The question I’m most often asked is, “What’s the best Mac to get for DJing? iBook? Powerbook? iMac? G4… G5… Intel?” As a DJ who has used Apple computers for years, you’d think I would have come up with a quick and easy answer by now. Instead, I usually start out with, “Well… that depends…”

The fact is, there are a number of good options available in Apple’s Mac line-up to suit just about any type of DJ. And with the introduction of Apple’s Intel-based MacBook Pro and Mac mini, choosing the right computer has been made all the more difficult.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably one of the thousands of people looking to purchase an Apple computer to compliment your DJ setup, or, you’re one of the thousands more who are interested in taking up DJing, as a hobby or career, and are looking for guidance on what type of equipment to start out with. Over the next few pages, I’ll cover the factors that should go into making your decision, and I’ll make suggestions based on some common scenarios.

How will you use your new Mac?

Before we get into the various features and specs, you should do a little preliminary work by answering these few basic questions:

  • Which type of DJ am I?
  • Which music software do I plan to use?
  • What else will I be using my computer for?

Thinking through these questions before you begin your search for the perfect Mac will help save you time, money, and frustration in the long run.

“Which Type of DJ am I?”

The role of the DJ, also know as a ‘disk jockey,’ has evolved dramatically from the days of the AM radio station announcer playing rock ‘n roll 45’s. Today, DJs can be found almost everywhere you look, from high-profile clubs to underground parties and raves to senior centers. Additionally, DJs are increasingly turning up in less traditional venues: Department stores, bars, restaurants, coffee shops… even flea markets and swap meets. DJs aren’t only playing other people’s music either, but are also involved in the recording and production of dance music. Many of the world’s top DJs have record deals with major labels. But the vast majority of DJs today are what are commonly known as ‘bedroom DJs’ – people who set up their DJ equipment at home and mix music simply for the love of the music. They may record their mixes to share with friends, and they may be asked to DJ at an occasional private party, but to most, DJing is strictly a hobby.
It’s important to understand what type of DJing you plan to do in order to pick the computer that’s right for you. Are you a hobbyist who will primarily be using your equipment at home? Are you planning to play out regularly at parties or clubs in different venues? Do you have an occasional gig at one or two near-by venues? Are you interested in producing your own music? Try to imagine yourself two years from now, and plan on getting a computer that will still meet your needs then.

“Which music software do I plan to use?”

There are a number of good software packages currently available for DJs; the one that’s right for you will largely depend on what DJ equipment you plan to use and the amount of control you want to have over your mixes. If you already own turntables (or CD players) and a mixer, you’re probably interested in Serato Scratch Live or FinalScratch, which use time-coded vinyl records (or CDs) to control the music files on your computer. These hardware + software packages give you the most traditional DJ experience, while adding features like multiple cue points, effects, and looping. If you don’t own any DJ equipment, and are not interested in purchasing any, a good option might be Native Instruments Traktor DJ Studio 3, which is the software component of the FinalScratch package and is sold separately. With Traktor, you can control your music files on your screen with the mouse and keyboard, or an optional midi controller. The mixer, EQs, and effects are all built in to the software. Another option that’s increasingly popular with DJs is Ableton Live 5, a complete music production studio that was designed with the live performer in mind. It’s the least traditional approach to DJing, but ultimately the most flexible. Ableton Live uses complex time stretching algorithms that make it possible to beat-match virtually any two tracks or loops perfectly. The program includes a built-in sampler, drum machine, and loads of effects, making it possible to edit, arrange, and remix tracks on the fly. Of course, powerful software requires serious horsepower to run. You want to make sure that the computer you buy can run your software effortlessly.

“What else will I be using my computer for?”

Not everyone has the luxury of having a dedicated music computer, so don’t forget to factor in any other uses you might have in mind. Are you an avid gamer? Make sure you choose a computer with a good graphics card. Need to use it a school? Make sure it’s portable enough to take with you every day. Planning to edit video? A large hard drive, or better yet, an external hard drive is a must.

With all of these factors to weigh and balance, choosing the perfect computer can be a dizzying task. Luckily, Apple offers a solid range of top-of-the-line computers to choose from. In the next few pages, I’ll take a look at each of Apple’s current offerings from a DJ’s perspective in order to help you find the perfect fit.

Next page: Apple iBook G4 for the DJ –>