What is a Cue Button and What Does It Do

Guides
February 3, 2017
CueButton

There’s a pretty common question I see from lots of new up and coming DJs. They see the cue button in their new DJ software or on their controller and wonder what it does. This great option is universally available, whether it’s in Traktor, Virtual DJ, even on CDJs. Learning how to use it right will improve your performances and recordings. There are actually a few cue buttons to worry about. Each one has a different usage. There’s the monitor cue, hot cue, and track cue location.

What Is A Headphone Cue

The first cue type I want to get into is the mixer, monitor or headphone cue. This cue essentially allows the chosen track to be played in your monitor headphones. If you use the headphone cue anything you play on this channel will be privately played to you and not sent out to the actual mix being played in your performance. This allows you to “cue” up the next song and match beats without worrying interrupting the rhythm of your show. You can easily find starting beats, timing, and key. This cue is usually near your faders, gain, EQ filters, etc. It’s part of the mixer and channel sound controls portion of your deck.

What is a Cue Point?

A cue point is a deck cue that indicates an important point in the song, used to designate when in the track the music will play. It sets the starting point for the track so that you can perfectly beat match the two (or more) tracks together. This button is found on each individual deck. If you push this button while a track is paused it will set the cue point. Pushing the cue track button while the track is playing will cause the track to restart at that cue point. So you set your point on beat and as long as you do it right you’ll always be able to cue up and play on beat music. If you hold this button down after the track goes back to this cue point it will only play as long as you hold the cue button down and will pause/stop when you release it.

CueButton

What’s a Hot Cue?

Hot cues are essentially just setting addition cue points in a song. Want the track to start at a drop, place one there. Want to skip distracting vocals or an uninteresting section in the song? Place a hot cue after the section when the song becomes useful again. You can build up a list of these hot cues for each track. Hitting a hot cue will set the song to that set cue point. Allowing for massive control and on the fly creativity. They allow you to pick and choose aspects of the song you want while skipping the things you don’t.

DJ Cue Tricks

One of my favorite uses for the hot and regular cue buttons is to create a live mashup. For an easy example, lets say you just have song one running. Song two has a vocal you want to inject into the current song. All you have to do is set a hot cue on the second song just before that vocal. While the second track is paused you hit the hot cue to go to that point in the song. Then you hit the cue button and it will set the cue to start the track at this point. Then all you have to do is hold down the cue button and the song will only play as long as you hold it down. The vocal plays over your track one, and you release the cue. Now you have this vocal that you can drop in on your main track at any time, creating a simple vocal mashup live. This is called cue sampling and you can improvise without needing to set up samples beforehand.



 

 

DJ Headphone Specs Explained

Guides
February 1, 2017

DJ Headphone Specifications Explained

Headphones are one of the most important pieces of gear a DJ can have. Without being able to hear what you’re creating there’s no way to realistically make it sound great. With better headphones you’ll be able to more accurately hear what you’re actually producing and get a real feel for the beat. However when it comes to specs DJ headphones have a lot of confusing and complex stats. So in this guide I hope to give you a quick understanding of how to read the numbers and determine if a set of headphones is right for you.



dB SPL/mW Sensitivity

I figured I might as well get the most technical sounding spec out of the way first. dB SPL/mW sensitivity is a specification that deals in how much sound pressure the DJ headphones can put out for the power supplied. Basically it tells how loud the speakers are. The higher the number, the louder the music is for the same volume level from your player. Misleadingly simple isn’t it?

Max Input Power

Next up is a pretty self explanatory specification. The max input power value is the maximum amount of power the headphones can handle before you edge into the danger zone. If you get a pair of headphones that are too low in this value you might end up blowing the speaker or ruining the frequency response. As a DJ you’re going to want to get headphones with around 3W Max Input Power. Most pieces of DJ equipment with headphone monitoring are in this range and you want to be able to match it. Otherwise your gear is at stake.

dj headphone specificationsFrequency Ranges

This specification for DJ headphones is all about what sounds the headphone can make. Just like singers have a limit to their vocal range, headphones have limits to the sounds they can make. For the most part this is an unimportant stat. The majority of headphones all cover the same ranges. 18Hz-20kHz is what you’re looking for. Human hearing is 20Hz-20kHz so it makes sense, no point blasting your ears with sounds you can’t hear. The only thing you want to watch out for is headphones that only go up to 18kHz. They cut out some of the really high end. While you don’t specifically use pitches above 18kHz very often you’ll find that lower frequencies create these tones as harmonics. Harmonics make your sound fuller and warmer. You want to know what your sound is doing and you won’t get the whole picture if you get less than 20kHz at the top end.

