The 8 Best Pieces of DJ Equipment

Here's what you need to make the best beats

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Guitarists have their guitars, drummers have their drums, and DJs have their live sound setup. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a DJ’s set is most affected by how well they’ve prepared themselves for success.

That means having plenty of control services, such as MIDI controllers and turntables, a solid laptop setup to run it all on, and live sound and lights to project the magic out to the crowd.

In this roundup, we’re not ranking the best DJ gear against each other, but rather highlighting a few of our favorite pieces of gear—including a live vocal microphone, powered loudspeakers, and vinyl turntables. Read on for the best DJ gear to buy right now.

The Rundown
Best Sequencing Controller:
Akai Professional APC40 MKII at Amazon
The APC40 MKII offers a truly road-ready build and has no shortage of assignable control options on deck.
Best Keyboard MIDI Controller:
M-Audio Oxygen at Amazon
Its USB-connected, bus-powered operation is what makes it so simple, working as soon as you plug it into a compatible computer.
Best DJ Turntable:
Pioneer PLX-500-K at Amazon
The aluminum diecast platter, along with the 0 to 4g stylus pressure range, make for truly impressive vinyl sound.
Best Digital Turntable:
Pioneer DJ DDJ-SR2 at Amazon
The DDJ-SR2 is a USB-connected deck that works both as a playback and sequencing controller and an audio interface.
The build quality is solid, with thick earpads, a resilient headband system, and detachable wires for repairability.
Best Live Microphone:
Shure SM58 at Amazon
The rugged metal chassis and stiff dome cage protect the microphone against drops and jostling.
Best Loud Speakers:
JBL EON612 Speakers at Amazon
Because these are powered speakers, you’ll find a host of controls on the back, including a four-preset EQ toggle.
Best Visual Effects:
U`King Mini DJ Lights at Amazon
The four-beam setup offers four distinct RGB laser projections capable of creating more than 100 patterns.

Best Sequencing Controller: Akai Professional APC40 MKII

What We Like
  • Tons of onboard control options

  • Excellent build quality

  • Seamless integration with most DAWs

What We Don't Like
  • A little heavy and bulky

  • Expensive for just a controller

Half the battle when it comes to running a modern DJ set is giving yourself as much control as possible over the audio software you’re using. A sequencing controller like the APC40 MKII from Akai gives you tactile, assignable buttons and controls that correspond with features, triggers, and plug-ins on your DAW software.

The APC40 MKII offers a truly road-ready build and has no shortage of assignable control options on deck. There are more than a dozen rotary knobs with bright LED indicators to visually show your levels, and there are nine sliders that can be assigned to individual tracks or individual parameters on plugins.

The core of the sequencing operation, however, is the grid of backlit rubber trigger pads. These allow you to trigger, control, and fine-tune loops much in the same way you would program drum pad beats. The whole thing is powered and connected to your rig with the included USB cable and works seamlessly with Ableton, but is also compatible with most modern DAWs including Logic Pro, Pro Tools, and more.

Connectivity: USB | Knobs and Faders: 25 | Sequencing Pads: 5 x 8 | OS Compatibility: Mac or Windows

"With an intuitive 5 x 8 trigger grid and tons of assignable controls, this is the Swiss Army Knife of sequencing controllers." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer

Best Keyboard MIDI Controller: M-Audio Oxygen 49 MKIV

What We Like
  • 49 full-sized keys

  • Nine sliders and eight drum pads

  • Compact, bus-powered design

What We Don't Like
  • A little pricey

  • Doesn't have the full octaves of 88-key units

The Oxygen line of MIDI keyboards from M-Audio offers as much bang for your buck as possible without making the device too complicated or cumbersome. At its core, the fourth-gen Oxygen 49 is just a 49-key keyboard that sends MIDI signals to and from your DAW, allowing you to produce your tracks, lay down keyboard parts, and more.

Its USB-connected, bus-powered operation is what makes it so simple, working virtually as soon as you plug it into a compatible computer. What really sets this controller apart, however, is its inclusion of nine assignable sliders across the top (making it ideal for mixing, mastering, and precise plugin control) and its grid of eight velocity-sensitive drum pads on the upper corner for laying down beats and setting up percussive triggers. And because the unit is relatively slim and doesn’t require any extra power adapters, it’s a sleek addition to a touring setup.

Connectivity: USB | Keys: 49 | Faders: 9 | Drum Pads: 8 | OS Compatibility: Mac or Windows

"With sliders, drum pads, and bus power, the Oxygen 49 is a solid MIDI controller for the studio or the stage." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer

Best DJ Turntable: Pioneer PLX-500-K Turntable

What We Like
  • Excellent vinyl sound

  • Solid aluminum build

  • Streamlined components for better audio

What We Don't Like
  • Still fairly expensive

  • A little heavy

  • Lacking bells and whistles

While the Pioneer PLX-1000 is known as one of the industry standards for turntables, the PLX-500-K takes a similar look and feel, but shaves down the cost. The direct-drive deck does away with the need for belts and connections, meaning you’ll get a more instantaneous response when starting and stopping mixes.

