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On audio formats support and DJs

CDJ-2000NXS2 plays everything on anything, but you probably won’t see this player on every venue

I’m wondering, do DJs play MP3s? As far as I know, there aren’t many models that support FLAC or WAV?

Is there any point in playing music with a higher bitrate than 320kbps? Does it make a difference at all? Or it’s up to the gear?

Sergey Khivuk

Sergey, let’s go through each of your questions and statements in order. At first, we go on the formats support, then what DJs play, and then about the bitrate.

Audio formats support

Let’s find out what DJ players support WAV for sure. To do so, just go over to the PioneerDJ official website and take a look at each model’s specs.

Pioneer.com

I’ll put it here at a glance and also add archived products as some of them still might be used at some venues:

Model Plays Sources
CDJ-2000NXS2 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC, FLAC, ALAC USB, CD, SD, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-2000NXS MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD, SD, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-2000 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD, SD, Mac, Win
XDJ-1000MK2 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC, FLAC, ALAC USB, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
XDJ-1000 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-1000MK3 MP3, CDA CD
CDJ-1000MK2 CDA CD
CDJ-1000 CDA CD
CDJ-900NXS MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-900 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC CD
CDJ-850 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD
CDJ-800MK2 MP3, CDA CD
CDJ-800 CDA CD
XDJ-700 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, Mac, Win, iOS, Android
CDJ-400 MP3, CDA USB, CD
CDJ-350 MP3, WAV, AIFF, AAC USB, CD
CDJ-100S CDA CD

We can make two conclusions by looking at that table.

First, you shouldn’t really worry about WAV support: even among the archive lineup only three models playback MP3 by doesn’t support WAV: CDJ-1000MK3, CDJ-800MK2, and CDJ-400. All the rest either newer and support several file formats, either older and hence playback audio-CDs only.

Second, your audio source of choice is what you should be aware of the most. Let’s say, if all your music on SD cards but there are no CDJ-2000s at the venue, you screwed. Or if you have all your music on a flash drive but there are CDJ-1000s in the club, you screwed too. Or if you have all your music on CDs but at the venue you see any model of the XDJ range, you screwed again.

always have your music on several media sources

A simple rule that every professional DJ should know about: always have a backup. Even if you have CDJ-2000NSX2 in your tech rider and the promoter said it’s no problem, still bring some alternative media source which you could quickly plug-and-play in case some shit happen. And yeah, shit happens!

What format DJs play

I’d like to make a serious face and say “all DJs play WAVs only for sure” or “the majority of DJs play MP3s”, but the truth is, I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t have such data, and pointing out on a random fact is not what I consider right.

I can, however, speak for myself. Personally, I prefer AIF: it has the exact same sound quality as WAV, but supports extra ID3 tags and a cover artwork — which is very handy when dealing with a large media library or browse tracks on a DJ player’s display.

I do use MP3 too, but more like an exception for bootlegs, promos and all that kind of unofficial music.

Is it worth using WAV

In short, the answer is yes. Uncompressed audio obviously better than its compressed comrades, and if you want to go deeper in tech and nerdy stuff, read articles on one of the trustworthy sources like Sound On Sound magazine.

What Data Compression Does To Your Music. Sound On Sound, 2012 

But I’d like to talk about something different.

You see, the audible sound quality is a very tricky thing especially in the clubs and larger venues: the sound goes through a lot of processing before reaching our ears, and it’s very easy to mess it up on every stage it passes through.

For example, if a DJ plays 192 kbps MP3s, the sound will be shitty despite the top-class PA system. Or if a DJ screw the gain control on the mixer and plays in the red zone, the sound will be shitty again despite the audio engineer’s efforts.

And it works the other way around as well. For example, if a drunk sound guy messes up the PA equalization and calibration, the sound will be shitty even with a professional DJ playing lossless formats. Or if a greedy promoter saves some money on the gear rent and put the “100s” CDJs in the DJ booth. Or if a venue has no proofing whatsoever. And so on.

good sound on a party is the result of a teamwork

The point is, making a good sound on a party is a teamwork that relies on many people and things involved. Now answering your question on if it’s worth using WAVs — I think it’s up to a DJ whether he wants to work as a team and ensure the best sound quality, or not. To me the answer is obvious.

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This post is a part of the “Advice” series. I’m happy to advise on such topics as music production, sound design, performance, management, marketing, and career advice in the music industry and beyond. Send me your questions, too.

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