I’ve been putting together an ultra-portable DJ setup. The concept is simple - be able to put on a party with stuff I can fit inside a hand luggage-size bag. All equipment should be able to be run off battery, with a target ‘unplugged’ running time of 5hrs (10pm-3am, for example).
Currently I’m running:
- iPad Air + Djay Pro AI
- Numark DJ2Go2 Touch*
- USB-A to USB-C adapter
- MakerHart Just Mixer 2**
- 4x Minirig 3s
- 1x Minirig Sub 3
- A USB power bank
- Lots of aux cables
There’s also a simple lighting rig:
- 1x USB party laser
- 5x ApeLabs ApeCoins
- 3x USB power banks
* I find the lack of EQ on the DJ2Go2 isn’t a big deal if you have a touchscreen - I just keep the neutral mix bit open all the time! Likewise, I think having the effects in a kaosspad-type interface are really cool & intuitive - but the things that you want really responsive controls for, like the crossfader, it’s handy having a hardware option!
** The Just Mixer allows for a bit more flexibility - attach a wireless mic and you have a small PA system; attach a Nintendo DS with Korg DS-10 or some tracker software and you get a primitive battery-powered live-DJ hybrid setup!
Anyway, I wondered …
- Am I alone in creating this kind of rig? Or are there some other people who have a weird obsession with portable DJing!
- Does anyone have any suggestions that would make this either lighter/smaller, better, or both?
I’ve been looking up DJ controllers for ages. I’m not sold on the Hercules Mix, and the Hercules Starlight doesn’t feel worth investing in when I already have a DJ2Go2 cos the main advantage (filter knob) isn’t a big enough draw if I already have access to full neutral mix EQ on the touchscreen anyway. I couldn’t find any other small controllers. Some interest in both the Traktor Kontrol X1/Z1 and Reloop Buddy, but struggling to decide which is more appropriate, and in any case am slightly put off by the large (relatively!) form factor.
Anyway, thoughts & suggestions would be very much appreciated
I have a similar portable setup that I use because I’m a digital nomad and often on the move and traveling by plane. Everything easily fits in a small laptop bag.
- iPad Air 4 running DJay Pro AI
- Reloop Ready
- DJ TechTools Midi Fighter Twister
- UE Mega Boom Speaker
- DJ TechTools USB-A to B cables (x2), DJTT RCA-RCA cable & RCA-1/8" Aux adapter
- Baseus USB-C Hub
- Anker power bank
I prefer to have physical controls over touch screen controls, so the extra size of the Reloop Ready and Midi Fighter Twister are worth it for me. Prior to this, I was using a Reloop Mixtour, but I prefer to have jog wheels and tempo controls for manual mixing. I use the Twister for better hardware control of FX and Neural Mix, but this is definitely not necessary. Also everything can run off the iPad battery for a few hours so the power bank is only needed for longer sets.
Portability is always a compromise between light weight, pack size and usability - and your own way of working. Truly portable is when you do away with the controller and just use the iPad - this is precisely a big advantage of Djay Pro that makes this software almost unique. It’s sometimes difficult to handle, but it’s also not so difficult that it’s worth having a controller like the DJ2Go2 Touch with you, because in my opinion it doesn’t offer any significant advantage then.
I like to work with a compact and portable setup, but then I prefer to take a controller like the DDJ 400 or the Inpulse 500. If there is no space for it, for example when traveling, I leave the controller at home.
You’re not alone. It’s a never ending journey to build the smallest DJ rig with the most features.
Hercules Starlight vs. DJ2Go2 Touch
Personally, I prefer the DJ2Go2 Touch for the iPad. The BROWSE knob is more useful in iOS because browsing the djay library using the touchscreen is really annoying. It requires multiple presses just to get to a playlist (and you haven’t even picked a track yet) - add to that the two-finger scrolling and it’s just a lot of extra movement for little benefit. So on iOS the BROWSE knob cleans and speeds up that process. But on a MacBook, I think the computer keyboard is the superior to navigate the library/tracks, so on a MacBook the BROWSE knob on the DJ2Go2 becomes pretty useless.
Vice versa, the extra bass/filter knob on the Hercules Starlight isn’t that useful in iOS - mainly because the touchscreen controls for EQ/Filter/FX are hands down (pun intended) - 100x better.
iPad vs. MacBook Air
In theory, an iPad is more"ultra-portable" than a MacBook Air, but once you add a USB Hub and Apple Dongle to an iPad, it’s a toss-up if it’s really more “ultra-portable”. There are good arguments either way, but it quickly becomes six-of-one or a half-dozen of the other. Personally, I’ve had several MacBook Air rigs that were much more portable than my iPad rigs.
