DJing has evolved considerably in the last 5 years, beginning with the transition in medium from analog to digital. As most every DJ will now tell you, digital media is far more portable than heavy crates of records and – perhaps most appealingly – is also notoriously more available and less expensive.
Today, DJs perform in two primary ways. The first is by way of CD on a CD turntable called a "CDJ." Everything is about the same as the vinyl experience save that the turntable is now referencing binary code on a CD instead of physical grooves on a 12" record. Otherwise, signal is still sent to an analog mixer that the DJ manipulates to taste and then amplifies to the audience.
The other approach is to play music from a laptop's (external) hard-drive while utilizing performance software such as Ableton Live, Traktor Scratch or Serato Scratch Live to "direct musical traffic." This method can, should you insist, still be routed through your favorite analog gear (utilizing a hardware interface), or, you could employ a USB hardware controller capable of "controlling" your DJ software's mixing parameters while outputting the internally-summed master track directly to the dance floor. In any event, the important concept at hand is that music is now a series of "0"s and "1"s that can be referenced and modified in a multitude of new, flexible and exciting ways.
The possibility of DJing with your iPod recently emerged from this story (though iPhones, iPod-Touches and certain iPod Classics have limited to no compatibility with this kind of DJ hardware). "Since the iPod is simply a glorified hard drive for music that seemingly everyone already owns, why not stream data from its memory just like a laptop DJ already does from any other external drive in his or her musical life?" To this, manufacturers such as Cortex and Numark have responded with the following "just add iPod" answers:
You will, at a glance, notice these units incorporate controls identical to traditional CD turntables, including the ability to "scratch," "nudge" and "reverse-cue" with a jog-wheel, monitor your track position with a digital read-out and modify tempo/pitch for beat-matching purposes. There is also a familiar-looking 2 channel analog mixer in the center-section replete with 3 band EQ and line level inputs for additional sources, as well as microphone inputs for all your "shout-outs." As such, these, lightweight (only 4-10 pounds!), fully-capable and self-contained iPod DJ Workstations will be instantly familiar to most every DJ. Conversely, these devices are straightforward enough that your iPod-toting friends could stumble across one at a party and have a whole lot of fun.
If budget comes first, then take a look at the original Numark iDJ. This model features the most attractive price point while incorporating all the aforementioned basics. The one thing to keep in mind with the iDJ, however, is that it demands one iPod per channel = 2 iPods at all times for continuous mixing capability.
Should that prove off-putting – and assuming your budget could double – then consider both the Cortex 300 and the second generation of the iDJ: the Numark iDJ2 (note: a $100 Numark Manufacturer's rebate put these two units within $75 of one another at the time of this writing). Both of these models feature the ability to simultaneously play two songs from one iPod. The other appreciable difference at this price point is the capability of connecting and playing from most any USB storage device, such as a thumb-drive or an external hard-drive. This can be advantageous in that non-Apple/iPod external storage is typically cheaper, bigger and faster.
Differences between these two models include the Numark iDJ2's exclusive ability to output your iPods S-video feed, as well as "looping" and "key lock" functions that the Cortex 300 does not offer. This may matter to some DJs, but to many it won't. In sum, I would recommend allowing price and availability to dictate which of these two great models you ultimately purchase.
Finally, should you be craving even more sophisticated cueing capabilities and on-board digital effects such as filter, flanger and reverb, then take a look at the Cortex 600. Though it does not include the just-mentioned video output, it does afford most every other luxury for roughly $100 more than the Cortex 300.
At any rate, it's truly an exciting time to be a DJ and portable and powerful hardware such as this is the reason why. For more information about iPod DJing, laptop DJing, vinyl DJing, CDJing and/or future DJing, don't hesitate to contact one of B&H's knowledgeable, no-commission sales associates at 1-800-416-5090.