As you progress in your DJ game, you start wanting more and more from your DJ equipment. For some, it’s a DJ mixer with a higher build quality. For others, it means louder speakers. And for the rest of us, it means a more powerful DJ controller.
More powerful, however, doesn’t mean that it will provide a louder output, but that it offers more controls, effects, and all in all, a heightened performance. In short, those who mix using controllers, come to a point where they wish for 4 decks.
Sometimes people refer to this as four channels, which is practically the same thing if we overlook the technicalities. So, don’t be confused if these two terms are used interchangeably. This article should provide you with all the information you need on 4-deck DJ controllers.
Why Do DJs Use 4 Decks?
The more the merrier, some would say. If we follow that logic, 4 decks are better than two, just like eight decks are better than four. Having more channels to create your mixes opens a lot more opportunities to you as a DJ, and will result in a much happier crowd.
Let’s put it this way. You have two decks, just like every “normal” DJ controller has, right? That gives you the opportunity to have one track playing on one deck and another one on the second.
What DJs normally do is beatmatch the songs, meaning adjust them so that they have equal tempo so you can mix the two tracks together. With four decks, you can have additional two songs cued that can jump into the mix at any given time.
Additionally, 4-deck DJ controllers usually have better and cooler FX (effects), although this is not set in stone. This type of DJ controller is also associated with more experienced DJs, so, if you’re new to DJing, you should probably stick with two decks for starters.
But please note that a four-deck controller doesn’t have four platters or jog wheels. The extra two decks will be set via your DJ software like Traktor or Serato. You will navigate through your decks by pressing a button, and the lighting on the controller will indicate which deck you’re using.
This can also pose additional issues like only having three EQ knobs per deck, or having performance pads under your CDJ or jog wheel, which can confuse you especially if you haven’t been DJing digitally for a while.
Best Ways To Use 4 Deck DJ Controllers
I already said that mixing on four decks opens a whole new world of creativity, but it would be unfair if I didn’t tell you what your options here include. In this chapter, we’ll go through all the cool ways to use a four-deck DJ controller and hit you with some tips and tricks.
Cueing Additional Tracks
This is the first thing I mentioned in the introduction to this article. The most simple use of a 4-deck controller is to use it as “storage” for your cued tracks.
This comes in handy since you don’t have to rush to your software library every time you’re done beatmatching. This way, you’ll have two bonus tracks always waiting for you so you’ll be prepared at all times.
Loops And Samples
Moreover, you can load loops or samples on the additional two decks. I know that this makes no sense to you now because the performance pads are made for that exact purpose.
But having them stored as actual songs means that you can manipulate them using your jog wheels, and you know that’s fun! But not only that, this is a great possibility for music producers and those creating tracks on the fly.
With a 4-deck setup, you can export your newly created mix and keep it on the extra decks, or immediately save it to your DJ software library.
Routing MIDI Through The Extra Decks
You don’t have to possess a DJ MIDI controller to employ some MIDI features in your setup. This is a section for more experienced DJs, so be very careful if you’re a beginner. Maybe it’s early for you now, but one day it will pay off.
But did you know that you could DJ with two software simultaneously? Well, if you have a 4-channel DJ controller, you certainly can. You can actually route audio from a different software using the additional two decks, i.e. decks 3 and 4.
For example, you can use your Serato or Traktor DJ software on deck A and deck B, but route audio signals through the other two channels from another software, e.g. Ableton Live.
This way, you could connect your sessions to your DJ controller setup, and mix everything together, using both software programs through the same master output!
Depending on which software you’re using, this method will vary. Serato, for example, complicates this by making you use third-party software called The Bridge, while Traktor is a bit better, but will also make you enable the MIDI mode to start mapping the inputs.
All DJ controllers need software to work properly and that includes four-deck controllers. But just like there is a difference between two controllers, there are differences among software programs and the way they react with a 4-deck setup.
Traktor DJ Software
For some reason, people mostly associate Traktor DJ gear with a 4-deck setup. This makes sense if you take into account the famous Traktor Kontrol S4 DJ controller. Though this is not the first controller of its kind, it’s what made them popular among DJs.
The Traktor Kontrol S4 runs with Pro 2, but also with Traktor Pro 3, which offers a wide range of possibilities when it comes to 4 channel mixing. There are unique features and FX that are only possible with the Pro 3 or the S4 DJ controller.
