Using the best DJ deck for beginners will allow you to quickly mix a track using DJing software, all without having to use a trackpad to move your tracks around manually. Doing so often involves sorting through several menus before you finally find the song you’ve been looking for. If you’re playing in front of a crowd, you need a deck that can help to streamline the DJing process so you can get in there, lay down some tracks, and get the crowd jumping.
The best DJ decks for beginners will come with software that’s easy to use, essential controls such as jog wheels, and other important features including a wide range of faders and a decent EQ section that will allow you to try out your new DJing skills and grow as an artist. It’s possible to find a decent deck for just around two to four hundred dollars. These are the decks that are compatible with the leading DJ software programs, which means you can upgrade the software later down the line, once you’ve become familiar with many of the basic spinning techniques that the pros use. With a deck that has great basic features, you will be able to use more advanced mixing techniques once you’ve upgraded the DJing software.
Finding the right deck to match your skill level can be complex, since as a beginner you may not know what features to look for or what type of deck will work for the music genres you enjoy mixing. Fortunately, my deck buyer’s guide includes some great tips on the features to look for in your next deck and how to put it to work using some of the basic techniques the pros do.
Portable and Full-Sized Decks: Cheap DJ Decks for Beginners
Full-scale decks will give DJs more freedom in terms of accessing the controls they use the most, quickly. These full-sized models also seem to be more intuitive than a basic audio software program. Decks are much more than just an interface for your software. The deck can work as a type of all-in-one audio board that you can use to output your mixes. Many decks will also allow you to preview a track you have mixed on a PC, before the song begins playing on the loudspeaker. Decks can also function as an interface between your PC and the speakers you use. Important features to consider when you’re shopping for a deck can seem complex, but in reality, you’ll find yourself using the same basic controls and functions for each type of deck you use. These are the features that will define the deck’s usability performance, and price.
Now, let’s start off learning more about DJ decks, how they work, and what features to look for that can indicate whether or not a particular model is beginner-friendly.
How to Select the Perfect Deck
Choosing a deck based on your skill level can be difficult and many new DJs often make the mistake of choosing an advanced model that they struggle to use. Below I’ll go over the top mistakes the newbie DJ makes when purchasing their first deck and what you can do to avoid them. First up is whether or not to go for a standalone deck or an all-in-one model. The all-in-one decks are often the best choice for beginners, since they come loaded with all of the features you need to create a mix. The standalone setups will allow you to use separate components to build a deck system and they offer more flexibility and can be a better choice for the nightclub DJ or the vinyl DJ. However, you’ll need to ensure that each of the components you purchase are compatible.
Software Needs Based On Skill Level and DJing Style
Most DJs will choose a deck based on the type of software that comes with it. While many decks can be used with other types of DJing software, I recommend using the software that comes with the deck, since this is the software that’s specifically optimized for the model you’ve chosen. But many types of software programs can be complex to use, especially if you’re not exactly computer savvy. However, programs such as Rekordbox are a perfect choice for the newbie, yet it’s still powerful enough for the experienced DJ.
Serato is another popular DJing software program that will commonly come with a top rated deck. This program comes available in multiple versions, which are based on the skill level of the DJ that the controller is designed for. If you’re a beginner and you purchase a deck that comes with entry level software, you can always upgrade later down the line and choose a more difficult version of the software that will best suit your newly acquired skills. This will allow you to continue to use the same deck, without dropping several hundreds of dollars on a pro-quality model.
Software Compatibility: Mac and Windows Users
When you choose a deck, make sure that the included software is compatible with your PC. Some software is only compatible with Windows or Mac, while other programs can work for both types of operating systems. Make sure you also check that the deck you buy is compatible with other types of software applications using your Midi controller, if you want to use your own software program instead of the one that comes with the deck.
Channel Options and Needs
The number of channels the deck has will determine how many different songs you can control and play at the same time. A deck will come with either two or four channels, however, there are also six channel models out there, though they’re not as common. Most beginner-friendly models will come with two channels. These basic decks can control up to four tracks, depending on the type of program you’re using, however, it’s important to note that in cases such as these, one set of controls will need to be used to switch between two tracks. If you normally mix more than two tracks than I recommend going with a four channel model for a more streamlined mixing process.
