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Any DJ worth their salt puts their digital audio workstation software at the center of their production arsenal, and any DAW worth its salt will facilitate making amazing beats and tracks without much resistance. Ableton’s latest version of Live is in its tenth iteration, and they bring a ton of value. We recommend the middle ground Standard edition because it gives you everything you’ll need to produce to your heart’s content. We’re talking 1800+ sounds, constituting more than 10GB of audio to get you started. There are five separate software instruments that all come with tweakable controls, plus 34 different audio effect plugins and 8 different MIDI effects to round out your mixes. Add that in with unlimited tracking capabilities, plenty of I/Os to set up your live performance mixes, plus some great new features like updated warp modes and in-program audio slicing, and you have an amazingly full-featured program for the working (or aspiring) DJ.
To go with a sequencing software, particularly when running those mixes in a live performance setting, DJs turn to a more intuitive piece of hardware to launch their clips and get the beats flowing in a more live performance way (rather than just hitting play at the beginning of a track). The Akai APC40 MKII (the big brother to the APC40), gives you a host of features to do this. Just looking at the thing, you’ll see a fleet of sliders and level knobs combined with the grid of flashing lights, so right off the bat, you have lots of assignable controls. But there’s more to it than that. First off, there’s a 5 x 8, 40-pad grid of light-up control buttons that sync with Ableton on a 1-to-1 basis, which means it will perform seamlessly with the software. There are those sliders we mentioned, which pair directly to eight separate channels, as well as one master slider. They all come pre-mapped, so there’s plug-and-play portability, but you can drill further down in Ableton and assign them however you want. Add that to the on-board USB bus power and a ton of assignable sends and fine-tuning knobs, and you’ve got a truly portable unit that can run a show by itself.
To go with a sequencing controller, many DJs elect to bring in some live performance to their set, and the easiest way to offer versatility with a live keyboard is to get a MIDI controller that connects up to your software. M-Audio is one of the best names in the biz when it comes to MIDI controllers, and with their tried-and-true Axiom series, it’s easy to see why. The Oxygen MKIV model is the next gen to that (though technically it’s combining their old Oxygen models with the Axiom line).
These controllers give you a variety of key layouts – the model we recommend is the 49 for versatility and portability – but they also come standard with a set of eight light-up, assignable trigger pads. This lets you use the sequencing controller for triggering your mixes, and then the Oxygen pads as drum pads to add some on-the-fly beats. Of course, the keyboard works like a keyboard, so you can assign it to a software synth or sampler for organs, pianos, crazy Australian didgeridoos or whatever else you need. Round that out with eight assignable knobs and sliders and you have a very powerful supplementary controller. This line also comes with M-Audio’s award-winning VIP3.0 software that gives you further virtual control over your software instruments.
There’s some (pretty heated) debate in the pro audio industry about what the right studio monitors are for your home studio – and the short answer is that it really matters what your application is. Yamahas are good for all-around mixing, but something more bass-heavy like the latest generation KRK Rokit 8 monitor will give you just the right frequency response for the bumping beats you’re gonna be making at home.
The speakers are soft dome tweeters alongside a super unique 8-inch glass-Aramid composite dome woofer in each speaker that has a fantastic low-end response (so you won’t have to shell out for a bulky subwoofer). The unit can produce true sounds up to 35 kHz on the top end, so your mixes will have plenty of sparkle, too. The proprietary bi-amped, class A/B amplifier gives you up to an SPL of 109 dB, which is more than loud enough for a modest home studio. There are also XLR/TRS input options and HF/LF adjustment knobs on the back to go with the standard volume knobs. Plus, with that pop of yellow on the speaker domes that KRK has become known for, these things will look slick on your desk.
Despite popular belief, the crown jewel of a live DJ setup isn’t actually the turntable -- it’s the mixer. Ask 10 pro DJs, and 9 of them will tell you that DJM900s are the go-to for a reliable mixing platform. First, let’s unpack what this thing actually does. At its most basic level, a DJ mixer will run sound from a computer (or from another input you send in) and feed it out to the live speakers. Paired with turntables, you can run two independent tracks simultaneously and fade between them.
The DJM does this flawlessly, of course, but it also gives you a ton of onboard features for a warm, nuanced sound. First off, it’s the first ever onboard 64-bit engine, which is an insane level of fidelity and will fill any live space beautifully. There’s also a proprietary Sound Color FX bank that gives you six different colors to put on every track: Sweep, Filter, Crush, Dub Echo, Noise and Space.
If you want to run your own outboard effects, there are dedicated, independent sends and returns for the ultimate effects loop control. There’s an enhanced BEAT FX pad that’s actually a hyper-crisp OLED screen that lets you adjust (or even perform) drums and beats on the fly. And the built-in workhorse USB sound card supports up to 4 ins and 5 outs, so you’ll be able to run any situation with ease.