Remix decks in Traktor go beyond the “simple” use of 4 decks and instead offer you a number of sample decks that you can use for your DJing. These decks are sometimes also called slots and are used by DJs to upload as many audio files as they wish.
With the remix decks, which, I repeat, only come with Traktor software, come 4 additional decks that look like grids, each of which has four slots for you to upload files. Don’t worry, this isn’t as half as complicated as it sounds.
You know how usually you have two decks, or four if you have 4 channels? In each of these decks, you upload a song, i.e. an audio file. Well, with this feature in Traktor, you can upload as many audio files as you wish – you can even upload two songs in one deck if you want.
Imagine the range of possibilities that this Traktor feature unlocks for you.
Using Extra Inputs
Some Traktor hardware, like the Traktor Kontrol S4, has additional inputs so you could hook up third-party devices. This is mostly used to connect two turntables and have four decks comprising two CDJs from your controller and two timecode vinyls on the side.
This is known as the DVS (Digital Vinyl System) which combines the best of two worlds – digital and analog. It allows you to play music from your laptop and still use turntables to manipulate the songs that are playing.
Apart from the S4, other 4-deck DJ controllers let you do this like the Numark NS6 or the Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000. By the way, these kinds of DJ controllers belong in a higher price range, easily exceeding $1,000.
Serato DJ Software
If you’re using Serato, you can easily activate four channels, if you have a 4 deck DJ controller, of course. In that case, everything is done within Serato, in the preferences. Don’t worry, it’s very easy and I’ll show you how to do it with a few easy steps.
Serato Display Modes
The basic display modes in Serato cover the horizontal or vertical mode, extended or library. I think that the first two are self-explanatory and there is no particular need to further explain them.
On the other hand, extended means you can minimize the virtual deck, and it will have horizontal waveforms covering the screen. The library mode will maximize the space for the library and make it wider, which will further minimize the virtual deck.
As I said before, if you own a 4-deck controller, Serato will allow you to view all four at the same time on the screen. This is done very easily with a simple click.
In the right corner of your Serato software, you will see the numbers 2 and 4 next to the drop-down menu. Again, if you don’t have a 4-deck controller, you will only have the number 2. Next, you just click on 4 and your Serato screen now has four decks.
4-Deck Mixing Techniques
Four deck control is for those that know what they’re doing. But even the most experienced of us can get stuck in this process. You know how tough DJing can be even with two decks, now imagine having double that.
This type of mixing is also referred to as modern. There are a couple of things that you should understand first so that you have no problem mixing three or even four tracks at once.
Set The Channels
When you’re mixing with four channels, it might be tricky to figure out which knobs, EQ, and FX affect which channel. Most often, if not always, channels 1 and 2 share the same controls, and 3 and 4 share theirs.
Most modern 4 channel controllers have LED lighting on the jog wheels that change colors every time you switch between them. This will let you know which channel you’re on. It’s usually blue when you are on channels 1 and 2, and turn orange for 3 and 4, or vice-versa.
But when we talk about four channels, headphone setup plays a big role. You only have two ear pads, so it’s important that you set the preferences in your software to specify which signal comes to which ear.
Another thing to watch out for is the output power and how much your gear can handle. When playing four songs at the same time, you’re putting pressure on the faders, and if they’re not connected to well-built speakers, the sound might get distorted if the sound card can’t take it.
Sometimes, you might need an external mixer to support your 4 channels.
Hit The Key Right
The golden rule for every DJ, regardless of how many songs they mix, is to have them in the same key! If this is very important for a 2-deck controller, imagine how important it is when you have 4 channels.
The songs you’re mixing have to be in the same key, and tempo (speed), otherwise your DJ set will just sound awful and you’ll be surprised how quickly your venue can become empty.
Most DJ software can help you with this, as they have a sync button to match the beats, and an analyze button to sort your songs by the same pitch or key. If you don’t do this right, you’ll trigger the so-called “horse track effect” with one beat constantly rushing in front of the other.
Four-Deck Controller Recommendations
The fact that you’re reading this article means that you either own a four-deck controller and want to find out how to make the best of it, or you’re planning on getting one.
I’ll use this small but significant segment to recommend a few 4-channel controllers that I think are the leaders in the industry.
Traktor Kontrol S4
I own an S4 myself, and I might be a little biased, but this controller really has everything a DJ needs. With four channels and the magnificent Traktor Pro software, it will open a whole new world to you.
