Tools of the Trade - Turntables,CDJs, and Controllers
A little background... I am a long time DJ that started playing in 1998 on an old set of NEXT turntables, which I don't even think that company exists anymore. It was a cheap DJ in a box set up that I picked up at my local music store. They definitely weren't Technics, which after working hard on perfecting my skills on my tables, I eventually moved up to. As time went on, I ended up with a pair of Numark CD tables that I incorporated into my setup and learned to play on 4 decks. Then it got to where that wasn't enough and then i incorporated a Kaos Pad and a Roland SP808ex into the mix. Then I had kids and had to sell everything, I know, bummer. But hey, that is life. Once I decided that I needed to have drum and bass back in my life, I ended up getting into some Pioneer CDJ 800's. Those were awesome for that time. I missed my vinyl, but I loved the convenience of just carrying a book of CD's around with me instead of heavy bags of vinyl. At that time, most clubs had been embracing the CDJ craze so it was only fitting that I have the same at home. So I spent a ton of money and got my CDJs. Well then a bit later, life hit again and I had to sell my setup. A couple of years later and I wanted back in, I know, it's a cycle. But then here are these awesome little things called controllers. You mean all I had to bring was my laptop with ALL of my music, not just what I could burn to CDs or put on a flash drive, and this light weight controller to my DJ gigs? I was in and bought a little Numark Mixtrack Pro. It was great for a while, but after getting some abuse over a couple of years, it finally broke and I got into a Traktor controller. I am hooked on Traktor Pro with my S4! It is amazing what I can do, and now with the Stem DJing functionality, there are endless possibilities.
So what was the reason in the ramblings of my life? That was to show you that I have had experience on just about every type of DJ gear out there. My opinions are not biased as each type of gear has it's place.
Turntables are mostly used these days by hip hop artist and other electronic turntablists. Many purists still use turntables, but are incorporating them with digital music using programs like Serato and Traktor. Some still use records, but most are carting a laptop instead. These setups are great because the physical control of vinyl is like no other. The cons of turntables are they are expensive setup with needles and mixers needed not to mention the laptop, interface with control vinyl, and or vinyl records. They are also heavy and larger than most CDJs or controllers and require more setup time and space.
CDJs are definitely the standard format in today’s professional nightclub/festival settings since they’re the most portable and use the most updated technology. Pioneer is a professional standard as its CDJ-2000 Nexus is considered the most advanced multi-format player. The programming of the CDJ-2000 eliminates the need for a laptop since the player can perform all functions that DJ software can perform. The CDJ-2000 also has a very detailed waveform comparable to the LCD waveform on a computer’s DJ software. These players and many others on the market can use either USB, CDs with MP3 functionality, and some even have SD card slots (although I wouldn't use those as the transfer rate is SLOW). Many DJs prefer to use these devices as they are a great replacement for traditional turntables and give you many options of media to use and don't tie you down to a laptop. Again this option can get expensive if you decide to go all out and get a Pioneer setup. Some of the top end setups can cost as much as a car. So maybe for your bedroom or home studio, you can get a more budget set that are similar to the Pioneer to at least get you club ready. Companies like Numark, Gemini, and Denon put out some good decks at a much more affordable price in comparison to a Pioneer setup.
Since computers have become a staple in just about every home, at least in most places, many audio gear companies have jumped on the band wagon of the controller craze. DJ controllers are the most accessible format for beginner DJs since they are relatively inexpensive compared to a CDJ/Turntable and Mixer setup. DJ controllers are also more portable than CDJ/Turntable and Mixer setups, making them easier to carry around to mobile gigs. DJ controllers also have functions that are DJ software specific, i.e. Native Instrument’s S4 is mapped and optimized for Traktor, and Pioneer’s DDJ-SX is optimized for Serato. Their are many others on the market that are not proprietary and can be used on most DJ softwares including Virtual DJ and Mixx. Numark, Reloop, Denon, and Gemini are some of the other major companies making some great controllers. Some DJs may appreciate the functionalities that some controllers are equipped with and prefer to play their music that way. Whether or not you use the sync button is up to you. Although beat matching in itself is an art, being able to spend more time actually mixing, using different effects and incorporating more sounds into your mix gives your live performances more spark.
Now with the rise of mobile tablets and smartphone with powerful chips that can run some pretty powerful applications, DJs are starting to take notice of the possibilities there. I actually incorporate an iPad with a Traktor Z1 mixer into my larger setup or I can take it to smaller gigs or just over to a buddy's house to jam. DJ apps like Traktor DJ and DJay by Algoriddim give DJs all kind of cool and powerful tools like hot cue points, effects, beautiful controllable waveforms, and intuitive mixer controls. I can even use my Traktor S4 with my iPad if I don't want to lug around my big 15 inch macbook pro to shows. Now some will argue that showing up to a night club gig with an iPad may be a little tacky, but I have done it and plugged it in to the house system and that then gives me not only the decks on my iPad with my Z1, but also the CDJs to incorporate other tracks into my live sets. It's really fun to use it too.
In conclusion, you as an artist alone can make the decision on what you are going to spend your hard earned money on. I suggest to go to a music shop and put your hands on the different types of gear to see what is going to work best for you. Don't let the internet's many opinions make your decision for you. And remember, no matter what your chosen tool of the trade, you are an artist, and only an artist can chose his or her medium. So find the tool that works best for you and create your masterpiece!