What’s the best DJ set for beginners?

Dj playing music

DJ equipment covers everything from the most expensive top-grade gear offered by the likes of Pioneer to cheaper equipment perfectly suited to entry-level DJs who are looking to get involved in this awesome culture and activity.

DJing is superbly accessible, fun, exciting and can lead to great things, so there’s no question over how or why it’s become so popular in recent years – it’s time to get involved!

It starts gradually enough… First, top 40 music becomes even more unbearable than before. Then, your Spotify playlists shed all that normie music you learned from your dad and college girlfriend. You try to get your fix by going to music festivals and surrounding yourself with it, bathing in it — alas! That, too, is not enough. Your hunger for electronic music cannot be sated by listening alone. You have transcended (Or perhaps been cursed?)! Now it’s time to shop for your first pieces of DJ equipment.

Read on to discover some of the best beginner DJ gear. Each category is split into a budget-friendly vs the higher-end alternative. Whatever the choices, picking one item from each category will create a full package that will carry any DJ through their early years of mixing and producing.

Ready to get going on your adventures of spinning and scratching with the best DJ equipment for beginners? Just starting to learn how to be a DJ? We’re glad you’re here. At times while writing these guides, we like to reminisce on when we first started our DJ adventures and how it felt to be relatively new to the whole gear world. We first began with just one turntable, a mixer, and some records our parents bought us from a garage sale — we’ll be honest, it was harder than we thought it would be at first. However, we’ve been hooked ever since. With this experience in mind, we wanted to create an all-inclusive guide on every piece of DJ gear you need to get going, as well as our favourite picks when it comes to highly reviewed models available in the market today. Our best DJ equipment guide did this as well; however, we’ve since had questions for a guide just on starting, so here it is!

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DJ gear setup guidelines

Before we get into our picks for the best DJ equipment for beginners, we’d like to highlight a few factors we want you to keep in mind while putting together a DJ setup. We’ll explain in detail what each “type of equipment” is in a few moments; however, let’s look into what type of DJ setup you want to build.

Nowadays, we have a few options when it comes to a DJ setup. The main question we’d first like to ask is: do you want a traditional and “classic” analog setup with two turntables, one mixer and additional accessories as your work station? We’re talking old-school DJ’s (it feels weird to call this ‘old-school’ we’ll be honest) scratching with two records and a mixer in between you to fade in and out of your mashups and scribbling. This is considered “rare” nowadays, but still a legitimate (we’ll always back you up) direction for a DJ gear setup.

On the other hand, in this day and age with the advancement of technology and computers, we have what we call ‘digital DJ setups’. If you’re at the complete beginning stages of DJ’ing, we highly recommend at least a significant portion of your setup being digital. As we’ll explain below, DJ controllers have paved the way for us to control everything using a computer in every way possible. We can now control what turntables and a mixer used to provide in one piece of gear, some software, and a PC\Mac. This is the most popular direction for a DJ beginner right now and one that we safely recommend the most — not because it’s necessarily our personal preference. Still, in all honesty, it’s time to be real, and if you’re starting DJ’ing in this decade, you want to go with that the crowd is doing, especially if you’re going to be investing time into learning this amazing hobby (and profession).

Don’t get us wrong, ‘hybrid’ setups, which include both a turntable, perhaps a mixer, and a few DJ controllers are probably your best bet eventually. It’ll cost some more money and entail you have more gear in your station, but it’ll give you both analog and digital ‘feel’ and capabilities, allowing you to cover all of your bases at once to make sure you’re covered. We’ll leave it up to you when it comes to what direction you want and which gear you’d like to start collecting (we highlight all possibilities in this guide). Who knows, you can always start with a DJ controller, some software and a laptop for DJ’s or computer and add-on some analog gear later down the road, or vice versa.

DJ playing music

The different types of DJ equipment

Turntables

Record players have been around for centuries. When we think of the word ‘turntable’, pretty much all of us are aware of the image that pops up into our mind. Without turntables, a DJ isn’t a DJ. With that being said, it used to be quite odd if somebody considered themselves a ‘DJ’ and didn’t have records and a turntable in their setup. Nowadays, with the widespread and evolution of the DJ game, not so much. We’ve been to some Vegas clubs to scope out what was being used and have seen popular EDM DJ’s have only a laptop (not sure how we feel about it — oh well, we’ll let them do them)! Others, however, still have a turntable or two in their repertoire. Regardless, turntables let us scratch, switch songs and albums, slow down tempos, change the pitch, and more. Even though laptop-only and digital-based setups for DJ’s are popular nowadays, we always recommend having at least one turntable in your DJ setup. It just makes sense, and we have a hard time fathoming only using a laptop to play playlists as a “DJ”.