Frequency Response Charts

I mentioned it briefly earlier and now it’s time to explain it. Frequency response is like a headphone’s preference in sound. If it has a high bass response it will put more power into the bass. So the low end sounds louder than the high end. If it has a lower frequency response in a range it will not express those pitches. This is where it gets real sciency. Heavy deep explanations aside, when you look at the frequency response chart, the higher the line is at a certain frequency the louder that frequency will be, the lower that line, the quieter.

Our ears themselves don’t hear all frequencies equally either. Human ears have a frequency response as well. We tend to hear bass and high pitches louder than they are. For a comfortable sounding set of DJ headphones you’re going to want ones that have charts that drop off under 100Hz and over 10kHz, In the middle you want a nice even line so all those frequencies get represented equally, with a slight boost around 7-8kHz.

Impedance

Finally we get to the last major specification for DJ headphones. This spec is a physics value that determines how easy it is to drive the headphones. A device needs less power to drive headphones with lower impedance values. Phones and tablets work best with low impedance headsets (20-40 ohms). DJ controllers, audio interfaces and other monitoring amps work better with higher impedance headphones (50-80 ohms). The important thing to note is the lower the impedance, the lower the max power input. Additionally equipment can’t run speakers that have too high impedance. So if you go for high impedance spec headphones you definitely want to take some time to see what your gear outputs. So see what kind of output levels your equipment can handle once you go north of 175 ohm headphones.



The Best Speakers for DJ Studios

DJ Equipment Review
February 1, 2017

Why You Need Specialized Studio Speakers

When working in a studio environment you can’t take shortcuts. There are so many acoustical nuances that get left behind in the every day world. Mixing in a studio is just like mixing in a lab. you need precision and crystal clear perfection. Every beat needs to be measured with perfect timing. You can’t create amazing art without the right set up. These are all reasons you want to get good studio speakers. Regular speakers just won’t cut it in this environment because frequencies will be lost. Quality will take a hit as the sharpness of your highs and the bass of the lows will be distorted.



When it comes to a DJ studio, you need a special type of speaker called a monitor speaker. These speakers are designed with clarity, wide frequency ranges, and as close to signal reproduction as possible. Radio stations, recording studios, and DJ booths all require these speakers as a bare minimum. This allows the person in charge to make the changes they need without worrying if the sounds coming out of the speakers are the real sound of the song, recording or mix. Monitor speakers have an even gain and distribution of power along frequencies. So bass, mid range and highs are all treated equal.

dj studio speakersThe Speakers I’ve Seen in Every Studio I’ve Worked In

With that out of the way it’s time to let you in on a trade secret. I’ve worked across the country maintaining television studios, radio stations, and recording studios. Worked with clients on installation projects and got to see other sound engineer’s recommendations. Whether I walked into a studio, or got the new gear shipment I always ended up seeing the same brand and product line of monitor speakers. They were always some form of KRK Rokit Monitor Speakers.

Rokit is a line of speakers done by KRK. There are multiple different kinds of models based on how pure you need the sound in your studio. These are hands down the best and most consistent speakers I’ve found. Whenever I had to worry about monitors it was always because we went with a different brand. To save the trouble of worrying about nonlinear gain/distortions in our recordings I’ve pretty much moved to only KRK Rokit Speakers.

The speakers have a naming convention with Rokit X. Where x is a number, and the higher the number the higher the crisp perfection of the sound quality. You can buy them either one speaker at a time or in a pair. If you’re looking to get started doing in house production I’d probably go with a pair of Rokit 5 Speakers. If I had any aspirations of going full time professional I’d take the dive and go straight to some Rokit 8s. That said they do have a Rokit 6, but the sound quality jump isn’t quite as noticeable.

