What Are Channels On A DJ Mixer?

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A DJ controller can be a confusing bit of kit, and it’s easy to get confused by each knob and slider and what the function is of each.

You may have heard your other DJ friends use the word ‘channel’ before and you had a vague idea of what they mean but now want to learn its function in your DJ setup.

Channels are a pretty simple concept and when you understand it they will help you get the best out of your own DJ controller.

This can also be important if you are thinking about upgrading your current controller, you might want to know what benefits there are to having more than two channels, and why entry-level controllers only have two channels anyway.

Learning about channels will help you understand how your hardware works and interacts with software.

Learning how channels work and what the function of having individual channels is, can really help you get to grips with the basics of mixing and why something like a channel is really helpful to a sound engineer as well as a DJ. 

What Is A Channel?

In general terms, a channel is essentially a created path for something to run through it. Think of a channel as a sort of tunnel through which things can be directed.

A moat for example can be considered a sort of channel. A TV channel, for example, is a non-physical space whereby one TV channel is broadcast, you have to switch channels in order to view another TV broadcast. 

In musical terms, a channel, in its most basic form, is the non-physical passageway through which a musical input runs through to another single point.

So when I plug my electric guitar into an amp, the wire is the physical channel through which the guitar and amp communicate via signals.

This means that if a live band is playing, each instrument will have an individual channel so that multiple audio signals can be output at the same time and controlled with one system.

If the guitar and bass were in the same channel you wouldn’t be able to hear one from the other, this is why channels exist in music so that multiple ‘things’ (a song or instrument, etc) can be outputted at the same time.

Having individual channels means that you can control each channel individually which allows you the ability to balance their volumes and also equalize their sound.

This would not be possible if they were all being played through one channel, you would be able to pick a bass out from a guitar, nor would you have any control.

How Are Channels Used In Mixing?

On your DJ controller, there will be two turntables or wheels, each having its own individual controls and pads which control each side. These are your channels.

Usually, most entry-level DJ controllers only have two channels. Each channel can hold one song, the function of a channel allows you to play two channels at once, this allows you to mix two songs together because they aren’t coming out of the same channel.

Having each song in an individual channel means that you can also apply effects and use the features of your controller to alter each song. The separate channels mean that you can add different effects to each song without them clashing.

Moreover, having multiple separate channels means that you can individually balance each channel with the mixer and equalizer. On your controller, each channel will have its own equalizer so that you can equalize them separately. 

Do You Need 4 Channels To DJ?

If you have ever watched a Youtube video of your favorite DJ, or maybe your friend has an expensive DJ controller, then you might have seen a DJ using four different channels at one time.

While this can seem impressive, while also difficult, you don’t need to have four channels to mix. 

The minimum amount of channels you can have in order to mix is two, this is because you can’t just mix one song you need two in order to create a mix.

DJs use four channels so that their mixes can be more complicated and layered.

Some entry-level controllers have four channels whereby you press a button to switch one piece of hardware to an alternate channel.

However, this means that you can use effects and equalizers simultaneously on all four channels, you can only control two at a time.

Most entry-level DJ controllers only have two channels. The more channels you add means more hardware and software capacity which always translates to more money.

What is more, if you are a beginner DJ you should focus on getting used to two channels rather than trying to handle more than one thing at a time.

With the Pioneer CDJ (and XDJ), which is the industry standard DJ controller, the whole piece of hardware equates to one channel, which does mean you can have as many channels as you have CDJ’s set up.

But this also means that you need a separate piece of hardware, called a mixer, in order to equalize and apply effects to each turntable. This is much the same with vinyl turntables, each turntable acts as a channel that is independently equalized.

If you are using a mixer for a live band, then you will have many more channels than the usual two or four that you see in DJing. You could potentially have up to 20 or more depending on how many mics and instruments you have.

Each instrument and microphone will require its own channel in order to be heard and mixed. In this situation, it takes a lot more attention to balance 20 individual channels than it does to simply balance two.