Mixers

A mixer is the centrepiece of an analog DJ setup. They’re used for not only transitions between one song to another for a smooth and seamless ‘mix’ or ‘mashup’, but can also be used for quite a few ‘tweaks’ when it comes to your sounds and tracks. For one, you can integrate the ‘slider’ to scratch properly, but many others can use it to control volume levels, panning, FX, tone, and more. You also plug your DJ headphones into these (along with your speakers if you’re performing) to preview what’s coming up next. They lastly provide the ‘sound card’ or ‘interface’ to process the music you’re portraying to your audience. Many higher-end mixers come with better built-in sound cards with higher sample rates, but they can start to get costly. Mixers are able to connect to computers, so a hybrid setup with a mixer is always a possibility as well.

Controllers 

Enter the realm of a (slightly) new concept in the beginner DJ gear world — DJ controllers. Now having in mind what turntables and a mixer are, picture something that combines all of this into one and also allows you to control further features, customization and settings using a computer with software? DJ controllers do just this. Technically a MIDI controller for DJ’s, DJ controllers are amazing, all-in-one (most of them) pieces of DJ equipment that have brought us into the digital age today. There are many different DJ controllers for beginners out there that are worth looking at — they come in many different shapes, sizes, function, feels, personalities and more. Some are great for tweaking track settings, volume, panning, and more. Others can let you scratch on them using a “platter\jog-wheel” (replicated turntable) and literal digital audio track (without having to fuss with records), with others even coming with built-in drum pads to let you mess around with some sounds (again, directly from your computer). We did, however, find a few of our favourites to provide below.

DJ Software

This is the backbone of a digital and hybrid setup. Once you hook up your controllers to your computer (typically via USB), your software will allow you to mix, edit, copy, cut, paste, add FX, mashup, change the tempo, organize files and playlists, scratch using MP3’s, and even assign sounds to your controller if it has MIDI functionality. Without viable DJ software, it’ll not only stunt your capabilities as a DJ with all of the gear you have but also make your workflow more difficult when it comes to getting into a rhythm. As compared to typical music software, there is only a handful of DJ software picks worth looking at, and today we’ve provided our favourite for you to grab. We highly recommend sticking with our choice since beginners will want to learn a new software from that scratch that’s worth investing time in for the future. We’ve lately seen some DJ’s start to run their entire setups using smart devices and DJ apps; however, it’s a bit rarer, and we don’t recommend it when first starting.

Speakers

This is only important for those who intend on playing live and travelling with their DJ gear, playing gigs (whether it be weddings, bars, clubs, house parties and more), or setting up at a friend or band members house to practice or jam out. When looking at ‘DJ speakers’, you want to make sure they’re powerful enough that’s suitable for the environment you foresee yourself DJ’ing in. If you are indeed setting up a DJ corner at your house, studio or in a general smaller setting, you can probably get by with using speakers you already have or buying a pair of studio monitors; however, our recommendation below fits in the middle — a PA system that’s fine for homes and both portable and powerful enough to span across medium-sized DJ settings.

DJ Headphones

Although speakers may be optional, DJ headphones are an absolute must, regardless if you’re practising at home, a professional at a club in Vegas, or somewhere in the middle. Not only are headphones essential for hearing what we’re doing, but they allow us to hear what we do before we portray it to your audience. Ever see that image with a DJ holding one side of the headphones to their ear with their shoulder and the other half hanging by their neck? Aside from looking cool and like a ‘real DJ’, there’s a purpose! Typically with mixers, you can use the slider to direct where you want the sound to come out. Leaving it to an entire side while your track plays to your audience allows you to both hear what you have coming up next so you can time it correctly as well as the current track playing for a ‘proper mashup’ and track transition. DJ headphones are a staple-point of any setup, and we found a great pair below that’ll get beginners going.

Cases and Mounts

Not only do we need a ‘table’ or some stand to keep our DJ gear all in one place while we use it, but also cases to keep all of this precious DJ equipment safe. This is critical for those who are travelling at gigs or even to other homes — we do not recommend simply placing your gear in the trunk or backseat without any protection (yes, even shaky crates or wrapped in towels — trust us, we’ve tried it, and it’s not good). This aspect of beginners DJ equipment does start to get tricky because which case you are to buy will depend on not only how much gear you have (you may need a few different cases) but also what size they are. We give you a recommendation or two below but also suggest you buy all of your gear first before grabbing cases and mounts.

