Serato is one of the most popular DJ platforms in the world. First released in 2004, Serato Scratch Live hardware/software gave DJs the ability to load and play back digital audio files from a computer, while manipulating the playback with a pair of Serato Control Vinyls on standard turntables (or Control CDs, in DJ CD decks). Serato's special Control Vinyls are cut with timecode information that feeds data to Serato via a digital interface. The Serato SL interface translates the timecode into digital transport information that controls playback, tempo, and pitch -- so you can "scratch" your digital music files with the feel of vinyl. Serato calls this technology NoiseMap, and it's still used in today's Serato DJ/DVS setups.
Hip-hop DJs have gravitated towards Serato software due to its graphical interface that replicates two records spinning on platters. But Serato doesn't only look cool -- it's hugely popular for its stability, flexibility and sound quality. And because Serato lets you tap into all the music on your computer or external drives, DJing with Serato and two turntables is like having endless crates of vinyl records at your fingertips!
Today, Serato Scratch Live has been consolidated into Serato DJ
software -- which is supported by Pioneer's DDJ series controllers
, as well as the Numark NS7
, Numark NV
and more. But for DJs that prefer to use Serato rigs with only vinyl (or CDJ) turntable control, Serato DJ has Digital Vinyl Simulation, or DVS. And that's what you'll find in this buying guide. Take a look below to build your own Serato setup, and take your DJing to the next level.
Serato Control Vinyl Kits / Turntables
To start scratching your digital music collection with Serato control vinyls, you'll need the magic "black box" -- the interface that goes between your computer and your turntables. The easy-to-use, two-channel Rane SL2 interface comes with Serato software, a pair of Serato timecoded control vinyl records and control CDs, and RCA cables. Another affordable option is the Denon DJ DS1 Serato DVS interface.
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Next, you'll want two DJ turntables. Vinyl is regarded as the premier way to get tactile control over your music, with a feel and response to the fingers that is hard to recreate with other controllers.
Remember, when you play a timecoded vinyl, no music actually plays from the vinyl record. Serato's Control Vinyls are grooved with a special frequency that sends timecode to your computer via the Serato interface. As you scratch and nudge the Control Vinyls, Serato software responds to your manipulations -- changing pitch and tempo on digital files you've loaded in your Serato software playlist.
DJ Mixers with Built-in Serato Interfaces
Get more control over your DJ sets when you add a mixer to your Serato setup! The Rane TTM57 MKII, Rane Sixty-Two, Mixars Duo, and Pioneer DJM-S9 all come with high-quality, 24-bit USB audio interfaces built in. Connect one of these DJ mixers directly to your computer -- it serves as your mixer, Serato interface, and central control hub. A mixer with two USB ports means two DJs simultaneously plug in their laptops running Serato DJ software -- making for quick changeovers and seamless transitions between DJs.
DJ mixers generally fall into one of two categories: battle mixers or club mixers. Battle mixers, also known as scratch mixers, are perfect for turntablists, scratch artists, or hip-hop DJs who want to show off scratch skills like beat juggling and drumming. Battle mixers typically have a very smooth, sturdy crossfader with an adjustable fader curve -- a must for complicated scratch techniques. Club mixers, on the other hand, are more commonly used for dance music. They're loaded with powerful "kill" EQs and built-in effects, and even tools like loop-sampling and tools for on-the-fly remixes. DJ mixers can also be hybrids of both styles
Analog Mixer + Serato SL Interface Setups
What if your DJ mixer doesn't have a USB port? If you're running a mixer that does not have a built-in digital audio interface, such as the Rane TTM56S or Allen and Heath Xone:23, you will need a separate interface to send your control vinyls' timecode information to your Serato software.
It's easy to set up your Rane Serato Scratch Live SL3 or Scratch Live SL4 interface. Connect your turntables to the input section of the SL3/SL4, and connect the SL3/SL4's outputs to your mixer. Plug the SL3/SL4 into your computer via USB. Serato should recognize the interface automatically, and you can start firing tracks off from your library.
With the Scratch Live SL3, you can connect two turntables for two-channel operation. The SL3 also features an aux stereo output -- perfect for recording your DJ performance. The Scratch Live SL4 features the same aux output -- and adds two more stereo channels of input and output, allowing you to connect up to four turntables!
When you are playing in a loud club, your best friend is a good pair of headphones. Headphones are the best way to cue up the next song, match its tempo, and prepare to transition to it, without interrupting the main mix.
DJ mixers have a special headphone output called a "cue out" or "monitor out." This output is the DJ's own monitor mix: it allows you to hear the current song while you audition the next track, and sync up the tempo -- providing the audience with a seamless transition.
You'll need headphones to cue up your next track. But what's so special about DJ headphones? For starters, DJ headphones have large, circumaural, over-the-ear earcups to help isolate you from outside noise. Most DJ headphones' earcups swivel 180 degrees, so you can wear them one-sided when you want to hear what the audience hears. Look for features like a detachable, replaceable cable and a 1/4" to 1/8" adapter, and specs like a wide frequency response and high output.
If you're a mobile DJ who plays gigs outside of established clubs or bars, you'll likely going to have to bring your own sound reinforcement. Not to worry: today's PA speakers are lighter, more powerful, and simpler to use than ever before. Active, powered PA speakers with built-in amplifiers minimize the amount of gear you need to lug around. Check out the lightweight QSC K12, which includes DEEP processing to bring more bass out of your music, or consider the EV ZLX-15P with its large 15" woofer for supreme low-end response.
Don't ignore the quality of your cables. Cables -- while not the sexiest purchase -- are one of the most important parts of your setup. A quality cable allows your signal to reach its destination at the correct voltage, delivering the sound you intend.
The Hosa Pro Balanced REAN Dual 1/4" TRS Interconnect Cable and the Hosa HSX Pro Balanced 1/4" TRS to XLR Male Interconnect Cable can connect your mixer to your PA, while the Hosa Beatport Stereo Dual RCA to RCA Cable connects your turntables to your Serato interface.
If you need a longer USB cable to accommodate an unconventional setup, the Hosa USB 2.0 Cable (USB A to USB B) comes in a variety of lengths.
A high-quality case protects your gear from damage while on the go. The Gator CGLUBDJBAG or Magma Riot DJ Backpack can hold your laptop, your Serato interface, your control vinyls and more LPs -- all in one bag.
A "coffin case" like the Odyssey FFXBMWBL will hold two turntables and a DJ mixer. Or, pick up a pair of Grundorf STTRB cases to keep your turntables safe and sound.