The educated Tanguero

Essential Tango Knowledge

Digital Signal Chain


Last year, Pioneer (the dominant company for DJ equipment) was finally able to publish a stable driver for the connection of a Windows PC to their professionel DJ-mixers. This one was immediately and fully certified by Native Instruments for use with their DJ Software Traktor Pro 2.0 (in Version 2.11). This news made a lot of DJs really happy (not only the Tango-DJs).

What is so interesting about this news, even for the Tango DJs?

For a „general“ DJ in club scene 4-channel mixers and (CD)-players from Pioneer are an absolute standard. This means, a DJ has to prepare to connect his notebook to this equipment and he has to be certain, this works flawlessly. The most popular models are the DJM900 and the DJM2000 in the flavour NSX or NSX2 for a connection with Native Instruments software. These are connected by USB and are recognized as a sound device with 4 channels and the option to access all  control elements via MIDI-mapping.

Pioneer Mixer (DJM900 NXS2).

A Tango DJ will not need more than 2-3 channels and a mixer makes sense if other channels are needed (like microphone or other input sources). Nevertheless, I personally like to mix manually, I hate autocruise and I even like to control my software players by hardware (Native-Instruments Kontrol X1).

Some months ago, I tried to use this new setup (I bought an DJM900) and I got the idea to use a fully digital mixer as a component in a pure digital signal chain. In order to get the best quality out of a DJ-setup, you have two options:

  1. Use a small signal chain without additional components and transfer the signal after D/A conversion directly to the speakers. This avoids multiple signal conversions or lengthy analog signal paths.
  2. Use a purely digital signal chain with only one final D/A conversion at the end of the chain.

So what makes sense in a semiprofessional signal chain? You might have a controversal opinion on the use of an equalizer, but currently, this device was recommended especially for Tango DJs. Not for the adjustment of the speakers to the room acoustics, but especially to adjust the frequency response in accordance to the music material (shellac vs. vinyl). Informations can be found here on Igor´s blog:

El Espejero Blog

Small PA systems usually use 4 main speakers and eventually a subwoofer, additional monitor speakers for the DJ, which can be connected to the booth channel of the mixer. Todays mostly active speakers can be connected to a chain (they have special output sockets for that). In my opinion, it is easier to have a speaker matrix, which directly addresses each speaker. With such a device, the balance can be controlled from the DJ booth and some matrixes also have the option to add limiter or compressor function. I personally use a graphic equalizer Ultracurve Pro DEQ2496 from Behringer and a speaker matrix DCX2496 also from Behringer. Both devices work digitally and have optionally D/A or A/D converter in 24bit and 96 kHz studio quality.  Additionally signals can be transferred in the digital format AES/EBU.

Usually, it was common in the past to send music as an analog signal into the mixer and hand it over in a pure analog way directly to the speakers, including all other equipment. Modern semiprofessional mixers from Pioneer do it also digitally, which means, the signal is passed digitally and the mixer generates a digital output signal using the S/PDIF standard. Knowing that S/PDIF is not quite the same as AES/EBU, I have nevertheless tried to connect my mixer (S/PDIF from an RCA socket) directly to the XLR socket (AES/EBU) of my equalizer.


Digital Input/Output sockets of my Pioneer DJM-900


The equalizer has an automatic conversion of S/PDIF to AES/EBU and plays my signal without problems. Connecting the EQ to the speaker matrix also works with AES/EBU and here the final D/A conversion happens, before the signal is send to the speakers as an analog balanced signal.

I would really like to report, that the quality of my signal has improved a lot, but maybe the quality of my ears is highly subjective. Nevertheless, I have noticed a significent improvement after changing from an analog to a digital mixer.

I am happy to have a good setup now and I am very motivated to concentrate on the real work of a Tango-DJ, the music collection and the tanda construction.

Sincerely yours,

DJ Ricardo

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