How to Choose the Right DJ Mixer

Choosing the right DJ mixer is a pivotal decision for any aspiring or professional DJ. The mixer is the heart of your DJ setup, acting as the central hub where all audio channels converge, get manipulated, and are creatively controlled before heading out to the speakers. Whether you're performing at a club, a wedding, or just practising at home, the right mixer can elevate your DJing, offering the necessary features to match your style and needs.

In this guide, we'll explore the various aspects of DJ mixers, including their types and differences. We will also look at DJ controllers and CD mixers, and discuss the features you can expect from these devices. By the end, you'll hopefully have a clearer understanding of what to look for in a mixer and how to choose one that best fits your DJing requirements.

Looking for a DJ Mixer?

Shop for DJ Mixers

What are the different types of DJ Mixers

DJ mixers come in various forms, each designed to cater to specific DJing needs and setups. The primary types include:

Basic Two-Channel Mixers: Ideal for beginners or DJs who manage simpler setups, these mixers provide control over two audio sources at any one time such as a pair of turntables or CDJ units. They typically include basic features like volume faders, a crossfader for cutting instantly between the two sources, EQ controls for each channel and headphone monitoring for track queuing.

Multi-Channel Mixers: These are more complex and suitable for professional environments like clubs and large events. They can handle multiple audio sources simultaneously and offer more extensive control over sound. They can include advanced EQ, sound effects, dedicated send/returns, and even integrated USB audio interfaces for seamless digital integration. Some have assignable crossfaders allowing easy switching between multiple inputs, which is useful if you are using both CDs and turntables at the same time.

Scratch Mixers: Designed specifically for turntablists and scratch DJs, these mixers focus on ultra-fast response times and often feature robust faders with adjustable signal curves, reverse switches, and enhanced durability for aggressive DJing techniques. They often feature buttons for instant cuts of the bass, treble or midrange, and the layout is designed for fast hand movement.

Rotary Mixers: Celebrated for their sound quality, rotary mixers forego the typical faders for rotary knobs to control audio levels. They offer a different type of mixing experience that's favoured in certain genres like house and techno, focusing on smooth transitions and sound fidelity. They will not feature a crossfader as they are not designed for cut mixing.

Hybrid Mixers: These modern mixers combine the functionalities of a traditional DJ mixer with elements of digital controllers, including MIDI trigger pad control and USB software integration, built-in DSP effects processors, and sometimes even integrated screens for waveform displays and navigation of audio file storage from a connected laptop or storage device.

Understanding these main types will help you pinpoint which mixer might align with your DJing style, the venues you play at, and your personal preference for tactile control and sound management.

How to choose the right DJ Mixer - Scratch mixer next to a turntableHow to choose the right DJ Mixer - Scratch mixer next to a turntable

What is the difference between a DJ Controller and a DJ Mixer

Understanding the distinction between DJ controllers and DJ mixers is crucial for selecting the right equipment. A DJ mixer is a standalone unit that blends multiple audio signals from various sources, such as turntables and media players. It primarily focuses on adjusting volume, equalisation, and applying effects to these audio channels independently before sending the output to the speakers.

A mixer is an analog audio distribution tool. It takes the signal from your sources, gives you EQ and level adjustment for each, and allows you to blend these signals to its master output. This is the same as any PA audio mixer, though those designed specifically for DJ work will feature a layout that's designed more for constant tweaking and as uncluttered interface as possible.

On the other hand, a DJ controller is designed to work in tandem with computer software, acting as a physical interface for DJ software. Controllers often mimic the layout of traditional mixers but include jog wheels and multiple performance pads for cues, loops, and samples.

The most important distinction for DJ controllers compared to mixers is they are completely dependent on a computer and DJ software to function, whereas a mixer can operate independently. A controller is exactly that, it's designed to give you control over software such as the popular Traktor or Serato, working as an interface in the same way a control pad does with a games console.

While some controllers do allow for the direct connection of sources such as CD players or turntables, the majority do not, and are designed purely for the manipulation of digital audio files played through the software.

For DJs who prefer a more tactile and traditional form of mixing with vinyl or direct audio inputs, a standalone mixer is indispensable. Meanwhile, DJs who embrace digital music libraries and value the integration of software features will find controllers more aligned with their needs. Choosing between them often depends on your preferred DJing style, venue requirements, and portability needs.

How to choose the right DJ Mixer - CD controllers with 4-channel mixerHow to choose the right DJ Mixer - CD controllers with 4-channel mixer

What is a DJ CD Mixer

A DJ CD mixer combines traditional mixing functionalities with the capability to play and manipulate music from CDs. These all-in-one units typically feature a pair of integrated CD players alongside the mixer section, allowing DJs to mix music directly from CDs without the need for additional external players.

Much coveted in the heyday of the CD, these system's popularity has dwindled somewhat with the move to all-digital audio storage, though are still popular enough that new models are being introduced. They are particularly useful for established DJs who have extensive CD collections or for those who just prefer the tactile feel of CDs.

Most use the industry standard 19” rack mount sizing, meaning they are easily installed into live-in touring cases for protection and transport. They come with features such as pitch control, loop functions, and hot cues, which enable DJs to perform similarly to using digital controllers but with physical media.

