi clock to sync your tempo to your DJ software. This allows you to get creative using elements like arpeggiators and rhythmic effects without having to worry about throwing off the timing of your tracks. Of course, you could always go real old-school and bring an analog synth to all of your gigs too, as long as you don’t mind adding an extra hundred pounds or so to your DJ rig.

Outboard Effects Units


With a good piece of DJ software, you have the ability to add virtually any effects you want to your mixes, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need for outboard effects units as well. While rackmount effects may not be the most convenient option for the traveling DJ, they can be fun tools to play with if you have a home studio. A good alternative for those who prefer to remain portable is guitar effects pedals – just because these pedals are designed for guitar, that doesn’t mean you can’t run any other type of audio through them as well. For the hands-on performer, a few guitar pedals next to your DJ controller can unlock a world of creativity.

All of these tools serve a similar purpose: they allow you to take your fingers off the laptop and take a more hands-on approach to music making. Even if you’re using 100% pre-recorded songs and not adding any live elements of your own, it can make a huge difference to be able to twist a knob with your hand rather than moving it on a computer screen. Want advice on what DJ hardware and software gear to buy from experts in the industry? When you join Spin Academy for only $19.95 per month, you’ll get access to dozens of gear reviews, plus hundreds of other video lessons covering everything you need to know to make a career as a DJ.