Your Questions: Do I Actually Need DJ Gear At All?

Phil Morse | Founder & Tutor
Read time: 2 mins
Last updated 3 August, 2017

Can DJs quite happily use just a laptop and software, without any external gear at all, asks our reader today?

Over on one of our “inner-circle” weekly DJ coaching webinars this week, new DJ and Digital DJ Masterclass course owner Tom writes: “Why all the need for extra gear, when most good DJ software can do the same thing as a controller? Why have DJ gear at all, in other words?”

Digital DJ Tips says:

Good question, Tom, and the answer is, at least for some DJs, “not much reason at all”. However, as we’ll see, it is highly advantageous to have some DJ gear to go with your software and laptop.

A DJ controller typically gives you two things that it’s hard to replicate with just DJ software running on a laptop (assuming that software will allow you to DJ at all without a piece of compatible DJ gear plugged in – Serato won’t, for instance).

The first of those is an audio interface, that gives you two stereo outputs, one for your headphones, and one for your speakers. While you can “hack” this with a mono splitter cable, a proper four-out audio interface is best, so if you don’t have a DJ controller, you’ll probably still want one of these, basically so you have somewhere to plug your headphones in.

The second is to give you a better quality of controls than you have on a laptop. While it is perfectly possible to control DJ software with a keyboard and mouse pointer, it’s not much fun, and it can curtail your expressiveness quite a lot. It’s also fiddly. And one control that no laptop could really replace would be a good jogwheel, as of course there is no laptop control like this (although a touchpad could double up as a “touchstrip” style control, I guess).

For these reasons, most DJs prefer to have a control surface (or “controller”) of some type rather than relying on software keyboard shortcuts.

However, if you’re very experienced, and you DJ in clubs with equipment that you can plug in to your laptop via USB and that lets you use both its controls/screen and built-in sound cards (such as higher end Pioneer gear with Serato, Traktor and Pioneer’s own Rekordbox software), then arguably you don’t need any gear at home.

Instead, you do all your prep at home, then just plug into the club’s gear when you get there. (With Rekordbox, you don’t even need to take your laptop, as you can put your Rekordbox-prepared music onto USB and it’ll work fine on Pioneer gear with waveforms, cue points etc all working as if you were using software.)

As I say, though, most DJs will want at least a modest controller at home: It sounds better, and it;s more fun…

Do you DJ with a minimal or even no system, other than your laptop? Please share your experiences below!

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