Need Advice on Purchasing Equipment to DJ House Music
May 1, 2013 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy an "all in one" DJ controller or should I buy component-by-component (i.e., two turntables, a mixer and a serato box)? Details follow...

Hi all. I have been a longtime fan of house music (EDM) and I recently decided to learn to produce and DJ such music myself. In terms of producing, I have Ableton Live 8 and a MacBook Pro, and I've been working my way through several "How to Produce with Ableton" video courses and supplementing that with 1-on-1 tutoring once a week. I'm looking at acquiring a Korg MICROKEY37 37-Key Midi Controller and perhaps a Korg Kaossilator Pro or Kaossilator Pro Plus Tabletop Synthesizer.

I now want to turn to the DJing side of things.

I'm definitely going to get an APC40. Beyond that, my question is: Should I get an "all in one" DJ controller or should I purchase all the components separately (i.e., two turntables, a mixer and a serato box)?

Right now I don't own any vinyl, BTW.

In terms of all-in-one controllers, I am looking at the Pioneer DDJ-SX, the Numark NS7FX, the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 and the Vestax VCI-380.

My main question is "Do I go all-in-one or component-by-component?" but I am open to any suggestions or comments anyone has about ANY of these pieces of equipment, or any OTHER pieces of equipment which anyone might recommend. I would also be grateful for references to other websites which someone in my position might find useful.

Thank you Me-Fi community!
posted by Jason Solo to Technology (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
There really isn't a simple answer to this. Theres going to be a lot of preference.

Short answer: you're likely fine with just the APC40.

My own personal preference is to play on CDJ-2000s with a USB drive. CDJs which support this are (finally) starting to be become standard enough that I rarely, if ever, have to fall back to CDs. I'm also getting booked enough that I'm pretty sure I can make it a requirement rather than a request, but you don't start off that way ;) I have many reasons for this - after years of playing vinyl, and then CDs, it's such a joy to show up with just headphones and a drive. I have played with Traktor a fair amount as well, and my personal preference is strongly in favor of NOT having a laptop as part of the mix. For me, having that big screen and keyboard there puts me into into a different mindset entirely, and I start to think more and feel less, which leads to lower quality sets. That's just me, though. What -isn't- just me is that in most cases, the screen is going to be between you and the dancefloor, and that really doesn't help with connecting. A huge part of being a DJ is feeling what the floor is feeling and playing to it, and I think screens distract from that.

That said, you're already using a laptop for other things, so it's likely you'll stick with that. Given that you're producing with ableton, you should look into DJing with it + a controller. I haven't done so myself, but I know a handful of people who do. That would certainly be the most cost effective option, and it wouldn't introduce new software or hardware to learn.

The controllers have gotten quite nice - aside from the screen issue I like playing on S4s just fine - and I generally advise people who are just starting and don't intend on throwing their own events to just get of those - just the CDJs alone are each more than the price of a controller. And that's before you get to the mixer! But those people don't usually already have a copy of and experience with ableton, so your case seems a little different.

Welcome to playing music! There's little in my life that compares to the joy of spinning to dancers.
posted by flaterik at 6:15 PM on May 1, 2013

Something else to consider when thinking about how much to spend: I drop $100+ every month on music. I'm a little more aggressive about always having fresh stuff than most people, but... it gets noticed! The single most important thing in DJing is track selection - the technical stuff is just the means to an end. To me more money for music is more important.

(And if this is pertinent to you: I play [deep|funky|tech]house and nu-disco)
posted by flaterik at 6:23 PM on May 1, 2013

Response by poster: flaterik, I have a follow-up question for you. This may be a ridiculous newbie thing to ask, but, do you DJ with one CDJ-2000 or two? I just became aware of that piece of equipment the other day and I'm not quite sure how it works. Could you explain the set up to me? Thanks!
posted by Jason Solo at 6:27 PM on May 1, 2013

An APC40 isn't really ideal equipment to DJ with, unless you're going to go through all of your tracks and chop them up into a hundred little clips that you can do a girl-talk style mashup set with.

I DJed regularly with CDJs for over ten years, and there isn't really any value to using a CDJ over a modern DJ controller, unless you don't want to carry a laptop with you. I hear what flaterik is saying about screens disconnecting you from the audience, which is why I never, ever put the screen between me and the audience. I have my controller between me and the audience, and the screen to the side.

A Traktor S2 or S4 controller would be a solid purchase for a new DJ. I own an S4 and I think it's fab. I'm happy to answer any follow-up questions you might have about the gear.
posted by Jairus at 6:53 PM on May 1, 2013

If you buy an all-in-one, you will save money and setup time, but you will have to rent/buy a full replacement if it blows up and if you want to upgrade, you'll have to upgrade all at once.

If you buy components, you will spend more money and need more setup time, but you can rent/buy per-component replacements as needed, and if you want to upgrade specific components, you can do so as desire demands and budget allows.

In short: if you're doing this to screw around or as a hobby, go all-in-one, and if you're doing this to make a living, go component.
posted by davejay at 7:43 PM on May 1, 2013

You absolutely do not need traktor or final scratch or any other dj controller with ableton. There are tons of house DJs who use only the APC-40 and ableton. I do it myself. Hell, I've dj'd with just ableton and the trackpad on my macbook.
posted by empath at 8:52 PM on May 1, 2013

I am not sure how relevant this is for DJs, but I looooorve my Ableton Push.
posted by chrchr at 9:43 PM on May 1, 2013

Also, and this is really important -- don't fall into the trap of gear envy and thinking that you need a whole bunch of equipment or software to be a DJ or music producer. I learned how to DJ on two shitty belt-drive turntables and a $50 mixer. I didn't buy 1200s until I got good enough with beatmatching that they made a difference -- I had played in clubs that had them, used them at friends houses, etc. I bought them when I was comfortable with them and knew I was going to use them.

You can DJ with a free copy of virtual DJ, a $200 netbook, and a usb drive full of MP3s -- I've done that at paid gigs before. Start with something like that. You need to figure out how to make a mix cd, which songs work well together, how to get gigs, network, a bunch of other things before dropping $1000 or $2000 on gear even begins to make sense. Dip your toes in, talk to djs and producers, go to people's houses and play with their gear. When you NEED to buy something, you'll know it. Until then, learn the fundamentals with the least expensive, simplest stuff you can get.

One of the main reasons for this is that software and hardware is advancing so fast, that if you aren't ready to use them to their full potential today, by the time you figure them out, there will be a whole new generation of stuff to learn and buy. Learn the basics on the least expensive gear you can get away with for now.
posted by empath at 10:11 PM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I second everything empath said - especially "Until then, learn the fundamentals with the least expensive, simplest stuff you can get."

As to the followup- you need two! Each is just a player with controls - basically one pane from serato/traktor. But they can read from USB drives (as well as SD cards), and can network together so you only need one drive. I almost never play CDs any more.

I started with vinyl, and it took me all of 10 minutes to learn how to play traktor scratch. Once you know the skills the tools are nearly irrelevant to the actual music. It's other factors that come into play (if I never have someone setting up their special snowflake controller while I'm trying to play again it'll be too soon, but I'm not going to get that wish...)
posted by flaterik at 3:23 PM on May 2, 2013

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