DJ Controllers

In days of yore, the primary way for DJs to spin their music was by connecting two turntables stacked with types of vinyl to a central mixer. These days, DJ controllers fuse these independent pieces of gear into a single board and interface directly with a computer and software.

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PIONEER DDJ-200 – $149

The Pioneer DDJ-200 is the only exclusively-beginner item on this list. It is a compact controller aimed at those who are taking their first half-step into the world of DJing. The DDJ-200 has a plethora of tutorial features, and it interfaces directly with many streaming platforms, which means no local music is necessary to mix a set.

SERATO DDJ-SB3 / REKORDBOX DDJ-400 – $249

The DDJ-SB3 and DDJ-400 are two of the most fully-fledged, beginner-friendly DJ controllers. They offer all of the basic functions necessary to DJ at the professional level and quite a few bonus features as well (pre-programmed scratching, fading, etc.). Both controllers are very similar, with the biggest difference being their use of Serato versus rekordbox software.

XDJ-RX2 – $1,699

At the pro level, the standard hardware is two to four CDJs connected to a central mixer, with each piece costing north of $2,000. The XDJ-XZ inhabits the middle ground between the DDJ and CDJ models. It’s an all-in-one device that’s more complex than its smaller brethren but won’t require a small loan to acquire.

Headphones

A DJ without headphones might as well be a DJ without ears, but shelve those Bose, Beats, and silly-looking Skullcandy headphones. Anyone serious about their music should have cans that are analytical and precise.

AUDIO TECHNICA ATH-M50X – $129

Audio Technica is a company known for making high-quality, versatile gear that won’t break the bank. Their ATH-M50x headphones are no different. These headphones are professional monitors with a flat response that can be used for all types of music and mixing. 

V-MODA CROSSFADE M100 – $245

V-Moda Crossfades are known in the industry as some of the best DJ headphones out there. They have garnered universal praise for over a decade and are incredibly stylish and well designed. What more is there to say?

Studio Monitors

In the music world, mixing skills can only be honed if they can be heard. Anyone looking to DJ seriously should turn to studio monitors. Unlike computer speakers or bookshelf monitors, studio monitors are designed to have a flat tone curve, so the music that comes out of them isn’t coloured in any way. 

JBL 305P MKII – $150 EACH

JBL is another mainstay in audio equipment, and their 305P is an excellent entry-level studio monitor at a good price point. They are relatively small five-inch monitors and have the versatility to be used with any music. Savvy shoppers can find them at greatly discounted prices during certain times of the year.

KRK RP5 ROKIT G4 – $180 EACH

KRK Rokits are akin to the name brand for DJ speakers. Many will recognize their signature yellow kevlar speaker cones. Notable features include an on-board LED panel on the back to control EQ (very cool!), balanced inputs, and an on-board power amp. The entry-level RP5 is 5.25 inches. 

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Music

Sure it’s a bit obvious, but every beginner DJ needs music. Otherwise, the gear we’ve highlighted above won’t do much to get the crowd into it. While building out a music collection is both the easiest and hardest thing forever beginner DJ, downloading everything you see on iTunes can lead to hiccups with your DJ software. Apple Music is the king of music sales, but all their music comes as a digital rights management – protected (DRM) AAC file, meaning you can’t just grab your favourite tracks and start playing them through Serato or rekordbox software. Luckily non-DRM files are available from iTunes and iTunes Match, but they are separate from an Apple Music subscription, so keep that in mind as you build your library.

When it comes to vinyl, it’s a little more straightforward. Go crate diving at your local record store and get to spinning! The only hard part is limiting yourself from buying everything you see.

No matter what path you want to take into DJing, there’s some great gear out there to suit your vision and aspirations as well as your budget. DJ gear choice has flourished recently, and prices are coming down, a cheap mixing setup can now cost you well under $100 so long as you own a laptop.

Of course, if you want to dig a little deeper and go for a more classic setup rather than a controller, then it’ll cost more, but for many, the mixer and two-deck setup is the only way to mix.

The low down is then, for entry-level mixing on a budget, opt for a controller but if your budget extends, consider either a CDJ setup with USB song libraries, classic vinyl or CD setups or a DVS setup which combines the best of all worlds. The choice is yours!

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