DJ 101: Laptop DJ Setup – Controllers and Soundcards


Choosing the right controller is just as important as software, and I have to say: You must have a controller. As a DJ, you are a performer, and typing on a keyboard does not make a great performance. People watching aren’t going to be entertained and will think the computer is mixing for you. Embracing this new technology forces you to prove your skills.

There are two kinds of controllers: timecode media and MIDI-based controllers. Timecode media — vinyl and CDs — play on standard turntables/CD players and send a digital timecode signal that interprets the movements to the software. Speed the timecode record up, and the audio file speeds up. If vinyl is in your blood, this might be the best option. Many clubs even have Serato Scratch boxes installed into their permanent setups. Timecode CD setups have the option to incorporate standard audio CDs — another great option.

MIDI controllers send a MIDI signal or control code to the software. Each button, knob and slider is mapped to have a function. Controllers often come with preset templates for software packages that you can customize within the software. DJ MIDI controllers often mimic the layout of a CD player, DJ mixer or both. Several recent controllers include the Vestax VCI-100, VCM-100 and VCI-300; Numark Total Control and OmniControl; Hercules DJ Console Rmx; and Stanton DaScratch, SCS.1d and SCS.1m, to name a few. It’s impossible to get the feel of a controller online, so go to your local DJ or music store and check them out. See how they look and feel to you. Do they seem solid and rugged enough for your needs?


Your laptop needs at least two separate stereo audio outputs. With an internal mixer, or mixer inside the software, one stereo signal will be the cue and the other will be master out. With an external mixer, or hardware mixer at the club, there will be a separate stereo signal for both tracks. Some software packages allow more than two tracks to play at once. As few laptops come with a multi-channel soundcard, an external soundcard is essential. There are several USB soundcards for less than $200, such as the M-Audio Fast Track Pro and Numark DJ I/O. FireWire soundcards can offer higher sound quality at a higher price; Presonus and Echo make excellent FireWire options, and if your laptop has a PC Card slot, the Echo Indigo DJ is another great option. There are also controllers equipped with soundcards, such as the DJ Console Rmx, Omni Control, VCM-100 and M-Audio Xponent.