Many of our readers are too young to have ever bought a record – fact. Many more have DJed in the past with vinyl and decks, but for whatever reason stopped, and got rid of all their stuff, only to get back into DJing thanks to the value and fun offered by modern kit.
Both of these groups tend to dive right in there as digital DJs, and once they’ve messed with DJ software on their laptops with the keyboard and trackpad for a while and got hooked, they proceed to buy a decent DJ controller. Job done.
The third DJ tribe…
But there is a third group. We’re talking about those DJs who’ve up until now spun vinyl or CDs, but who know – nagging away in the back of their heads – that they should be embracing digital. They know about the lower price of MP3s, the fun you can have with cue points, loops and effects, and the mind-blowing potential of Midi… but still, they don’t want to get rid of their current set-up, or indeed their CD/vinyl collection. Nope, not just yet.
If you’re in this group, then here we present you with several easy ways you can incorporate digital DJing into your current set-up. We give kit suggestions too, but this isn’t meant to be a kit round-up, so do some shopping around for yourself as well (all prices below are from Amazon).
And remember, our Buying Digital DJ Equipment Consultancy is there if you’d benefit from extra help before taking the plunge.
So, let’s look a bit more closely at what you could choose to do:
1. Replace your current mixer with a DJ controller that you can plug your existing kit back into
A DJ interface controller plus a laptop is all you need to be a digital DJ. However, you may not know that there are DJ controllers out there that then allow you to go right ahead and plug your record decks or CD players straight back in. This way, you get a set-up that allows you to DJ just like you used to, flipping to digital at any time and back again whenever you wish.
Controllers like the Reloop Digital Jockey 2 Master Edition (street price US$665 / €419 / £389) and the Hercules DJ Console RMX (street price US$349 / €269 / £319) can do this, as can more expensive units like the gorgeous Allen & Heath Xone:DX for Serato ITCH (street price US$1,299 / €1,048 / £859).
Of these three, the Reloop is unique in that you don’t even need to have your laptop plugged in or turned on – it just functions like a normal mixer when you want to go “old skool”.
Digital DJ Tips says: This is a great way to go if you don’t mind replacing your mixer with a modern DJ controller. It’s easy to switch between the two methods of DJing on the fly, and apart from the laptop, your equipment needn’t take up any more space than it already does.
2. Get a digital vinyl system (DVS) or CD equivalent
Particularly beloved of hip hop and scratch DJs, DVS’s allow you to control MP3s using special DJ systems such as Traktor Scratch Pro (currently half price) and the famous Rane Serato Scratch Live (street price US$539 / €429 / £419), among others.
By using special “control vinyl” and a control box, you hijack your decks for your laptop/MP3 DJing. As you’re not actually changing any of your equipment, you can switch back to vinyl simply. This “half-way house” is popular with club DJs, who can use the existing equipment in clubs to DJ on, thus saving them having to bring a control surface and set it up in a cramped DJ box – although setting up DVS is not without its challenges.
The CD player take on this is the same, except you insert a control CD into each player instead – unless it is a modern HID CD player that’s designed to save you even having to do this. (Mind you if you’ve got one of these you’re already more than likely a digital DJ.)
Digital DJ says: If you regularly DJ in clubs and want a system that is the same at home as in those clubs, this could be the way to go. Even in this situation though, many of our readers have a proper digital setup at home and grudgingly use CDJs in clubs out of convenience.
Apart from that, unless you’re a hip-hop or scratch DJ or you really can’t bear to not be using vinyl to DJ with, we think DVS’s are cumbersome and inelegant. They’re a half-way house between the old way and the new way – and as here at Digital DJ Tips we champion portable, forward-looking fully digital DJ kit, our advice is to avoid DVS’s. CD systems are better, but why not just rip your CDs to MP3 and get a snazzy, portable digital controller instead?
3. Get an all-in-one DJ system
This is a relatively recent but fast-growing and popular choice, for its convenience as much as anything. The landmark system is the Numark Mixdeck (street price US$699 / €859 / £699). You get an all-in-one unit that can play CDs, control DJ software (with the addition of a laptop of course), and even play tunes from your iPod through a built-in slot. Plus, you can plug moe things in – it has two switchable CD/phono inputs too.
This particular unit – maybe because it “looks” more like traditional DJ kit – seems to have got a bit of traction with hip hop DJs, but if you’re any type of CD DJ who wants to play digital too, it could be just what you’re looking for.
Digital DJ Tips says: If you have a huge CD collection and you want to be able to mix CDs alongside digital, this could be just what you’re looking for. Records can still be played too if you keep your existing decks.
The iPod dock is a bit of a gimmick though, so I wouldn’t let that sway your judgement in either direction. Plus your existing mixer is now superfluous to your requirements.
4. Add a single-deck DJ software controller to your existing set-up
This type of DJ controller looks like a DJ CD player, but doesn’t actually have a CD player built-in. It lets you take control of DJ software as if it were a third (and fourth, usually) deck. So, you have your laptop running DJ software and this plugged into it, and you can then plug your laptop’s sound output into a spare channel on your existing DJ mixer, and mix from there.
If you have a DJ sound card with two stereo outputs, you can control both decks of your DJ software with the one unit, as they nearly all have an A/B switch – or you can just as easily add two of them for 2/4 deck control. A couple of several available examples are the highly portable Denon DN-SC2000 (US$249 / €188 / £167) and the Reloop Contour (street price $299 / €239 / £209).
The latter can control up to four Traktor decks, and is also available in an interface edition with a built-in sound card (street price $349 / €319 / £279) so you can plug its RCA outs straight into your mixer.
Digital DJ Tips says: If you want to keep all of your existing kit plus you have one or more free channels on your mixer, this is a simple way of adding the full whack functionality of DJ software in a simple manner.
The fact that you can double up if you wish with these units gives you flexibility, and in the case of the Reloop unit, being able to control four Traktor decks is awesome – if a little fiddly, for sure!
There are many other ways of adding digital DJing to your set-up. For instance, you could:
- Add a knobs-and-buttons Midi controller if you don’t need the “deck” feel (the Traktor Kontrol X1 – while really mean to augment their Traktor Scratch Pro DVS – is a good example, but any Midi controller will add functionality)
- Add an Ableton control surface to trigger loops and samples to play over
- Replace your current mixer with a Midi mixer with a built-in soundcard and add control decks like in 4 above.
- Plug your laptop into a spare channel or channels your mixer and DJ using just the keyboard (I did this for years when control surrfaces frankly weren’t up to much)
Frankly, the most popular way of DJing digitally around these parts is to use a DJ controller and a laptop. What you gain – portability, immense power, an undeniable “cool” factor, the ability to play anywhere that has a PA system while using all your own gear – is irresistible to us here at Digital DJ Tips.
But it’s our hope that, if you’re one of those DJs with equipment or records/CDs you simply can’t part with, you’ll have seen a route into digital era here. Welcome to the party!
Are you planning on adding digital to your current set-up? Do you have a digital DJ set-up distinctive enough to want to tell us about it? Will you not have a word said against DVS? Let us know in the comments!