As a DJ, I’ve learned that the tools I used while performing make all the difference in terms of the quality of my sets. I’ve used both CDJs and MIDI controllers in the past, and have found that there are pros and cons to both. Most DJs in the industry have strong preferences about which type of equipment they like to use, and of course, everyone thinks that their method is the best way to DJ. Many people think that CDJs are more authentic and claim they are better, but I decided to do some in-depth research into both options to find out if this is really true.
So, are CDJs actually better than MIDI controllers? Anything you can play on a CDJ, you can actually play on a MIDI controller as well. MIDI controllers also have the ability to automate some of the more tedious aspects of using a CDJ. The leading MIDI controllers even have features that you can’t find on a CDJ for creating samples, adding video, and more. While CDJs are still valuable tools, they don’t offer any technical features you wouldn’t find on a MIDI controller.
Most of the debate around CDJs and MIDI controllers centers around individual DJ preferences, performance and stage presence, and authentic DJ culture. Music technology is changing quickly, and it’s creating an fascinating divide between CDJ purists and those who are open to experimenting with new technology.
CDJs Versus MIDI Controllers: The True Debate
The biggest reason many DJs prefer to stick with the CDJ system is because of the way it looks and feels in the booth. The DJ booths at many venues are already outfitted with a CDJ system, so all you need to do is bring your music on a USB or even on old-school CDs, and you are set to go. Knowing how to use a CDJ can help you book professional gigs, which is important for growing your career. Many DJs also prefer the way CDJs come across to the audience, claiming that they seem more engaged when spinning on a CDJ than when they’re on their laptop using a MIDI controller, which will get the crowd more hyped up. A laptop may make a DJ come across as closed off to crowd members that want to interact with them. However, there are many social DJs that transcend this stereotype, so it’s really about what makes you feel most comfortable and in control in the DJ booth.
CDJ users also tend to believe that a good DJ needs to be able to use whatever type of equipment is available to them, while those who love MIDI controllers believe it’s a better use of time to focus on the new technology that’s likely to influence the way things are done in the future. DJing started with vinyl, and for many people, CDJ systems feel like the most direct evolution of that craft and culture. Of course, this is all a matter of opinion, and there’s truth to both sides of the debate. Only time will tell which type of technology ends up winning out. In the meantime, I believe it’s best to have a working knowledge of both systems to succeed as a DJ. If you learn to love both systems, you will open yourself up to many new opportunities.
What are CDJs?
CDJs are digital tools that are designed specifically for DJing. They were originally created to play compact discs and are often styled to look like old-school vinyl DJ equipment. However, nowadays many CDJs allow you to plug in a USB stick or SD card with music on it. This can help you save space when you are in the DJ booth.
During a typical set, a DJ will plug two CDJs into a large digital mixer, which will give them greater control over how they present their music. CDJs have pitch faders and jog wheels, which were features that were present on the vinyl mixers that were used in the seventies. They also have more modern features like looping tools. Many CDJs can even be connected to a MIDI controller or other type of controller for more advanced features.
There are many different companies that make CDJs, with Pioneer being one of the most prominent. CDJs as a product have been around since the early nineties, with the Pioneer brand coming on the scene in the early 2000s. These products continue to evolve, with new versions being released every few years.
What are MIDI controllers?
MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI controller is a broad term that can refer to any type of software that connects to another musical production tool. While there are many types of MIDI controllers that are designed to be used with instruments, the types of MIDI controllers that are used as alternatives to CDJs are often referred to as DJ digital controllers. These are small DJ consoles that look somewhat similar to a CDJ and connect to software on a computer.
There are many brands that make quality MIDI controllers, so ultimately you’ll need to base your purchase off of what specific features you are looking for. Pioneer does make some digital controllers, but Native Instruments is another good brand to look at if you are considering investing in a MIDI controller. If you are just starting out with DJing, see if you can test out your friend’s MIDI controllers or play around with some at a music store. This will allow you to get a better idea of what you are looking for and get comfortable with the different types of MIDI controller setups.
Some of the most popular types of MIDI controller software include Traktor, Serato, and Scratch Live. These softwares have many of the same functions that CDJs have, like looping and pitch adjustment tools. Many modern MIDI controllers also provide users with the ability to create complex samples and mixes and add special effects. These complex tools are part of what makes MIDI controllers so popular among up and coming DJs looking to innovate.
Which setup is best for me?
Every DJ has their own preferences when it comes to choosing a setup that is appropriate for their needs. If you are just getting started, it’s easier to invest in a MIDI controller because they are much less expensive. A MIDI controller might only cost a few hundred dollars, whereas a professional quality CDJ setup from Pioneer or another competing brand can run well over a thousand dollars. MIDI controllers are also a bit more intuitive to use than CDJs from a beginner’s perspective. However, if you are very serious about becoming a DJ, it may be worth it to invest in a CDJ setup at home. Practicing on a CDJ system will leave you more equipped to DJ in clubs and music venues where CDJs are still de rigeur. Taking the time to learn both systems will be hugely beneficial for your career as a DJ.
Where can I purchase a DJ setup?
There are plenty of resources online to learn about where to get DJ gear. You can check out all of my recommended gear HERE.
If you are really serious about getting a DJ setup, look to see if there is a DJ equipment store in your area. While you may have to go out of your way to get there, most major metro areas have at least a few places that specialize in DJ equipment, particularly if there is a thriving music scene in your area. There are plenty of advantages to going to a DJ store – you can test out the equipment in person, and you can talk to the experts at the store to get some advice. These retailers will also have a broader range of equipment than other retailers.
If you can’t get to a DJing store, there’s an extensive amount of both new and used equipment available online. If you are looking for something very specific, purchasing from an online retailer may give you a bit more choice. Electronic stores and music stores may also have DJ equipment available, and this can be a good place to start if you are new to DJing. Take your time when shopping for DJ equipment, as both CDJs and MIDI controllers are an investment. Don’t be afraid to look at multiple retailers and ask the seller questions to ensure you are getting a high quality product.
Are there any other accessories I need to start DJing?
Beyond either a CDJ or a MIDI controller, you can find all of my favorite gear on the Recommended Gear page of this blog. While much is made of the technology that goes into DJing, it’s very difficult to be successful at it if you aren’t passionate about music. Of course, you’re going to need a great pair of headphones as well – your old earbuds aren’t going to cut it while you’re DJing. You’ll need something with great sound quality that’s going to give you the feedback you need to create great mixes. A high quality laptop is also helpful when getting started as a DJ, but not totally necessary.
The bottom line is that CDJs and MIDI controllers are just different – there isn’t one option that’s better than the other. If you’re just starting out with DJing or are primarily focused on creating really innovative mixes and sound effects, a MIDI controller is probably the way to go. If you’re focused on playing big venues and becoming a touring DJ, however, it’s essential to learn how to use a CDJ. If you are truly passionate about DJing, learning how to use both is invaluable to your career.