The size of the deck may not seem to matter much, that is until you get to the club and realize that it’s not going to fit into the DJ booth. Size can also be a big deal if you travel often and you’re in need of a model that’s trunk-friendly. Typically, decks that are designed for beginners are often lightweight and compact, so hauling the deck from one gig to the next is simple. The addition of turntables is probably the biggest contributor to deck size. But, if you’re short on space, you should consider going with a deck that comes with mini turntables. How much the deck weighs should also be a consideration since hauling a full-sized fifty pound deck can be difficult for some users. In most cases, a deck designed for beginners will be compact and light, making it easy to carry and transport.
Who doesn’t love a brightly lit, easy to read display screen that will provide you with important info regarding your mixes? Every DJ prefers a deck with a large display, but entry level models will often come with a very small display screen that provides only basic information. Some models with a display screen will also allow you to use the deck as a standalone model, which means you won’t have to bring along your laptop at every performance. However, a display screen can also come in handy when you’re using your deck with DJing software since the screen will allow you to closely monitor different sound levels directly on the deck with the software program open. This will help to free up some space in the software program. The size, quality, and number of screens will vary from model to model. Usually, the higher the price tag, the better the size and quality of the screen, not to mention the screens can display more data compared to a basic model.
Connection Needs: Choosing Based On How You Spin
The outputs and inputs on a deck determine where you’ll route the audio. Because of this, you’ll need to be sure you choose a deck with a number of options. Many decks will come with a basic mic input, in addition to two or three USB connections that can be used to hook up to external devices or your PC. As with any other feature, the number of output channels will vary from deck to deck, but the number of inputs can be crucial to the DJ who often works with multiple audio interfaces, or larger sound systems. If you’re a beginner and looking for an affordable entry-level deck, make sure you check out how many outputs the deck has before you buy since most beginner models are pretty stripped down in terms of features, especially when you compare them to decks designed for the pros.
If you want a deck you can use without your laptop, which is usually only done by the pros, then you’re going to need to load up your deck with your mixes, which means it’s going to need to have plenty of internal space, especially if you have an extensive track library. Most decks are designed with a USB input since it tends to offer more flexibility, allowing you to subtract or add music from or to your deck.
How a Jog Wheel Can Add More Versatility to Your Set
The jog wheels consist of a pair of platters and you’ll find them on most decks. The jog wheels are designed to replicate small turntables that were found on older DJ setups. They allow you to fine-tune a mix and can be used to slow down or speed up a track, in addition to creating fades between a song, allowing for a smoother transition. Jog wheels are essential for most DJs when it comes to scratching. They’re available in a couple of different styles: non-motorized and motorized. Jog Each jog wheel will also have a different sensitivity level, depending on the construction of the deck. They will also vary in size. Ultimately, the size of the jog wheel will determine how heavy and large the deck is.
Other Important Accessories
The following accessories aren’t mandatory in order to use a deck, however, they can add a ton of convenience and some can even help to streamline the mixing process. Many DJs will purchase a stand to hold the deck at a more comfortable, accessible level. Additionally, a DJ will often wear a pair of headphones, which can help when they’re mixing a set on the fly. A carrying case may be needed if you often travel from one gig to the next and want to ensure your deck is safely stored during transport. Some decks are made out of plastic, which makes the knobs, faders, and switches more susceptible to breakage during transport. If the deck you’re using is made out of ABS instead of metal, then I recommend investing in a sturdy carrying case.
Who doesn’t love paying a flat fee for a new deck and getting a bunch of cool extras? If you’re a beginner, buying a deck package can end up saving you a lot of cash in the long run. Bundle packages usually come with software programs, mounting hardware, stands, cables, and a carrying case. These package deals are often for very basic decks, however, as I mentioned earlier, even a basic deck can still work for the pros, with the use of advanced DJing software.
