You have decided you want to become a DJ, now you need to look at what equipment you need to get started. In this beginner’s guide to DJ equipment we will walk you along the route to playing your first gig.
Remember, everyone has to start somewhere, so do not overspend on your initial DJ setup.
As a beginner DJ, I started with a £500 ($650) rig, and simply upgraded each piece of equipment as I started earning.
That being said, you will want to get the best DJ gear for your budget, so make sure you research. Try to avoid buying cheap brands as you will only end up having to replace it, if it is even good enough to use.
Where to buy DJ equipment
Now there are many places you can buy DJ equipment, but that doesn’t mean they are all good options. Let’s have a look at various places and decide whether you should consider them;
- DJ Retailer/Store – This is probably one of the best options, because they will know what they are talking about, they can give you advice and recommendations. You may even be able to negotiate a deal or price-match with an online shop. You should also be allowed to try the equipment out before you buy, either yourself or through an in-store demonstration. Even if you can’t get the price you want, it is worth seeing the item with your own eyes before you go away and purchase it elsewhere.
- eBay/Craigslist – It is definitely worth looking at an online auction and used equipment websites, but you need to be extra careful – especially if you are buying second-hand. You have no real way of knowing how it has been looked after. You can buy new items on these sites, just check their credentials.
- Online Retailer – Once you know what you want it is well worth searching online for the best price. As with anything; you get what you pay for, so if it looks too good to be true, it probably is! Make sure you buy from a reputable store – check the site reviews, shipping and payment options.
Should I buy new, used or hire DJ equipment?
I would always go for a brand new, boxed item if you can afford it. You have much more peace of mind that way; it is more likely to be in excellent condition and you will be covered should you receive a faulty product.
You can get some great deals buying used equipment, but just make sure you do your due diligence. Ask the right questions; How long has the previous owner had the item for, Does it come in its original box with all accessories and manual, Is there any issues/faults with it, Why are they selling it?
There are some great online forums where DJs buy and sell equipment. You can often find DJ stores that sell used, ex-display or trade-in equipment that can be as good as new but at a cheaper price.
There is nothing wrong with hiring DJ equipment, but in my opinion, it is wasted money. While I don’t particularly advocate buying things on credit, I would rather the money be going towards something you will own. So if you have a smaller budget than to buy everything brand new, choose the used option, giving you the chance to upgrade later on. The other issue with hiring is having to leave a deposit, and you would need to be extra careful to avoid any damage, which you will have to pay to repair/replace something that, again, isn’t yours.
What DJ equipment do I need?
I will start with a basic list of the essentials, and why you need them, and then other options you wish to consider. Most of these are for a mobile DJ:
Now let’s look at each of these individually, and see what your options are in the beginners guide to DJ equipment;
This is what you will use to play your music from, and there are quite a few options:
- Turntables – Or record players – You will want at least two of these. They range in price quite a bit, but the two main options are Belt-Drive -and- Direct-Drive. I would always go for Direct Drive for DJing with vinyl records. You will also need a cartridge (needle) for each.
- CDJs – These are basically a cross between Turntables and CD players. Again, you would want two or more. CDJs can either play just CDs from their drives, they can connect to a laptop a control the music on the laptop itself, and some come with USB thumb-drive inputs. The more expensive ones can accommodate all three.
- Controller – This is a piece of hardware that controls the music on a computer or laptop via a USB cable. It will normally have a built-in mixer, so you can simply plug the hardware straight into the laptop, and then into the speakers or amplifier. Note that some have built-in sound-cards, whereas those that don’t will need a separate sound-card device which you would plug in between the controller and the laptop. Have a look at the Best DJ Controllers for Beginners.
- Laptop – Yes, you can actually DJ using just a laptop as the play-out system. It is completely possible, but not something I would recommend. It is harder to DJ properly with a keyboard and mouse than with physical DJ controls. If you use a laptop either standalone or with a controller, get the best you can afford, with a large hard-drive space (1TB+), good memory (8GB RAM+), good screen size (13, 15”+). You will find most DJs use MacBook Pros… I do. You will probably need to look at some software too.
