What Unique Gear Do Touring DJs/Producers Use?

By and large, the DJ gear that someone has doesn’t effect how “good” or “real” of a DJ they are but for DJs that play hundreds of shows in a year, gear can have a big impact on their ability to performan reliably and sometimes creatively. If someone is willing to bank their living on a set of kit, then there is a good chance it might be good enough for you – so we’ve put together a collection of the gear used by some of the world’s favorite DJs and live producers.

Finding Out What Gear They Use

It takes a little bit of digging to find out what a DJ really uses in their live setup – and we’ve done our best to make sure that this article is as accurate as possible. Combing YouTube, interviews, and gig photos to cross reference various sources, we’ve managed to get a pretty confident idea of what most folks are using on stage.

Note that many artists are constantly trying new things (or in some cases, being sponsored to rock a new piece of gear) so the gear listed in this article shouldn’t be treated as permanent fact.

“Top 100 Most Popular” DJs: The CDJ Mafia

cdj-mafia
Hardwell heading up 4 CDJs (Photo Credit: Rukes)

When we first tackled this project, the team found that most of the DJs who flood lists like the DJ Mag Top 100 are using identical sets of gear, which the only significant variation being headphones.

Here’s the “standard” set of gear used by venue-packing professional’s Hardwell, Avicii, Tiësto, David Guetta, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Nicky Romero, Skrillex, Afrojack, Dash Berlin, Alesso, Calvin Harris, Nervo, Above & Beyond, Sebastian Ingrosso, Eats Everything, Claude Vonstroke, and many others:

  • Mixer: Pioneer DJM-900 Nexus-2
  • Decks: CDJ-2000 Nexus-2
  • Media: USB flash drive (Rekordbox) 

Nearly 70% of the “Top 100 DJs” use that exact set of gear without alteration. The reason why is clear,  this standardization makes it easy to get the gear they’re used to at festivals, and turns almost any dj booth into a “walk up and play” scenario. In general, this vastly simplifies the changeover logistics in DJ booths.

The interesting story with superstar DJs is in the headphone world – where individual preferences, interests, and perhaps artist relations efforts all start to show up. Here’s a basic breakdown of the the top 20 DJs from both the DJ Mag and Resident Advisor’s lists in terms of headphones preference:

  • Sennheiser HD 25-1 IIs (Aly & Fila, Calvin Harris, Afrojack, Hardwell, Above & Beyond, Ben Klock, Seth Troxler, Maceo Plex, Ricardo Villalobos, Loco Dice, Ben UFO, Eats Everything)
  • V-Moda Crossfade M-100s (Avicii, Dash Berlin, W&W)
  • Urbanears Zinken (Sebastian Ingrosso, Axwell, Alesso)
  • Phillips A5-Pro (Armin Van Buuren)
  • AKG 267s (Tiësto)
  • Beats By Dre Mixr including custom colors (David Guetta, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Nicky Romero, Skrillex)
  • Sol Republic Tracks HD (Steve Aoki)
  • Pioneer HDJ-2000 (Nervo)

THE INTERESTING BIT: UNIQUE DJ GEAR + SETUPS

So besides the CDJ Mafia, who among the most popular and influential DJs in the world are using unique gear setups that aren’t carbon copies of eachother? Here’s a selection of 13 of the most interesting ones:

Zedd Representing All-In-One Controllers

Zedd rocking the Kontrol S4 with two very CDJ-oriented friends, Afrojack and Aoki. (Photo credit: World Redeye)
Zedd rocking the Kontrol S4 with two very CDJ-oriented friends, Afrojack and Aoki. (Photo credit: World Redeye)

Zedd is one of a select group of touring DJs who use an all-in-one DJ controller as their performance rig. He’s moved to the MK2 model this year – maybe we’ll see him switch to a Kontrol S8?

  • Headphones: Beats By Dre Mixr
  • Mixer: N/A – running into house mixer
  • Controllers/Decks: Traktor Kontrol S4 MK2
  • Other: We’ll be interested to see if Zedd’s recently reported case of sudden hearing loss in one ear changes his choice of headphones – perhaps in-ear monitors might be the way to go?

