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Think of this as the intrument you are playing to make music.

This page will shed some light on the equipment you need and how to set it up. What you need can be summed up quite fast:

  • a pair of turntables and/or a pair of CD mixers
  • a headphone
  • a mixer
  • at least one amplifier and set of speakers
  • some records or CDs
and optional:
  • Recording equipment: Tapedeck, DAT or minidisc recorder.

( Dont forget: You can also use your computer as recorder, if you have recording software and you hook your gear to the line-in of the soundcard. )

Equipment, or The Essential Stuff

First off, you need a pair of turntables. It is possible to use belt driven turntables, at least theoretically, in practice you will need a pair of direct driven turntables. Alternatively you can opt for one or two CD decks, next to, or replacing, the turntables. With the turntables comes the inevitable need for a pair of slipmats.

( One turntable and one CD deck is not recommended: this severely limits freedom of track choice in a mix, you are forced to play a track from CD, then vinyl, and then CD, etc. )

Next step, get yourself a decent headphone. A headphone has to meet a few requirements: Good bass reproduction, good fit and tough design. As far as the demand for good bass reproduction goes, you have to favor the closed-back designs. This will also better keep out the ambient sounds, which is, given the situation, very much desirable. Better, more accurate sound reproduction will help you hear the slightest of differences during transitions. A crap headphone will make this a lot more difficult.

Good fit speaks for itself, you are likely to want a headphone that has a comfortable fit if you want to survive several hours of mixing. And for design: it is not so much you need a tough headphone, but you need to avoid using a fragile one, which of course comes down to the same thing. You have to be able to twist and bend the headphone repeatedly without wear / causing damage and it has to be able to survive a drop to the floor. (The twisting and bending happens when you listen with only one earpad on one of your ears, the other pad behind the other ear, or even in your neck.)

The mixer. They come in all different forms and prices. A normal mixer will have 2 channels which allows you to mix 2 of a total of 4 inputs: 2line ins and 2 phono ins. Some mixers are "one input, one channel" but most modern mixers have 2 inputs for one channel. A button or flip-switch allows you to select the input that is put through to the channel, phono in for the turntables and line in for the rest of the equipment. (including pre-amplified turntables.)

Each channel needs at least a 2-band UE: bass and treble ( or high range) equalizer and the mixer needs a VU meter. From here on it can only get better, more crowded and more expensive. Higher quality will show in the durability and toughness of the mixer and the better sound it will send to the amplifier(s). In contrast to the previous 2 items, the pair of decks and the headphone, if you get a poor quality mixer it will not really effect your own mixing skills, the music itself will not sound as good. Using poor decks and/or a poor quality headphone will make it harder to mix right.

Amplifiers and speakers: This is where things get slippery because it depends on what you have in mind: go for living room hobby DJ or try to cause some earthquakes on the dancefloor...

Recording equipment is optional, but a very usefull aid to practice. And if you take it more seriously, you'll also need it for recording demo tapes/discs.

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Hardware Configuration

There are 2 different configurations possible for the equipment: the home system and the party system. The first for use in your own living room, the latter being more professional, to "cater" a crowd on a dance floor. The difference between the 2 is the way they are set up. A home system will have one set of speakers and a modest amplifier, say up to 2 x 100 watts. The mixer connects to the aux in or the tuner in. In most cases the input range of the tuner in is better than aux in so it would be better to use this input of your amplifier. One set of speakers, directly in your own vicinity, and that is all.

A party system has 2 sets of speakers and 2 or more (end) amplifiers. The first speaker set, called the monitor is for the DJ him/herself around the turntables, the other set of speakers, fed by the master out and amplifier(s) is for the listeners on the dance floor. This will allow the DJ to adjust the volume of headphone and speakers to his/her needs without influencing the music volume the crowd hears.

NOTE: There are more names for these 2 outputs. The monitor out or just monitor is the same as zone or booth (monitor). This depends on the specific mixer you use.

The master (out) is sometimes called main (out). It is the output that will feed the power amplifier(s) for the dance floor speakers .

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Powering Up/Down

Turning on and turning off the equipment requires more attention once there are more watts involved. Being uncarefull with the order in which you turn on/off the equipment can send a spike through your system: a power surge which in turn could do damage to the rest of the equipment.

RULE #1 and #2 for mixer and amplifiers:

  • #1 Before you turn ON the power, make sure the output is minimal.
  • #2 Before you turn OFF the power, make sure the output is minimal.
In other words: turn the Output Volume fully down.

Turning the equipment on: The first opportunity for a spike to appear is when you turn on your mixer. Make sure everything else is OFF. Once your mixer is ON, you can turn on the amplifier(s). This may seem overcautious, and for normal household equipment it is, but it is far from being overcautious when you're dealing with high-end professional equipment. The turntables do not have capacity to store enough charge, so they can not cause any spikes at all.

And while we are at it, make sure your turntables are electrically grounded so the static electricity can not make a terrible mess of the music you play. (if you fail to do so the music will hiss and crackle from static charge that builds up.)

Check the Output Volume, make sure it is minimal and turn on the amplifier(s). Set the output volume of the amplifier(s) and you are ready to go.

Shutting down the equipment.
Same thing in reverse. Start with turning Output Volume of your amplifier(s) fully down. Give the amplifier(s) a good 10 seconds to decharge (to defeat as it is called.) Some professional amplifiers have knobs you can pull in order to defeat. Once this is done you can shut down the mixer. Turntables can be shut down at any given moment.

If you are using a normal household amplifier, chances of sending a spike through your system are minimal. These are relatively low power amplifiers which do not need to loose charge before they are shut down. Shutting down the amplifier can, in this case, be done the normal way. The high power end amplifiers which are used in clubs and at parties, professional use, require special attention.

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Sound Checking.

When you start with all the equipment for the first time, it is wise to set a limit for music volume. Start with playing the body of a track. Open the channel and set the gain of the channel in such a way that the VU meter peaks between 0 dB and +3 dB. This value is somewhat arbitrary, it should be somewhere in this range. If the maximum peaks are below the 0 dB mark, you will send a relatively weak audio signal to the amplifier(s). If you set your maximum peak value above the +3 dB you risk a distorted audio signal. The average maximum peak value is also important as a reference for matching the volume of 2 records. Make sure that the mixer output you use, monitor or master out, is on 0 dB. A 0 dB signal can still clip and/or cause distortion in the amplifier if the output signal is amplified by the mixer before it is send to the amplifier itself.

If you are using the home system configuration, hook up the monitor out to the amplifier. This will leave the master out to connect the mixer to recording equipment (up to the reader to implement). In case of the party configuration, a system with 2 separate sets of speakers, you have to connect the master out to the amplifier(s) for the dancefloor, and the monitor out to the amplifier for the speakers in front of the turntables. Now you can turn up the volume of the amplifier(s) to what you prefer as reasonable loudest volume, or possibly up to the point where your amplifier(s) clip or start to distort. By doing so you will have control the actual music volume with a convenient knob (or 2: master and monitor) on the mixer.

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© 1999 - 2002. It is not allowed to duplicate this text or parts thereof without written permission of the author: Geert-Jan Pluijms.