How To DJ Properly On A Mac With Just A $1 Sound Card

Jake Shauli | Read time: 4 mins
beginner
Last updated 10 April, 2018

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Small and cheap, this little device could help you to get DJing without the need to spend extra serious cash.
Looking similar to a tiny USB drive, the $1 sound card gives you an extra headphones socket.

It’s annoying to buy a budget DJ controller only to realise that you need to buy a sound card just to get it to work correctly. Last week we showed you how to DJ with Traktor on a PC with the purchase of just a $1 sound card. While no replacement for a decent sound card, this certainly gives new DJs the chance to practise and play small parties without the extra expense.

Now, Digital DJ Tips reader Jake Shauli has got in touch with detailed instructions on how to do the same thing if you’re one of the many DJs here who are Apple Mac users.

Before we hand over to Jake, it’s worth reiterating the following:

  • The DJ sound cards we normally recommend have TWO outputs – one for the headphones, and one for the main speakers. Thus when you use one of these, you bypass you Mac’s internal sound card altogether. This solution, on the other hand, still uses the Mac’s internal sound card for the main output. As such, the sound quality you’ll get is limited by how good your Mac’s sound is – and while the Intel HD Audio sound on current MacBooks is OK for day-to-day use, it isn’t up to the standards of a decent standalone sound card.
  • We haven’t tested this on any systems other than Traktor. It probably works in Virtual DJ, for instance, as that software is flexible – however, you may find in some versions of some software that the hardware configuration options are limited. A good thing to do is ask on the software forum to see if anyone can confirm that the software that came with your particular controller can be configured to work with external sound cards like this one
  • This is a great, cheap and ingenious solution for practising, for convenience (it’s tiny), and for playing house parties, small bars and so on. However, for bigger gigs, you will want to test it on the sound system first to make sure it sounds OK – as we say, chances are are a proper DJ sound card will outperform your Mac’s internal sound card, and this difference will start to become more noticeable on bigger PA systems

Where can I get it?
It’s a tiny, mass-produced item that looks just like a USB drive, but with a headphone and a microphone socket on it.

For our purposes, we’re interested in the fact that it gives us that extra headphones socket – somewhere to plug out headphones in to while the main headphones socket on the laptop is used to power our speakers.

Buy it from Amazon.com.

How to do it…

These instructions are for Traktor Pro on a Mac. We haven’t tested this and we also have no idea whether it works on other software. It’s likely to, but we can’t guarantee it. Then again, it’s only $1 – what have you go to to lose? We’ve ordered one so will report back. Meanwhile, over to Jake:

  1. There is a piece of software build into OSX to fool Traktor into thinking you have a sound card with multiple outputs. You’ll need to launch a program called “Audio Midi Setup”. You can search for it quickly with Spotlight or find it under Applications > Utilities > Audio Midi Setup
  2. Once you are there you should see a window titled “Audio Devices”. At this point you should have your USB audio device plugged in and it should register on the left alongside your input and output devices
  3. From here all you need to do is click on the plus on the bottom left of the window and then check mark “built-in output” and check mark whatever your USB audio device is called
  4. Quit out of this program now and start up Traktor. Under the audio setup, under devices, choose “Aggregate Device”. Then go to output routing and assign the outputs as you please. You can have either the USB output as your cue mix or the main computer output as your cue mix – it’s up to you

The only problem with this set-up is that you have to remember to use the same physical USB port when using the USB adapter. If not you will have to go through the entire process again. While it’s not too complicated or time-consuming, it’s something I try to avoid. Also remember to have your USB device in BEFORE starting Traktor or Traktor may freeze.

One tip I would offer with this particular setup on a Mac is to set individual volume levels for you cue output. The volume on these little USB adapters can get really loud. Before I start a set I make sure that the volume is appropriate. To do this go to System Preferences > Sound > Output. You will see “Headphones” and the name of your USB adapter. You can click on the name of your USB adapter (which I use for my cue mix) and drag the slider to where you find the volume appropriate.

Also keep in mind that this is the maximum volume you are allowing Traktor to output at. While you will be able to lower your volumes for both your cue and main mix in Traktor, you can not raise it beyond the level in system preferences.

How good is it?

Kidsinister gave us some good feedback on that question:

“In terms of loudness and clarity, with regard to monitoring only, I’m fairly certain it can be used for an actual gig (I plan to try it anyway).

“However the problem is loudness and clarity of the master output, because it will be determined by the quality of the on-board sound card (the laptop one I have is mediocre).

“My plan is to use it for a house party, by using the on-board sound card output and putting it through a channel on an actual mixer, essentially so I can amp the volume, and control the master levels to get a clearer sound.

“With this alternative it’s possible for beginners to spend next to nothing on equipment, whilst learning.”

• Thanks again Kidsinister (twitter.com/kidsincity) for the PC version of this article and to Jake Shauli for these Mac instructions.

Have you set up your DJ software/controller using any type of non-DJ sound card? What did you use? Would you like to share any tips or tricks you’ve got with us? Or have you used this particular little device? Whatever, we’d love you to let us know your experiences with us.

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