Is a vinyl DJ setup really that much more expensive then a digital one? Is it true that new DJs are limited to a laptop and a controller because vinyl is too prestigious or costly for them? Lets find out.
Before we begin, let’s all agree to disagree that no one can accurately estimate or compare the cost of an advanced DJ set up. Everyone’s live rig varies and can include a number of pieces that make up their own personal setup and music collection.
What we will be focusing on here are the very basics that a new DJ would need to start learning how to mix two songs together which includes two decks and a mixer or a controller with a laptop or tablet. This means we’ll need to also compare the cost of a vinyl vs. digital collection. Keeping the set up generic like this reduces the need to debate adding on additional gear and allows us to really weight the pros and cons of each set up.
Vinyl vs. Digital Music Costs
With vinyl making a come back, many music lovers are finding themselves diving back into playing back music using a turntable. Out of all formats used to record and playback music, the 12″ record has lasted through every generation of music evolution since it’s inception.
When you compare vinyl to digital formats, the resale value is much higher. For the vinyl collectors who really adore the format, some of their records could be worth over $2500.00! Although vinyl is generally more expensive compared to digital releases, the higher cost can actually be an advantage. It can force DJs to really consider their purchases and spend wisely, which can result in a smaller, very high quality collection. Another thing to note is that some tracks are only available on vinyl, courtesy of vinyl only labels. This makes it easier to have a unique collection since other DJs can’t just Shazam the song and download it on the spot.
The downside to vinyl is that the availability may be limited and the prices will vary based on location. Although it’s possible to order vinyl online, shipping drives up the overall cost – making purchasing new tracks a expensive proposition from other countries.
When comparing end costs, we looked at a few albums, singles, and the cost of a vinyl only release. To make it fair the vinyl releases had to be brand new, since there really aren’t cheaper “used” digital downloads. Looking at singles is important with vinyl because it can really reduce the cost of building a vinyl collection that’s suitable for DJing.
Vinyl vs. Digital Gear Set-Up
To start mixing vinyl, DJs will need a set of entry level turntables and a basic two channel mixer. For digital DJs, they’ll need a laptop or a tablet, and a controller with a built in soundcard. This comparison will break gear down into 3 setups: vinyl DJ, Digital DJ w/laptop, Digital DJ w/tablet. While there is a large market of used DJ equipment, the comparison focused on brand new equipment. Another thing to note is there’s a huge range of laptops. The laptop chosen was based on the minimum requirements for Serato DJ and Traktor Pro 2.
Click the image to see the full chart.
Verdict: Vinyl Gear Is Slightly Cheaper
In this comparison the vinyl gear won by a very slim amount. Comparing vinyl and Digital DJ setups is tricky because there are a lot of factors to consider beyond the initial price. Both setups require ongoing investment. For example a Digital DJ may be able to get by with a very cheap laptop, but then they find themselves needing to constantly purchase a new laptop over time as spec requirements increase.
The same can be said for a vinyl setup, DJs can purchase a entry level pair of turntables like the Stanton T.62’s, but they may not last as long as industry standard Technics 1200’s. Since they’re no longer in production, the cost has increased for a used set of 1200’s. There’s also the option of a brand new pair of Pioneer PLX 1000s. Both would quickly push the price of a vinyl setup above a comparable computer centered option. Vinyl DJs will also need to keep purchasing new needles as they wear out.
Overall Digital is the winner in cost including music purchases over time, but not by a significant amount. The initial cost is just slightly more but the cost of building a digital music collection is far cheaper to sustain. Vinyl on the other hand forces you to buy what is pressed to the record even if you don’t want it. You have to shop smarter to get your money worth, and really take the time to select which records you want to purchase.
A serious factor to consider when thinking about learning on vinyl is how easily you can translate from the bedroom into a gig. Very few clubs will have good turntables in working condition anymore, and as a beginner you can’t really command that they install them. Being a vinyl only DJ could limit your show options in some markets (small towns), while increasing them in others (like Berlin).
At the end of the day though, don’t be scared of vinyl. It is still a great option for getting started and allows DJs to build a pretty solid music collection and develop critical mixing and listening skills the hard way. With the ease of digital, its effortless to get started but many new DJs shortcut the learning process of training their ears.
So which set up is the best? Where should you spend your money? Well if you ask me, the laptop is a fairly flexible piece of gear and can be used for a variety of purposes beyond DJing. A dedicated vinyl setup on the other hand does not serve other purposes beyond giving your home some serious DJ cred. At the end of the day, we have to recommend whatever style of DJing feels the best to you, and provides the most enjoyment. That is the critical component that keeps everyone involved in music, not an few extra dollars spent or saved here and there.