Digital Vinyl Systems, or DVS, can feel like a a complicated topic and beginners can be forgiven for seeing it all as witchcraft! In this article we’ll demystify the art and science of using traditional DJ gear to control DJ software, explaining how it works, why you may wish to use it, then talking through your options for getting started.
DVS allows you to DJ using DJ software and digital music file, but with turntables or traditional DJ CD players. The advantages of this include preserving the feel of DJing with vinyl or DJ CD player platters while DJing digitally, enabling digital DJing without having to replace your existing home set-up, and being able to DJ digitally on practically any club kit, however old it is.
DVS systems preceded DJ controllers as a way to “convert” existing gear to work with laptops and software, but have survived to this day and are still the preferred way to DJ for many, for the reasons outlined above.
How does a DVS work?
DVS uses special timecode vinyl records or CDs which are played on conventional turntables and DJ CD players, such as the ubiquitous Pioneer DJ CDJs. The output of the turntable or DJ CD player playing the timecode is routed into a DVS-enabled sound card box, DVS-enabled DJ controller, or DVS-enabled mixer (examples of these are given below). This changes the timecode sound into computer data.
This computer data goes into your DJ software, which then translates that data into changes in the playback speed, direction and position of your selected track. That means you can scratch, spin, and jump around a record by dropping the needle anywhere on the timecode vinyl (or CD, if you’re on a DJ CD player). Within the software, your tracks will react as if they were pressed directly onto the record.
The output of your DJ software is then sent back to the sound card / DJ controller / mixer. The result is digital audio playback that was spun on a piece of vinyl or DJ CD player.
The most popular systems are Serato DJ, Traktor Scratch Pro 2, Virtual DJ, and Rekordbox DVS. You will want to pick a DVS that is compatible with the DJ software that you plan on using: for example, if you want to use Serato DJ, then pick a DVS-enabled soundcard box, mixer, or DJ controller that is compatible with it (more on that below).
The exception to this is Virtual DJ, whose DVS feature works with any DVS-enabled hardware and timecode vinyl / CDs.
There are three options when it comes to DVS: audio interfaces (sometimes called “breakout boxes”), mixers, and DJ controllers. Each option comes with its own pluses and minuses, let’s take a look at them…
3 Types Of DVS
1. DVS-enabled audio interface
Pros: A DVS-enabled audio interface (sometimes called a “breakout box”) can turn any traditional set-up into a digital DJing powerhouse, and will often come bundled with timecode vinyl and CDs. This is the ideal option to pursue if you already have a pair of turntables / DJ CD players and a mixer because you won’t be replacing anything in your current rig by adding this DVS box. Also, it will let you play in any club – whatever their set-up.
Cons: Older DVS sound card boxes such as the Rane SL4 are still quite expensive, though newer models like the Denon DJ DS1 has made this route more budget-friendly. Another potential minus is the dwindling choice in this space: DVS sound card boxes are becoming less necessary now that DVS-enabled mixers and controllers are used more widely (see below). However, this is still the go-top way of starting in DVS for most DJs.
Do this if: You already have a pair of turntables / DJ CD players and a mixer that you absolutely love and don’t want to let go of; you want to be able to play in any club.
2. DVS-enabled controller
Pros: DJ controllers give you the flexibility to DJ using the controller itself, or with a pair of decks. Assuming you have a set of turntables or DJ CD players, you are now covered to play any format you like. Furthermore, a controller can be more easily transported should you wish to DJ digitally without DVS, say if you’ve got a gig down at the local pub that has a cramped DJ booth.
Cons: Takes up more significantly more space than a mixer, and then you will also need to find room for your turntables or DJ CD players on either side.
Do this if: You want a versatile set-up that lets you DJ with both a DJ controller and a pair of turntables / DJ CD players if and when you want to.
3. DVS-enabled mixer
Pros: DVS-enabled mixers are very simple to set up, and quite often the more expensive models will come bundled with the necessary software licences. I used to have a DJM-850 and while I didn’t use DVS, the built-in sound card was such a convenient tool for ripping vinyl, live streaming and recording mixes.
Cons: Two turntables and a mixer is a heavy and bulky load to be moving around if you are a club or mobile DJ.
Do this if: You’ve already got a pair of turntables or are looking to buy a pair, and you don’t have a mixer (or your current mixer is due for an upgrade); you know the club or clubs you’ll be playing in also have a DVS-enabled mixer for your system.
So, now you know everything you need to get started with DVS. Naturally, which type of DVS you decide on will depend on your own set-up needs and budget. It can be an expensive addition, but if you can justify the expense, an extra dimension of your DJ capabilities is unlocked.
Would you like to try a DVS? Have you ever used one? What do you think are the positives and negatives this type of DJ set-up? Let us know in the comments below…