Here’s a some examples:
This is the smallest rig I have. It’s using a Mackie MDB-USB Direct Box for the main audio and the Hercules Starlight for headphone cueing. Ridiculously small, not only does it fit in the laptop bag, but there’s still room for a 6-channel mixer. And actually it works really well with a small mixer because the Mackie Direct Box has XLR outs.
This is my favorite/most used mini-rig (Hercules Starlight + Traktor Z1). I get all the mixer controls of the Z1 + remapped controls on the Starlight for FX. This all fits neatly in a laptop bag by using a couple of deck savers. (Though I am cheating in this photo, since I re-purposed an old mini-flight case.)
Another fun portable setup (DJ2Go2 Touch + SSL 2+ audio interface). I lose a lot of MIDI controls here, but the SSL 2+ has hands down the best quality sound. Balanced TRS (plugged into the little mixer) - but also has un-balanced RCA out - so it can be flexible.
One of my favorite but most frustrating mini-rigs (Traktor Z1 + iPhone). The Z1 comes with a direct lightning cable and it charges the iPhone - so It’s a very clean setup. Unfortunately, the Z1 MIDI controls cannot be enabled in iOS - so no mixer controls. The saving grace is that the audio interface in the Z1 is class compliant - so it works fine for main audio and headphone cueing. And against most sub-US$300 controllers the Z1 has superior sound especially for the dance floor.
UPGRADE!!! - I really need to complete this mini-rig by adding a wireless controller like the Hercules DJControl or Pioneer DDJ-200!
The good old MIXTOUR, one of my favorite MIDI controllers with a direct cable to the iPad that also charges. Unfortunately, the sound quality in MIXTOUR is a bit of a let down. In comparison, the SSL 2+ and Traktor Z1 are noticeably better.
If I were to swap out the MacBook Air in these rigs for an iPad, there are 2 ways I’d go:
Use a wireless Bluetooth controller like the Hercules DJControl or Pioneer DDJ-200 so that the only thing wired to the iPad is an audio interface. Hopefully that minimize the cables, usb hubs and other assorted dongles required to run the rig.
Or use a controller that directly plugs into the iPad. For example Reloop Buddy, Reloop Ready, Traktor S2 Mk2, Traktor S3.
Thanks all - that’s really quite interesting.
@Slak_Jaw (or anyone else) - so you can plug 2 controllers in to the iPad at the same time and use them independently - is that right? Cos that’s really interesting - I had wondered about that beforehand … potentially that’s a game-changer for me. Love the Midi Fighter Twister, by the way - that’s a pretty cool bit of gear
@Chris_R - yeah, you’re right - as a minimum viable system, you can just ditch the controller & go iPad + bluetooth speakers. However, I think there’s some value in having physical controls for the crossfader, jogwheels, etc. Plus it’s nice having a separate audio channel for the headphones. But yeah, absolutely in the past I’ve used iPad + the auto DJ feature + a single Minirig and you get a pretty good non-stop dynamic playlist arrangement that has a silly-good battery life.
Also, point taken from @Michael_Wisniewski - my partner has an Macbook Air, and yeah - it’s not a huge amount bigger, plus not needing a dongle is quite good really. Beforehand, the iPad still won on that because it’s handy having a touchscreen – but being able to plug in multiple controllers at the same time might actually make that a moot point. Love the photos of your various rigs, by the way - I’ll have to get some of mine posted up
Here’s mine with a zero controller setup - just lights, speakers, iPad - all fits nicely inside a small (battered) rucksack. Will take a photo with the controller etc at some point too
@Algy_Taylor absolutely you can have multiple midi controllers connected to the iPad at once. I’ve used 4 at once before with no issues. You just need a powered USB-C hub.
Agreed! One of the best ever made. Mine’s over 10yrs old. Still waiting for someone else to make a pro build, 4 channel, portable controller to replace it.
Maybe the upcoming Mixon 8? A tad more expensive though…
Here’s another fun “ultra-portable” mini-rig (Hercules Starlight + Keychron K8 Pro - Mechanical Keyboard). Both devices fit neatly on the MacBook Air. Really loving the feel and feedback of the clicky Gateron Blue switches while DJ’ing.
What I really like about it is that it mirrors the functionality of the djay Pro screen. Starlight for performance/playback and keyboard for library functions.
The mini-rig is a good candidate for an iPad, and it could go fully bluetooth if I switched out the Starlight for the DJControl. Interestingly, default keyboard commands for iOS and macOS are different!
Cool setup - and it shows off the “iPad is the controller” idea.
The Mixon 8 looks great, but it’s definitely not what I would consider portable like the VCI-400.
Awesome Setup and starter question for the Mobile Dj Community!
Great to see how others approach the same goal. Really fun too!
