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DJing Format Choices

Updated on August 5, 2011

CDs vs Vinyl vs MP3

The argument has raged for hundreds of years now, should you use turntables or CDs as a dj. There are good reasons for both. Although technology does move on, authenticity, and scratching skills remain popular too. Sometimes tracks are released only on vinyl, and there are special mixes, and instrumentals that only get released on vinyl too. However, cd allows you to carry a range of tracks, and easily mix and match music. Now with the invention of total digital, you only need an ipod to be a DJ.

Finding your format

There is one music genre that is still largely faithful to the vinyl record format, and that is hip hop music. Although DJ's in other music genre still sometimes use vinyl records there isn't the following and demand as there is in hip hop music. To understand the reason for this, helps us understand exactly why there is always a market for vinyl records. Hip hop vinyls and turntables form a part of that culture. Scratching and mixing is almost considered a separate musical instrument. Some of the newer music genres don't even care for vinyl including the largely churn and burn of pop music. House music is another genre that still has a popular following too though.

You should think of this depending on what type of DJ you want to be. There is no point buying turntables if the music you will be playing doesn't really require any mixing. You would be better of with a larger collection, and understanding of tracks.

Where did all the vinyl records go?

Vinyl is now really aimed at the club scene, thanks to the declining sales of the home market. Everybody wants to go digital in their home, but most club goers want the old school turntables from their DJ. Genres including house, trance, drum and bass, and hip hop and techno still enjoy a largely cult following, so we can expect vinyl in some form to stay around forever.


The big push for easier, and more reliable media brought cd's to the forefront of consumer buying instead of vinyls. Although they have now almost been replaced, there is one good side to owning tracks on CD, and that is the availability of the tracks. You can if you want still back them up and use them as MP3, however, you will always have the original, and its almost like a backup that you can keep handy in-case of any last minute problems. Most music players have some kind of cd device drive too. You can usually be sure also that cd mixing will not jump and skip like a vinyl can. You don't have the same degree of control with a cd though as you do with vinyls. You certainly can't scratch and mix with a cd turntable, although there are a few devices that you can buy, that claim to be cd turntables, in reality they can't even come close to the real thing.

Analogue vs Digital

Analogue audio is what you will hear when you play your records on a turntable played through your speaker weill sound very different from the sounds of a cd. Played through the same speaker. Although if you have a good ear, you will easily hear the difference, and the authentic quality of the record over the cd. The reason is that your ear drums respond better to a wavering wavelength sound. A record vinyl is almost like a blended sound. The difference with digital files, and cd's is that they are so exact that you don't get the same warm feeling.

There is an obvious difference in that digital media is less easily damaged. With Mp3's you are actually listening to a compressed version of the track, and to create this compression the program that first created the mp3, has to reduce the sounds at the higher end of the frequency range as well as the sounds at the lower end of the scale. This is why mp3's sound so crisp, and you may actually notice that certain sounds have disappeared.

Size is everything

If you have ever carried around a turntables, then you know why people are so excited about mp'3s, and ipods. Turntables are heavy & solid to keep the needle in place when your eyeballs are popping out from the bass.

Turntable effects?

You can buy extra devices to attach to your turntables and mixers that give you sound effects. This is called a separate effects processor. Apart from the scratching and mixing that's really all the options you have. With a cd player, you normally will now get a huge range of pre-programmed sound effects that you can even set to start and end on certain conditions, like a few seconds before the track ends, or starts, and also in the middle of tracks. This makes the cd option highly preferable for some DJ's.

Wavelength or shades of grey

One of the best things about vinyl records is the level of accuracy you can reach for mixing, and beat matching. The reason for this is that vinyl records have different shades of grey and black rings on them and you can see where you are in the tune. You can work out how long until the breakdown, and chorus. This is one of the reasons that top DJ's will wear by vinyl. The makers of CD players for DJ's did recognize that they had forgot about this, and so they usually have a waveform display that shows the progress and noise levels of the track.

Turntable battles

There are a number of DJ competitions worldwide that showcase the level of skill for DJ's vs DJ's. Most of them include traditional vinyl records and turntables. If you plan to compete in one of these mix master competitions, then you will need to inspire the crowd with your skills, and doing a hand stand while pressing play on your ipod, won't really have the crowd cheering in your direction.


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