In this installment of A Beginner’s Guide to Djing, we will continue on with the basics of the DJ mixer. It is pretty clear that mixer quality (and features) can be a big factor in what a DJ can do (not to undermine the quality of music sources, or any other necessary gear, of course). Mixers come in a great variety of shapes and styles, and the specific functionality (fancy features) can vary widely from mixer to mixer, save the very basic mixers. Fancy features can be distracting and confusing to a new DJ, as will, quite possibly, some of the more basic features. Let’s jump right in and see if we can eliminate some of that confusion.
How many sources can I plug into my mixer?
Most mixers range from either two to four channels. This means you can either attach two, three, or four sources (turntables, CD players, mp3 players, etc.). Many models also allow multiple (usually two) sources to be connected per channel, with a selector switch on the face (the top of the mixer, where the faders, switches, and knobs are located). On a four-channel mixer, this multiplies the four sources into eight.
Mixers are usually set up around the different channels. If you look close, a majority of the features are divided up into the number channels the mixer has. Usually, all the controls of a channel are in a column spanning the vertical axis of the mixer.
Well, what do all these buttons and junk do?
I’m going to explain a simple, basic, two channel mixer. Features vary so much from mixer to mixer; it would be extremely difficult to list everything here. If the features of your mixer are not listed here, check out the owners manual that came with it and it will probably give you a good idea of what it is there for once you have the very basics down. If all else fails, feel free to ask some of our expert members by posting on the forums.
Crossfader- The crossfader is a horizontal slider, usually located at the bottom of the face of the mixer. This slider allows the transition of sound from channel 1 to channel 2, and vice versa. A lot of mixers have a crossfader slope selector of some kind. This simply changes the crossfader slope, altering how the channels come in and out when the crossfader is used. There are usually two settings, “Cut” and “Fade”. When set to cut, when the fader is moved, the channel will go from silent, to full volume very quickly. When set to “Fade”, the channel will go from silent, to full volume gradually.
Crossfader Assignment- Mixers with multiple channels must have some way of letting the user select what channels will be assigned to which side of the crossfader. Some mixers use knobs on each side of the crossfader, while others may have a switch on the face, or front panel. Other mixers may have what’s called a “hamster switch.” This simply reverses the channels. So if full left on the crossfader selects channel 1, with the hamster switch on, full left would instead select channel 2. Just as in all other features, specifics vary between brand and even in between models within brands.
Up/Channel Fader-These vertical faders, usually directly above the crossfader, control the overall volume of the channel. All the way up is full blast, and all the way down is no sound at all.
EQs- EQs (short for equalizer) are controls for different sound frequencies. Most mixers come with three (highs, mids, and lows). Some of the cheaper mixers just have two, and some of the higher end mixers have four. EQs are used to cut, attenuate, or accentuate certain frequencies out of a track. They are sometimes accompanied by a “kill switch,” which, when activated, will completely remove the desired frequencies.
Gain/Trim- The Gain or Trim is like the “master” volume of the channel. Usually located directly above the Eqs, the gain/trim can be used to reduce, or increase the volume of a track that is louder or softer than the track currently playing.
Headphones- Headphones are used to monitor music that is not playing “live” but “queued.” The “Live” source is the channel that is playing through the main system speakers. “Queued” music is that which you are about to mix into. Usually, there will be some sort of method to select what channel you want to monitor in the headphones, usually buttons or a switch located on the face. Also worth mentioning is features on many mixers which allows you to monitor the live channel as well as the queued channel. This allows you to “premix” as I like to call it. You can listen to the live channel and any other channels at the same time, and fade between what is live and what is queued using a knob, or fader. This is very handy when beatmatching.
Why the huge price ranges in mixers?
There is an old saying that states, “You get what you pay for.” That applies to mixers… sort of. Cheaper brands use cheaper, inferior parts. Other brands use quality parts, which drive up the price, yet gives the consumer a superior product. Also, the more expensive mixers, of course, will have more channels and more fancy features. If you are a starter bedroom DJ, there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting your hands on a mixer that costs no more than a hundred and fifty bucks. My personal feeling is it is actually better to do this, than go all out and buy a twelve hundred dollar mixer. A simplistic layout will be more conducive to learning, and usually a simple, cheap mixer will be all new DJ really needs. When it is time to move up to a bigger mixer, make sure what you are getting is really what you need. There may be some features you will never use and will simply be wasting money on.
What’s the deal with scratch mixers?
Scratch mixers are more conducive to a scratch DJ. The crossfaders in scratch mixers are built with to take a good deal of abuse. A good crossfader for a scratch DJ will also feel “loose,” and will easily slide from one side to the other. This makes it easier for the DJ to manipulate the crossfader quickly. Scratch mixers are usually simple two channel mixers, as a scratch DJ usually needs no more. There are, of course, many scratch mixers out there with multiple channels and more features. Once again, features vary a great deal between all the stuff out there.
Getting a good mixer is definitely a big part of your mixing. Just because a mixer is big, fancy, and expensive doesn’t necessarily mean you need it. If you are starting out, a simple, cheap mixer will be great to teach fundamentals. Make sure you know what you are buying, and keep in mind that DJing is an expensive hobby / profession. It is a lot easier to move up to something bigger and fancier over time, than to realize the grand you unloaded for your mixer was way too much, or worse yet, isn’t something you really feel like you are into.
written by Damon Chambers