You read it a lot on DJ sites, people ask us about it regularly here, and when we’re reviewing DJ controllers, we are sometimes as guilty as anyone of it. What’s that? Uttering those faintly damning words: “But it doesn’t have a booth output!”
So what is this mysterious “booth output”? Why should a DJ controller need one? And does it matter if the controller you have (or want to buy) doesn’t?
We think it’s high time to dispel the myths and nail this one, once and for all. Let’s get stuck in:
What is a booth output?
A “booth output” is generally understood to mean an extra output from your DJ controller, that outputs the same mix as the master output. Whatever’s coming out of the master output also comes out of the booth output. The crucial difference is that the booth output has its own independent volume control. So as well as a “master” volume, DJ controllers with booth output have a “booth volume” too.
What’s it for?
It’s an output designed to be used by speakers in the DJ booth, as opposed to the speakers out on the dancefloor – hence the name. It allows the DJ to plug in two sets of amps / speakers, not one, to his DJ controller. That way, he can turn the DJ booth speakers up, down or off, without affecting the volume out on the dancefloor.
Why would he want to do that?
If the speakers in the DJ booth were simply controlled by the master volume, then when the club is loud, the DJ booth is loud. It is important to be able to control the volume in what is essentially your workplace. Hence the need for a separate speaker system, with its own volume control, in the DJ booth.
But why have speakers in the DJ booth at all?
Good question! In many venues, it’s completely unnecessary – not least because the “DJ booth” doesn’t exist. The most obvious of such venues is your bedroom, but it also goes for many small bars and lounges. In these venues, the main system is the “booth” system. But once you get bigger, the speakers out on the dancefloor become further away from the DJ. And that cause problems.
The sound quality issue
The first problem is that when the speakers are further away, often not pointing at you, you simply can’t hear them properly. The volume might be there, but the clarity isn’t. Well-positioned speakers, at the right height, pointing at the DJ, are what’s required to really hear your music properly. We are DJs because we love music, and taking away the ability to hear that music well enough when we’re DJing kind of defeats the object of doing it in the first place.
The beatmatching issue
The second problem specifically affects DJs who beatmatch, and arises because beatmatching takes precision timing. Believe it or not, as soon as a speaker is more than a short distance away from you (in my experience, about 15 feet), there is a small but perceptible time delay between the sound leaving the speaker and reaching your ears.
Now, remember that DJs beatmatch by listening to one tune in their headphones in one ear, and one from the speakers in the other. The trouble is, there is no time delay at all on the sound reaching your ears from your headphones. So if the sound from the speakers is “late”, the DJ thinks he’s got the beatmatch spot on because the beats he hears from the headphones and speakers are in time; but in truth, they’re not – and the imperfection can be heard on the dancefloor.
So to play in bigger venues, my controller needs a booth out?
Not so fast! Here’s where people sometimes get confused. You will rarely if ever walk in to a venue where they have separate booth and master speaker systems, but no mixer of their own in the DJ booth. If this were the case, how on earth would DJs using their in-house equipment control the booth and master speaker volumes?
No, when you plug your DJ controller in to a club system, you always plug it into their mixer, which has its own master and booth outputs. You don’t unplug all their speaker cables and plug them directly into your DJ controller! You simply find a spare input on their mixer, and plug your DJ controller’s master output into that.
Your DJ controller is then treated simply like another device – just like a turntable, or a CD player. So that means you control the DJ booth volume in the exact same way any DJ playing using that club’s turntables or CD players does – by using the booth volume control on their mixer, not your DJ controller. In 99% of club situations, possibly 100%, having a booth output on your DJ controller is completely unnecessary.
So when do I need a booth output on my DJ controller?
If you play in venues where they have no mixer, and you just get handed a lead to plug into the back of your DJ controller (small bars and so on), you usually get set up near a speaker which will then act as your makeshift booth monitor. This is how most bar DJs work, and as long as the speaker is roughly pointing at them so it sounds good, and is only a few feet away so they can beatmatch OK, they’re fine.
But if you can’t set up near a speaker, you’ve got a problem. In this circumstance, you may choose to take powered booth monitor speaker/s of your own with you (or passive speakers and an amp, whatever) as part of your gear, so you can provide yourself with clear, close sound for DJing.
These need to plug in somewhere, so if your controller has a booth output, that’s the logical place. Then you can turn them on and from there on, use the booth monitor volume control to turn them up and down to suit you as the night progresses.
I need to do this but I have no booth out…
Hold tight, even if this is you and your controller doesn’t have a booth out, all is not lost! Even in this circumstance, it’s not always necessary to have a booth output. If your controller has more than one master output (say, twin RCAs plus balanced TRS or XLRs), you can try using the extra master output as a booth output.
You don’t get a volume control, but as long as you use a booth speaker system where you can easily reach the volume control, it doesn’t really matter – you just use the volume control on that instead. So what becomes more important is not whether your controller has a booth output per se, but whether it has more than one master output.
(Of course, if you’re a mobile or wedding DJ and have all your own gear – lights, PA system, microphones, proper monitor speakers – you may decide you do want a DJ controller with a dedicated booth monitor so you don’t need to reach round the back of your monitor speaker to alter the volume all the time. Mobile DJs often don’t know where they’ll be asked to set up, and this flexibility can be useful to them. In this case, it is useful to have a separate control.)
But isn’t a booth output a sign that a controller is “pro”?
Nope, not at all. There are many “good” DJ controller that don’t have booth output (the Traktor Kontrol S4, the Vestax VCI-400, the Pioneer DDJ-T1 & DDJ-S1 to name a few), and conversely there are lower-end controllers that for some reason do have one (DJ-Tech 4Mix, Gemini CNTRL-7 to name a couple). It’s not a sign of anything – don’t see it as a mark of quality or otherwise on a controller.
So, bottom line. Should I buy a DJ controller with a booth output or not?
No, it’s not normally necessary. Having more than one master output is sufficient to cover you in most cases when you may need an extra output, with the advantage to boot that the second master out on such controllers is almost always a “balanced” out, which is desirable to have in certain circumstances (more about that another day).
Even this isn’t really necessary. If you think you’ll only ever be DJing in small bars, your bedroom, or places with their own mixer, you can happily use a controller with just a single master output, the standard RCAs (ie little red and white sockets) with no issues whatsoever. And practically all DJ controllers have that.
Have you ever been confused by booth outputs and booth monitoring? Have you had to beatmatch without a booth monitor? Do you take your own monitor speaker to gigs with you? Let us know your monitoring stories below!