Introducing The DJ Mixer

DJ Mixer
The mixer is the device that fits in between your two decks and the amplification system; at the very lowest level of functionality, it allows you to crossfade between deck A and deck B.

Crossfading is the process of gradually raising the level (volume) of one deck and lowering the level of the other so that a smooth transition is made between two different tracks (at least in terms of volume – you’ll still need to time the transition properly so that the two records don’t clash and are properly beat matched).

Using Your Mixer’s Cue Function

Another feature you will need on your mixer is a headphone cue switch – this allows you to listen to deck B while deck A is still pumping out over the PA system. You’ll need this to set up your cue point for deck B, without having the entire venue hearing you scratch back and forth to find the right beat. Most DJ mixers will have some sort of rotary control which lets you cue mix in your headphones – that is, by rotating the dial you can set how much of the sound in the cans is coming from deck A and how much from deck B. If you set it to 50%, decks A and B will be coming into the headphones at the same volume – if you swing it to 100%, you’ll only be hearing deck B in there, and at 0% you’ll only hear deck A. Different DJs tend to prefer different balances for setting up their mixes – there are no strict rules here, whatever works for you is the way you should go, just as long as you can hear what you’re doing!

How Much Should I Spend On A Mixer?

The things mentioned above are the most fundamental features of a simple mixer, and will be enough to get you started. You can spend a whole lot of money on a mixer, and the range of features will increase along with the sound quality of the unit. If you already have the best decks you can get, then you can start splashing out money on higher-end mixers, but if you’re on a tight budget, remember to put most of your initial investment into your turntables. As you become more proficient and want to try new things, then you can move up to a more advanced mixer without much difficulty.

The more expensive mixers will have sophisticated EQ controls, gain controls, kill and cut switches, detailed level meters and so on.

Using A Mixer’s Equalisation Features

Equalisation can be very important, and it’s good to have as much control as possible over the sound coming out of your decks. I’ll deal with EQ in a bit more detail in a later section. EQ controls can be as simple as a single bass/treble dial, or as complex as a multiband parametric EQ that divides up the audio spectrum into many smaller divisions (bands) which can be adjusted individually.

If you’re playing through a PA and you notice that the bass on a particular track is causing a nasty boomy resonance that overshadows everything else, you may want to cut the offending frequency (somewhere between 40-120Hz would probably be a good place to start). If your mixer has a bass cut feature, you might try this – a cut switch will attenuate (reduce) the frequency it’s assigned to. A kill switch, on the other hand, will cut the signal out completely.

Mixer Level Monitoring

mixing with an akiyama I
Creative Commons License photo credit: Rosa y Dani

A good mixer will have level meters that are easy to read, and allow you to accurately match the levels on both decks before making the fade. Gain controls may also be useful here, as you can use these to boost or cut the signal by whatever amount is required. Gain can either be applied to the entire signal, or to EQ defined regions (such as bass, midrange or treble). Although it helps to have a decent visual representation of what’s going on in the song, the ultimate arbiter of what’s right or wrong will be your own ears. An experienced DJ will know immediately when something doesn’t sound right, and will know exactly how to rectify it before it gets as far as the dancefloor…but that’s where practise comes in.