My setup is portable, in the sense that it’s running off batteries, but my bags are big and I have three of them. (Mostly because of the PA system)
I run this setup:
- iPad Air 3
- Software: DJ PRO AI (without the subscription)
- Controller: DDJ400 (yes not the smallest controller, but I have a MAG rucksack bag that it fits in perfectly).
- Portable Mixer: Yamaha (AG03)
- Basic Mic
- All the cables
- x2 Anker Power Banks
- Tascam DR40X (Recording my sets with RCA to XLR cable from the RCA output from the Yamaha mixer.
- LD Systems Maui 5 GO (Has its own Lithium Battery inside, 5200 mAh)
- x2 Apple adapters.
So The iPad has an apple adapter that allows me to connect the DDJ400 controller via USB, the adapter also supplies power as it is also connected to one of the powerbanks. So thats the power for the Controller and iPad sorted.
The Yamaha mixer takes power from a second Powerbank, via the USB out, which connects to the second apple adapter, which means all the signals coming into the mixer are then sent out to the adapter, which is connected to an iPhone running twitch, (I live stream sometimes outside). I think technically, the iPhone consumes the power from the power bank, and the Yamaha is powered via the phone. So indirectly. Correct me if I am wrong.
Tascam records my sets via the Yamaha’s RCA output. The Tascam can take AA batteries. But it doesn’t last long enough (Sometimes the sets are 7hours), so I switch it to take a power bank.
The Dynamic mic is super basic, connected to the Yamaha Mixer, via XLR.
Lights: I have a USB-C chargeable Video light (size of my phone), tripod, and fairy lights.
All this goes into the MAG bag (rucksack style)
The next bag has the subwoofer, and the third and final bag holds the three long sections of the speakers. I can walk with all this, and have done for 40min walk. It’s a real workout though!
I will update this post with a picture ! (and diagram)
Argh @Michael_Wisniewski, now I need that keyboard ;). “the Ipad is the controller” works pretty well, there’s some obvious compromises when using it but it does mean you can go super-lightweight.
@Sebastian_Kaye - yeah, I’d seen that LD Systems Maui 5 Go beforehand and been very tempted. Interesting to hear you can do a (strenuous!) walk with it, though - that was one of the concerns about it that I’d got - that “portable” in that sense would need me to have a car or something, which I don’t have … hence the zealous pursuit of a complete rig that I could carry about in a rucksack!
You’re right, though - I find the different approaches really interesting. @Slak_Jaw’s has been quite similar to my own and quite interesting/inspiring. @Michael_Wisniewski’s is also pretty cool - less so on the portable speakers end of things, but the variations of setups there are realy cool and I’m kind of … interested in the Starlight + Traktor Z1 setup. Also the point about there being little practical difference between a MacBook Air and an iPad is a good one. I guess with the iPad, you get a touchscreen / possibility on iPad-is-the-controller setup, but he’s spot on - just trying it out in my bag, the actual difference between a 13" MacBook Air and an iPad Air is pretty minimal, and the MacBook has a better battery,
There’s also a good point in terms of cables. One thing I’ve noticed with my set up is that, whilst it’s pretty damn fast & easy to set up, I can’t help feeling that there’s more wiring than feels necessary. The speakers could go bluetooth, but I’ve noticed putting a bluetooth transmitter on to the DJ2Go2 makes the latency a bit too noticeable. Odd because with a Bluetooth connection straight ipad → speakers, that problem doesn’t really exist - it’s a barely perceptible difference between that and a wired connection.
It’s a shame, because that would take out almost all of the audio wiring, which probably represents the biggest task when setting up. It also means that the speakers all have to be relatively close to eachother (since they need to be wired up with 3.5mm aux cables), whereas if they could be bluetoothed together they could be spread out a bit more and probably be more effective in filling a room full of sound. Relatively I’m less bothered about the controller being wired to the ipad, because they’ll usually be in pretty close proximity anyway. That said, it goes without saying that fewer wires = better.
Any suggestions on the bluetooth issue above would be very gratefully received.
Also, @Sebastian_Kaye - I’d love to see a photo of your set up
Yeah it’s all the extra wiring for the iPad that makes it feel janky after awhile (that’s what happened to me). It was like a pebble in my shoe, it became a motivational downer.
But if I tried an ultraportable iPad setup like yours, I’d use wires to go iPad → speakers and bluetooth everything else. That would be pretty clean.
For iPad bluetooth controllers: Pioneer DDJ-200, Hercules DJControl and/or a Keychron mechanical keyboard. The Hercules + Keychron might give you more control, but, by itself, the DDJ-200 would be a very clean setup. You could also just use the Hercules DJControl or Keychron by themselves - since the onscreen touch controls are pretty good.
Macbook ultraportable rig would be a little different, since you get the built-in keyboard, but lose the touch screen, but you could add the DDJ-200 or DJControl and have a pretty clean portable setup.