Assuming you go for Turntables or CDJs, you will need a DJ mixer, which controls which source is being sent to the live speakers. It will enable you to control the volume level of each Turntable/CDJ, the equalizer (Bass, Mid and High frequencies) and usually have additional controls like effects, filters etc.
As you progress you may want to have more than two sources, for example, 4 Turntables, 2 Turntables and 2 CDJs, 2 CDJs and an iPod, or a combination. The mixer would need to allow that number of sources.
There are two main types of speaker: Passive -and- Active. Whichever you choose, you will need at least a pair of speakers, Left and Right, for a stereo output.
Passive speakers are basically just a box with speakers. They will need to be powered by an amplifier. You would connect your Playout system to the amplifier, and then from the amplifier to the speakers.
Active speakers, also known as powered speakers, have an amplifier built into each box, so you connect the playout system or mixer directly into the speaker. This type of speaker also needs a power supply to the main electricity.
Speakers range in price quite a bit, usually based on the manufacturer, quality, output (measured in watts) and range – are they full range (high, mid and low frequency) or just high and mid ranges? Depending on the type, power and range of the speakers, you may also want to add subwoofers (subs), also known as bass speakers/bins. Even if your main speakers have good range and output, you may wish to increase the low range (bass) depending on the size of the room/crowd you are playing to, or for a particular type of music or event – for example, House, Drum and Bass, Garage music.
Read: 5 Best DJ Speakers
You can use a single subwoofer, and place it a central as you can (such as under the DJ stand), or a pair – which would be beneath or near each main speaker.
You can buy speakers in various setups and sizes; in pairs, individually, as a set (two speakers and one or two subs).
Also be aware of the size and weight, and consider how you will transport them in your car/van and to the venue, especially if there are stairs and no elevators/lifts.
As we have touched on earlier, the amplifier (amp) will provide the power from the playout system to the speakers. You will need to make sure that the amplifier delivers the right amount of power (wattage) to the speakers. If you are using passive speakers and subs, you will probably need two amps; one for the main speakers (tops) and one for the subs.
You will almost definitely need a pair of good headphones. Generally, a pair of over-the-ear headphones are used by DJs, in order to achieve a good, full sound, and limit external noise. Although some DJs like earphones, or In-Ear Monitors (IEMs).
Headphones are vital for the DJ to pre-cue – listen to the music and the mix before playing out live to the crowd.
While they range in price, and there are some reasonable quality headphones at a lower price, I would recommend in investing in a better-quality pair.
Read our review of the 5 Best DJ Headphones here
Most DJs will be expected to introduce themselves, make general announcements and welcome the Bride and Groom onto the dance floor for their first dance. Rather than attempting to shout at the crowd, the preferred method is with a microphone.
There are many different styles of microphone, the two main ones we will consider are Wired -and- Wireless.
Wired microphones are good, as they are plugged into the mixer or controller, meaning they don’t need batteries. But if you are required to make announcements away from the DJ stand it can be an issue as you are limited by the length of the cable, which itself can cause a trip hazard.
Wireless microphones can be very useful as they do not have the trailing cable, you can be a fair distance away from the DJ booth, but they will require batteries and they could run out mid-gig. Another great benefit of a wireless mic is that should the client wish to make speeches at a wedding event, for example, you could get away with using just the one, rather than having to buy a separate one. Always check the frequency/channel your chosen wireless mic uses against local laws, and bear in mind that, if you are working in a large venue where other DJs could be working at simultaneously, your mic could be operating on the same channel, and cause interference through your PA system.
I would always have spare batteries, and even a spare, wired mic as a backup too.
Read: Best Wireless Microphones for DJs
Though not vital, a DJ booth looks clean and professional at a venue and on your setup photos you might show off on your website or social media pages. It is much better than using a venue’s table, which might be wobbly, the wrong height, or they may not even have one you can use. If you do have to rely on a table, make sure you get a black or white cloth that can cover the cables trailing beneath.
