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How to Use a DJ Controller (Handy Tips)

By Ferdi Vol
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DJ controllers work by transmitting modified sound signals to a computer or laptop software, which in turn combine the sounds to create a completely new mix. In essence, controllers do not work by mixing the passages, instead, the controller sends said passages to a DJ software, where the final sound modification is done. DJ controllers are definitely one of the greatest things that have happened in the djing world because many DJs have been able to start mixing without a steep investment.

In this article, I will talk about how to use a DJ controller. This article will be perfect for people that are just getting into this and need a concise but complete guide on how to use one of these wonderful machines. Reading this guide often will really improve your djing skills using a controller. Combine this with constant practice and you will be a DJ controller master in no time! anyways, I hope you find this article useful!

What is a DJ Controller

A DJ controller is a device that helps you control the music. You can change the song, make it louder or quieter, and more. It's a lot easier to use a controller than having to go on your computer and change it that way. Read on for the most important parts of a DJ Controller.

Most Important Parts of a DJ Controller

While high-end controllers will have all kinds of buttons to press, many of these aren't things that will be used on a constant basis. Because of this, it's important to mention what are the most important parts of the average controller. These are the things that you must focus on to really learn how to become a good DJ. Everything else is secondary really.

Line faders

The line faders are the sliders used to control the two channels found on the average controller. If you want to increase or decrease the volume of a song, you move the slider up and down, simple as that. While there are other ways to increase or decrease the volume, this is the way 99% of DJs do it. Typically, there are only two line faders, one at the left and at the right, but 4 channel controllers will obviously have 4 line faders.

It's important that you focus on buying controllers that have decent quality line faders. This is because they tend to be the controller parts that are most used, and so they tend to be the things that most suffer from wear and tear. Generally, the more expensive the controller or player, the better the line faders are going to be.

Jogwheel

One of the most distinguishing parts of a DJ controller is the jog wheel. This jog wheel has different uses, for example, if you touch the top part of the jog wheel and rotate it, you get to rewind or fast forward a song, while you can modify the BPM while moving the edges of it. Aside from the line faders, jog wheels are one of the most used parts of a controller, and so you really need to familiarize yourself with it to become a good DJ.

When it comes to jog wheels, there are several types of them that you must know about. There are 3 main ones used on the market right now: capacitive, mechanical, and motorized jog wheels. Capacitive jog wheels are the most common ones, but they aren't as precise as you would like.

Mechanical jog wheels tend to be much better made and precise, but they are also more expensive. Last but not least, motorized jog wheels are the ones that most resemble a real turntable, but they are also the hardest to find.

Crossfader

The crossfader does something very similar to the line faders: they affect the volume of the channel, but unlike the line faders, the crossfaders affect both channels at the same time. In other words, the crossfader adjusts the blend of the tracks.

When compared to the line fader, the crossfader isn't as popular. The average DJ rarely uses it to actually change the volume of the tracks, instead of using it to scratch and make sudden cuts while DJing live. If scratching is something that interests you, then learning how to use the crossfader will be of great importance.

EQ Knobs

Another important part of a DJ controller that you must familiarize yourself with is the EQ knobs. As you probably know already, EQ knobs will change the balance of the sound frequency being outputted. 99% of controllers out there will have 3 knobs for each channel, one for bass, mids, and treble, and they are primarily used to "spice up" the mix being played. Properly using the EQ knobs is something that takes some practice and experience, so don't be discouraged if you are having a hard time with it at first.

Learning how to use EQ knobs is perhaps one of the main parts of becoming a good DJ, and you really can transform how a song sounds with the proper use of them. I'd recommend that you check out some youtube tutorials on the proper use of the EQ, especially for some more specific song genres.

Cue/play buttons

Next are the cue and play buttons. First of all, the cue button is the button that is used to play a song in your headphones to know how it sounds mixed with the other channel before actually playing it on the PA. Learning how to use it is a critical part of learning how to introduce songs to a mix.

The play button explains itself. You press it and you introduce the sound to the PA's, which is the mix that the crowd is listening to. The combination of these two buttons will manage the mix being outputted to the PA and the one being outputted to the headphones.

How Do DJ Controllers Work?

To answer the above question, DJ controllers work by transmitting modified sound signals to a computer or laptop software, which in turn combine the sounds to create a completely new mix. In essence, controllers do not work by mixing the passages, instead, the controller sends said passages to a DJ software, where the final sound modification is done.

So essentially, controllers do exactly what their name suggests: control things like EQ, track selection, BPM, among other things. The big pro about using controllers over mixing on a laptop is that you get to mix in a similar way to how most popular DJs play. As you probably know, mixing in a controller is simply much more intuitive and simple than doing so on a laptop.

In this article, I will be talking a little bit more about controllers, their history, and if there's a difference between a CDJ and a controller. I also talk about the differences between a controller and a mixer, and which one should you be choosing if you are a new DJ and haven't bought gear yet. I hope you find this article useful!

A Brief History of DJ Controllers

Before the invention of the DJ controllers, DJs used to mix with turntables, something that was not only cumbersome given the fact that the DJs needed to carry a significant amount of Vinyl discs around but also limited song repertoire since the number of songs that a DJ could play was limited by how many LPs he could afford or carry around. Most experts on the matter agree that modern DJing (not radio DJing) started in the early 80s, using turntables of course.

