The History and Evolution of DJ Equipment
Before DJs became the superstars they are today, there were turntables invented in the late 1880s by an American from Ohio named Thomas Edison. At that time, they were used to record and playback sound, not to mix or scratch with, and they weren’t even called turntables at first; Edison called them phonographs (sound writers).
It wasn’t until 1908 that turntables were used in Europe to mix records. From there, technological advancements continued to make their way into DJ gear.
While the DJ industry has experienced many changes over the years, many of today’s most popular turntables and other equipment have been modeled after DJs’ tools for decades.
Since music technology has changed so much since then, it can be hard to grasp how these seemingly disparate products came to be, but it makes sense when you trace their evolution over time.
So let’s look at where the DJ industry came from and how the technologies we use today came to be.
A Walk through History of DJ Equipment
1973 – 1974
DJ Kool Herc is a Jamaican-born DJ who is often recognized as Hip Hop’s founder. It all began in 1973 when he invented the technique of mixing back and forth between two similar records to lengthen the break. Turntablism came as a result of this.
Technics released the first SL-1200 in 1974, becoming the global industry norm for DJs for decades. The Disco Genre began to take hold in the mid-1970s, with nightclubs embracing DJs rather than bands and live entertainment.
1975 – 1977
DJ Grand Wizard Theodore accidentally invented scratching in 1975 while attempting to hold a spinning record in position so he could listen to his mother yelling at him.
The Disco Bible, introduced by New York DJ Tom Lewis, published all top Disco tracks along with their Beats per Minute (BPM). It has simplified learning the art of DJ Equipment and mixing.
The Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” was released in 1979. One of the first rap music records to become a smash, it is still played today.
The MTV network debuted in 1981, initially devoted to music videos and coined “VJ” or Video Jockey.
Afrika Bambaataa’s “Planet Rock” was the first hip-hop song to include synthesizers, released in 1982. The CD (Compact Disc) was released to the public in the same year, revolutionizing digital audio.
Jesse Saunders, a DJ and producer, produced what many consider the first house music single, On & On, in 1983.
The first DJ Times magazine was released in 1988. It was the first magazine aimed specifically at mobile and club DJs.
The CD finally exceeded the LP in sales around 1991. Of course, this did not end Vinyl DJs, but it did cause an even greater movement toward the world of digital DJ equipment.
1992 – 1994
Moving Picture Experts Group produced the MPEG-1 Standard, which later evolved into the MP3; the compression format that later revolutionized the digital music landscape and is still what we listen to today.
Pioneer DJ released the first CDJ in 1994, over a decade after the release of the CD. The CDJ-500 was the first attempt to make a CD player for DJs rather than the audience.
1998 – 1999
Final Scratch, the first digital DJ system that allows DJs to manipulate MP3 files using special time-coded vinyl records or CDs, was introduced and launched by N2IT. It took a while for ardent Vinyl DJs to catch on, but this was the start of DVS as we know them today.
Richard Eden (a UK DJ) was recognized as one of the first DJs to use only digital Dj equipment in 1999. On his Dell Inspiron 3200 laptop, he keeps his full library of dance, dub, trance, and jungle music.
2000’s – Now
By the early 2000s, Digital DJ equipment was fully blooming, with Pioneer DJ firmly established as the industry standard for DJing.
Today, becoming a DJ is easier than ever before, and you can get started with as little as a Pioneer DDJ-200 or other options like the DDJ-400/SB3 for a few hundred dollars.
Pioneer DJ introduced the latest edition of the DJ Player, which has been the industry standard for most of the 2000s, in late 2020. The CDJ-3000 ditched the classic CD slot in favor of a huge 9-inch touch screen, a redesigned UI and hot cues, and a slew of new features.
The Equipment Evolution
DJing has been an integral part of our culture since the 1940s. DJing has been used as a medium for us to absorb music in new and interesting ways, from the earliest introduction of music during radio shows to the massive DJ sets you see at festivals today.
It all began when radio hosts felt they needed something to break up their conversations on-air. Music quickly became a huge hit amongst listeners, sparking the need for new equipment to allow radio shows to easily segue from one track to another.
From Speakers to Records
Though today’s turntables contain every feature one could hope for in a piece of audio equipment, their design is inspired by technology created long before records were ever made.
The first record players were built from gramophones, which then could be used to play wax-based cylinders or discs called phonograph records. What was eventually known as phonographs were originally used for recording telephone calls at Alexander Graham Bell’s laboratory in 1876.
Although phonographs had been in use since as early as 1877, it wasn’t until almost 25 years later that they became popularized by Emile Berliner. Though he didn’t invent them, Berliner is credited with perfecting their design in 1889.
They used a disc made of shellac—the same material used for picture discs in old-fashioned photo booths—and a hand crank on its side to control the playback speed.
Berliner patented his invention, which he called a gramophone, and had great success selling them across America. He even struck deals with music publishers that allowed disc recorders to be distributed in place of sheet music—making it easier for people who played instruments at home to learn how.
