Today, most will either go for a cheap controller setup to use with their existing computer, or jump straight into the top-flight gear that they see used by their heroes. However, there are still a lot of situations in which a budget mixer can be incredibly useful, so we’ve gone in search of the best mixer for under $300.
There are many people for whom using a computer to mix is neither desirable nor necessary. A decent laptop for DJ use can be had reasonably cheaply, but it’s still a hefty investment if you don’t already own a suitable one, which makes that $200 controller look like less of a bargain. Plus, there are lots of DJs who choose to use other formats—whether it be vinyl, USB devices, or even CDs (remember those?). Whilst there are a few options out there (like Pioneer’s XDJ-R1), that generally means separate media players with a mixer, and not everybody needs to drop $1000 on an install-level mixer.
Fundamentally, a DJ mixer is a box that allows the mixing of a number of input sources, and the distribution of the resulting sound – a device that in even a modest home setup can be incredibly valuable. In my studio setup, my Pioneer DJM-700 is the central location for all my connections—controllers, decks, audio interfaces, and even other mixers go into it, with outputs to powered speakers and my computer.
A CENTRAL HUB
Even the cheapest DJ mixers will generally have at least four inputs and two outputs—perhaps not all playable simultaneously, but at least accessible. It could be argued that a small ‘studio’ mixer would do a similar job, but those tend to be more endowed with microphone and instrument level inputs, and if you have a lot of DJ-specific gear, a DJ mixer will usually offer you better bang for your buck.
Here’s a little industry secret for you (shhh): All DJ mixers work pretty much the same way.
Of course, there are bountiful rewards to be had when you spend a small fortune on a mixer. Sound quality, durability, and advanced features all improve as the price tag goes up, but as mentioned above, all DJ mixers basically do the same thing. So if you’re getting gigs, and finding that venues can’t (or won’t) accommodate your all-in-one controller setup, then you may want to go modular, for example, running an X1/Audio 6 combo through the currently installed mixer.
But just because the club has a shiny DJM-900NXS doesn’t mean you need to own one. A carefully chosen sub-$300 mixer will offer all the functionality needed to get the hang of external mixing, and may even benefit you long term, as you won’t be reliant on specific mixer features that may not be available at your next gig. If the only mixer you’ve ever used is a shiny $2000 Pioneer, you’re going to get a shock when you roll up to the club and find a rusty Xone:62 with a broken crossfader and two line faders missing.