A DJ mixer is a type of audio mixing console used by Disc jockeys (DJs) to control and manipulate multiple audio signals. The sources are typically record turntables, compact cassettes, CDJs, or DJ software on a laptop. DJ mixers allow the DJ to use headphones to preview the next song before playing it to the audience.
DJ mixers are usually much smaller than other mixing consoles used in sound reinforcement systems and sound recording. Whereas a typical nightclub mixer will have 24 inputs and a professional recording studio's large mixer may have 48, 72 or even 96 inputs, a standard DJ mixer may have only two to four inputs.
The key feature that differentiates a DJ mixer from other types of larger audio mixers is the ability to redirect the sounds of a non- playing source to headphones.
DJ can find the desired part of a song or track and the presence of a cross fader, which allows a smoother transition between two sources (or, for hip hop music, turntablists, enables them to do scratching, effects).
DJ Mixer Mixer Features
To take an educated approach to choose a DJ mixer, you need to first learn about the essential features to consider. Here they are:
Number of channels: Determines how many sound sources you can mix. The required minimum is two channels, one for each of your decks. (A 1-channel mixer is nonsense anyway, though.)
Number of inputs: A mixer may have two channels but four inputs. How is that possible? Simple: Each channel has a switch that tells it which of the channel's two inputs to grab the signal from. Thus, even with a 2-channel mixer, you can have a CD deck and a turntable on either side of the mixer and switch between those as needed. (But you still won't be able to mix more than two decks at once.)
Mic input: lets you, duh, hook up a microphone to the mixer. Fun, but not essential for learning how to DJ.
Channel EQs: A group of knobs that let you adjust the level of the channel's frequency bands. For example, a three-band EQ has three knobs and enables you to adjust the highs, mids and lows. Make sure your mixer has separate three-band EQs for each channel for smooth mixing.
Level meters: A level meter is that LED strip that bounces back and forth to the track's beat and shows you its volume. A level meter for the mixer's main output is a must; separate meters for each of the channels is better.
Gain controls: are used for setting the overall level of the mixer's channels. You want to have separate Gain knobs for each of the channels.
Mixer outputs: Typical mixer outputs include master output, recording output, monitor output and a headphone jack. The bare minimum – Master Out and the headphone jack – are present in all mixers.
BPM counters, FX, sampler: A BPM counter automatically detects the tempo of the track playing through a given channel, which is occasionally helpful for beat matching. Mid- and high-range mixers also let you transform the sound with several effects and often have a built-in sampler. All of these features are not essential for a beginner DJ.
A Few Models to Consider
American Audio Q-D5 MKII
Now that you know what the essential mixer features are, you are much more likely to make an informed decision when shopping for one. To give you an example of what to expect for your money, let's go over a few models in different price ranges.
Good news: a decent DJ mixer that meets all the minimum requirements listed above can buy for less than $200. One model to consider is American Audio Q-D5 MKII – any entry-level scratch mixer that boasts an optical cross fader and XLR outputs. It's also said to be pretty durable. For an alternative to the Q-D5, take a look at two-channel Vestax mixers from the VMC series, such as the VMC-002XLu.
A little bit higher up ($300-$500) are entry-level mixers from Allen & Heath (Xone:22 and Xone:02), Ecler Nuo 2.0, and Vestax mixers from the PMC range. More money will buy you a more durable, better sounding device of up to 4 channels with quality faders, per-channel level meters, and some other goodies.
Ecler Nuo 2.0
If you have more than $600 to spend on a mixer, take a look at Rane, Allen & Heath, Urei, Ecler, and Pioneer. Those higher-end mixers are built from high quality components, often have an FX unit, a built-in sampler, and offer three or more channels for you to play with. Rane mixers are high for scratchers, Pioneer provides a ton of features combined with their trademark reliability (avoid the old DJM-600 and the overpriced DJM-400 though), and Allen & Heath, Urei and Ecler are generally said to be the better sounding ones.
You get what you pay for, and boy can you spend a lot: one of the most expensive mixers out there, Pioneer DJM-2000, will cost you the monstrous $2,500. But let me go back to my earlier point here: A beginner DJ can safely opt-in for a much cheaper solution.
With the above consideration, now you'll be entirely ready to buy a mixer of your choice regarding your economy and other usage factors. It's essential to know the features you're going upon to is available or not. So now, go ahead and get a mixer that makes your DJ setup boost.