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Thomann's Cool Online Guides: DJ Mixers

5. Common Features

On this page you can find the most important features from DJ mixers:

 


Output Fader

this controls the master output volume of the mixer and is commonly a rotary knob, but can also be a fader.

Line Faders

these control how much of each channel goes to the main output. You would normally find only two on a scratch mixer, but three or more on a club mixer.

Cross Fader

this controls fades between two or more channels – simultaneously lowering the output volume of the channels you are fading from, and raising the volume of the channels you are fading to. This is the main feature that sets DJ mixers apart from any other type of mixer.

Channel Input Gain

controls the amount of signal from the source (CD player etc) that is passed into the mixer. Normally they will allow negative gain (attenuation) as well as positive, and in some cases will provide the ability to cut out the sound completely. If you want this feature, look for a -8 (negative infinity) symbol on the gain knobs, or refer to the technical specifications.

EQ

EQs split the sound up into different frequency bands and allow you to change the level of those bands independently of each other. On a DJ mixer, you’ll commonly find a three band EQ (treble, mid, bass) on each channel. On high-end mixers you may find more bands to give you finer control over how the sound of the source signal. Modern DJ mixers often feature EQs with very high degrees of cut – this allows (for instance) the kick drum and bass line from one tune to be mixed with the mid and top from another.

Mic Channel

although talking over records is rather less fashionable these days, most DJ mixers allow at least one microphone to be connected to the mixer along with the various other sources. This allows a (rather more fashionable) MC or singer to be mixed in with the music. The amount of control over this channel can vary from a simple volume knob to full EQ, fader and ‘talkover’.

Talkover

a feature that automatically lowers the volume of the main musical material when a signal is present on the mic input. Listen to a radio DJ if you want to hear what this sounds like - you’ll notice that the background music gets quieter when they speak. Part of the defining sound of cheap pirate radio stations is the manual simulation of talkover by riding the faders by hand! Big shout…dum dum dip…goin’ out…dum dum dip….

Cue

this is the section of the mixer where the DJ controls what audio is going to the headphones. It will normally have a volume control and a fader or knob to select what is fed to the headphones. This control will vary depending on the type of mixer, but will usually either be a mix of the main output (program) and the channels selected for cueing, or a straight mix of two channels - this is more likely to be the case on scratch mixers.

Hamster Switch

known as the hamster switch because… answers on a postcard please! This control switches the crossfader around so that instead of mixing A-B, it mixes B-A. This is very useful for certain types of scratches and almost always found on scratch mixers - it is also available on a few club mixers.

Fader Reverse

this control will change the line fader it is assigned to from fading in as it is pushed up, to fading out as it is pushed up.

Fader Curve

there may be a few of these on any particular mixer - they are used to adjust the rate at which the faders bring in their assigned signals. Most common is crossfader curve, which adjusts between a steep curve for cuts and scratches, and a shallow curve for long subtle blends and mixes. Line fader curve adjustment is usually only found on top of the range scratch mixers.

Channel Source Selector

these switches select which input is being used for each of the channels on the mixer. Most DJ mixers will have a choice two or three inputs per channel.

Record Out

this is a copy of the main output that is fixed at line level, and unaffected by the master volume. It’s designed to be connected to a recorder such as a CDR or MiniDisc deck.

Booth Output

this is a copy of the main output with an independent volume control. It’s designed to feed the DJ’s monitoring system, allow the level to be controlled independently of the main sound system.

FX Send/Loop

this feature allows the connection of external FX and processing units. The amount of signal sent and returned is normally controlled by two knobs - ‘send’ and ‘return’.

USB/Firewire Computer Connection

some modern mixers have a built-in soundcard or at least the option to install one. This allows the user to send audio signals directly to the mixer from programs on a computer, and also to record the output of the mixer on a computer. Look out for the number of audio channels the connection can handle (remember stereo connections take up two digital channels), and also be careful as some mixers have USB solely for transferring FX settings - don’t assume it is necessarily a sound card.

MIDI Functionality

as the use of laptops for DJing becomes ever more commonplace, mixer manufacturers are increasingly adding the ability to control computer software to their products. Two main approaches have arisen - firstly the provision of a separate section on the mixer with dedicated MIDI controls, for example the Allen & Heath Xone 3D, and secondly the addition of MIDI functionality to the audio faders, as is the case with the Pioneer DJM800.

Contactless Faders

this is a relatively new innovation and uses light sensors instead of electrical connections in the faders. The upshot of this is that the faders never wear out, which is a major problem with contact faders that often need replacing every few months if heavily used (and note that like car tyre wear, this is not covered by warranty). Most commonly the crossfader will be the only fader with this technology, however as it becomes more widespread, expect to see mixers with all their faders contact free.

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DJ Mixers overview

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