Most of today’s parents will have memories, however distant and dim, of the old way of DJing, with record decks. Some of you may have even done it. Well, you’ve probably already kind of realised that that’s all changed. So if you think (or know!) that your teenager would like DJ equipment for Christmas, but don’t know where to start, read on…
Just like your camera and your mobile phone, it’s all digital nowadays. That means (luckily for you), DJing is cheaper to get into than ever. Of course, you can spend huge amounts of money if you want to, but it’s not necessary – especially when it may turn out to be a passing phase for your son or daughter. So here’s a crash course on how to buy wisely for your teenager. Look out for the “just tell me what to buy” sections if you’re really rushed.
1. You’re going to want to buy your child a “DJ controller” or “DJ interface”
A DJ controller looks like old fashioned decks and a mixer, but shrunk. It connects to a computer and allow control over MP3 music files. It’s the cheapest and best way to “get into” DJing, and they’re selling like hot cakes.
Got time to browse? We have covered all of the main models on the market in our DJ Midi controllers buyer’s guide.
We recommend you buy one with a built-in “sound card” – that basically means you plug it into your computer (yes, you need a laptop too), plug your amp/speakers in to the back of it, and you’re done.
2. You may need to buy a “sound card”…
As mentioned above, some controllers don’t have built-in “sound cards”. Your child will demand one very quickly if you buy a controller that doesn’t have one! It’s important, because it allows your child to use the headphones at the same time as the speakers – essential for DJing.
There’s nothing wrong with going down the separate sound card route, but set-up is harder and it’s one more thing to buy. You can see a selection of relevant sound cards in DJ Sound Cards Under $130: Top Models Reviewed & Rated. They’re physically small things. You’ll know if the controller you’ve bought needs one because it won’t have a headphones socket on it. Or just buy one that has (again, see our DJ Midi controllers buyer’s guide).
3. Your child will need access to a computer, preferably a laptop
DJ controllers comes with software that you load onto the laptop, that works in tandem with the controller. When you plug the controller in and launch the software, the controller springs to life and allows control over all the software’s DJing features. If your child already has a laptop, great. If not, factor this in. It doesn’t have to be too powerful – any dual-core or better Intel should be OK, with 2GB of memory and room on the hard drive for music.
All the DJ controller manufacturers have “minimum spec” on their websites – check before buying, either with the retailer or directly online – Google “PC spec” and the model name to find it. There are some weird stipulations with some controllers.
Of course, the laptop of choice is a MacBook, but a $400 Dell will also do just fine.
4. You’ll need to have speakers/amp of some kind, too
DJ equipment can play through anything – if your child has a stereo, check if it has an Aux input. If your child already has decent-enough computer speakers (ie separate from the PC or laptop), they’ll do fine for starters, and such speakers have an amplifier built-in so no need to worry about that.
If they’re the type with two little speakers and a bass speaker, even better (DJs love bass).
If you need to buy speakers, decent computer speakers are fine, and if you want to splash out, powered monitors (more professional speakers, with built-in amplification too) are louder and better.
5. You’ll need to get him or her some headphones, too
DJs play one song while listening to the next one on headphones. All DJs need headphones.
The key thing here is they need to be what’s called “closed back” – ie have something to isolate what’s going on outside when they’re being worn. Otherwise, it’s hard to “do the DJ thing”.
(Note: not “noise cancelling” headphones like you see advertised for businessmen on aeroplanes, just physically isolating headphones).
Take a look at our compact digital dj headphones round-up for some fast ideas.
6. You may need an audio lead or two…
The DJ controller (and sound card if you need to buy one) will come with a lead to plug in to the computer. But it probably won’t come with a lead to plug in to the speakers – you’re expected to have that.
The back of the controller will have two RCA socket (a red and white pair), and basically you’ll need to buy a lead that connects whatever the input on your child’s computer speakers, hi-fi or powered monitor speakers is, to those sockets.
Remember, if you go down the separate sound card route, check if you need any additional leads for this too. Tip: you can often raid your home stereo or PC set-up to find something that’ll do for the time being…
7. Factor in the cost of buying music
Digital tracks are much cheaper than record used to be. If you already use iTunes, you child can buy music straight from the iTunes store. You can buy physical gift certificates from the iTunes store in the mall, or even give your child a monthly allowance to spend (see iTunes Gifts). There are specialised DJ stores too, of which Beatport is the most well known.
All the DJ software can see folders from iTunes, or can browse to any other folders on a computer to access the music from there too. Encourage your child to back up his or her music to an external hard drive or USB stick, as a computer failure can wipe out valuable files easily.
8. If your child gets serious about it, they’ll want to upgrade their software.
Most of the DJ controllers come with stripped-down versions of popular DJ software. (It’s a bit like when you get rubbish batteries with new toys, or 3/4 empty cartridges with new printers.)
The software manufacturers are banking on the user wanting to upgrade when they work out the limitations – and this can cost from $50 or so up to $100 or even more. (In our DJ controller round-up, only the Traktor S4, Torq Xponent and Vestax VCI-300 come with “full strength” software.)
Buying online is great, and if you have any computer skills in the family at all, you shouldn’t find it too hard to set up on the day. But checking all this stuff with someone in a store can be a godsend.
The leads are the big one – make sure you can get some sound out of it on the day and chances are your child will work out the rest. They’ll get it sussed before you do. Oh, and hands off – it’s not your present! 🙂
Are you a parent looking to buy digital gear for a child this Christmas? Or, ahem, a parent looking to buy gear for yourself? If you’ve got any more questions, feel free to ask them below…