What’s the Difference Between a DJ Mixer and a Controller?

difference between a dj controller and mixer
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A DJ mixer and DJ controller are two very different pieces of equipment that any professional needs to be aware of. Both of these pieces of gear are a crucial part of your set up. However, many DJs will only have one or the other of these in their setup.

This page will help you understand everything that there is to know about these controllers. That way, you can understand the difference between a DJ controller and mixer.

What’s the Difference Between a DJ Mixer and a Controller? Short Summary

Without going into too much detail, a DJ mixer is a piece of audio equipment which can control the frequencies and volume of the music. A mixer can usually hook up to mp3 devices, turntables, CDJs, and even DJ controllers.

A DJ controller, on the other hand, will normally require a laptop connection and DJ software. DJ controllers also normally come equipped with two decks on each channel which have a jogwheel, and various customizable MIDI buttons.

Most DJ mixers (unless they are dependent on MIDI) won’t be used alongside DJ controllers. However, those who have a hybrid setup which combines MIDI and standalone equipment may use both in the same setup.

DJ Mixers: Description, Benefits & Drawbacks

dj mixer

A DJ mixer is the main component of a standalone setup. Remember that there are three main types of DJ setups. In order to help us explain the difference between a DJ controller and mixer, let’s break down what a DJ mixer is in complete detail.

What Makes a Mixer Different from a DJ Controller? Main Differences

Before we get into too much detail, here are some of the most basic differences between a DJ controller and mixer. As we will discuss, there are also different types of mixers. In any case, DJ mixers are always used for DJing. Just as DJ controllers would be.

  • Separate device disconnected from the decks
  • Doesn’t necessarily have to be used for DJing
  • Only features the central mixing portion of a DJ controller
  • Can be used with or without software
  • Can hook up to mp3 devices, turntables, CDJs, and so on

The main difference that we see between these two products is how they are designed and manufactured. A typical DJ controller will have two decks with turntable platters attached to a mixer. A standard mixer, though, won’t be attached to any sort of decks. It can, however, hook up to decks separately.

PA Mixers vs. DJ Mixers

PA mixers and DJ mixers are two different types of mixers. Although both can be used by a DJ, PA mixers are typically used to control the sound levels of a PA system. They work really great for live bands, shows, and events. A DJ mixer might have features like a crossfader, BPM detectors, headphone cueing, and even sound FX capabilities on the same device.

pa mixer vs dj mixer

A DJ mixer works really well when paired with gear such as CDJs and vinyl turntables. If you tried to connect this same type of gear to a PA mixer, you would have a lot more difficulty making the most out of your decks’ features. That is why DJs will solely use DJ mixers to connect to turntables or CDJs if they aren’t interested in DJ controllers.

Benefits of Using a Separate Mixer for DJing

If you want to get a mixer, you don’t necessarily have to be a DJ. Just about every PA system in the world needs a mixer in order to connect to the music and project the sound out of the speakers. They are also a critical part of making the sound perfect for live shows. Here is why you might use one for DJing.

  • Don’t usually require laptop & software
  • Can plug into mp3 devices, CDJs, turntables, and so on
  • Are used for much more than DJing
  • The best option for standalone DJ setups
  • Can also work great for hybrid DJ setups.
  • A lot more versatile; can be used for various purposes.

When you use a separate standalone DJ mixer, it is a lot easier to upgrade particular portions of your set up. For example, if you want to purchase a new CDJ, it will be a lot easier for you to do so if you already own a DJ mixer. Those who use a controller will need to purchase both a DJ mixer and a new CDJ.

Drawbacks of Using a Separate Mixer for DJing

Just because your typical DJ mixer is shiny and comes equipped with lots of buttons doesn’t mean that it is the best option for you to consider. Especially if you are a new DJ who wants to start their own business. Here are some common drawbacks of using a DJ mixer.

  • They usually don’t pair well with software
  • Not all come with MIDI capability
  • Can be a lot more expensive than simply getting a controller
  • Usually a lot bulkier & heavier than DJ controllers
  • DJ software can mimic all the features of a mixer for free
  • Require USB drives to store music

One big difference between a DJ controller and mixer is that DJ controllers can take on the tasks of your average mixer. And then some. Although DJ mixers will boast the ability to provide the “best sound,” “highest quality,” and so on, they don’t offer any sort of perks not already available with DJ software and a nice audio interface.

DJ Controllers: Description, Benefits & Drawbacks

dj controller

DJ controllers are one of the industry’s leading products. They have revolutionized the DJ industry, making it much easier for beginners to get into DJing. DJ controllers work by using MIDI to pair with software and digital music files. This is usually done with the assistance of a laptop and DJ software.

What Makes a DJ Controller Different from a Mixer

The vast majority of DJ controllers need MIDI and DJ software in order to function properly. The main difference between a DJ controller and mixer, then, is that DJ controllers will typically need a premium software subscription and a laptop connection in order to work properly.

Benefits of Using a DJ Controller

If you get a DJ controller, the main idea here is to save some money and space. Since they are capable of taking on the features of a DJ mixer, many modern DJs have switched over to controllers as opposed to using DJ mixers paired with CDJs or vinyl turntables.

  • Normally handle all of a typical mixer’s features
  • No extra cords/adapters to hook up to the decks
  • Lightweight & portable gear
  • Much more affordable
  • All-in-one DJ package

DJ controllers are really popular since they can also grant you the ability to scratch, include sound FX, loops, adjust tempo, and just about any sort of popular DJ mixing technique. The best part, is that you don’t need to purchase separate CDJs or turntables if you have a great DJ controller.

Drawbacks of Using a DJ Controller

Unless you get a DJ controller which works as a standalone device, you will need to make sure to have a nice audio interface, laptop, and DJ software. Sometimes, DJ controllers can come equipped with a premium software subscription.

  • Usually need a laptop with DJ software
  • You need a good audio interface
  • Not all controllers are very high-quality
  • Platters, knobs, and buttons can be smaller

Many DJ controllers also have an included audio interface. However, this is not always the case. Before you purchase a DJ controller, consider whether or not you want to have a digital setup, or if you prefer to have a standalone setup which doesn’t require a laptop.

Major Points & Summary

DJ controllers take on all the features of an average DJ mixer, and more. DJ mixers, on the other hand, require that you also hook up to external devices such as CDJs or vinyl turntables. If you want a digital setup which is an all-in-one DJing package, make sure to check out our best DJ controller choices.

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