What is a DJ Audio Mixer? Straight Talk, No Fluff

by

There are many tools of the trade when it comes to being a DJ. No matter what other equipment might be used or what medium the songs and music might be on, without a mixer, there is no transition. 

What is a DJ audio mixer? Mixers are, quite literally, the centerpiece of any DJ set up. A mixer allows you to transition between two or more sound sources. Without the mixer, there is no transition, no mixing, no effects – therefore you would just be playing music, not really DJing.

So, want to know more about mixers and which ones are used most by DJs in the industry? Keep reading… 

What is an Audio Mixer?

As I stated previously, mixers are used to make smooth transitions between different music recordings from two or more sound sources. These are usually CDJs/decks that play music from a USB input and CDs (as the name suggests) or turntables where actual vinyl albums are used or a DVS (digital vinyl system) is enabled so that you can play digital music using a turntable.Keep in mind if you use DVS, you will need a DVS enabled mixer with the proper software compatibility.  I cover those in more detail in another article.  

Instead of the decks and turntables used for scratching, the mixers with sliders can be used. Mixers allow for fading, matching tempo, panning, and many other built in effects for tying your various sounds together in a remix or during a show.  Mixers are also where you can record for looping, use inputs such as extra sources, microphones, and use outputs such as speakers and headphones. Some mixers have the availability of a USB port for recording to laptops and other devices as well. 

It is easy to confuse mixers with controllers because many controllers have mixer-like features nowadays. However, mixers have become more compatible with software than controllers. Advanced mixers are now capable of integrating with multiple popular DJ software and even digital vinyl systems.

What are the Basic Components Found in a Mixer?

When looking at all the parts that make up an audio mixer, here are the basics:

  • The back panel comes with inputs. There are also output points to send the signals through external effects and processors. Different mixers provide varying inputs and outputs.
  • Each signal input of a mixer is a channel. Every sound source should have its own channel. Every channel has the same controls. So, if you learn one, you learn them all for every channel/sound source.
  • Mixers may come with kill switches. These can be used to turn off the lows, mids, and highs.
  • There will be a gain or trim control at the top of each channel. These can be used to control the level of each separate input channel.
  • Also known as the rotary kills, there are EQ knobs below the gain controls. These let the DJs control the level of bass, treble, and midrange for each channel.
  • The channel faders allow the DJ to adjust the volume of each channel at a time.
  • The crossfaders allow the DJ to fade in one channel and fade out the other at the same time.
  • Peak meters indicate the level of the channels or the master output. It can also indicate clipping.
  • The talk over button helps to reduce the volume of music when the DJ is talking.
  • The BPM (beats per minute) counter allows the DJ to know if the BPM of the sound files from both sound sources matches up for a smooth transition.
  • The cue mix acts as a crossfader for the headphones so the DJ can preview a mix before the audience listens to it and can be used to adjust headphone volume.
  • The master level can help adjust the level of the final mix.

What Mixers are the Most Used & Recommended?

Essentially, it’s usually the mixer that separates a DJ setup from a home music system.  Much of what makes a mixer right or wrong comes down to personal preference – such as the need for extra input and output, the sound of EQs, filters and effects, and just really what the user will need for their particular setup. 

The most basic form of DJ mixer will offer up two input channels that can be blended using level controls and, in most cases, a crossfader. The resulting audio will then be fed to a main output, as well as an assignable ‘cue’ headphone output, which allows users to hear a track without it being mixed into the main mix. Many mixers offer more than this though; four or more input channels are common on higher-end mixers, as are mic inputs, booth outputs and effects loops.

The 4-channel Pioneer DJ DJM-900NXS2 is the flagship mixer from Pioneer. It’s the industry standard when it comes to club use. Another Pioneer mentioned is Pioneer DJ DJM S9 which is a great bridge between the worlds of Pioneer and Serato but damned expensive! Pioneer’s entry level offering is the 2-channel Pioneer DJ DJM-250MK2 which is usually found to be under $350. Obviously, anything Pioneer can be assumed to get along with Rekordbox and the one that mentions also being Serato DJ Pro is the DJM S9.

Allen & Heath Xone:96 is the main rival to the Pioneer DJ DJM-900NXS2 and comes from a UK brand that is much more focused on analog over digital. Their catchphrase for this model is actually, “Analog. Remastered.” Their entry model is the 2-channel Allen & Heath Xone: 23 which is only 15% of the price of the company’s flagship model but has just as much quality in design. 

The 4-channel Rane MP2015 is lauded as a new generation of high-class rotary mixer. It had digital circuitry instead of analog. Pricing is at over $2500. If you want something a little less expensive and with only 2 channels but all the style of the other model, Rane Seventy-Two is a top of the line mixer as well. Ranes work well with Serato DJ Pro. 

Reloop Elite is mentioned more than once as a reasonably priced mixer, but it’s still over $1000 unless it’s on sale. It’s designed to play with Serato DJ Pro packs and works with vinyl, too.  A less expensive Reloop is the Reloop XUT which costs at about $500 – $600 and has a built-in USB interface for digital vinyl systems along with built in effects and faders. A lot of scratch DJs use these because it fits not only their budget but a certain retro style. 

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z2 offers a common transition between Traktor and a traditional setup. This 2-channel mixer has a mid-level price but the thing is made to obviously use Traktor software. 

Numark M6 USB is a solid four-channel DJ mixer at a bargain price – it has no filters or effects, though and it’s rugged look is a turn off for some. The price is nothing to sneeze at – less than $200. If you want to go even simpler, there is the 2-channel Numark M101.

Rachel Adams

I would have previously thought of myself as an audiophile. But by gaming and listening to my children and their friends, I've been introduced to an entire realm of artists that are not on the radio.