Creating a DJ Mix With Your New Deck
Once your deck arrives, you’ll probably be eager to put together a killer set for your first gig, but doing so is a lot easier than it sounds, especially considering you have to know the right type of music to choose based on your audience. Playing dance hits is one way to ensure you keep the dance floor going all night long, but if you play this type of mix to the wrong crowd, it can be a good way not to be invited back for another set. Using your deck, you can get a little creative here and experiment with new loops, mixes, and transitions, using popular songs that the crowd will recognize. Getting the hang of the software program that comes with your deck can be difficult in the beginning, but if you’ve chosen an entry-level model, then the controls and interface should be pretty simple, with the controls and mixing options clearly labeled. Start off by choosing a popular tune and a recognizable loop. You can easily use the software to mix this track with a lesser known track with the same key. The combination of a lesser known track and a dance hit will definitely make you stand out and will probably give you more credit than you really deserve, but this trick can be just what you need to boost your confidence and encourage you to test out your mixing skills with other lesser known tracks.
Go Easy on the Bass
Don’t be like every new DJ and lay heavy on the bass, thinking it’s what the crowd really wants. Often, this type of sound can easily overpower the music itself and can be very off putting to people who just want to relax and enjoy the music. Instead, use your deck and some creativity. Try using a reverb sweep and a filter in order to carve out the bass gradually, then add a track that’s more beat heavy for a subtle fill. This will sound less generic, although it’s harder to do.
Lay Off the Mic
While most DJs love being the center of attention, the fact is, the crowd is there for the music, not to hear you talk on the mic. While it’s understandable that you want your personality to shine so you can make a name for yourself as an up and coming DJ, it’s best to first focus on the quality of your sets and showcase your mixing skills. No one wants to have to stop dancing to listen to the DJ ramble on. Remember, a DJ is only as good as their sets. Know when to interact with the crowd and when to keep the music going.
Your new deck provides you with a way to truly get creative with your tracks. But as I’ve mentioned already, you don’t want to stick with old DJ techniques and tricks. The point here will be to show the crowd what you can really do. Try out some new looping techniques to add something extra to each mix. Most DJs tend to build up the kick drum, which causes the entire song to stutter repeatedly. But if you use your deck to create a loop over the main track and then shorten it in order to create the same build, then you’re really giving the crowd on the dance floor something new while also creating a much smoother transition that’s not headache-inducing like some dated looping techniques can be.
How to Improve Your Mixes
There are simple ways you can use your deck to make your mixes stand out, even if you’re a beginner. There are even some basic things you can do to look more pro when you’re in the booth, even though you’re probably incredibly nervous. The first thing you do when you get to a gig is check out the equipment, especially if you’re taking over for another DJ. In most cases, you’ll be greeted by red lights that are clipping on the deck, mixer, and amps. Unfortunately, most DJs tend to neglect the lights. However, if you let them remain in the red then you could end up with damaged equipment. You’ll also have to deal with distortion in the headphones and the speakers, which can cause your set to sound horrible, while also risking blowing out one of your speakers. So remember, if you notice that you need to turn the master volume, EQ, or gains down, do so promptly in order to get them quickly back to green.
Learning how to scratch can easily make you stand out, especially if you have the right turntables or your deck is equipped with adequately sized jog wheels. When it comes to scratching you’ll need to keep the EQ and gains at twelve o’clock throughout the duration of the set. It’s amazing how many DJs aren’t aware of this simple fact. Scratching is an art form and it’s definitely something that will get the crowd pumped. Unfortunately, these days you don’t hear scratching as often as you did just five or ten years ago, but it’s definitely the go-to method to use if you feel like the crowd is losing its energy. It will also set you apart from the competition right away. You can scratch over pretty much any genre of music, so your choices are basically endless. But keep in mind that a little scratching can go a long way. Whatever you do, try not to overdo it because too much scratching can be irritating. Make it a goal to scratch on just one or two tracks per set. However, if you’re playing a hip hop set you can scratch all the way through.
If you’re excited to use your new deck but you’re completely new to mixing, your first step should be learning harmonic mixing techniques. This is another thing most DJs fail to pay attention to, but it’s definitely something that can really transform any mix. The old school method for finding out the key for any song was using a piano and then labeling each track. Fortunately, the software that comes with your deck should be able to help you out here, for a faster harmonic mixing process. Most DJing software programs will come with a feature that analyzes each song and allows you to do a search based on the key of each of the tracks. However, even if you have DJing software, it’s still good to know your tunes. Doing this without the aid of software is a learned skill. Some mixes will not sound right, even if the beats are matched, which is why it’s so important to learn how to identify the key of each track, on your own.