The Easiest DJ Controller

DJ Equipment Review
February 1, 2017

So you’re looking for a simple and easy to learn DJ controller. Perhaps you’re just getting into DJing and want to test it out, or trying to a find a great gift for a music lover in your life. Whatever your reasons you should look into the Hercules DJ Control Compact.  It’s one of my favorite controllers for ease of use and one the best choices for a first controller. You can see my full review here which goes into all the features, strengths and weaknesses of the controller.

HercDJCompact

The Hercules Compact is interesting because it’s jam packed with features but has such a simple design. It also comes with a full set of software which is rare for most controllers. The reason I chose this as my pick for easiest controller is because of it’s size and interface complexity. The controller itself is pretty small, meaning it’s easy to manage and you don’t have to shift your focus much to mix your beats. On top of that it’s extremely streamlined in its interface with only the necessities. It doesn’t have a lot of buttons to overwhelm newer DJs who are first starting out. For novices and intermediates it’s not much of a problem and you won’t feel restrained. Here’s a video of the controller in action.

The controller itself is plug and play and comes with it’s own computer software. All you need to do is unbox the controller, install the program, plug in the USB cable, upload your music into the library, and start mixing. It’s also one of the cheaper controllers on the market and definitely blows the competition out of the water when it comes to features for it’s price. If you master this piece of gear you’ll be able to move on to a full professional controller without any issue. You won’t find yourself restricted very often with this controller and it can even be used for small shows. Its portability is really nice for setting something up on the go. It’s portable and packed with the necessities; all while being easy to learn.

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If you’re looking for an easy controller and looking to learn, this is the perfect fit for you. If you’re looking for something a little more complicated you can check out my guide on beginner DJ controller options.

 

Pioneer DJ DDJ-SB2 Review

DJ Equipment Review
December 12, 2016

Pioneer DDJ-SB2 2-channel Controller Review

When you want to up your game you need to find a piece of gear that can bring you to the next level. Pioneer does just that with the entry level professional DDJ-SB2 controller. It’s very beginner friendly but the features quickly set it apart as a professional DJ controller. As you get used to the device you’ll quickly find out that it’s above it’s price point. To take an audio term, it’s essentially a prosumer model. If I was interested in a high end professional controller I would take a look at the DDJ SR. With exceptional sound quality and an easy to accustom to layout you’ll quickly learn to use it to it’s fullest potential. The quality of the materials is to be expected of a mid tier controller. It’s made of plastic but has a feel of Pioneer quality and feels more like a portable piece of equipment than a permanent install.

ddj-sb23
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Deck Swapping and other Features

The DDJ-SB2 is a four deck controller and two decks share real estate on the device. It has two buttons on it to switch between the first and second deck on each side. This allows you to Cue up three different tracks and manage four at once. This alone pulls it out of beginner territory as it essentially doubles the complexity but also triples the capabilities of the controllers ability to create. With the four deck control it heavily outclasses competition at the price point.

DDJ SB2 ReviewThis isn’t totally unrestrained control though. The only issue found with this feature is that you can’t adjust both deck 1 and deck 3 (Or decks 2&4) at the same time because they share the same jogwheel, library, transport and mixer interface. The only thing you can adjust separately is the volume levels of each deck. Meaning you have to do some juggling and this adds a bit of a learning curve for new users. The real art happens once this toggle is mastered.

Another interesting feature is the pad trans. This is a decent feature for the price point but common. Hot Cue lets you set PADs to a point and returns the track to that point, you get up to 8 on a deck. Auto loop lets you set a seamless auto loop for different beat amounts. Roll which allows you a momentary loop while held down. You can also set up a manual loop. You can also set up a sample bank for easy access to 8 samples. Letting you create and experiment with new beats in the moment.

Included Software

The DDJ-SB2 comes with the Serato DJ intro software which is a trial/limited capability software intended to get you started. This is one of the most important aspects of this purchase for customers. The software itself is a light software and an additional cost is found here. So in addition to the device you’ll need to buy an upgrade to get the most out of the hardware.