Moreover, many modern DJ CD mixers also include USB inputs and capabilities to play music from other digital media, making them versatile options for DJs who use multiple audio formats. CD mixers cater to those who value the flexibility of CDs but also want the ability to incorporate digital music seamlessly.

What is a DJ CD Mixer - Vonyx CDJ450 dual CD mixerWhat is a DJ CD Mixer - Vonyx CDJ450 dual CD mixer

Do I need a Mixer to DJ

The necessity of a DJ mixer in your setup depends largely on your style of DJing and the equipment you use. Traditional DJing setups require a mixer to blend audio signals from turntables or media players. However, with the advent of digital DJing, it is possible to DJ using just a laptop and DJ software or a DJ controller that integrates mixing capabilities.

For DJs using traditional turntables or CD decks, a standalone mixer is crucial for managing sound quality, transitions, and effects manually. A mixer provides the tactile feedback and fine control required for techniques such as beat matching, scratching, chopping, or fade mixing.

Conversely, if you're just starting out, and don't plan on being part of the vinyl revival, a DJ controller will likely be your best option if you don't already own physical media, as it makes the most sense to go the all-digital route. They start from under £100 and go up to several thousand for the top brand flagship models used in clubs, so there is a DJ controller available for any budget.

Whether you need a mixer depends entirely on your performance needs, your chosen audio format, and your personal preference for equipment interaction. By understanding the role of the mixer in various DJ setups, you can make an informed decision about what fits best for your DJing aspirations.

Do i need a mixer to DJ? - Rear panel of a Vonyx STM-7010 DJ mixerDo i need a mixer to DJ? - Rear panel of a Vonyx STM-7010 DJ mixer

Understanding DJ Mixer features and technologies

When selecting a DJ mixer or controller, it's vital to consider the specific features that can significantly affect your performance quality and capabilities. Here’s a detailed look at essential features of both:


  • EQ Controls

    Effective use of the equaliser (EQ) is crucial in DJing for blending tracks seamlessly. Most DJ mixers provide at least a three-band EQ (low, mid, high), which lets DJs enhance or reduce frequencies to match the sonic characteristics of tracks before mixing them.

  • EQ Cut Controls

    An addition to the EQ section that's popular on scratch mixers, cut controls or “kill switches” provide a switchable drop out of the bass, midrange, and treble frequencies without altering the main EQ pot positions. They have appeared in various types over the years, from toggle switches to push buttons, and are a great tool and natural sound effect when incorporated into a lively mix.

    They were introduced in the late 90s specifically for drum & bass or house DJs as they made quick work when trying to avoid clashing basslines during chop mixing and track overlays. They soon ended up being a common feature on all DJ-orientated audio mixers.

  • Effects (FX) Section

    Many modern DJ mixers come with built-in effects like reverb, delay, echo, phaser, and flanger. These effects can be applied to individual channels or the master output. High-end mixers can feature dedicated FX controls that allow DJs to layer multiple effects and adjust parameters in real time, offering a vast landscape for sonic exploration.

  • Channel Faders

    As it is on PA mixers, the main signal level controls on DJ mixers are done with vertical sliding potentiometers as opposed to the rotary pots found in the EQ section. Sliders offer an easy visual position reference, and the format allows for a wider adjustment curve than that of a rotary pot which is less aggressive under small movements.

  • Crossfader

    Unique to DJ mixers you can immediately spot a crossfader as it will be the only horizontally placed fader. They were introduced originally for the hip-hop scratch DJs of the 1980s and allow for the immediate combining of two audio channels. This allows two records to be brought into time by the DJ, and one track ‘cut’ into the other. This can be used to great effect with vocal segments or drum breaks and became a standard of mixing for Drum & Bass and House music especially.

    Large club-style DJ mixers with say 6 input channels will include crossfader assign controls, allowing any input to be routed via either side of the crossfader for easy mixing between different audio sources. Some DJ mixers even provide adjustable crossfader curves, which is particularly beneficial for scratch DJs who require quicker and more responsive fader movement than you would use for normal mixing.

  • Input and Output Options

    Professional mixers offer multiple input types. The industry standard stereo RCA / Phono sockets are still used by the majority of audio sources from CD players to turntables, and both PA mixers or DJ mixers will feature these for all line-level inputs. The may also include inputs for 6.35 jacks (mono or stereo), and 3.5mm mini jack (stereo), or balanced XLR inputs.

    Outputs can be similar, with RCA, 6.35” jack, balanced XLR as standard, with newer digital mixers also featuring USB connections, some for digital recording purposes and some for control of MIDI triggering if the mixer has those capabilities.

    All DJ mixers will have a standard stereo line-level output for connection to either a separate power amplifier and passive speakers, or to a set of active speakers. On larger mixers you may have the option of RCA or a left and right set of balanced XLR outs, which is a superior connection, especially for longer cables. You may also find a second output pair labelled booth or monitor, and these are for a feed to a set of monitor speakers that will be placed facing the DJ, allowing real-time monitoring of the main output to help with timing and level adjustments.