The introduction of the controller and the appearance of digital audio files completely changed the game as DJs knew it. Instead of moving around with fragile turntables, a mixer and a crapton of vinyl discs, DJs started using hardware that combined everything they needed in a single piece of equipment, with all the songs to be found on a laptop or on something much more compact like a CD or a USB drive.

It's not completely sure which controller was the first one introduced into the market. Some people say that either a Pioneer controller or the Hercules DJ console was the first one, but this is up for debate. The point is that these new controllers not only made mixing much more comfortable, but they saved people a lot of money, especially as digital media and the controllers themselves gained popularity.

Today, controllers are often seen as a more accessible, but inferior mixing tool compared to CDJ, and they tend to be the very first thing that new DJs often purchase. I personally started mixing using a controller, and I probably wouldn't have gone much further with DJing if I didn't have one handy.

CDJs vs Controllers: What Are the Main Differences?

If you are new in the world of DJing and do not know the answer to this, let me tell you that it's very simple. While there's much more than this obviously, the main difference is that a controller contains two jog wheels and an interface to modify the EQ and the faders, while a CDJ only contains a single jog wheel and depending on the model a few other extra functions. If you want to play using CDJs, then you are going to have to buy 2 CDJs and a mixer, unlike a controller in which you only need to buy one piece of gear and that's it (aside from things like headphones and microphones, etc..).

There are a few other differences between controllers and CDJs though. One of them is the fact that CDJs allow you to mix without using DJ software or a laptop, while that's not possible using most controllers on the market. The CDJ gives you the ability to use it with USB drives, CDs, and other music sources, which is one of the reasons why they are so commonplace in high-end clubs worldwide. Using CDJs means that a DJ doesn't even need to bring his own gear. He can just plug in a USB stick and start playing without any hassle.

Another difference is the price point. CDJs are notorious in the DJing industry for their steep price points, and while they are well worth it, not everybody has 5 grand to spend on two CDJs and a mixer. This is where controllers really shine. They are much more affordable than CDJs, without a steep drop in quality. Most newbies tend to start out using cost-effective and affordable controllers, eventually upgrading to a CDJ set when they are more seasoned and when they have the cash to spare.

A few months ago, I wrote a little bit about the main differences between controller and CDJs, so if you want to learn more about this topic, please click here!

Controllers and Mixers: How Are They Alike?

Now that we have explained what are the differences between CDJs and controllers, let's do the same with mixers and controllers. Many people think that controllers include a built-in mixer inside, but this is not the case. As I mentioned above, controllers only send the music signals to a computer & DJ software. The actual mixing is done by the software itself. That's why you can't use a controller if you do not have a computer to connect it with.

This is not the case with a mixer. As the name suggests, the mixer works by mixing two or more sound channels, while giving you the added function of fine-tuning these sound passages using the EQ knobs. Many mixers give you the added capability to use them with only a computer inputting the music, while others will only mix from music from a CDJ or player.

While using a proper mixer is a good idea if you are a more seasoned DJ for several reasons, must newbie DJs are better off using a controller, especially considering the fact that good mixers are super expensive, as useful as they might be.

Conclude

As I mentioned above, controllers work exactly as their name suggests: they transmit sound signals and then they are sent to a DJ software found on a laptop. The software is what actually does the sound modification itself. After this, the modified sound is transmitted to a PA system. A controller distinguishes itself from a CDJ because the controller can't modify the sound signals, it just sends them to the software. A CDJ does something similar, but instead of sending modify sound signals to a laptop, it sends them to a mixer instead.

A Few Essentials and My Recommended DJ Equipment by DJ Ferdi Vol
With so much information on my site I wanted to bring it down to an all in one place where I list my updated personal recommendations for 2021 and popular items that people have used themselves with succes. You can check it all out below.
DJ Essentials
The absolute DJ essentials every beginner has to start with or any advanced DJ has used or is still using.
DJ Controllers
It can be overwhelming to choose the right controller as there are countless things to consider. Having the right experience is key to know what controller someone needs. It's the thing you will use most and you can find the right DJ Controller here.
Headphones
Better headphones results in better overal audio quality as well as easier beat-matching and comfort while using them on the fly. These best DJ Headphones for 2021 are tested first hand.
DJ Gifts
It can be hard to find the right gift to give a DJ but it's also nice to treat yourself with some DJ gifts that you didn't even know existed.
Written by Ferdi Vol
Hi, I am Ferdi Vol and I am a DJ from the Netherlands who has been djing for over 6 years now. I have always had a passion for music and djing, so it was only natural that I started my own blog on becoming a better DJ.

I love researching and writing about new and exciting things in the world of mixing, including tutorials, reviews on hardware and software, as well as finding the latest and greatest. My goal is to help people become better DJs by providing them with all the knowledge they need to do just that!
About Ferdi Vol
About DJ Pro Tips
DJ Pro Tips is a blog that helps both beginner and advanced DJs become better djs by providing useful information. We have been helping DJs for over 10 years, so we know what it takes to be the best DJ possible. Whether you're just starting out or you've been DJing for decades, we can help make your skills sharper and your mixes more professional-sounding with our tips and advice.
About the Author
Ferdi Vol is a DJ for several years who has a passion for music and djing. He's been playing the decks since he was 15, and now he wants to help people with his blog become better djs.
About Ferdi Vol
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