The Minimalist DJ

A DJ PA can be small and light without sacrificing quality of sound.

It is a common complaint among veteran DJs that the “cost of entry” into the business has never been lower. On the other hand, the percentage of the population willing to trust an entry-level DJ with a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime event is small. To the consumer, the perception is: if a DJ can’t provide sound that’s far and above what the average audiophile has in his living room, then why hire a DJ?

With the technological options we now have, a DJ PA system can sound great and still be inexpensive. It can also be light weight and compact. While the SKB rack case I bring to most jobs is designed to produce the SPL necessary for every venue I work, I like to experiment—searching for ways to decrease the size while improving the sound. So, for one of my finally bookings for the summer, I did something I have been wanting to try for sometime.

To set the scene, it a typical “potluck” Saturday afternoon wedding reception with about 130 guests—being held in a venue design to comfortably seat around 90. I knew this in advance so instead of hauling in the SKB case with mixer and processor rack, I took just a laptop (MacBook Pro running Megaseg), a Shure QLX-D wireless hand held mic, a couple of Mackie Thump powered speakers and a Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 digital interface. As no table was provided and space was minimal, I also packed an “Afford-A-Stand” folding table from Arriba Cases.

At the venue, and after carefully squeezing in between the tables and chairs, I staked out an area with just enough space for the Afford-A-Stand and two Frankenstand tripods. The Afford-A-Stand sets up quick, and because it comes with a shelf and carpet that surrounds the front and sides the guests had no idea what’s hiding behind it.

The Scarlett 6i6 interface has a USB connection for the laptop plus two combo 1/4”/XLR inputs on the front with gain controls that can be used for mic or line inputs (with 48v phantom power). There are 2 additional line inputs on the back as well as MIDI in and out. The large “monitor” knob on the front of the unit acts as a master volume control.

The signal path was as follows: Mac laptop to USB, Shure QLX-D wireless handheld to input 1 (on front), iPhone to inputs 3 & 4 (L&R) on back. There are 4 1/4” balanced TRS outputs on the back that can run either to your processor rack or straight to your powered loudspeakers.

Mix Control

What? No Mixer?
The Scarlett 6i6 comes with Scarlett Mix Control software. When launched, a GUI appears on the screen of your laptop which looks and acts like a typical mixer. You simply assign the various physical inputs to the inputs on the mixer. Depending on your experience with digital interfaces, the GUI may, or not be, all that intuitive. There are sever You Tube video tutorials that explain how to route signals, Start with this brief overview posted by Sweetwater and then go on from there. Don’t “over-think” it, it’s not as complicated as it first may appear. For my set up I assigned the mic to fader 1 analog input 1), fader 2 was open, the laptop (DAW 1+2) was assigned to faders 3&4 and the iPad (back-up) to analog 5&6 on mix control. Each channel provides a clickable mute switch and stereo channels can be linked.

How it worked
Although it was a little strange adjusting the gain using only the touchpad on the laptop, the Scarlett Mix Control software provided all the control needed. As there’s a “real” gain control knob on the interface for the mic, and because I do most of my music mixing using Megaseg’s built-in features, the virtual mixer was quite adequate, but it was odd not having actual, tangible buttons and knobs.
Most importantly, the sound quality that the Scarlett provided was excellent. Focusrite is known for their mic-pres and audio interfaces, and you won’t find anything that sounds better. When I run across DJs who are actually running straight computer audio out to a pair of powered speakers I want to hit them with a stick. That’s no way to treat your customers. If you don’t have a controller or a mixer with a USB input, then get a real audio interface, like one for the Scarlett series. Focusrite makes several other models as does PreSonus*, Behringer and others. You’ll thank me for it.

MixControlwMegaSeg

I am eagerly awaiting the day when there will be a true digital mixer for DJs, with at least some of the audio controls and features that I have on the Soundcraft and PreSonus mixers that I use for live events. Using the Scarlett 6i6 with the Scarlett Mix Control software was a step in that direction. The Scarlett comes with an excellent bundle of processing software that can be used to process audio real time, but the plugins need to be hosted in an application like Ableton live. According to Focustrite, many live performers and DJs use Ableton Live for exactly that purpose.

*Speaking of PreSonus, I also had on loan a PreSonus Studio 2 — which is designed to accommodate an iPad and two mics and or instruments. You can use this interface with a laptop or iPad making it a great solution for ceremonies where you need an officient mic as well as a reader/vocal mic. Or you could use that 2nd input for a guitar or keyboard if needed, while playing any recorded sound right from the iPad.

About the author

RobertL

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