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An Illustrated History of DJ Gear

Discover the technology that's been making people dance since 1877.

by Leo Maymind
05 April 2014, 2:48am

As of 2014, the dance music world has splintered into a million little microcultures. When it comes to DJ gear nobody can agree on whether CD wheels can hold a candle to MIDI buttons or belt driven turntables. It's difficult to even imagine a time when playing two songs at once in perfect sync was considered voodoo, right? Let's take a look back at the evolution of DJ gear, from the beginning of time until today. We've picked a few benchmark moments throughout history that pushed the art of DJing into the future:

1877:


The earliest version of what we now know as the turntable, the phonograph, is invented by Thomas Edison.

1970:


New York City makes its mark on a burgeoning DJ culture, as David Mancuso begins using his loft to host after-hours parties. Mancuso looks to Broadway, of all places, for the idea of separating bass and tweeter speakers—and applies it to his own sound system, providing a much crisper, more defined sound for his partygoers to get down to.

1971:


The first real DJ mixer is designed by Alex Rosner for the Haven Club. Though never commercially available, "Rosie" featured the ability to mix two turntables, as well as a microphone input and the ability to assign either of the sound sources to a headphone output.

1971:


The first widely available stereo DJ mixer, the Bozak CMA-10-2DL, hits the market and makes a huge impact in clubs around the country. The CMA was a rotary design that featured bass and treble EQ, panning, and crisp sound that had already elevated mixing in clubs to a new standard.

1972:


The year of the 1200. DJ culture really took a turn for the serious with the advent of the Technics SL-1200. While there had been previous turntables, the 1200's powerful direct drive motor made scratching much more controllable and reduced unwanted fluctuations. The new pitch lever allowed users the ability to nudge their disco tracks up or down by 8% speed. There's a good reason the 1200s (and the subsequent variety of models) have become industry standards—they were made to last and still can be found in most serious clubs around the world.

1977:


The GLI PMX 7000 Mixer was the first US-made mixer to incorporate a horizontal crossfader. Not only did this allow for quicker transitions between records, but the GLI was one of the first mixers aimed at the everyday DJ. No wonder it became known as the poor man's Bozak.

1994:


The advent of the CDJ-500 was a major stepping stone for DJs, as Pioneer sought to bring some of the tactile control offered by the seemingly long-in-the-tooth turntables many were still relying on. Pitch control, large jog dials, and built-in modern effects made the CDJ a worthy alternative to the standard pair of 1200s and thrust DJing into the digital age.  

1995:


The MP3 is invented. It becomes the new standard in digital encoding for audio, using lossy data compression that removes hefty data without reducing sound quality drastically—at least to untrained ears. This new smaller file size would revolutionize the ability to share music online.

2002:
The debut of Final Scratch by Dutch company N2IT marked the first of the now ubiquitous Digital Vinyl Control systems. By embedding special vinyl with digital timecode, a computer could now read direction, speed, and tempo changes, giving DJs the chance to combine the tactile control that only a pair of turntables offers with the ability to loop, warp, and manipulate audio in a way that was previously impossible.

2004: Serato, a New Zealand company initially known for it's Pitch N' Time plugin for Pro Tools, entered the DVC game with the release of Scratch Live. Serato quickly become a leading player in the digital vinyl game by pairing with pro audio company Rane, and later a host of other companies, to sell software and hardware that paired effortlessly.

2013:


DJing enters the iPad age with the Native Instruments Traktor DJ App, which shrunk a pair of 1200s into two linear waveforms and gave anyone the opportunity to mix their two favorite remixes together.


Also during this year, the release of Pioneer's XDJ-AERO introduced the digital DJing world to wireless technology, using Rekordbox software to send audio to the sleek controller.