In our last installment of the Beginner’s Guide to DJing, we talked about the “standard” (for the past few decades) DJ tool, the turntable. As modern technology becomes more advanced, performing artists’ options tend to increase. Not only do DJs benefit from technology, mainstream music, and “on the side” musicians benefit as well. In this edition of the guide, we are going to talk about the more recent addition to a DJ’s arsenal, the CD (compact disc) player.
What is a CD?
If for some reason you’ve been cooped up in a cave for the past 20 years, a CD (short for Compact Disc), is a digital storage device. Thru the use of lasers, and “pits and grooves”, a CD can store up to 700MB of data, or 80 minutes of high quality music, all in a package about 5″ in diameter.
Any DJ specific CD deck will have a number of features that will allow you to treat the CD (in some shape or form) like a record. Let’s go over these features, in no particular order. Pitch Control- Just like on a turntable, the pitch control allows you to crank up or slow down the speed of the music. CD players usually have a much greater range of adjustment when compared to turntables.
Jog Dial/Wheel- This feature can be the tricky part of getting the hang of a CD deck. You can’t physically put your hands on the CD, or platter (because there usually isn’t one), so this is the feature that the “early” CD decks implement. Find any older CD deck, and take a look at the jog dial. It’s a big round dial, usually situated directly in the middle of the unit. As the music plays, you spin it clockwise to speed up, or counter-clockwise to slow down the music. This has the same effect as using your hand on a record to speed it up or slow it down. The pitch changes from using the Jog Dial are temporary, and the pitch will return to the setting of the pitch control when the wheel is stopped. So be sure to use the pitch control to finalize your adjustments.
Platters- Newer, more “high end” CD players now feature a physical platter on the deck itself. This platter is meant to give a more unique vinyl feel, one that was not as genuine on a deck equipped with a jog dial. Variations on the exact functions of the platters appear in brand to brand (for instance, the Denon S5000’s platter rotates, like a turntable, while the Pioneer SDJ-1000’s platter remains stationary). Just give the features a good read before you choose the one you are going to purchase.
Cue Point- Here is a feature you can’t find on a conventional turntable. Cue points (also known on some brands as “hot cue”) let you “save” a point, or multiple points, on any given CD into temporary memory on the deck itself, a compact flash card or removable media. Simply pick your cue point, hit play, and viola; your CD starts at the exact point you set in memory.
CD-Start- Yet another feature not available with most conventional turntables (there are remote start tables, and a modification is available for the Technic SL1200 tables). This feature is usually only available when you couple your CD deck to a mixer of the same brand. Either side of the cross fader on the mixer can be assigned to automatically start the CD deck. Have your CD cued up, hit the cross fader over, and the CD starts playing.
Standard CD features- Play, pause, stop, seek, and search. All these features you see on your car or home CD player show up on virtually any DJ specific CD deck.
How do I play CDs while I’m DJing?
Simple, just like you would a record on a turntable. Cue up your track, start it at the appropriate time, keep it beat-matched, and then mix however your style allows you.
Why do they all look different?
There are two basic “setups” when you’re looking at CD decks.
Tabletop- Tabletop decks do just what their name says they sit flat. The newer, “vinyl emulating” decks are mostly all tabletop, yet some of the older decks that employ a jog dial may be considered tabletop as well. These units are all in one, meaning the entire system consists of only one piece.
Rack mount- Rack mount simply means they are built with a rack in mind. This in no way means they have to be rack mounted. These units usually employ a jog dial, but a few of the newer models employ some vinyl emulation with the jog dial. These systems may be setup to use one or two CDs at the same time. Systems that allow usage of two CDs simply look identical on the left as the right. Rack mount units also come in one and two-piece setups. On one-piece models, everything is in one large unit. Two-piece models have the slots for the CDs on one piece, and the controls are on a separate piece, joined together by a data cable.
That gives a basic look at the CD decks out on the market. CD v. Vinyl has been a big debate between DJs. Both have their advantages and disadvantages when compared to one another. This debate will be addressed in an upcoming article; complete a nice breakdown of popular opinions by members of the forums.
written by: Damon Chambers