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December 23, 2022
Portable DJ Buying Guide

Portable DJ Buying Guide

Have you ever been to a club or attended a party and thought…you know what, I could do that? There was a time when building a DJ rig required a great deal of expertise and money. When zZounds got our start in 1996, physical turntables, mixers, vinyl and CDs were the tools of the trade. Today, your computer or iOS device houses your virtual crates of music, and all you need to load and play tracks is a portable DJ controller.

Although this buying guide might not be for superstar DJs, it's a great entry point for the rest of us. While you're working your way up the DJ ranks, wouldn’t it be nice to earn a grand by spending less than one? In this guide, we’ll show you the gear you need to get started.
Portable, Affordable DJ Controllers with Audio Interfaces
The foundation of any good DJ setup begins with two audio decks and a mixer. Play one song, then fade it into another, and congratulations: you’re a DJ. As you're thinking up a cool DJ name (also an important step), there's no need to lug around heavy record turntables or CDJs. Modern DJ controllers have replaced vinyl platters and CD trays with grippy, hands-on jog wheels. Your controller's mixer panel gives you control over classic DJ tools like EQs, filters, crossfades, and pitch faders. Interfacing with "virtual crate" software like Serato, rekordbox, Traktor Pro, or Virtual DJ, these controllers let you apply classic DJ techniques like scratching, cross-fading, pitch-shifting, and cueing as seamlessly as ever before.

The great thing about modern compact DJ controllers is that they allow you to do things that would have been a struggle in the old days -- or would have required tons of external gear. The ability to reliably prepare DJ sets ahead of time is an obvious win. Or how about saving tons of cue points in one song? That's a boon for all you mashup artists out there. How about applying all sorts of audio effects on the fly, without having to truck along separate devices? We’ve all heard the hits, but imagine them sonically twisted in ways no one has heard them before.

At the end of the day, every DJ knows that their bread and butter is how their beats get matched. With all of these DJ controllers, a simple press of a SYNC button, or a manual adjustment of the tempo knob, can allow you to seamlessly blend Grandma’s request for “a song we all can dance to” into whatever obscure, UK grime set you were banging away at.
Lightweight, Compact PA Sound Systems
Everyone loves a good, loud, pumping sound system, and DJing on a dime doesn’t mean cutting these three corners. When shopping for an inexpensive portable PA, the first step is to make sure you have all the inputs you need. An XLR jack for your microphone and RCA jacks for your DJ controller's audio are the must-haves.

Traditionally, the more powerful the speakers and amplifiers, the heavier your PA system will be. But today, modern, portable PA systems skip the massive wooden speaker cabinets in favor of compact enclosures and lightweight speaker drivers. As modern power amplifiers become lighter and cooler (temperature-wise), so do the amps built into the compact audio mixers found in these PA systems.

You might not blow the roof of your local auditorium with these PAs, but they're loud enough to do some damage at your local VFW or loft space. What’s great is that your back and compact car will thank you for taking it easier on them as well. Look for an all-in-one PA system with a handle, a column PA that's easy to carry, or a suitcase-style design that folds up and rolls away.
Light Shows and DMX Controllers on a Budget
Without a light show, a DJ twiddling knobs and tweaking faders is about as cool-looking as watching someone check their e-mail. A good DJ knows that ambiance is a huge part of the experience. Light shows, even simple ones, allow the audience to get lost in the music. If there’s anything you should splurge a little on, it’s lighting.

A solid way to start is with the sound-activated programs built into many DJ lights. These lights have a tiny microphone that "hears" what's going on around it, and pulses and moves to the beat of the music. If this awes you, imagine the audience's reaction! Even cooler, you can chain lights together by running a DMX cable from the output of the first light into the DMX input of the next, affording you a tight, portable light show with multiple lights in sync.

Chain a couple of moving lights and you’re set for a simple light show, but adding a DMX controller allows you to almost future-proof your DJ setup. As you grow, a DMX controller allows you to chain and control multiple sets of DJ lights, with programs that let you preset specific lighting effects to match your performance.

How do you know what lights to get and what controller to use? Its as simple as noting how many channels a controller offers, and how many channels each light takes up (all easily found in specifications info). We’ve recommended a few multi-purpose lights below. Check out our DJ lighting buying guide to learn more.