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best audio format for DJing

The Best Audio Format For DJs

1: MP3 is an boomer format. Don’t play it on a PA system. It was great when hard drives were tiny and expensive, but that’s not an issue in 2021.

2: You can train your ears to hear what is lost in an MP3 by eliminating the mono signal and listening to the sides only. You will notice a watery pixelated sound, especially on noisy full frequency sounds like reverb. The MP3 algorithm is having the same problem that video algorithms do when showing snow or confetti.

3: If you MUST use mp3 (or if you are a producer distributing a song to steaming services) you should level your song to -1dB and not 0dB. This is because the encoding can sometimes generate little spikes in volume. These spikes will cause distortion at 0dB because they will clip (or go over the 0dB limit). Leveling your songs to -1dB ameliorates this issue somewhat.

4: Aiff or FLAC are superior to .wav for DJing because they have id3 tags while .wav does not. Your DJ software can add things like key information and cue points to the ID3 tags. This is very handy when moving or rebuilding your DJ library.

5: All of this aside the MOST important thing to the sound quality of your set is the digital to analog converters that are being used to turn your files into actual physical voltage information that goes to the PA system.

You want to avoid unnecessary encoding and decoding so ideally you should only turn the digital signal into an analog signal ONE TIME. This means if you use CDJs you should use the DIGITAL outputs on the CDJ to transfer audio to the mixer and NOT the analog RCA outputs. This is because if you use analog the mixer will turn the analog signal BACK into a digital signal for mixing and then convert it a THIRD time for output to the PA system. All of this encoding and decoding will cause issues with the sound quality, ESPECIALLY if you have a lossy file format (like MP3). Fun fact: you can use the same RCA cable to transfer the digital audio using the digital ports. Just unplug that shit and make the switch. You can do it when you step up to the decks and it’ll make your music sound noticeably better than the last DJ. Please don’t switch the cables back when you’re done.

If you are shopping for a Serato controller the MOST IMPORTANT THING is how the digital to analog audio converters sound. Yes: DJ features are important too, yes: effects are important too, but the MOST important thing to the AUDIENCE is how accurately the audio is transferred to the PA system. If you have a cheap shitty controller DO NOT USE IT ON A PA.

You are MUCH better off using the built in sound card on a Pioneer mixer and using the CDJs to control Serato. If you plug your Serato controller into the mixer you are introducing TWO unnecessary A/D conversion stages and making the DJ booth cramped and messy. Also: other DJs (including me) will make fun of you and your shitty sound quality.

OK: so I probably won’t actually make fun of you. I try not to be an asshole. I just wanted to scare you into caring about sound quality in the hopes that your DJ sets will be more enjoyable for your audiences and that you will be more successful as a DJ.

All the best!

If you learned anything useful please consider checking out my renegade music coaching community and record label over at

Lots of love

Dylan aka ill.Gates

Get all of my albums, a slew of singles, remixes, and DJ mixes for FREE! –

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EDM Artist and Music Producer ill.Gates on ProducerDJ

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