At the heart of a DJ’s set-up is the mixer. It allows the DJ to pull together sounds that may be coming from things like synths, drum machines, turntables and laptops.
In a live audio context, a mixer merely combines audio signals as well as adjusting levels, timbre and/or the dynamics of the signals.
For the DJ, a mixer is as much a musical instrument as anything else he may have available.
With modern sample and loop based music, the mixer is often used to manipulate EQ and other effects, as well as bringing loops in and out of the mix.
In a traditional set-up, the DJ mixer is used as a key component of scratching - to control the dynamics and feel of the scratches and to create unique sound effects.
Points to think on
The DJ mixer differs from other audio mixers because the DJ can use headphones to cue the next song or music and transition between the pieces using the crossfader.
Mixers often come with some cables, though it is unlikely that they will give you everything you need. Check the connections for your mixer and ensure that you have all the appropriate cables to connect it to other devices.
Trusted brands for DJ mixers include Pioneer, Rane, Vestax and Allen & Heath.
What to know about buying pre-owned DJ Mixers
DJ mixer technology hasn’t evolved much in recent decades. The main improvements have been digital integration and the quality of internal effects.
If you are a budding turntablist, a great way to get started is with a pre-owned mixer.
Your mix can take on a unique personality when using some of the older 8-bit and 16-bit effects engines.
What is quite important when buying a pre-owned DJ mixer is the quality of the fader.
So when buying a cheap or used DJ mixer, it is generally a good idea to have all aspects looked at by a professional and to have all the contacts cleaned, before relying on it for a gig.
What to know about buying new DJ Mixers
Channel number, pre-amps, effects and digital integration are important things to look at when considering a new DJ mixer.
The most basic versions have 2-channels, often with selectable phono/line inputs for use with CD players or turntables, a 3 band EQ on each channel, a level meter and gain control as well as a crossfader.
When buying, make sure that the number of pre-amps, mic, line and phono are adequate for your needs.
Most DJs need no more than 2-channels and DJ mixers usually max out at 5. Only one or two versions have mic pre-amps.
Modern DJ mixers often include a small effects bank. The Allen & Heath Xone DB4, and some other more advanced mixers, feature an individual effects bank for each channel.
To use external effects units with your mixer, you will need to check that your mixer has either channel inserts or auxiliary sends and returns.
Your MIDI implementation and digital implementation needs are another aspect to consider.
Some of the best DJ mixers are coming with the inclusion of a basic USB A/D converter to connect to a laptop and some also come with MIDI implementation to automate effects and faders.
The part of a DJ mixer that will see the most use is the crossfader. Ideally, this will be a high quality brand like P&G or Pro-X Faders.
A worn fader can cause pops and clicks. To avoid these, and for a little more expense, you could use a VCA or optical crossfader, since no sound actually passes through them.