BPM 2014: Modular DJing Is Coming Of Age

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 3 mins
Last updated 6 November, 2017


An affordable modular set-up that works with Serato DJ right out of the box. Modular DJing is, it seems, starting to move out of the techie mapping forums and into the real world…

It’s fascinating to see how things develop year-on-year in the DJ world, and at the BPM Show here in England this weekend, one of the obvious trends is the emergence of grown up, modular DJ solutions, where you pick and choose components to suit your budget and your needs. It’s never been easier to assemble, from separate parts, a digital DJ set-up that does what you want; you don’t need a huge technical background, and you don’t need huge budget, either. In fact, as we’re seeing at the show, it can prove cheaper than trying to get the same features in an all-in-one controller. Indeed, some of the all-in-one controllers here are – for the first time – starting to look decidedly old hat.

Nowhere is this kind of thing being better demonstrated than on the Numark stand, which also houses gear from Akai Professional and Denon DJ, who both happen to be under the same parent company as Numark (inMusic). Cleverly, the company has used this opportunity to show several different set-ups working with Serato DJ software, pieced together from multiple individual DJ units to offer modular systems at different price points and with different strengths.

For instance, on the stand they have the Numark NDX500 media players controlling Serato DJ directly, the mixer and audio interface functions being provided ay the Akai AMX Serato mixer, and FX and performance pad control provided by another modular unit, the Akai AFX. This set-up would cost you around £800 plus laptop, and give you all the functions of a pro DJ controller, but with the added ability to use CDs and play from USB too. The NDX500 units are solid, too; sturdy and professional but at a really decent price.

But Numark also showed the same two little Akai controllers, however this time using two very different input choices. In one such set-up, two standard turntables with Serato timecode were being used, taking advantage of the DVS capability of the little AMX. Perfect for turntablists, especially if you already have your own turntables – and you’re up and running with Serato for under £400.

And finally we saw the all singing, all dancing Denon SC3900 CDJs working in hybrid mode with Serato DJ and again with the little Akai modular controllers. Here, the Denon units were generating Serato timecode for the audio interface in the Akai AMC (no timecode CDs needed), but controlling Serato directly via Midi. Of course, the Denon SC3900s units have motorised platters and real vinyl (although they can’t play records – it’s “real vinyl” like the NS7 and NS7II have “real vinyl”), so you’ve got the best of all three worlds – turntablism, CDJ DJing, and full digital, in a set-up in some ways better than most clubs.

Breaking down the barriers between bedroom and club

Of course, you could put a Traktor mixer like the Z2 or Pioneer DJM2000nexus in the middle if you want to work with Traktor, or a Rane or Pioneer DJM2000SRT mixer in, or use your existing Serato DVS box, or, or… the point is, this stuff is getting cheaper, more mainstream, easier to set up, and thus potentially on the radar of more and more DJs. No longer do you have to learn on a controller and then somehow “switch” to club gear at some point: now, more than ever before, you can craft a well-priced set-up at home that is closer to club gear than ever before.

And what’s more, with the changes in “pro” club DJ gear recently (for instance, you can plug most club Pioneer CDJs directly into Serato and Traktor to control the software via Midi/HID and use the CDJs’ in-built sound cards, no DVS necessary), it’s perfectly feasible to have a comparable if not identical set-up at home to the clubs. This further removes any real divide between the way you learn and practise DJing in your bedroom, and the way you do it in the DJ booth.

In a way, it’s coming full circle. I think we’ll see a time soon when all DJ gear – mixers, turntables, CDJs etc – have USB and Midi capability, and interfaces with at least one or two of the main DJ packages easily and without much user input. Controllers will continue to dominate, of course, due to their entry-level price and convenience – but modular systems, for the first time, look set to nuzzle in right alongside controllers as a good, if not preferable, choice for many modern DJs. As always, exciting times…

Video talkthrough

What do you think? Do you have a modular DJ system? Is this the kind of direction you can see yourself going in? Or is the whole point about digital that controllers are small, easy to transport and cheaper than doing it this way? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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