Buying Guide:DJ Equipment Part 4 - DJ Mixers
The main differences among DJ mixers are the effects and the number of inputs and channels. For beginning DJs, a basic mixer with two or three channels and enough inputs for your turntables or CD players will be adequate. Let’s look at some of the basic features of a DJ mixer.
On the back panel of a DJ mixer, you’ll often find RCA inputs to plug in turntables and aux inputs to plug in CD players. (If your turntables have built-in phono preamps, you can plug them into the aux inputs.) You’ll often find a 5-pin DIN connector to plug in the power cord, balanced outputs to send the sound to your amplifiers, and a ground post to ground potentially harmful electricity and reduce hum. There may also be insert points used to send and return the signal through external signal processors or effects. Some mixers have additional inputs and outputs; just be sure your mixer provides the number and type of connections (RCA, 1/4", and XLR) you’ll need.
Basically, each signal input into the mixer is a channel. The right turntable and the left turntable, for example, will each get their own channel. Every channel on a mixer has the same controls, so once you learn how to control one channel, you’ll know how to control them all, no matter how many there are.
Phono/line selector switch
Most channel sectors have a phono/line selector switch, which you’ll set to phono with turntables and line with CD players. This switch can also be used while mixing to cut out a channel quickly.
The gain/trim control is usually at the top of each channel section and it’s used to control the level of the individual input channel. Most DJs use the gain/trim control for setting the initial level of the signal source and use the fader for adjusting the volume in performance.
EQ (HI, MID, LO)
Below the gain control, you’ll usually find the EQ knobs, which let you adjust the response of the bass, treble, and midrange for each channel. These are also called "rotary kills" because they can be used to smoothly silence a frequency band.
Some mixers offer kill switches, which let you turn off the lows, mids, or highs. You can pull them down to kill a frequency band momentarily and they’ll pop back on their own, or you can flip them up and the frequency band will remain off until you flip it down.
Channel faders and crossfader
Each channel fader allows you to control the volume of one channel at a time. The crossfader allows you to simultaneously fade in one source in while fading out another. For example, if the left turntable is connected to channel 1 and the right to channel 3, then you would assign channel 1 to crossfader side A and channel 3 to side B. Then you would move the crossfader to the left to fade into channel 1, the middle to play both, and the right to fade into channel 3. Look for a mixer with a replaceable crossfader—especially for turntablists—because it’s usually the first thing that gets worn out.
Some mixers come with a curve control, which lets you adjust the amount of fading it takes to switch channels. For example, if you set it to a smooth curve, your mixes will be gradual as you slide the fader from side to side, but if you set it to a sharp curve, the mix will be much faster. A curve control is especially handy for scratch DJs.
The hamster switch (usually found on scratch mixers) lets you reverse the crossfader positions so that you move the crossfader to the right to fade into channel 1 and the left to fade into channel 3. This feature allows DJs to scratch using the same motion regardless of which turntable is in use.
The level of the final mix can typically be adjusted by one or two master controls on the right side of the console.
Peak meters show the level of each channel or the master output and indicate any signalclipping (distortion) that occurs.
Mic input & talkover button
Most mixers offer a mic input, which can come in handy even if you don’t have a microphone; it sounds funny, but in a pinch you can plug in your headphones and yell into the earpiece. It’s not pretty, but it gets the job done. Some mixers have a talkover button that lowers the level of the music while you’re talking and is handy for mobile DJs.
Cue level & cue mix
The cue level controls the volume in your headphones and the cue mix is a crossfader for your headphones so you can preview mixes before the audience hears them.
Some mixers feature BPM (beats per minute, or tempo) counters, which let you see at a glance if the BPM of your records matches up.