The First Mixers
In these early days, all DJs had to work with was a simple crossfader. This is where many DJs still start today. When they’re just getting started or want an affordable mixer that won’t break their budget, starting with a mixer with only one fader is a good way to go.
These simple models offer basic functionality and are ideal for basic mixing techniques like scratching and blending.
Today, you’ll find that most mixers are considered hybrid mixers. That means they have both crossfaders and a single or dual deck.
Since DJs have grown accustomed to more mixing options, it only makes sense that manufacturers have worked hard at developing new features for all levels of DJs, from beginners to professionals. As a result, there is a mixer for just about any kind of DJ.
The Birth of the Disc Jockey
In its most basic form, early DJing necessitated vinyl, which broadcasters utilized to ensure that their audience was always listening to a steady flow of fresh music.
Naturally, the means for playing these discs were somewhat antiquated, with the discs being spun using a rotating machine that used a belt system.
How Vinyl Turntables came Into the picture
This implies that the belt turned because a small motor in the unit revolved. This belt was linked to a platter containing the current recordings, allowing the needle to go across each groove and transmit music to the people.
As you can expect, this method wasn’t the most efficient, and broadcasters soon needed a faster, more efficient manner of switching from one record to the next with better precision.
It resulted in developing a new type of turntable that used direct drive motors.
These turntables were manned by an electromagnet, eliminating the middleman and allowing records to ramp up nearly instantaneously and with greater accuracy. This opened up turntables for singers who wanted to do more awesome things with their tracks.
This turntable model was manufactured for many years and was considered the industry standard until it was discontinued in the 2010s. However, some DJs still favor this method or others similar to today’s more advanced DJ equipment.
The CDJ Evolution (Pioneer DJ CDJ2000, 2000NXS, and 2000NXS2)
At the turn of the twentieth century, CDs surpassed vinyl, requiring DJ equipment to adapt, resulting in the release of units like the Pioneer CDJ1000.
It allowed DJs to find a better medium between the old and the new, using the talents they learned on vinyl machines while also having the flexibility of using CDs.
Machines comparable to the CDJ also introduced the average person to the field of DJing, allowing more people to play with and explore DJ equipment and developing new technology for those DJs to employ.
In the early days of digital DJing, the Pioneer CDJ2000 was king. It was one of the first CDJs that allowed DJs to control playback using a touchscreen, making mixing tracks on the fly much easier. The CDJ2000 also had a built-in sampler, allowing DJs to create on-the-spot remixes and mashups.
The CDJ2000 was not without its issues, however. The device could only control playback in one direction, making it difficult for DJs who wanted to perform a crossfade on two tracks.
The device also had no internal memory, so DJs had to use CDs or load songs onto external hard drives to mix them seamlessly. While it was much easier than carrying a bag full of vinyl records, it wasn’t as convenient as using MP3 players or laptops.
In the 1990s, Pioneer introduced the CDJ-500, a compact disc player that allowed DJs to control playback with a vinyl record. The CDJ-500 quickly became the industry standard for professional DJs.
In 2009, Pioneer released the CDJ-2000, which added support for MP3s and other digital formats. The CDJ-2000NXS was released in 2012 and is the current flagship model of Pioneer’s CDJ line.
CDJ-2000NXS is still considered one of the premier devices for performing DJs. Its large touchscreen provides easy access to music libraries, playlists, charts, and other visual information. This could be used as a standalone unit or with Pioneer’s DDJ-SX controller for scratch mixing and beat juggling.
In February 2016, Pioneer announced the CDJ-2000NXS2, an updated version of its best-selling CDJ player. The new device features improved loading times, better sound quality, and support for longer audio files such as 32-bit/192 kHz WAVs.
Then came the digital age, which many believe benefits DJs by providing access to thousands of music at their fingertips, all of which are of the best quality.
There was no longer any need to physically transport the music you wanted to play for people or music you wanted to tweak to add to their excitement.
Now with just double-clicking a file or a push of the button, everyone can enjoy quality music easily.
When it comes to the potential, it presented for DJ equipment, this unveiled what we can describe as an endless world of possibility.
As a result, a vast selection of software packages and new equipment is available, such as Ableton Push and Traktor.
What’s Next for DJ equipment?
With all of the latest equipment at their disposal and people being able to experiment with DJing and create fresh and amazing music almost instantly, many people have questioned the validity of DJing as a genre of music.
However, as time has passed and DJing has become more imaginative and adept than anyone could have dreamed, DJs are no longer required to play other people’s music. Instead, they can create their own.
Some of today’s most popular musicians, such as Calvin Harris, perform in front of thousands of people with just a DJ booth and a set of headphones, performing songs they originally composed in their garages on the international stage.
There have been many changes since the inception of the phonograph, and it doesn’t seem that DJing is going away any time soon. Only time can tell what will come next, and while currently Pioneer DJ holds the number one position in the industry, there are plenty of competitors nipping at their heels for a taste of the top spot. Tell us about your favourite DJ equipment in the comments, or drop us a message below to find out how we can help you with DJ equipment on your event.
So, what is your preferred DJ set up?