This direct drive unit (meaning it isn’t operated by a belt pulley system) is perfect for the performer who wants to spin good old fashioned records and do cool, analog sets. Being direct drive, it gives the motor enough torque that you’ll have a very stable rotation, meaning it won’t fail or fluctuate mid-set. The heavy, di-cast metal enclosure will make sure no vibrations bump up from the surface it’s sitting on, giving you less skips and starts during playback.
There’s a wider spectrum of variable speed control than typically offered on a turntable (up to +/- 16x), which is great for syncing tempos when transitioning tracks on the fly. And even the output jacks are premium with a heavy-duty, gold-plated construction. Grab two of these and you’ll have a full analog setup that will rival any professional rig.
If you want to have the full features offered by the digital age but feel like you’re running an old school DJ setup, you’ll need a digitally controlled jog wheel (or two) that feels like the real thing. The Denon MCX8000 is a truly modern gem with a feature set to match. For starters, it's standalone (meaning you don’t have to sync it up with your laptop) and it also has their award-winning Serato DJ software.
There’s a four-channel mixer-controller in the middle and the jog wheels employ a solid metal construction for precision. There are velocity-sensitive touchpads and two HD displays that show the Serato software and engine at work. The four-channel mixer sends through audio at 24 bits and there are two USB outs to sync perfectly and transfer play to another DJ set seamlessly.
Sony's MDR line of headphones gets you way more for your money than other DJ competitors. That’s because these can be used for monitoring a live session and they’re perfect for in-studio use, as well. The Neodymium magnets and 40mm drivers provide a supremely detailed realization of whatever audio you’re pumping through. The closed-back design isolates you from sound without the need for sound-affecting, noise-canceling tech.
The frequency response covers from 10 Hz to 20 kHz, which fully encompasses the human range of hearing (and even goes beyond it). The construction pays homage to the classic, old-school studio headphones, while also giving you the ability to fold them up and stow them in the included leather pouch (clutch for tossing into your bag on the way to a gig). The cable is just under 10 feet long, but it’s coiled, so even though it doesn’t detach (one of the drawbacks to this set of headphones), it also stows nicely into the pouch.
Bottom line: these headphones offer the perfect balance between premium, flat-response sound and comfort/quality.
Whether you’re planning to sell out clubs with original tunes or give yourself a new side hustle during wedding season, every DJ worth his salt needs a standby dynamic mic for announcements and crowd hyping. The best one for the job is undoubtedly the Shure SM58. From full-on rock shows to recording guitar amps to running basic PA announcements, few microphones have earned the industry credit that the 58 has.
It covers a frequency range of 50 to 15,000 Hz which is pretty wide for a dynamic vocal mic. But that range is further optimized for vocals by rolling off the bass to help avoid proximity resonance and brightening up the mid-range to emphasize the key band of the human voice. That cage on top is actually a spherical pop filter and windscreen so, in most settings, you won’t need to add any other wind burst protection.
There’s a pneumatic shock-mount system for the diaphragm that prevents vibration and artifacts as a result of handling the mic. And the focused, directional cardioid pattern of that diaphragm is perfect for picking up what’s right in front of the mic and no other background noise. And at just about 10.5 ounces, this thing is built like a tank, so you know it’ll last your whole tour (or wedding season).
These 12-inch speakers from JBL are going to be your number one purchase if you’re a working DJ. Why? Well because booking Bar Mitzvahs and weddings require you to have an inherent baseline of gear to bring with you, and the first thing you’ll need at a party is the thing that makes the sound.
For starters, these active monitors are self-powered, meaning you won’t need a standalone amp, and they offer an impressive bass response because they’re two-way units. The sound is powered by JBL’s Waveguide technology, and with a brand like JBL, you tend to respect a proprietary sound tech, especially for live PA applications.
The sound capacity on these is a peak wattage of 1,000 with 500 continuous watts of power, which is plenty of noise for even the biggest party. They measure 26.14 x 14.96 x 12.44 inches, so they’re pretty portable. There’s Bluetooth integration for firing up standalone playlists and there are even some built-in mixing and EQ effects to optimize your application whether you’re using the speaker for all-around tunes, as sound clarifying monitors, in speech settings or as a subwoofer for bass bumping.
The portable DJ 4PLAY is ideal for traveling entertainers who want powerful lighting options at a more affordable price. A few steps up from basic visual effect models, the DJ 4PLAY is fitted with four LED moonflowers each with 57 red, green, blue, and white diodes. This unit is geared towards giving DJs more power over their set: the DJ 4PLAY gives you individual control of the LEDs within each light, an adjustable strobe speed, and ability to independently position each light. There are six channels of DMX control along with built-in sound activated or automated programs, which are quick to set up and cycle through pre-programmed series of patterns and colors. The bar measures 33 x 3.5 x 12.5 inches and is easily mounted to most tripods and speaker stands, maximizing convenience for mobile performers. However, the lights and knobs are made out of plastic and might not have long-term durability. A free carrying case is included with the DJ 4PLAY.