We will go into DJ Booths/Stands in more detail in a separate post as they vary quite a bit, but you could go as simple as a basic fold-up table, to a full, metal-framed stand with shelves for your play-out and other equipment, and a star-cloth façade.
DJ lighting varies so much, but the main thing to look for is something that will fill the room, or at least a good covering of a dancefloor area. Most modern lighting is LED rather than the older halogen bulbs. LEDs can last up to 10,000 hours of use, that’s around 2,000 5-hour gigs!
To start off with, I would go for some flashing, or colour changing lights, such as par cans/LED par cans. Even four of these will be fine for most gigs. Just make sure you can link them together, so you have the option to run them all to the same colour, or in sequence.
You could also go for some moving head lights, that throw light around the room, with different colours and shapes.
When you buy lights, it’s worth making sure they have a DMX capability – this means that they can be linked, and even be controlled by another piece of hardware or software. Even if you don’t do this right from the start, you have the option to venture into it later on, without having to replace them.
You are more than likely going to need stands for your speakers and lights.
You can find cheap speaker tripod stands, but as with anything; you get what you pay for.
For lighting, you can get a basic T-bar stand, which is a tripod with a straight, horizontal bar on top, which you would hang the lights from, using some sort of connector. If you have a large number of lights you could use two or more T-bars, or a ‘goalpost’ style stand
This list can be extensive, but the basic items you will need are things like:
- Extension sockets
- Power cables
- Speaker cables
- USB cables for certain equipment
- Lighting cables
- Cable ties
- Headphone jacks
- USB thumb-drives
- Hard drive
- Gaffer tape
ALWAYS HAVE BACKUPS!
Sorry for the caps, but I cannot stress enough how important enough it is to have backups.
My general rule of thumb here is, if one single item you used broke or stopped working, could you still continue with the gig? Imagine playing a big wedding, and having your laptop die halfway through the evening!
So, when you’re planning your equipment purchases, or once you have everything, decide if you need to buy two or more of anything.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What equipment does a beginner DJ need?
The main setup for a beginner mobile DJ is;
- Playout – Turntables, CDJs, Mixer or DJ Controller
- Speakers – Active or Passive
- DJ Stand
Can you DJ with just a laptop?
It is possible to DJ with just a laptop. Most DJ software available has the option to DJ using only a laptop or computer, with no additional equipment required.
This is a great option to get started, learn the skill and test out the software. Once you progress, it is better to have some form of equipment, whether you use turntables and a mixer, CDJs or a DJ controller. This gives you more control and flexibility to mix.
Can you DJ with just a mixer and laptop?
Yes! A mixer and a laptop is the main hub of the DJ setup. Perfect for practising at home or in the studio, the basic setup is a decent laptop, a DJ controller and headphones
When you are looking at what to buy, other than using this website (full of mobile DJ tips), connect with other DJs, a roadie for a DJ, join some online forums and get an idea of what other DJs are using. Ask them what equipment they use and why – what type of venues are they playing at, what size and how many guests are they playing to, does their setup look good, what would you change?
Always think about it from the client’s perspective; Do the lights look good, are the speakers good quality, can you hear the music clearly at the back of the dancefloor area, does the DJ booth look tidy, and, my biggest bug-bear: does it look symmetrical? Make sure you use cable ties, or better still: reusable Velcro straps to keep the cables neat and tidy. Use Gaffer tape to eliminate any trip hazards and to make the cables on the floor look tidy.
Don’t forget to think about how you will fit everything into your car/van, and how long it will take you to set up and pack down. There’s nothing worse than getting stuck in traffic and taking an hour to set up before you can play – weddings almost never start on time as the ceremony/speeches/photos over-run, and then they will sometimes still expect you to set up on time. Then you may take an hour packing down, before a long drive home.
How will you transport everything from your vehicle to the setup area? You cannot assume that you can park right by the entrance door and that the entrance door is near the setup area if it’s even on the same floor! I personally use an equipment trolley, and even my biggest setup rig can be transported in a maximum of two journeys – the main rig can easily be done in one. It fits in a family-sized car, and when loaded onto the trolley, it fits into most elevators/lifts.
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