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Once upon a time, the only DJ equipment a DJ needed was a pair of turntables, something to mix them, and a good set of speakers. Those days are long gone; nowadays one it's all about digital music and DJ controllers.

Introducing DJ Controllers

Even though many DJs have turned to fully electronic rigs running digital tunes through a laptop, neither the mouse nor keyboard has really stepped up to the challenge of controlling mixes. Not even a touchscreen can do a top notch job. There has always been a tactile element to DJing; spinning platters by hand in search for the perfect beat. That's why so many DJs turn to dedicated controllers. Nothing else can do the job.

Features to Look For

One of the first features to look for in DJ controllers is the number of decks. Most controllers have at least two decks; though some have as few as one, or as many as four. Each Deck provides an independent control surface, letting the DJ quickly and easily manage mixes and beats that would take dozens of menu dives to manage with a keyboard and mouse. Many also offer a built-in mixer, and a range of status lights so you can see what's happening, or about to happen, at a glance.

DJ Equipment: It's All in the Software

While a good DJ controller is a marvel of buttons, jog wheels, pads, and faders; these physical controls aren't enough to do the job by themselves. Controllers only work when they have something to control, and that's where software comes in. There are two main approaches to software: you can either use bundled software that is optimized for a specific controller, or you can opt for general software that you might already have. The answer depends on your priorities. Is it easier for you to master the software or the controller? There is no wrong answer.

Brands to Look For

DJs looking for a software-centric solution should consider Serato: it plays well with iTunes and the company interfaces with a number of hardware manufacturers. Native Instruments' Traktor series is a good choice for an integrated solution; bundling hardware with software. Other brands to consider include Numark, Reloop, Hercules, and Pioneer.