While the bigger-brother PLX-1000 does deliver a much shorter response time, the 500-K will serve nicely for most basic DJ setups. That’s because the amount of wiring and transfer from the stylus to the phono outputs has been streamlined as much as possible—giving you fewer artifacts and less degradation on your output.

The aluminum diecast platter, along with the 0 to 4g stylus pressure range, make for truly impressive vinyl sound. The build is also really solid, though there aren’t as many flashy touches or bells and whistles in that department as you may want. There’s USB connection and included DJ software for capturing performances and mixes, too.

Connectivity: USB and Phono/RCA | Stylus Pressure Range: 0 to 4g | Motor: Three-phase brushless | Drive Method: Direct Drive | Signal-to-Noise Ratio: 50dB

"The build quality and direct-drive performance of the PLX-500 make it a serviceable counterpart to the more expensive PLX-1000." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer

Best Digital Turntable: Pioneer DJ DDJ-SR2 Portable 2-channel controller

What We Like
  • 16 drum trigger pads

  • Satisfying jog wheels

  • DAC and controller functionality

What We Don't Like
  • Pretty expensive

  • Limited on-board faders

The center of a live DJ’s setup is almost always a digital turntable. That’s because, though the name implies a specific use case, the actual functionality for these all-in-one decks provides a ton of value when interfacing with your setup. The DDJ-SR2 is a USB-connected deck that works both as a playback and sequencing controller and an audio interface.

The 24-bit, 44.1kHz DAC on-board means you can send audio out to your house mains via the balanced speaker outputs on the device. Then your audio software will read the device as both an audio unit and as a controller.

The two dedicated grids of drum pads allow for precise triggering and even tapping in some ad hoc beats. The cross-fader and assignable knobs will put more control at your fingertips. The heavy-duty jog wheels will give you precise control over playback speed and will even allow you to do some simulated scratching.

It all comes at a nearly $700 premium, and that might be a little steep considering the DAC isn’t the highest resolution around and there aren’t a ton of assignable sliders. But overall, this is a solid option if you need a do-it-all controller deck.

Connectivity: USB, XLR, TRS, and RCA | DAC Resolution: 24-bit/44.1kHz | Drum Pads: 16 | Jog Wheels: 2 | OS Compatibility: Mac and Windows

"The satisfying resistance on the jog wheels and the two dedicated grids of drum trigger pads make this a tactile, versatile little deck." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer

Best Headphones: Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

What We Like
  • Clean, natural sonic response

  • Solid design and build quality

  • Great accessories package

What We Don't Like
  • A little pricey

  • Can feel a little heavy

Audio-Technica has become virtually synonymous with the modern DJ, and a lot of that centers on the track record of really solid closed-back headphones. A pair of closed-back cans, like the ATH-M50x, is important because it gives you isolation for monitoring your mixes live on stage, but can also be used for tracking or mixing in the studio.

The specs on the ATH-M50x kind of speak for themselves: A frequency response of 15Hz to 28 kHz gives you more than enough coverage for the full range of human hearing and 99 dB of sensitivity at 38 ohms offers plenty of power and headroom.

The build quality is also pretty solid, with thick earpads, a resilient headband system, and detachable wires for repairability. At almost $200, these aren’t the cheapest headphones out there, but they will likely last years, so the investment is meant for the long term. The package comes with a coiled cable, a straight cable, and a case, and you can find the ATH-M50xs in black, white, or gun metal.

Connectivity: 3.55mm (with 1/4-inch adapter) | Frequency Response: 15Hz to 28kHz | Sensitivity: 99 dB | Impedance: 38 ohms

"The quality of foam used in the ATH-M50xs is really great, sitting somewhere between the springy foam and memory foam." — Jason Schneider, Product Tester

Audio-Technica ATH-M50x

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Best Live Microphone: Shure SM58

Shure SM58
What We Like
  • Clean, isolated response

  • Mid-polished sound for vocals

  • Solid, rugged build

What We Don't Like
  • Pretty pricey

  • Lacks some of the nuance of condenser mics

It’s not a stretch to say that the Shure SM58 is an industry standard in the live music community. As far as vocal-focused microphones go, there are few that stand up to as much of a beating and still produce crisp, full, isolated response.

DJs need microphones, in most cases, for speaking to the audience—whether at a wedding or transitioning to new songs at a true club set. The SM58 works great for this because of its off-axis noise rejection and the midrange polish for sound going through the microphone. This makes it particularly good for the human speaking voice.

The rugged metal chassis and stiff dome cage also protect the microphone against drops and jostling. At $90 to $100, it certainly isn’t the cheapest mic in its class, and there is a characteristic sterility you get from a dynamic mic of this type. But if that’s what you’re looking for, it’s likely worth the investment.

Connectivity: XLR | Microphone Style: Dynamic | Pickup Pattern: Cardioid

"If clean, isolated vocals are what you’re after, the SM58 is a safe bet." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer

Best Loud Speakers: JBL EON612 Speakers

What We Like
  • Tons of power and overhead

  • Rugged, road-friendly build

  • Separate gain controls for each input channel

What We Don't Like
  • Limited on-board EQ options

  • Fairly heavy and bulky

If the controller is the heart of any good DJ setup, then the speaker system is its backbone. The EON line from JBL has long been trusted by event DJs as portable, powerful, durable speakers that punch above their price point. The 12-inch main speaker cone provides plenty of oomph, and the 1000W peak power offered by the built-in powered amp should push plenty of sound, especially when using the EON612 in a pair.