DJ Controllers

DJ controllers, while often integrating these mixer features, add unique elements such as:

  • Jog Wheels

    These emulate the platters on turntables and are similar to those found on CDJ decks, used for cueing up tracks, scratching, and beat matching. Depending on the cost of the controller these can be simple touch-sensitive control pads, going up to motor-driven units with the hands-on torque feel of using a professional direct-drive turntable. This can make the switch over to digital much easier for experienced DJs.

  • Performance Pads

    Soft touch buttons for triggering samples, loops, cue points, and other performance features, these pads add a layer of live production capability to DJing. They are often backlit for ease of use in dark environments.

  • Software Integration

    Controllers are specifically designed to work in tandem with DJ software, providing a tactile interface to control software features. This integration allows for visual feedback directly from the software, such as waveforms and cue points, which can be crucial for performance planning and execution. The most popular software is still Traktor for professional DJ work, or Serato for scratch mixing and the more performance-oriented DJs, though many controller brands also include their own software too.

  • Multi-Effects Processors

    High-end controllers integrate complex effects processors that can apply multiple effects simultaneously. These can be modulated through knobs and buttons that adjust parameters like depth, rate, and timing, allowing for real-time sound shaping.

  • Looping and Sampling

    Most DJ controllers offer looping capabilities that can be synced with playing tracks. Sampling functions allow DJs to capture audio on the fly and integrate these samples into the mix, increasing the dynamic content of performances. Samples are assignable to the performance pads and can be used to great effect.

  • Touch Strips

    Some controllers feature touch strips that allow DJs to scrub through tracks quickly or adjust effects parameters subtly, providing a more interactive experience than traditional knobs and faders.

  • Onboard Displays

    Larger DJ controllers will usually feature built-in displays showing track information, waveforms, and effects settings. These screens can significantly enhance the mixing experience by providing visual feedback directly on the mixer, reducing the need to look at a computer screen.

  • DVS Support

    Digital Vinyl Systems (DVS) allow DJs to control digital music files with traditional vinyl records or CDJs. Mixers and controllers supporting DVS often have built-in audio interfaces that can interface with software like Serato DJ or Traktor, blending the tactile feel of vinyl with the convenience of digital music libraries.

Comparing Old and New Technology

While newer technologies offer convenience and integrated features, the choice between old and new equipment often also involves considerations of sound quality and user experience:

  • Sound Quality

    Analog mixers are reputed for their superior sound quality, particularly in how they handle dynamics and warmth. Digital mixers, while more versatile, sometimes face criticism for a perceived lack of warmth in the audio output.

  • User Experience

    Traditional mixers offer a hands-on approach to DJing that many professionals prefer, especially vinyl DJs. This physical interaction with the music is often cited as more satisfying and intuitive than clicking a mouse or pressing buttons on a digital controller.

  • Analog Mixers

    Known for their warmth and natural sound, analog mixers use physically wired components as opposed to circuit boards to manage audio signals. They are often favoured in setups where sound quality and traditional DJing methods are prioritized, such as vinyl setups. They favour rotary controls over faders, and these audiophile units come at quite a cost over more mass-produced mixers.

  • Digital Mixers

    These mixers convert incoming audio into digital format, allowing more precise control over the sound. Features like BPM counters, digital effects, and the ability to interface with computers directly over USB make digital mixers a versatile choice for modern DJs.

  • Hybrid Setups

    TSome DJs opt for setups that combine both analog and digital elements, using digital controllers with analog mixers to maximize both sound quality and performance features.

Starting out as a DJ

For beginners, a basic DJ controller is often the best choice due to its integrated features and lower cost. Controllers provide a good balance of functionality and ease of use, making them ideal for learning the fundamentals of DJing. They give you an all-in-one solution of dual player control and mixer, and it really makes no sense for a beginner to look at a non-digital system, unless they really want to use vinyl.

If you do want to go down the more analog DJ route, you should look at investing in a good quality standalone mixer and additional components like DJ turntables or CDJs. This not only improves your flexibility and performance quality but also prepares you for professional gigs that may require more complex setups.

DJ mixers and DJ controllers range from surprisingly affordable to professional-grade systems with corresponding price tags. The one huge benefit of going all-digital is you can upgrade your controller at any time and your music library remains unaffected, unlike say transferring from vinyl to digital, where you would be starting over.

Decide on a budget that allows for the purchase of equipment that meets your minimum requirements without overspending, and if you're planning on doing gigs, this will also need to include a capable sound system and likely some lighting too.

Staying ahead with technology

Keeping abreast of new developments in DJ technology can provide a competitive edge. Features like wireless connectivity, advanced software integration, and improved digital processing are continually evolving. Manufacturers regularly update their product ranges to include the newest technology that can simplify performance techniques and expand creative possibilities.

In conclusion, whether you're a novice looking to enter the world of DJing or a seasoned professional aiming to upgrade your setup, understanding the vast array of features, technologies, and equipment options available today is crucial. By carefully selecting your DJ mixer or controller, you can enhance your performance abilities and adapt to the dynamic landscape of modern music entertainment. This comprehensive approach ensures that your DJ journey is as innovative and exciting as the music you play.