It surprises me still when I speak with my friends and family that they’re shocked at how a vinyl can play through a laptop. Given the correct setup and equipment (also investment budget), it’s possible to have your digital music library on your laptop and play music via vinyl using a Digital Vinyl System.
How to DJ with Vinyl and Laptop? A Digital Vinyl System allows DJs to connect a laptop to a mixer and vinyl turntables. A DVS audio interface connects to the mixer, turntables and laptop. Music can be selected on DJ software and controlled by a signal being sent from time coded vinyls allowing audio to be played.
Let’s see what you’d need to set up your very own DJ Digital Vinyl System setup and how you can set it up. We’ll now look into how to setup the most basic Digital Vinyl System for you to get started.
What Equipment Do I Need?
In order to achieve DJing with vinyl and a laptop then you’ll need to get hold of a DVS package, for example ‘Serato DJ’ or a lower priced version ‘Denon DJ DS1’.
The majority of the below hardware will be included when a DVS setup is bought in a shop or online. The below hardware and accessories are assuming that you have 2 Turntables and 1 mixer, however if you’re new to DJing the below is a quick re-cap.
Basic DJ setup
- 2 x Turntables: Record vinyl turntables
- Mixer: (2-Channel mixer will do fine, if you’re looking to expand to connect 4 turntables or more in the future then it’s worth investing in this)
- Speakers: My absolute favourite space saving speakers are Pre-Amp speakers, mine are Yamaha. This means that the speakers have amp capability installed within them. In other words, plug into your speakers (without and amp) and you’re playing heavy basslines through them within a matter of seconds.
- Amp: As mentioned above, if you don’t have an pre-amp speakers then you’ll need to buy an amp to connect up the speakers, amp and into the mixer.
- Soundcard: A soundcard sometimes helps record your mixes, although not required, you have the options of different cable inputs and records better sound quality. (Optional requirement).
Now let’s get stuck into the extra equipment that’s required to DJ vinyl with a laptop.
Digital Vinyl Equipment
- DVS Hardware: DVS Audio Interface e.g. RANE SL3 Serato OR DVS Enabled Mixer
- 12˝ Control Vinyl records (Time coded vinyls) and/or Control CDs
- RCA Audio Cables
- USB Cable
- RCA to Mini Jack Cable (for recording purposes)
The ‘RCA to Mini Jack Cable’ you’ll likely have to purchase separately and having shopped around online there are some really cheap cables on Amazon and eBay.
Tip: DVS enabled mixers are becoming more available and popular to buy online. If you don’t like equipment setup then explore a DVS mixer to save on space and setup time.
Options when it comes to software depend on the Digital Vinyl System hardware you’ve bought and which DJ software is being promoted or compatible with.
- DJ Software e.g. Serato, Traktor & Rekordbox.
If you’re serious about recording your DJ mixes once you’ve setup your laptop and vinyl DJ equipment, then the below software will allow you record them.
- Recording Audio Software – Audacity, Ableton Live, Garageband to name a few
How to Setup Vinyl Turntables, Mixer and Laptop?
For example, the Rane SL2 can be connected in these steps:
- Connect the turntables to the Rane SL2 audio interface with phono cables. Left turntable connects to inputs 1 and 2, the right turntable connects to inputs 3 and 4.
- Connect the grounding cables to the audio interface too, if not already connected to the mixer.
- Switch the button on the back of the audio interface to either (a) Phono or (b) CD depending on the type of turntables you’re connecting and setting up. Phone is for vinyl turntables.
- Connect the outputs on the audio interface with phono cables to the line inputs on the mixer. This will now require you set the mixer channels to ‘Line’ and not phono. Otherwise if the channels are set to phono you will hear an annoying high pitch noise arriving to the speakers.
- Now connect the USB cable to the laptop. Remember don’t connect this via a USB hub otherwise it likely won’t work.
- Power up the audio interface by plugging in the power cable and connecting it to a plug.
Installing and setting up Serato
- Download and install the Serato DJ software following the usual steps such as inputting the license key.
- Open the software from the laptop.
- Apply the necessary settings. This requires an important step called “calibration”. The calibration requires you to adjust the settings to get a perfect circle, this will allow for the best quality of connection and therefore sound.
- Now drag and drop songs onto each digital job wheel on the software to test if the software and equipment works fine.
Advice for DJing with Vinyl & Laptop
Advice for using Serato and DJ software in general.
1) Music Library – Create a library of music in a secure location on your laptop and allow that to be your main folder source of music.
2) Back Up Your Music – Keep a back up of your music library and back it up just in case something happens. For example, back up to DropBox or to USB pen or drive.
3) Crate Music for Each Mix – Create crates of tracks that you like to mix together on the bottom hand left of the software. It’s always great to be organised when having digital music, you’ve come this far setting up the equipment and software, why not!
4) Create Hot Cues – Even more organisation required which you will benefit from create cues for your tracks. You’ll get to know your music very well, for example the breakdowns, drops and even lengths of important phrases that you might mix in and out of. Extra bonus point here is that when you save cue points, loops etc are saved to the actual music track itself, so if you move you music library from one computer to another the data with remain the same.
5) Shortcut Keys for Quickness – Use shortcut keys to speed up actions, for example ‘CMD + F’ will take you to ALL music crate and put the curser into the search field ready for you to find your next track.
6) Utilise Track Meta Data Information – Add meta data to your tracks, such as BPM, Key and even colour. This will give you useful information about the tracks and help categorise them for creating sets quickly. Especially useful for when you’re playing live to pick and decide on a new track. Tip: A software tool called ‘Mixed in Key’ allows you to pull in meta data for each track saving you heaps of time.
7) Reference the Track Audio Wave – Visuals of the tracks audio waves help learner and pro DJs alike. It really helps with seeing when the next section of a track is about to drop in. Serato is great at presenting the audio waves in different colours which also helps to see different sections of music tracks too. This an added bonus versus learning how to DJ with record vinyls. Some people say this is cheating in a way when compared to learning how to DJ purely by ear.
How do you record DJ mixes?
Record DJ mixes using audio software such as Audacity, Ableton Live or Garageband. Connect a line input, such as Stereo RCA to 3.5mm mini jack cable, to the laptop or soundcard. Check audio DB is above 0 when playing a turntable, hit record and then stop at the end of a mix.
How much does DJ equipment cost?
DJ equipment costs range between £50 to £2000+. The type of equipment, brand, quality and models dictate how much equipment costs.Typically for entry level equipment, cables (£2-£20) are inexpensive in comparison to headphones (£50-£200), speakers (£200-£1500), mixers (£100-£500) and DJ turntables/controllers (£300-900).