Armin Van Buuren’s Augmented CDJ Setup

Armin has been DJing for decades – and while it’s no surprise that he’s rocking a set of CDJs, he has a fascinating trick for visuals that allows him to mix live and still have the intense timed visuals that so many festival-goers fawn over. He explains it well in the video above.

  • Headphones: Phillips A5-Pro
  • Mixer: Pioneer DJM-900
  • Controllers/Decks: 4 Pioneer CDJ-2000 Nexus’ with USB key
  • Other: 2 of Armin’s CDJ’s actually send SMPTE signal that triggers video in the VJ software at the front of house. He also uses a chat program on his laptop onstage to chat with his VJ and tell them what track he’s about to play. More details in the video above.

Flosstradamus’ DJ Setup (With Midi Fighter 3D!)

Flosstradamus' "Tour Essentials" - photo credit John Ong at Hypetrak
Flosstradamus’ “Tour Essentials” – photo credit John Ong at Hypetrak

The remix masters-turned-trap-gods Flosstradamus have an awesome live show that incorporates DJing in Ableton, and a ton of live triggering of samples, drums, and effects.

  • Headphones: Beats by Dre
  • Mixer: Pioneer DJM-900 Nexus
  • Controllers/Decks: Novation Launchpad, APC-40, CDJ-2000s Nexus (sometimes), Midi Fighter 3D
  • Other: In addition to rocking Midi Fighter 3Ds, the Flosstradamus guys have been spotted with Chroma Cables and a few other DJTT goodies – good looking out!

Deadmau5’s Live Producer Setup

Deadmau5 - not afraid of real live production.
Deadmau5 – not afraid of real live production. (Photo Credit: Jesse Brede)

Joel Zimmerman quite often argues that he’s nothing like the rest of the entrants in the top 100 in that his sets often diverge from traditional “DJing” entirely. We don’t disagree – his setup constantly seems under flux. The photo above shows the length to which he’s willing to take “live production” – with a full set of modular synthesizers, a mixing desk, a Virus TI synthesizer, and a Kontrol X1 (but this was all the way back in 2011). Recently we’ve seen him using something a bit more odd – a new Microsoft Perspective Pixel device. Watch a quick clip of it in action below.

Richie Hawtin’s Traktor + Push DJ Setup

richie-hawtin-live-rig

Richie has his setup very much dialed – with a Traktor Pro base setup that is linked into Ableton Live (synced MIDI clock) to allow him to do live looping, sequencing, and clip triggering all over top of the playing decks. If this sounds familiar, you might remember a very similar setup that Dubfire uses in his setup.

  • Mixer: Allen & Heath Xone:92
  • Controllers: Kontrol X1 MK1 (2x), Ableton Push,
  • Soundcard: RME Fireface UFX soundcard
  • Headphones: Variable – he’s been spotted using AIAIAI TMA-1 Studios and Pioneer HDJ-2000s in the last year
  • Other: Grapes. Every DJ setup needs more fruit.

Maceo Plex’s External Effects Ensemble

Maceo’s Plex’s deep sounds are complimented by an interesting array of external effects units – to the point that the above Boiler Room set from mid-2013 only tells half of the picture. While it seems like he used to do more of a “live” show (Ableton, Akai MPK keyboard, Kontrol F1 and iPad), he’s since moved on to a more traditional CDJ-oriented setup – but with some fascinating effects units in tow:

  • Mixer: Allen & Heath Xone:92 or DJM-900 Nexus
  • Decks: CDJ-2000 Nexus
  • Effects Units:  Boss delay pedals (2x), RMX-1000 (2x sometimes – likely one for each deck to avoid needing to send/return signal)
  • Headphones: HD 25-1 IIs

Tale Of Us’ Traktor Decks

tale-of-us-dj-booth

This duo based out of Berlin have done very well for themselves, putting together fantastic dark techno landscapes in their DJ sets. They take a more hybrid approach to DJing, incorporating Traktor Control Vinyl into their booth rig.

