What is a DJ mixer?
A DJ mixer is a type of console that allows a DJ to control multiple audio signals at once, manipulating them to meet their needs in the process. When used at a dance club, this means making a seamless transition from one song to the next on the playlist. For hip hop DJs, the mixer lets them use record players like it is a musical instrument, creating new sounds, such as loops, beats, or scratching effects.
Other types of DJs use a DJ mixer to create smooth transitions between different sound recordings while they are playing. These sources can include record turntables, CDs, compact cassettes, and even DJ software on a laptop that has been hooked up to the mixer. Many mixers include headphones, which allow the DJ to find the next song while the current one is still playing. Most mixers also have at least one mic input, so the DJ can talk to his audience or hand the mic over to a singer during karaoke. They also have a few inputs to hook up to turntables or CD players as needed.
Features to consider before buying a DJ mixer
When you buy a new DJ mixer, there a few features you’ll likely want to look for. The following details are a right place to start.
Number of channels
The purpose of the channels is to create a signal path between the mixer and whatever is being plugged into it. This can include microphones or line-level devices like preamps, amplifiers, or other types of signal processors. Some mixers, like the Numark M2 Black, have only two channels, while the Behringer Xenyx X1222USB has 16. For most DJs, two-four channels are acceptable, but the more you need to plug in, the more channels your mixer should have. If you need to add mics into the mix, you’ll need channels that work with them as well.
Inputs and outputs
The input on a mixer is where the sound source is connected. There are a couple types of inputs: some meant for mics while others are line inputs, which are used to connect the sound system, like a turntable, CD or tape player. If you’re using your mixer for a band rather than DJ gigs, you could also plug in guitars, keyboards, and other instruments in there for shows or recording purposes.
After connecting all of these devices through the input, you need somewhere for the music to go. This is where the outputs come in. They allow you to connect amplifiers or speakers to the mixer, so those in the audience can hear the music you’re playing.
There are a variety of controls on a mixer, which can look a bit confusing to those who are using a DJ mixer for the first time. Of course, once you know what all of these controls are for, using them will become like second nature.
The Gain controls how sensitive the channel is to the sound coming through it. For instance, a microphone with a low-level signal will likely need a high gain level. A signal with a higher input, like a CD player, will need minimal gain if any at all.
Equalization, or EQ, lets you adjust the sound’s tonal quality. These usually have three controls for high, middle, and low frequency, though some models, like the Yamaha MG06X use only low and high.
Auxiliaries are used for extra routing of sound to your external devices. One way to use this is to route a microphone signal to an external reverb unit or a recorder. The Auxiliary controls on the mixer let you create a separate mix without altering the main output.
A Fader controls the volume of sound coming out of the output. If you lower the fader to the bottom, there is no sound coming out, and as you raise it, the sound level increases. A crossfader is used with two external devices, so you can cue up a song, then use the crossfader to go from one channel to the other, all without a break in the music.
USB computer connection availability
Though not every DJ needs a USB connection, they can come in handy for those who like to store their music on a laptop. The USB connection allows you to plug your laptop into the mixer and play the music the same way you would with a turntable or CD player. You can also make playlists if you like, and just run the program if needed.
Some mixers also have a USB output as well, which is more for those using their mixers for recording purposes. These models, like the Behringer Xenyx X1222USB, let you send your mixes to your computer. Then, you can use editing software to alter or clean up the sound as you see fit.
Weight and dimensions
The weight and dimensions of your mixer are much more important than you may realize, for a few reasons. When it comes to the weight, the heavier the mixer is, the harder it will be to take it with you when you’re traveling. For instance, if you do varying gigs, like weddings, dances, parties, etc., you’ll need to carry that mixer inside and up onto the stage with you, and then back out again at the end of the night.
The weight also matters when it comes to the surface you’re placing it on. If you’re putting your mixer on a sturdy, heavy table, desk, or counter, they should be able to support the heavier models. Settings that aren’t as sturdy should be avoided, just in case, but if you have to use one, a lighter mixer is a better choice.
As for the dimensions, the mixer has to fit in the space you have for it, so measuring this area first is essential before you buy. The more channels a mixer has, the longer it will be, so you should also check out how many channels and inputs you need to choose the right one when it’s time to go shopping.
Some mixers, like the Mackie PROFX4V2, come with some special effects to enhance your sound. Some of the classic effects are the reverb, which is mostly used to make vocals sound better through a microphone, and delays or echoes for making those bass lines and vocals last a bit longer. A great DJ can work these into his mixes like magic.
Phantom power is another extra you can find on a few of the mixers we’ve reviewed above. The main purpose of phantom power is to support the use of a condenser mic, which requires a power supply of 48 volts.
Most DJ mixers have preamplifiers. The phono preamps are used to hook up turntables since the signal coming from a turntable is a bit weaker than that of other types of sound systems. The preamp boosts the signal from the turntable. There are also microphone preamps, which help increase the vocals of the person doing the singing or speaking through the mic.
The larger mixers usually run on AC power, so you can plug them directly into the wall. Some of the smaller mixers can also be powered using batteries if necessary, which makes it easier to use them in an outdoor setting. This would reduce the number of cables you need running across your stage.
DJ mixer or controller – which to choose?
A DJ mixer is a more traditional piece of equipment. It is used by DJs in the house, disco, electronic, and other dance-oriented genres to create smooth transitions between recordings while they are playing their music. Mixers are made of metal and built high enough to match the height of the turntable or CD player being used with it. Mixers have inputs to link them to those turntables, CDs, or laptops.
A DJ controller is more of a stand-alone unit. It has numerous knobs, jog wheels, faders, pads, and many other components that allow the DJ hands-on control over all the settings and functions of the software. Some controllers include two players and a mixer section, while others only have one player, and the mixer needs to be purchased separately. A controller does much of what a mixer will do, but it also has built-in playback tools, eliminating the need for other turntables, CDs, and players.