I’ve heard a lot of new DJs ask questions about which DJ gear is the “best.” My response is always to say that different equipment combinations cater to different kinds of DJs; one setup might fit a certain style better, and you can also easily mix and match gear setups to find what works best for your personal style and musical taste. For example, many DJs use a large controller with turntables, while others use laptops with CDJs even though they are very powerful without. To give you a better idea of what the predominant setups are, and to help you figure out which might be better for you, I’ll discuss the “big three” DJ equipment setups and my experience with each.

Turntables, Battle Mixer and DVS (Serato or Traktor)

Who uses these kinds of setups?

This type of setup caters to DJs who favour more turntablism and quick mixing, and want a bit more flexibility in playing their music. You’ll see lots of hip hop DJs, open format DJs and battle DJs lean towards this set up.


What’s so great about it?

The primary advantage is quick mixing and flexibility. You’ll normally see some kind of Rane mixer although it’s not unusual to see a DJM 900 running with this as well. The Rane mixers are built for scratching and quick mixing. You have some control right on them for cueing your music and the faders are extremely light. As I mentioned, scratching is extremely comfortable on this kind of set up – this is due to the ease of the Rane mixer as well as the unparalleled scratching experience that the turntables provide. On top of this, with the accessibility of a laptop library as well as turntables, quick mixing is simple on these set ups.


What are the drawbacks?

The main drawback is that this setup is not designed for effects. Serato has effects on it, as do many mainstream 4 channel mixers, but I’ve always found Serato effects to be fairly un-intuitive and more difficult to use than other software effects (Traktor, for example, does a better job of this). Furthermore the setup is geared towards playing the song clean and straight and less towards effects based DJing – which is not to say that you can’t do some awesome things with them anyway.

Another drawback is that the pitch faders on turntables will break over time and I find them to be less reliable than those on CDJs. You have to baby-sit longer mixes the whole time to make sure nothing falls off. Overall, however, this is a small complaint as this is a tried and true setup that has been around in some form since the beginning of DJing and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere in the near future either.

Ableton Live and Controller

Who uses these kinds of setups?

The central users of this type of setup are people who use Ableton often, like producers. For them it provides an easy crossover to DJing live and provides lots of power with effects and phrasing. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t simply grab this setup off the shelf and learn it for yourself, although it does require a bit more setup than simply plugging in Serato or Traktor.


What’s so great about it?

You can do a variety of things with this setup, from simply playing track after track like you would with a typical 2 decks and a mixer setup, to much more complicated operations like mixing with a variety of sampled kicks and maybe even playing your bassline live on a controller.

This sort of setup is also easier to customize to the way you want to play. I’ve seen extremely complicated setups like Jelo using three iPads together to more basic ones like a simple Akai controller. With this type of setup, you can get a lot of control over your music depending on how much time you spend setting it up.


What are the drawbacks?

This is not necessarily a drawback, and it’s something that applies to other DJing mediums as well, but one issue with this setup is that what you put in is what you get out. You need to set up effects and quantize tracks to make sure they’re on beat, which means DJing with this kind of setup can require more pre-show setup time than maybe downloading a track and throwing it into your Serato.

Two to Four CDJs and an Industry Standard 4 Channel Mixer

Who uses these kinds of set ups?

A wide variety of DJs use this kind of setup, from Techno/House DJs to Dubstep DJs to Trap DJs, although this setup is especially popular with electronic DJs who are more inclined towards longer mixes. You’ll often see DJs adding laptops to these setups to add a level of robustness to their music library, but this is not a necessity for everyone.


What’s so great about it?

I’ve always found this setup to be very dependable. Once I get a mix locked in I can trust 100% that it will stay that way, which is important when I’m doing long mixes with complicated phrasing.

Many DJs use Pioneer CDJs with either Allen and Heath or DJM900 mixers. These mixers are built with a firm design, the knobs and faders are really solid, and you can feel that they’re designed for slower transitions.

These units are much more effects-centred. With Allen and Heath mixers especially, you get a much wider range of effects that are more intuitive and easier to use than some laptop software.


What are the drawbacks?

You’ll often see DJs using laptops with this sort of setup since, without a laptop, you lose some ability to quick mix. The “select” knobs on CDJs just don’t provide as much accessibility to your library as a mouse and keyboard on your laptop do, which makes searching your library more difficult.

That being said, Pioneer is improving this as new models are being released. Also, many DJs using this type of setup are not aiming to quick mix anyway; they prefer to play out the track and do longer mixes between songs instead.


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