Dirtbags DJ Setup

I DJ sound for Dirtbags Capture The Flag, Roller Derby bouts for the Los Alamos Derby Dames, and occasional parties. All of these have pretty similar requirements: music from a PC, maybe some DJ mixing, and at least one microphone for announcing. Derby is slightly different because spaces can be larger.

My Recommendation

This would cost about $650 in October 2011.

If I had it to do all over, and was unable to find a deeply-discounted package deal again, here's what I'd buy:

This will give you a nice clean USB audio out from your laptop, with two mic inputs and a spare (analog) stereo in for an MP3 player like an iPod or Android device: you wouldn't even need anyone to stand by the rig if you're okay with a straight up playlist. This mixer will also allow you to do some basic digital recording, if you want (I do). It's rumored to have noise problems with the headphone out: my guess is ground loop problems in some people's setups. Use a laptop with a two-pronged AC adapter and you should be fine. In any case, if you use Mixxx, you're not going to want to use the mixer's headphone out anyway.

You don't get any digital effects in the mixer with this setup. I'm not convinced you really need them.

If you want do to some live DJ control, you can use the laptop's built-in headphone jack and a USB mouse for about $40 (I think the Sennheiser HD202 headphones are an excellent value). You could add something like a Hercules DJ Control MP3 e2 if you'd rather have hardware than a mouse. The Hercules RMX looks nice, with more buttons, a metal body, and a mic in, but at about $250 I can't recommend it over $160 for both the MP3 e2 and the more-versatile 4-channel USB mixer.

What I actually have

This cost about $600 in July 2011.

When I bought my setup, Musician's Friend had a package deal of speakers, stands, mics, mixer, and cables, at $40 less than the two speakers alone. So I bought it.

APS15 Review

The reviews I read on the APS15 speakers were mixed, with half saying "they're just fine" and the other half complaining about hum, uneven frequency response, etc. I'm in the "just fine" camp, and will go on the record stating that for a beginning club DJ, which is what I do with Derby and CTF, the TH-15A is not twice as good as the APS15, despite costing twice as much.

The speakers do hum, but it doesn't get louder as I increase volume, and I can't hear it once I start playing music. They're a little muddy, and the EQ doesn't do much. They don't stack, even though they look like they were designed to. Carrying them is difficult, with only one handle on the side.

On the plus side, each speaker has two ¼" inputs (probably unbalanced), three XLR inputs, stereo RCA inputs (presumably to hook up an MP3 or CD player directly), and a moderately effective 5-channel graphic equalizer. This versatility makes it easy to use these speakers without a mixer: something, it turns out, I want to do from time to time for practices, parades, etc.

These speakers can't be beat for the DJ on a budget.

Soundcraft Notepad 124FX Review

I'm very happy with this mixer.

This 12-channel (4 mono, 4 stereo) Mixer is nice and compact, smaller than the 8-channel Mackie ProFX8 I use at work. It does not have USB audio, but it's very quiet and I can't see this making any difference for CTFs, clubs, or Derby's big echo-y gymnasiums. It has more effects than the Mackie: I plan to use number 31 (delay) for the announcer's mic.

I've used this mixer to bring in two DJs, two mics, my 2-channel wireless mic system, and an MP3 player, and I still had ports left to bring in another mic/guitar and another MP3 player and a recording device, as well as an unused recording output and monitor outs.

Behringer is now making a "Xenyx 1202" which appears to be the exact same mixer as the Notepad series in every way but color. I had read that Behringer's business model is based on copying the successful designs of other manufacturers, and this appears to be the case. Having never used a Behringer mixer and having owned many "clone PCs" in the 1980s and 1990s, I don't feel qualified to comment on the Xenyx series.

Nady DKW-DUO Review

They work okay as long as you stay within about 20 feet of the base. And they sure are cheap. I've since bought better wireless mics, and I prefer to use wired ones if possible. There's just less that can go wrong with a wired mic.

DJ Controller

I don't currently use a DJ controller, although I understand the appeal for practicality and showmanship. I'm experimenting with a friend's Hercules MP3 e2 and may ask for one for a holiday gift. So far I can say that I prefer using the mouse for setting cue points and loading tracks. I'm hardly ever using the platters, which seems like the main point in having one.

Other equipment

For $60 more I bought a Nady 2-channel wireless mic system. Then, $14 for four 9v low self-discharge NiMH batteries for them. They work just fine, but the plastic body will probably crack if anybody drops one.

I'm driving the entire thing with Mixxx through a $10 USB Audio device, with a ⅛-inch stereo to two ¼-inch unbalanced cable. This is definitely the most sneer-inducing piece of the entire setup, but after working with analog audio equipment in the 90s I feel confident that this device is generating much less noise than the mics.

Aside from the speakers, all this gear fits into a medium-sized book backpack.

Software

I run Arch Linux on a Samsung NC10, my only computer. My DJ software is Mixxx. My system is very stripped down: aside from xdm (asleep), X, dwm, mixxx, udev, runit, a couple of gettys, and xss, (which sleeps until X tells it to engage), nothing is going on. I do not run any of the things that come with a stock Ubuntu or Gnome2 setup, such as gvfsd, cups, dbus, or pulseaudio.

I'm able to run Mixxx with a netbook (1024×600) theme and scrolling waveform display. Audio is smooth. I suspect, but don't care enough to verify, that a netbook with a full Gnome2 setup would struggle to keep up. In particular, I would look first at gvfsd and pulseaudio as a source of latency. Even though pulseaudio is a tremendous improvement over esd, it's still an additional layer between mixxx and the sound driver; and many times I have seen gvfs lose its mind and busy loop, chewing 100% CPU.

Neale Pickett
neale@woozle.org
+NealePickett