The History of DJ Equipment
Updated: Jun 13
The art of DJing has come a very long way since its humble beginning in the 1950s. At that time, radio stations were just beginning to play music on the air as a way to break up the talking and it soon became clear that the disc jockey would need some specialized equipment.
As the musical element of broadcasts became more popular with listeners, DJs needed more advanced equipment to allow one musical element to transition smoothly into another. Over the next few years, the technology quickly advanced, producing a completely new genre of musical expression.
The following is a short history of the evolution of modern DJ equipment:
1877: Thomas Edison invents the phonograph. This could both record and play audio and was hailed as one of the greatest modern inventions of the time. Patented as the gramophone, this became its generic name over time. By the 1940s, however, the most common name for this type of turntable was the record player.
1964-1965: The World’s Fair in New York sees the debut of the world’s first stereophonic disco system which used two-channel sound and represented a huge advance in the musical experience for listeners.
1970: This year saw a major breakthrough for DJs and added a new dimension to the listening experience. Having looked at the sound systems used on Broadway, David Mancuso and Alex Ratner started to use similar systems at their infamous after-hours parties at “The Loft.” They used separate tweeter arrays and subwoofers which made the sound crisp and defined. This not only added to the party-goers’ experience but also provided a leap forward in DJ culture.
1971: Alex Rosner designs the first DJ mixer. The mixer, that Rosner called Rosie, was developed specifically for the Haven Club. Alex Rosner's Rosie DJ mixer gave the DJ the ability to mix two turntables for the first time. The mixer had a microphone input and a headphone output, all controllable by the DJ.
1974: Joseph Saddler develops a new way of cutting and mixing records. Better known as Grandmaster Flash, Saddler invents the “Quick Mix Theory,” which allows for the continual use of the same beat by cutting between two identical tracks on the turntable.
1975: “Scratching” is invented by Grand Wizzard Theodore. This took DJing to the next level, especially for party-goers. Using this technique, the discs could be manipulated and used to create new and original music.
1977: The advent of transition control. The GLI PMX 7000 Mixer was the first of its kind and revolutionized DJing. This US-made mixer was aimed at the ordinary DJ and the crossfader allowed for rapid transitions between records with one hand. It was made popular by hip-hop DJ s and was widely used in the late 70s.
1986: When the Rane MP 24 Club Mixer hit the market in 1986, it soon became a common sight in clubs, giving DJs access to studio-quality faders.
1995: As technological advances enter a new age, the world is introduced to the MP3 in 1995. The audio digital encoding system soon becomes the gold standard. This lossy compression codec removes redundant and inaudible data within audio files without drastically reducing the sound quality. The much smaller file sizes increased the user's ability to share music online.
1998: Enter the Pioneer EFX-500 Effector, a great tool for the performing DJ, this added echo effects, filtering and flanging to DJ's repertoire and improved the experience for the audience.
2001: This year saw the introduction of the world’s first CD turntable. The Pioneer CDJ-1000 Digital Vinyl Turntable could accurately emulate its traditional vinyl counterpart.
2002: Dutch company N2IT introduces Final Scratch. By embedding digital timecode on a special vinyl, a computer now could read direction, tempo, and speed. This game-changing device hailed a new era for DJs who were now able to combine the control of the turntable with unprecedented ability to manipulate the audio.
2004: Scratch Live is introduced by New Zealand company, Serato. The company made its name with a Pitch N' Time plugin for Pro Tools and soon became a field leader. Pairing with Rane and other companies, Serato becomes the industry standard for software and hardware to enhance the DJ experience.
2008: Serato launches its Video-SL software plug-in for Scratch Live. For the first time, a DJ can mix and playback video files using a laptop and turntable mixer (TTM).
2010: Rane Sixty-Eight Mixer for Serato Scratch Live is launched this year. With two USB ports, it is the first mixer that allows two DJs to link their laptops, allowing them to handoff sets seamlessly.
2012: Rane Sixty-Two Mixer for Serato Scratch Live comes on the scene to replace the TTM 57SL. The new mixer offers dedicated buttons for cues, samples, loops, and onboard effects. Like the Rane Sixty-Eight Mixer, this offers two USB ports that allow DJs to share the mixer between their two laptops. Now they can run different software and experience the same seamless results.
2013: Enter the iPad. The DJing game changes again with the Native Instruments Traktor DJ App. By shrinking two 1200s into two linear waveforms, now anyone can mix tracks. Another new release this year is the Pioneer's XDJ-AERO which brought wireless technology into the world of the digital DJ.
As we look back at the history of DJ equipment, it makes us wonder where we'll be 10 years from now. We could be looking at even more amazing advances in DJ technology. At Channel Audio, we find the whole prospect incredibly exciting.