7 of the best DJ mixers
4th Feb 2014 | 12:44
Arguably more so than ever before, choosing a DJ mixer is a complicated business. There’s a vast array of options out there these days, some of which offer mind-bogglingly vast feature sets.
The design, complexity and features of the mixer you choose will undoubtedly come down to the style of music you play and how you prefer to DJ. For example, scratch DJs and turntablists will certainly need a mixer with a quality, replaceable crossfader, which will likely be less of an issue for those who mix house or techno. Similarly, some of the top end mixers in this roundup, such as the DJM-2000 nexus, offer flashy and complex performance features that might not be of interest to DJs with a more understated style of mixing.
Many of the units in this list include built-in soundcards and MIDI capabilities too, which won’t be necessary for those who only use turntables or CDJs. That said, it’s still worth considering as a sure fire way of future-proofing your setup.
What’s undoubtedly true is that more expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better, although you will end up paying for features and flexibility. Whether you’re in the market for a top of the range, forward-thinking unit or a stripped-back mixer, there are quality options out there.
To that end, here are seven of our current favourite mixers. It’s worth noting that, in some cases, we’ve opted for the most recent or top-end models in a brand’s mixer line, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that previous models should be disregarded. In many cases it might be worth checking out second hand units, as the feature sets of older mixers may still suit your DJing needs perfectly.
Pioneer DJM-2000 nexus
You’ll be hard pressed to find a more feature-packed and forward-thinking mixer than Pioneer’s flagship, four-channel DJM-2000 nexus.
As was the case with its predecessor the DJM-2000, the nexus has divided opinion slightly amongst longstanding fans of Pioneer’s older units, possibly for being too much of a leap into cross-platform ‘performance’ territory. It’s hard to fault the quality and implementation of those flashy additions though, and the 2000s are winners in our book.
Central to those features is Pioneer’s Pro DJ Link function, which allows for advanced synchronisation between the mixer and other units, such as Pioneer's recent CDJ-2000 nexus players and laptops running rekordbox. There’s also a touchscreen-controlled Beat Slice feature for rearranging tracks on the fly.
Additionally, there's a built-in eight-channel soundcard, MIDI functionality for controlling external software and an impressive range of quality DJ effects.
Allen & Heath Xone:DB4
Over the years Allen & Heath has made a well-deserved names for itself as a mark of quality within the sphere of DJ mixers. Many of the brand’s Xone range are held in understandably high-regard, and units such as the mid-range Xone:42 and the Richie Hawtin-endorsed Xone:92 can be found installed in clubs across the globe.
The digital-friendly DB4 hybrid mixer is possibly the most impressive unit the company has ever created, however. It packs the same high build quality, excellent filters and all-round usability as the 49 and 92, but adds a built-in, multi-channel USB 2.0 soundcard for integration with digital DJing setups.
It also features a Quad FX Core DSP effects engine, providing each channel with its own effect bank with BPM detection. There are five groups of DJ-style effects available, with Expression and Wet/Dry controls on each channel for manipulation.
It’s a bit of a complex beast and could take a while to master, but the DB4 sounds great and packs enough functionality to keep even the most ambitious DJs happy for a very long time.
Full review: Allen & Heath Xone:DB4
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z2
In reality, NI’s Z2 is possibly better classified as a DJ controller than a straight mixer, seeing as it’s designed specifically to interact with the company’s DJ software, Traktor.
It’s worth inclusion here, however, as the unit is more than just a straight MIDI device. As well as offering tight control integration over the mixer, looping, Remix Decks and effects sections of Traktor, the Z2 also features two independent audio channels with filters and full EQ strips.
These allow users to connect a pair of CDJs or turntables, which can run through the mixer independently of a laptop. Best of all, it features built-in converters for use with NI’s timecode system, which makes the Z2 a brilliantly hassle-free option for those who want to switch between hands-on digital DJing and mixing with their vinyl or CD collections.
There’s also a pair of USB ports that can be used for adding additional Traktor controllers or external drives.
Full review: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z2
As a long time partner of Serato, Rane has obvious pedigree in the world digital vinyl mixing hardware. As such, it’s unsurprising that the company’s Sixty range of mixers are up there with the finest solutions on the market for timecode-orientated DJs.
Designed to integrated with Serato DJ, the Sixty-Four is the latest in the line, offering a 22-channel built-in soundcard, updated hardware effects and dual USB ports for simplified DJ change over in clubs. It also offers refined control over the newer features of Serato DJ, including the iZotope-powered effects, Slip mode and looping and sampling capabilities.
Pioneer’s mid-range DJM-800 has long been a favourite of DJs thanks to its sturdy build quality and its well-balanced mix of flexibility and straightforward usability.
Released back in 2012, the DJM-850 updated the 800’s design without being a major leap into new territory in the manner the 2000 series was. The mixer features the same robust build quality and a similar effects setup as its predecessor, whilst adding a USB soundcard and a handful of modernised performance features and effects.
It doesn’t have the same flashy Pro Link functionality as Pioneer’s top end DJ hardware, and it isn’t the cheapest unit in its category, but for a well built, capable and very usable four-channel mixer, the 850 is hard to beat.
Full review: Pioneer DJM-850
Denon’s X1600 is a fantastic all-rounder mixer. It features a quality, tension adjustable crossfader, four flexible mixing channels with three-band kill EQs and two effects engines playing host to a wide range of quality DJ effects.
There’s also a built-in soundcard as well as USB MIDI capability. It’s capable of digital vinyl conversion too, and is a certified Traktor Scratch mixer - all of which makes the unit nicely future-proofed.
It’s perhaps not as flashy as its also-excellent bigger sibling the X1700, but we’ve opted for the X1600 here as, in our view, it’s one of the best value mixers on the market - clocking in at sub-£1000 but offering features and build quality that punch above its price point.
Allen & Heath Xone:22
At the complete other end of the spectrum to the Xone:DB4 mentioned earlier, the 22 offers Allen & Heath quality at an entry level price point.
It's a fairly straightforward, utilitarian unit, offering just two mixing channels, both with three-band EQ, and a replaceable crossfader. The unit does feature a version of Allen & Heath’s much-loved controllable filter, however, which is a fantastic addition at this price point. There are also connections for adding an external effects loop, which is a handy means for upgrading the unit.
As an affordable, no-nonsense mixer, but featuring Allen & Heath’s robust build and quality sound, the 22 is a bargain.
It’s worth noting that at last month’s NAMM show the company unveiled the new Xone:23, which is effectively an update to the 22. We’re yet to get our hands on one, but with its extra inputs and cosmetic overhaul - at a similar anticipated street price - the 23 is looking like a worthy successor.