In order to get the full use and capabilities of the SB2 controller you’re required to do paid upgrade to full functionality software. At the time of writing the full upgrade to Serato is $129 USD. This full upgrade solely works with the DDJ-SB2. Or you can opt for a subscription of $10 a month. Another option is the Serato DJ Suite which works with all supported hardware that’s a controller that can be mapped. This is the premiere program of the company and it costs $299 or 14.99 a month. So if you’re intending to do a more complex studio or show build you’re going to want to go for a full license multiple hardware program, whether that’s Serato or another one.

It’s highly recommended to use Serato and Pioneer with the device because it’s difficult to map to another program but if you have the technical skill you can easily do so and the SB2 integrates with DJay Pro (Mac), Licensed Vitual DJ8, Deckadance, Tracktor Pro 2, Algoriddim, Rekordbox. Most DJ programs can be mapped and have their own mapping templates set up for the DDJ-SB2 because it’s so popular. You have to download drivers for your laptop to integrate with the device allowing you to connect.

Controller Hardware

The DDJ-SB2 hardware is excellent for it’s price range. At these ranges you’ll usually find hard plastic buttons. But this piece of gear has rubber pads which are much more responsive, quiet and durable than the hard plastic buttons found on cheaper controllers. High durability aluminum jog wheels mean it won’t break from overuse. These jog wheels are low latency and high accuracy, a perfect combination. They’re very easy to scratch with and they work great. The software and hardware communication is next level, meaning that even back-spinning and beat juggling sound professional.  This also sports high and low pass EQ filters to filter out frequency bands on inputs. Allowing you to filter fade and easily control the volume and bass filters for mixing. The Numark Mixtrack 3 is comparable in these regards, but the SB2 keeps the crown.

You can monitor and make transitions in your headphones with LED level indicators. It has tempo controls, and trim/gain controls. Has on controller metering for levels. While these may seem like trivial additions, they make for an extremely easier time. Trim pots allow you to set the level of the loaded track. Sometimes DJ software gets this wrong and this lets you fix that issue before it even hits the board. With the LED metering you’re capable of seeing exactly where your tracks sit and most controllers at this price point don’t have this capability. Note that these are for inputs and the songs running on their own. This doesn’t relate to the master output through the RCA ports on the back. That said it’s a huge plus and fixes the clipping problem before it starts.

This controller is USB MIDI. The only issue with this is you need to be careful if using a USB hub because of Power Splitting. But as far as region compatibility this means it can work in both 110 and 220v power regions as long as you have a laptop because it just plugs into the laptop USB. This device only communicates with the computer through the USB, there are no ports to stick flash drives to bring portable media solutions.

ddj-sb22The onboard soundcard is an excessively high quality high bitrate 24 bit 44.1kHz sampling card. It has a standard 20-20kHz frequency range and a very impressive 90dB SNR. With an almost imperceptible distortion. The only thing that limits your sound quality on this piece of equipment is your recording software and the quality of the files input into the computer. It has a mic input but it’s a balanced 1/4 inch input over a standard XLR connection meaning you need an XLR to 1/4″ Cable. This means you can have one input into the device. You won’t be able to use it like a sound mixer with multiple channels. The mic input itself has trouble balancing without reaching feedback, so proper speaker placement is a must. For output it uses an unbalanced RCA. The main RCA output is for the signal. These cables are not included and need to be purchased separately. It has two headphone monitors, a 1/4 jack and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Only one output can be used at once disabling the second port. There is no master output volume on this guy which is difficult for gain staging and adjusting to the right output level.

Bottom Line

Pioneer did a home run with the DDJ-SB2 at every metric. The price point alone for the quality and the features makes this the top choice for controllers in it’s price range.

Pros

  • An outstanding top of the line soundcard, only limited by files and sources.
  • User friendly and good introduction to professional DJ controllers
  • Trim Pots and metering for media ingest
  • Four Deck capabilities

Cons

  • Mic input is not standard XLR? Also hard to control to not create feedback.
  • Requires a software upgrade for integration with most software.
  • No USB Data Stick integration.
  • No metering on master output.

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