Ever since controllers and CDJs have been on the market together, there has been debate over what is better, more respectable, and more powerful for DJing. It is a debate that rages on internet forums and people hold strong opinions for and against each side of the argument. I feel like there is a strong issue with the debate, hindering beginners looking for the right gear, the good advice often diluted in amongst people trying to justify their own preference. The fact is they are two sides of the same coin, the end result is very similar after all, but for the sake of the argument, lets look into the depths of the discussion and hopefully I can shed some light, especially for beginners, what they may prefer.
Firstly, for those that aren't sure, I'll explain the difference between the two systems. CDJs directly replace vinyl, using CDs instead of records. They have the same controls as a turntable, as well as many more for extra manipulation.
They are able do do everything traditional turntables did and so much more. Depending on which ones you get, there are plenty of different features to use. The thing is, they come at a price. The industry standard Pioneer CDJ 2000 Nexus (soon to be replaced by the CDJ 2000 Nexus 2) costs roughly £1300, you will need two of them in addition to a mixer for DJing.
The most modern ones are able to play from CDs and USBs, control software and are standard setup for clubs. If you are a DJ playing any major event you will almost certainly use these as that will be what is provided for you. And there is no doubt that these are incredibly powerful machines, so why is there so much debate? Let's look at the controllers.
Summary: A device that can play music primarily from CDs and USB sticks and allows a DJ to DJ.
Controllers differ from CDJs as they don't have ports for CDs (with a few notable exceptions). They control computer software which contains the music and as such require a computer to be connected. They are significantly cheaper, although the price range is huge from beginner, to full pro setup controllers.
The controller industry, unlike the CDJ industry is a lot less monopolised. Whereas club CDJs are almost exclusively Pioneer brand, controllers are made by many manufacturers, in quite intense competition. This brings good competitive prices as well as rapidly evolving advancements as each manufacturer tries to one up the other.
They have a lot more control over the music than a CDJ does, and with the mixer almost always built in, you can DJ as soon as you purchase one. Many now have performance pads, bringing significantly more creative utility to DJing than CDJs, allowing for samples and cue points to be controlled.
Almost every controller also has access to many effects brought by the software, of which would be difficult to incorporate into the standard CDJ setup.
Summary: A device that can play music primarily from a computer and allows a DJ to DJ.
What Are the Main Points of Debate?
People who swear only by vinyl, are often known as traditionalists, favouring the traditional, "true" style of DJing as it was created. It is hard, because it is all manually beatmatched and the records have wear and tear.
CDJs came along and made many things easier for DJs, they only needed to bring a CD case or a USB stick to events, instead of crates of vinyl. They began to incorporate features such as BPM detection and software such as Rekordbox for preparing tracks. Many traditional DJs didn't like how new people could take on their profession with much more ease.
An obsolete method of providing music for an event.
This is EXACTLY THE SAME as how controllers and computers have made DJing easier than CDJs. Now you don't even need CDs, just your controller and laptop and you are good to go. Regardless of the venue setup, as long as you have those two things, you can plug into the speakers and go.
With software came functions such as sync, completely removing the need for manual beatmatching, something that took vinyl and CDJ operators so long to master. It has made a lot of people resent modern DJs, because they can put on as good a show for much less work or skill.
I want to counter this argument now.
Yes it has made things easier. But it has also made DJing setups more powerful. It allows modern DJs to do so much more, adopting a semi-live-production style of performance. Yes if all a DJ did was mix from one track to another, it would be easier and less impressive than on a CDJ but it certainly isn't what controllers are designed for.
Controllers wouldn't have half of the features available if they were simply for mixing from one track to another. Even some of the cheapest controllers have more performance capability than a standard club CDJ setup. Consider the Mixtrack Pro II, it has more features for performance than a CDJ setup with a standard mixer.
While having an inferior sound quality, this controller
can easily do more advanced mixes than a Nexus setup
for a tenth of the price of a single CDJ.
As you move up to higher quality controllers, the quality gets better and better. There is now very little difference in quality between the top end controllers and CDJs. Especially as Pioneer also manufacture some of the best pro controllers.
One downside of controllers, is they can be big and hard to carry about. It is much easier to bring USB sticks to a club, already set up with CDJs than to bring a controller. Especially since the booth really only has room for the CDJs already there.
But then why can't you have a controller to practise on at home? The principles of DJing are the same, as long as you are comfortable using a different bit of kit live, who cares what you practise on. And let's say someone did bring a controller, as long as the DJ is good, who the fuck cares. People still enjoy David Guetta's sets and hid equipment isn't even turned on.
A much bigger issue in my opinion.
People argue that with a laptop screen in front of you, you don't engage the crowd as much. They say that CDJs are better as there's no screen to look at. Well next time you are watching someone DJ, on any system, even vinyl, you will notice them distinctly NOT engaging with the crowd as they search for the new track. CDJs have screens which have to be looked at in order for the information to be utilised, sure they may be facing the crowd more but the attention is certainly on the screens.
When a DJ is mixing, their attention focuses on the equipment, that's why I tell the people hanging over the booth trying to chat to me to wait a minute, so I can mix the track. You cannot have 100% crowd engagement unless you have a pre-recorded set and even then, you have to fake DJing.
Within the past year (roughly) controllers have even incorporated CDJ like screens so the laptop can be stored away. And now the DJ ends up staring at the screen there, like a CDJ user. Much better.
I myself am both a controller and a CDJ user. But guess what, I use my CDJs as controllers! Like many other DJs, I use HID mode on CDJs to control the software (Serato) on my laptop. So what does that make CDJs? Yup, it makes them controllers too. And honestly, HID mode is the best thing to have happened to CDJs, because they can be combined with other controllers such as the Akai AFX and it unlocks all the effects and cues and samples that CDJs have been missing.
In the end, it doesn't really fucking matter does it? A good DJ is good, a bad one sucks. With new technology, we can do more and more complex sets and to be honest, if you hate on the advancements, it's because you are a technophobe (technology not the genre) and can't keep up.
It's 03.37 at time of finishing this piece, and I feel out of breath. Rant Over!!!