  • Mixer: Allen & Heath Xone:92
  • Decks: Traktor Control Vinyl (or occasionally, as pictured) CDJ-2000 Nexus
  • Controllers: Kontrol X1 MK1s (2x)
  • Headphones: HD 25-1 IIs
  • Other: These guys seem to have copped their own set of DJTT Chroma Cables – note the bright blue cable running the the X1 in the bottom left of the picture.

Andy C: Reliability Is Key

What's that under his decks?
What’s that under his decks?

Andy C is one of the biggest pioneering DJs in the drum and bass scene – not because of his embrace of any new fancy technology, but rather for his copious excellent mixes that he’s put out over the years. As it turns out, his rider reflects his commitment to quality (thanks to DJTT reader Sam Chop on Facebook for the tipoff)

  • Mixer: Allen & Heath Xone:92
  • Decks: 3 “immaculately maintained” Technics 1200s/1210s
  • Headphones: HD 25-1 IIs
  • Other: Concrete slabs under all of the decks and mixer to maintain isolation and stability on the turntables – this is especially key when playing at festivals with booths that aren’t designed to absorb all of the bass frequencies of the house system.

Flying Lotus’ Simple Ableton Rig

flying-lotus-live-show

The mastermind behind the Brainfeeder label has kept his live rig super-simple, instead preferring to work with visual artists to make a powerful live show (dubbed Layer 3 – watch below for more details).

  • Mixer:  N/A, uses house mixer with an 1/8″ to RCA cable straight out of his laptop’s soundcard
  • Controllers: Akai MPD 32
  • Software: Ableton Live

Paul Van Dyk’s Production Palette

Similar to other live producer DJ shows, Paul brings out a massive amount of gear to make his setup perfect- watch his performance (video above) at Creamfields from earlier this year to get a few quick shots of his rig.

  • Mixer: Allen & Heath Xone:DX
  • Controllers: Akai APC 20, M-Audio AxiomPro 25 keyboard (2x), Vestax VCM-600,
  • Headphones: Sony MDR V6 / 7506
  • Other: PvD has two laptops on stage – likely one for performing live elements and the other for mixing audio and clips – they’re both running Ableton Live.

Pretty Lights’s DJ Rig

Behind the booth with Derek (Photo Credit: Krystle Blackburn)
Behind the booth with Derek (Photo Credit: Krystle Blackburn)

Glitch-hop stylings from Colorado-based Pretty Lights have become a staple of any number of outdoor festivals around the world – and the gear that controls his live performances comes in the form of a mirrored setup with two laptops both running Ableton Live. His live band setup is even more extensive, incorporating a MPC, live synthesizers, and much more.

  • Mixer: Pioneer DJM-900 Nexus
  • Headphones: Unknown in-ear monitors
  • Controllers: Akai MPD 32 (2x), Maschine Mikro MK2 (2x)

Porter Robinson’s New Live Worlds Show

You might remember that Porter’s rise to fame was accompanied by learning to DJ shows with a Traktor Kontrol S4. In the last year, he’s moved to a much more exciting live show that moves away aggressive electrohouse and towards ethereal original tracks that he’s been performing live. Here’s what his live rig is made up of:

  • Controllers + Samplers: Livid Ohm (as four channel mixer), Roland SPD-SX (for drum samples and synth stabs), Akai sampler keybaord
  • Synth: Roland System 1

Bassnectar’s Custom MIDI Controllers

bassnectar-djbooth
Note that in most of Bassnectar’s booth photos he Photoshops in alternate humorous screens – both laptops are actually running Ableton Live

Bassnectar has a mega-arcade button focused controllerism setup to control dual Ableton Live laptops – if you want to know the full story behind the 60 Works/Livid controllers, check out the complete explanation in this article on controllers that never quite made it to market.

  • Mixer: Pioneer DJM-900
  • Controllers: Custom 60 Works/Livid controllers (based on DJTT design), Midi Fighter Pro Cue Master

Help contribute to this article – list DJs in this format in the comments and include photo or video proof and we’ll add the most interesting and insightful comments to the article!

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