Because these are powered speakers, you’ll find a host of controls on the back, including a four-preset EQ toggle. It would be nice to have rotary EQ knobs right on board, but thanks to the Bluetooth-controlled parameters you can get a little more precision using a smartphone or other mobile device. There are two balanced TRS/XLR input ports, each with their own dedicated gain control, and a basic XLR pass-through port for extending the mix to another speaker.

The whole thing comes in a really rugged shell that is pretty heavy and bulky—though the ergonomic handles make things a little easier to carry.

Connectivity: XLR, TRS, and Bluetooth | Peak Amp Power: 1000W Class D | Drive Size: 12 inches

"The JBL EON612 packs a serious punch, even if the on-board controls are a bit limited." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer

Best Visual Effects: U`King Mini DJ Lights

What We Like
  • Four distinct laser projects

  • Tons of pattern and graphic options

  • Durable metal build

What We Don't Like
  • Limited controls

  • Simplistic sync functions

It's easy to go overboard when you’re in the market for DJ lights, buying tons of spotlight rigs and even more graphic effects. But if you’re looking to easily get started and do so on a budget, this four-beam, all-in-one setup from U`King is a great way to do it.

The four-beam setup offers four distinct RGB laser projections capable of creating more than 100 patterns and more than 300 built-in graphics or effects. This way, you can offer everything from flashy lasers to subtle logos on the walls, or even just some backward flood lighting. The DPSS laser tech is meant to last longer than more taxing technology, which means this setup shouldn’t burn out on you too easily.

The strong aluminum alloy case that’s shaped in a stackable chassis is great for loading in with road cases. Of course, it isn’t quite as high-end as traditional flood lighting, and you are limited on the controls of some of it—but that’s a trade off that’s possibly worth it for the sub-$200 price point.

Housing Material: Aluminum Alloy | Output Voltage: 2A/250V | Related Power: 30W | Control Types: Sound-activated, DMX, or primary/replica

"Going with a budget-friendly multi-lighting kit like this is a safe way to get your rig started." — Jason Schneider, Tech Writer

Final Verdict

Because this roundup doesn’t aim to rank gear against each other, our final verdict is more of a recommendation on which categories you should start with when getting your DJ setup going. To begin, a solid controller like Akai APC40 or the Pioneer DDJ-SR2 digital turntable is a great center point to kick things off. Next, you’ll need a pair of solid headphones like our recommended ATH-M50xs and a pair of substantial loudspeakers for larger events, such as the JBL EON 612s on the list. With those few pieces of gear, you’ll be able to tackle almost any gig or event that’s thrown at you.

About Our Trusted Experts

Jason Schneider is a tech writer with more than 10 years of experience and a musician with more than 25 years under his belt. He attended Northeastern University and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in music technology, computer science, and communications. His areas of expertise for Lifewire include audio equipment and headphones.

FAQs


What kind of headphones are best for DJs? 

While consumer headphones provide excellent sound quality and great around-town features, it’s better to go with a pair of flat-response studio monitors if you’re using headphones for DJ work. This means that the headphones provide a clean, natural representation of your music—unaffected by EQ or onboard signal processing.

What do DJs use knobs and controllers for?

When you see a DJ reach down and turn a knob or push a button, it’s almost never just for show. The big consoles that a DJ uses are typically just USB-connected consoles that control software being driven on a laptop. You might see digital “jog wheel” style turntables, big sliders, or light-up drum pads meant to mold and drive the song. These controllers typically don’t produce music on their own, but rather cue up sounds and mixes on a laptop.

What is the difference between a studio microphone and a live microphone?

Microphones meant for the stage such as the Shure SM58 are really good at isolating the sound that is right in front of them. This results in clean, crisp response but lacks depth and nuance. Studio microphones, especially condenser microphones, are typically more sensitive, and will pick up a lot more of the sound in the room. This is good for recording rich instrumental sounds in a quiet space, but for DJs addressing a crowd, a high-quality dynamic microphone is the right tool for the job.

What to Look For in the Best DJ Equipment

Studio vs. Live

One of the most important considerations when compiling DJ gear is to determine whether you want to use that equipment in a home studio to make beats or live and on-stage. Live applications require PA-style systems and even lighting rigs, while studio gear needs to be finely tuned and hyper specific.

Software

This list was written to help you compile the physical hardware you’ll need as a DJ, but a lot of it has software requirements. Any good DJ setup will typically be based around a DAW (digital audio workstation) and accompanying plugins.

Bus Power

When you’re looking at keyboard and DJ controllers or audio interfaces, it’s important to determine whether those devices will need separate power outlets to run. Many controllers and interfaces can be run using bus power (meaning that they receive power through the same USB connection that they transmit information), but some cannot. This will be important, especially if you want to use your gear in areas where power outlets are scarce.

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