DJ Tips & Tricks: How To Format A USB Drive For CDJ Use

Joey Santos
Read time: 2 mins
Last updated 15 November, 2021

Spinning with CDJs and thumb drives is straightforward: you plug a thumb stick into a CDJ’s USB slot, and you’re all set. But that’s not always the case: sometimes the drive can’t be read by an older CDJ. Maybe you plug it into an XDJ-RX and track waveforms don’t appear as they should. One way to troubleshoot is to make sure you’ve got the USB thumb stick formatted properly using a file system recognised by the CDJ or XDJ.

What’s a file system and why should I care?

A file system is a hard drive’s way of organising data. Formatting it lets you specify what file system you want it to use, and this is dependent on what operating system you’re using. There are lots of file systems out there: some are compatible only with Windows computers, some only with Macs, and some are readable by both Macs and PCs, but can only be written to by either a Mac or a PC. Confused yet?

Here’s a cheat sheet: modern Windows computers use the NTFS or exFAT system, and Macs use the HFS+ (MacOS Extended Journaled) system. Macs can read NTFS thumb drives, but can’t write to them. PCs can’t read or write to HFS+ at all.

However, there is one file system that both Macs and PCs can read and write to: FAT32. Pioneer DJ’s CDJ media players are also able to read music files from drives formatted with FAT32 (FAT 16 and HFS+ are also included).

FAT32 works on both Windows PCs and Macs, and it’s one of the file system formats Pioneer DJ recommends when it comes to CDJ and XDJ use. That’s why if you’re going to be spinning with a USB drive, we recommend formatting it to FAT32.

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This ensures read and write compatibility with both Windows and Mac computers, and guarantees compatibility with Pioneer DJ’s CDJs, XDJs as well as other media players including the Denon DJ SC5000 Prime. At the time of this writing, it’s the closest thing we’ve got to a “near-universally compatible” file system.

Sure it has its disadvantages: it’s an older file system, so you can’t add a file larger than 4GB to it. That’s not a problem though if it’s a USB stick for spinning since you probably don’t have a song that’s got a file size that huge. Another disadvantage is if you’re formatting a thumb drive larger than 32GB using a Windows PC, you need to download extra software in order to do the formatting. I show you how to do all of these in the video above.

Read this next: Tips & Tricks: How To Choose A USB Drive For DJing

Have you had any issues spinning with thumb drives and CDJs? What’s been your preferred file system when it comes to thumb drives, and why? Share your thoughts below.

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