It’s powered by a 24-bit sound card which is great for the sound quality, especially if you’re going to use all 4 channels at the same time. Also, I love it due to its flexible connectivity comprising extra XLR inputs for third-party devices.
The rear part of a unit has a USB input making it super easy to connect to your laptop. All this accompanied by a range of smart tools and superb FX, gives you everything you could want. Its price is a bit high, around $1,000.
All in all, it’s an excellent four-deck controller used by many famous DJs like Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin… Basically, all famous DJs are using the S4 and that is no coincidence. If you ever think of buying such a controller, please consider this one.
Pioneer DJ DDJ-1000
Many DJs will say that this is Pioneer’s best DJ controller. Indeed, it’s a very well-built unit offering four channels for mixing. This is the first-ever hardware by Pioneer to be made for their own Rekordbox software, rather than Serato as it was earlier.
The jog wheels are the hit of this controller, equipped with all sorts of indicators for BPM, track position, deck in charge, and also very touch-sensitive. The platters are also smart, capable of recognizing accidental touches so they won’t mess up your mixes.
Overall, it has great quality. I personally don’t own it, but I’ve had a chance to use it a couple of times and I was stunned by how firm it is. If you’re a CDJ lover and want to take your game up by two channels, you won’t make a mistake with this one.
The DDJ-1000 is also a bit pricey, meaning you’ll have to spend over $1,000 to get it. Pioneer products are usually more expensive than the rest, anyway, but they do justify it with quality – and that has been proven many times.
I feel that I covered a lot in this article regarding controllers with a 4-deck control. As you probably noticed, a 4-channel controller is no joke, and you need to have pretty advanced skills to mix.
Let’s quickly go through everything we learned and make up for anything we’ve missed.
Using a 4-deck controller is a tricky category of DJing. You must pay attention to which channel is playing and make sure that all your songs are in tune. There are also technical aspects such as headphone setup, so you don’t have the output signals mix.
Every DJ needs to learn certain basic techniques in order to do this the proper way. I’ve described some of the above in the text, so please go and check them again if you like.
Additionally, a 4-channel controller can be used for various reasons. I mean, the two extra channels can be used as storage for your cued songs, but also as a place where you will keep your loops and samples, which you could trigger at any given moment.
The best thing about this is that you can manipulate the loops and samples using your jog wheels, which you wouldn’t be able to do if they went through the performance pads. Scratching loops with jog wheels? Sounds fun, indeed!
Another cool thing is that you can route MIDI sounds from another software, as the sound will go through the additional two decks. Depending on whether you use Serato or Traktor, the process is different but manageable.
In the end, you’ll choose the software that’s best suited for your purposes. For multi-mixing, I prefer Traktor Pro over Serato, only because of the remix decks. If you’re not sure what that is, scroll above and check the section about it.
When Should You Start Using 4 Channels?
I don’t want to be a mood killer, but if you’ve just learned the 2-deck mixing techniques, maybe you should stick with that for a while. Or at least, start practicing on 4 channels, but please be smart about taking that live, in front of a real audience. They can be pretty judgmental.
There are even dozens of very experienced DJs who have never encouraged themselves to start mixing on more than 2 channels. But once you’re feeling confident on a 2-deck, don’t shy away from a 4-deck!
I hope that this article has given you a deeper insight into 4-channel controllers and the techniques used in this process. So, be patient, practice all the time, and fame will follow!
Do DJs Actually Mix Live?
Yes, most DJs mix live. However, they have done that so many times before so to you, it might seem as if they have everything prepared. In my experience, most of them perform live, but there will always be those who “cheat”.
How Do You Use Four Decks In Serato DJ?
Serato DJ is one of the simplest software programs to launch the use of four channels. In the left upper corner of the screen, you will find the numbers 2 and 4. Just click on the 4 and the additional decks will show up. This will only work if you have a 4-channel controller.
Does Virtual DJ Have 4 Decks?
If you have a DJ controller that runs on Virtual DJ and supports four channels, then yes. Such an example is the DJ-Tech 4 Mix, which was specifically designed for VDJ and to support four audio channels at once.
Why Do DJs Use 3 CDJs?
CDJs are very flexible DJ gear with a lot of additional inputs allowing you to employ a set of third-party devices to it. You can attach turntables and mix digital and analog thanks to DVS (Digital Vinyl System), including both turntables and CDJs.