Restrain Yourself When it Comes to Playing with the Faders
As a beginner, you may go overboard when it comes to messing with the faders, pushing them up and down constantly to the beat, then quickly cutting to the next track while there are still vocals playing. But cutting off the vocals in favor of drums is a huge no-no and it’s something you hear too often in clubs. While there are ways you can do this right, it’s best to leave the faders alone and allow a track to finish before you begin trying to work your magic. Instead, try building the anticipation using a quick cut across with the fader. You can do this to tease the crowd using a popular song. This will show the crowd what the next track is, without completely cutting off the current song, and can help to get the crowd really going. Just make sure you use a highly recognizable part of the track that the crowd is sure to know. If you’re not sure how to do this, or the deck you’ve just purchased is loaded with a wide range of faders, make sure you practice this technique regularly to get a feel for how the faders work and how to correctly tease a track as opposed to clipping off the vocals and bringing in a new track too soon.
Use Effects Sparingly
Incorporating effects into a mix using your deck can be a lot of fun. Doing so can also add a nice unique touch to each track. However, you’ll need to spend some time perfecting your effects techniques. Don’t overdo it with effects, instead, focus on using them appropriately. There are too many DJs that overdo it with reverb, delay, and so on, all the way through each set. This tends to sound unprofessional and it can easily annoy the crowd. Beginners tend to overuse effects in order to cover up bad beat matching techniques, while others will use it as a lazy way to transition from one song to the next. While effects can be used to get you out of trouble if you find yourself struggling to make a smooth transition, you definitely shouldn’t rely on them to perfect your techniques.
A Diverse Set
A deck provides you with all the tools you’ll need to mix it up and create a great set, but how versatile are your DJing skills actually? If you mix just one music genre, this can limit you in terms of paying gigs. It can also prevent you from developing your skills as a DJ. While you may enjoy playing your favorite genre, each music genre has something special to offer and can provide new challenges that will help you to develop as an artist. As an example, if you normally only mix dance hits, then you may struggle to play a hip hop set, which can cost you a paying gig.
Using Your EQ
The deck’s three band EQ can be the most important function that you’ll use during a mix. But it’s all too common to see DJs mixing a set without even touching the EQ section. If you mix a set without using it, you’ll notice a messy sounding mix complete with speaker distortion and clashing bass lines.
Bring Backup Gear
Bringing along backup gear is a must for most mobile DJs. However, even a club DJ should bring along extra gear. Even the best DJ decks can break, however, this is rare. But USB sticks can quit and laptops can crash. Because of this, it’s worth it to bring along an extra controller, a backup laptop, and an extra USB stick or two. Doing so will definitely save your night in the event of equipment failure. If you don’t bring along any extra gear and your PC crashes or your deck won’t work, then this can reflect badly on you.
What DJ Decks Should I Buy?
Obviously, the deck you choose should suit your skill level, but it should also be a deck that you can use pro-quality DJing software with, once you’re ready to try your hand at more advanced mixing techniques. I would recommend the Denon DJ MCX8000 Standalone DJ Player and Serato 4-Channel DJ Controller, which is a very versatile, pro-quality deck that’s beginner-friendly and comes with all the features both the newbie and pro need to create a unique mix. To learn more, click here to read my article on are DJ controllers good for beginners?
What Type of Features Do I Need in a Beginner-Friendly Controller?
For some DJs, this can depend on their spinning style. As an example, a DJ that prefers using turntables will want a controller that can work as both a controller and a standalone mixer. It can also depend on the type of genres you normally play. But if you’re working on becoming a more versatile DJ and want to experiment with a variety of genres, then you’ll need a versatile controller that comes with all the bells and whistles the pros use, but with a setup that’s well laid out and not overly complex. To learn more about important features and what to look for in your DJ controller, click here to read my DJ controller buyer’s guide, where you’ll also get a look at the top models for beginners.
The best cheap DJ decks for beginners should come equipped with all the basic features the new DJ needs to create a unique mix, but it shouldn’t be difficult to use. I recommend choosing a deck that comes with beginner-friendly software that you can upgrade down the line, once you’ve become familiar with how to use your new deck and you’re ready to take your sets to the next level.