What if I told you there was a cable that costs just $4, that will let you DJ “properly” with just a DJ app on your phone or laptop, no audio interfaces, controllers or DJ gear needed, yet still with full headphones monitoring and a separate output for your speakers?
Imagine being able to whip your tablet or phone out, fire up a DJ app and maybe a DJ music streaming service, and actually mix properly, cueing and previewing tracks in your headphones, while feeding your set to speakers everyone can hear? You could offer to play impromptu sets in bars, take over the music at “back to mine” parties to save everyone from YouTube warriors, or simply mix in your downtime at work, in a hotel room, whatever. Just add a small portable wired speaker and you’re good to go.
Also, imagine being able to audition new music, add cues, practise mixes, even make whole mixtapes, without actually having to plug your controller in at all? Now it becomes possible to work on your DJing anywhere you can open your laptop, with or without your controller.
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Well, there is such a cable. It’s called a “mono splitter cable” or “DJ splitter cable”, it’s one of the oldest secrets of digital DJing, and it is indeed available for as low as $4 on Amazon. We think every DJ should have one of these in their bag.
So let’s look a bit closer at what it is, what it does, how to use it, and things you should know about this “hack”, including a discussion of the best splitter cable for DJs.
What is a DJ mono splitter cable?
A mono splitter cable has a single 1/8″ stereo headphones plug on one end, and usually two 1/8″ mono headphones sockets on the other end. Each of those sockets carries one “half” of the stereo audio signal. So the first one carries the “left” half of the signal, while the other one carries the “right” half of the signal.
There are variations on this available when it comes to the sockets or plugs on the “dual” end (and the Firefly DJ cable takes the whole thing to an extreme), but the thing that is always the same is that each of the two outputs on the “dual” end carries a separate half of the audio signal – one the left half, one the right.
How does it work?
A DJ mono splitter cable works in conjunction with your DJ software. It’s important to know that it is useless unless your DJ software supports it. djay Pro AI, Traktor and Virtual DJ do, for instance, but Serato and Rekordbox don’t.
When you configure your DJ software properly for DJing this way, it sends the “master” audio (what the audience hears) down only one of the two outputs, in mono. The other output carries the “cue” output – in other words, what you’d expect to hear in your headphones.
This means that you can plug your headphones into one of the outputs and use them just as you would with DJ hardware (to preview the next track, etc), and plug your speakers into the other output, so the audience can hear what you’re doing.
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It solves the problem of laptops and phones/tablets having only “two-out” audio (which means they have two audio outputs, the left and right outputs of their single stereo signal), as opposed to the “four out” (two stereo pairs) provided by the audio interfaces in DJ controllers and mixers.
What’s the best splitter cable for DJs?
The first thing you need to do is get the right cable. So what is the best splitter cable for DJs? The first thing to know is that most “headphone splitter” cables you’ll find out there will not work. This is because they feed an identical signal to both outputs. Usually these are sold as cables so two people can “share” one headphones output.
No, what you need is a “mono splitter”, “DJ splitter” or similar – like this. The biggest mistake people make is simply buying the wrong cable.
How do I use a DJ mono splitter cable?
The next thing you need to do is plug it in. Pop it into the headphones output of your laptop or tablet, and of course if you’re using a phone, you’ll need your manufacturer’s wired headphone adaptor cable to be able to plug in anything at all – so grab that out of the bottom of your drawer, or drop the extra $5-$10 to get one.
Next, you need to plug in your headphones and speakers. Plug your headphones into one of the sockets on the cable, and using a suitable adaptor cable, plug your powered speakers into the other. Normally an 1/8″ stereo jack to 2 x RCA or 2 x 1/4″ mono jack plug is the one you’ll need.
Finally, you need to configure your DJ software or app to use the cable. The good news is that if you’re using most tablet or phone DJ apps, they’ll auto-detect that you’ve plugged such a cable in, and offer to set it up right for you.
If not, you need to head to your DJ software’s audio settings, select your device’s stereo output as the program’s output, and set the “left” channel to “cue”, and the “right” channel to “master” (or vice versa).
That’s it – you’re good to go. Full DJing with all audio functioning correctly, without any extra hardware at all.
Read this next: How To Use Your Phone As A DJ Music Source
Things to know about DJ mono splitter cables
This is ultimately a “hack”, so know this:
- It’s in mono – I mean, it’s in the name, right? The reason this works is that you’re sacrificing the stereo signal in order to get two independent outputs, which are therefore necessarily in mono. Most club systems are in mono anyway, and the good news is that if you hit “record” in your DJ software, you’ll still get a stereo recording, so it’s not all bad
- You’re going to need adaptors – For your phone maybe, between your cable and speakers for sure. You should as a DJ make it your job to carry all possible cables and adaptors anyway, so you may have the right stuff knocking around – but just bear this in mind, and maybe have options depending on what speakers you may encounter
- You may have to swap the headphones and speaker cables around – One thing that can go wrong here is that you configure the headphones and speakers one way in the software, but plug them in the other way at the cable. If your audio is going funky when you try to cue music, swap them over to cure it
- The best DJ splitter cable is the one you’ve got – If you’re one of those DJs who has all kinds of audio cables knocking around, you may well be able to assemble a cable that does this from what you already own (and if you’re a dab hand with a soldering iron, doubly so). As long as you appreciate the core concept of “left audio to one output, right audio to the other”, you’ll be golden
This isn’t a preferred way to DJ, not least because it is designed to let you DJ when no hardware is available – and ideally, we’d all like to DJ with hardware when possible. As all hardware gives us proper headphone and speaker outputs anyway, we’d never need to use this when we actually have DJ gear to play on.
Also, while we may be able to live with cueing and feeding our speakers in mono, it is also a half-strength signal volume-wise; again, not ideal. However, it’s certainly possible and often nobody will ever know the difference.
In the end, having another possible way to DJ is always welcome. And nothing beats the feeling of suddenly realising you can DJ – either to practise or to perform – with nothing more than the phone in your pocket and a tiny $4 cable. That’s why we think the “DJ mono splitter” hack is a trick all DJs should know, and a DJ mono splitter cable is something all DJs should own.
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