Beginner’s Guide to Building a Home DJ Setup
Everybody wants to be the DJ…
…As Soulwax put it in their classic tune “Too Many DJs” – and they should know, they’ve been known to dabble in a bit of DJing here and there. New Year’s resolutions are coming in thick and fast, with articles catering to those wanting to pick up an instrument for the first time. What about those who fancy getting into DJing but haven’t a clue where to start. Let us guide you through creating your home DJ setup. Please bear in mind that as much as we wanted to keep this brief, the proverbial can get opened so there’s plenty to get stuck into here.
Types of setup
When we say, “types of setup”, what we’re referring to is whether you’re going down the turntable, CDJ, DJ controller or all computer-based route. We’re not gonna say what is right or what is wrong for you, there are plenty of DJ forums and YouTube video comments for that sort of thing. However, it is worth bearing in mind that as with any instrument, it is all down to personal preference. After, the legend that is Carl Cox has gone from vinyl to embracing digital – and back again – and it hasn’t done him any harm.
A basic setup is generally going to involve two audio sources (more than likely turntables) to playback audio tracks, a mixer to switch back and forth between audio sources, headphones to monitor your mix, speakers to playback the audio to an adoring crowd, and cables galore to connect everything together. The more elaborate the setup, the more gear you’re going to need – but we’ll get to that.
Turntables – kick it old school
Since the dawn of time – maybe not that long ago but we are talking decades -, the humble turntable has been at the heart DJ setups. The introduction of the legendary Technics SL-1200 back in the 1970s was a gamechanger and lent the perfect platform on which experimental DJs could develop and perfect elaborate techniques. From beatmatching to scratching to some astonishing feats of turntablism, many a DJ have cut their teeth on a pair of 1200s or 1210s. The direct-drive mechanism enabled consistent movement of the deck, enabling tweaking of the vinyl without throwing the platter into chaos. Anyone who has tried to scratch on a belt drive turntable for a laugh will know exactly what we’re talking about.
Nowadays there are many a brand producing excellent direct drive decks that don’t cost the earth. We’ve cherry picked a couple here:
Audio Technica AT-LP120USB
Audio Technica know a thing or two when it comes to putting out pro gear at affordable prices, and the AT-LP120USB Turntable is testament to this. Boasting an aluminium platter with direct drive that operates like a hot knife through butter, this is a great deck for honing your skills on. There’re switchable playback speeds for 33.3, 45 and 78rpm depending on your records, and Audio Technica supply their AT-P2 cartridge and tone-arm with each deck.
A standout feature of the AT-LP120USB is that is boasts USB connectivity for connecting to your computer (PC or Mac). The built-in analogue-to-digital converter and included Audacity software allows you to copy vinyl directly to your PC.
Another unique feature is that the deck has a built-in preamp, with a switchable Phono/Line output. If you’re connecting directly to a soundcard, powered speakers or an Aux input, then use the “Line” setting to activate the pre-amp. However, if you are connecting to a mixer that already has a built-in pre-amp, then switch to “Phono” and you’re good to go. A simple touch but one that makes the AT-LP120USB Turntable incredibly versatile.
Pioneer are going to feature heavily as we go through the article, as they don’t half put out some blinding DJ gear. The first entry from them comes in the form of the PLX-500 High Torque Turntable. The significance of torque in a turntable relates to improved tactile control during sets – the higher the torque, the more consistent the performance, the smoother the control. You can quite liberally pull back and push forward your vinyl, and the PLX-500 remains unphased and steadfast in its movement.
Without going into the mechanics of how they operate, let’s just say that not all turntables come with that bit that holds the other bit that touches the vinyl, i.e. the cartridge and the stylus. Replacement cartridges come in many forms to suit various types of application from general purpose track mixing to DMC-level scratching. It’s always good to have a backup handy should the inevitable happen. Check out our selection of cartridges and styli (styluses?) on the Dawsons’ website.
When it comes to bridging the divide between your decks, you’re going to need to get a DJ mixer involved. The number of channels you wish to utilise will depend upon your setup and the amount of audio sources that you wish to play with. At the very least you’re going to need two-channel if you want to start beat juggling and scratching like a pro.
Pioneer’s DJM-250MK2 enables both turntables to connect to one device, which then allows you to control a plethora of features such as volume level, EQ, headphone monitor mix. The quality of the Magvel crossfader ensures that rapid switching between decks for flawless technique. Thanks to a built-in soundcard, you can connect directly to your computer via USB and record mixes straight into your DAW of choice.
For the sake of conciseness, I won’t go into the plethora of mixers available, but suffice it to say there are many. However, for those with their sights set on greater things, there are plenty more mixers to choose from in our DJ Mixers section on the Dawsons’ website.
Whether you’re mixing at home in the privacy of your bedroom or performing in a packed-out club, the right headphones are crucial. Ranging from affordable options such as the Numark HF150 DJ headphones to the more elaborate Sennheiser HD280 Pro DJ and beyond, you want a decent closed-back design that allows you to hear your reference beat whilst cutting out external noise. You can spend a serious amount of money depending on the brand, but as long as you find a pair that fits, provides excellent response and above all feels comfortable, then you’re laughing. There are plenty to choose from in our DJ Headphones section on the Dawsons’ website.
If you want to hear you mix with full effect, then a pair of monitor speakers are the way forward. As with headphones, there’s a vast range to choose from that cover the gamut from portable to heavyweight, affordable to eye-watering. For the sake of a home setup though, you can get away with a solid pair of all-rounders such as the KRK Rokit RP5 G3s. Boasting a built-in bi-amped class A/D amp for a smooth response at ear splitting levels, the generous frequency range covers you from 45Hz to 35kHz.
There are those who swear by including a subwoofer in your setup, especially if you’re trying to achieve dense sub-bass in your mixes. Another argument is that you can more accurately get a sense of how your mix feels, before heading into a club setting. If you’re simply kicking back and mixing at home or want a decent rig to test out your skills on, then a pair of Presonus Eris E4.5 or other Full Range Monitors are more than adequate. Unless you’re recreating Creamfields in your living (which we don’t advise unless you want to fall out with your neighbours), then you should be sweet.
In recent years there has been a huge rise in all-in-one DJ controllers that feature a pair of decks, a built-in mixer, FX controllers, more knobs and dials than you’d find in an airplane cockpit, and connections to plug into virtually anything and everything. If getting down with some vinyl turntables doesn’t float your boat, then we’ve got just the stuff for your home DJ setup.
Controllers range in size from the diminuitive Numark DJGO2 Portable Serato DJ Controller to the monster Pioneer DDJ-RZX 4-Channel Rekordbox DJ Controller. Whether you opt for large or small, most will converse happily with any operating system and DJ software including Serato, Traktor, Virtual DJ, etc. Something to consider here is which software you elect to choose. Luckily, there are downloadable demo or free versions of most DJ software packages, so you can get a feel for the interface before you dive headfirst into making a commitment.
The standard of quality from the likes of Numark, Pioneer, Roland, Akai, Denon, and Native Instruments is ludicrously high, so whatever you go for, you are guaranteed an outstanding product. One thing that we’d suggest is trying out some controllers in your local Dawsons store.
Don’t forget the cables!
The least glamourous yet undeniably crucial components are your cables. Whatever your setup, you’re going to need a cable of some description to make things work. If you’re going down the analogue route, then you’re going to come across RCA plugs without a doubt, especially if you’re using a DJ Mixer. XLR cables are a must for mics if you fancy getting a bit of MCing on the go and are also crucial on larger controllers for master outputs to larger sound systems.
TRS (tip-ring-sleeve) connectors are used for balanced connections from mixers and audio interfaces, and as booth outputs on higher spec controllers. They come in 1/4- and 1/8-inch sizes are bear a striking resemblance to unbalanced TS connectors. One way to tell them apart is that TRS has two rings near the tip, whereas TS only has one (bingo).
For all-in-one controllers and home use it is pretty likely that you’re going to be using the USB connection to connect directly to your computer.
Hopefully, we’ve given you a flavour of what’s available and what you’ll need to get your home DJ setup off the ground. The main things to consider are whether you want to hit the ground running with vinyl or fancy opting for a digital setup. Budget is going to dictate but if you’ve already got a laptop or home PC, then at the very least you need a DJ controller, DJ software, headphones and a USB cable.
If you’ve got any questions at all then don’t hesitate to get in touch with our Customer Service team on 01925 582420.
As always you can check out the Dawsons website to search our full selection of DJ Gear.