I started learning to mix recently and one of the questions I had was- why do some DJ’s use the crossfader to mix tracks while others use the volume faders?
For those of you who are complete novices- here’s what cross faders and volume faders mean:
A cross fader is a horizontal switch, usually found in the top center region of a controller, and it controls the signal input coming from either side of the deck. Volume faders are two vertical switches- usually, one for each deck- and they control the volume output of the track playing from their respective deck.
If that wasn’t super clear, here’s how a crossfader works:
If the knob is placed in the middle, it allows both mixes to play at equal levels but if shifted to either side, it will start cutting out the mix from the other side of the deck, and if placed on either extreme- only one mix is allowed to pass through.
As for a volume fader, if the knob is at the bottom, that is usually termed as ‘faders down’, and means that a 0 dB output signal is allowed through(in other- no signal is allowed through), and if the knob is at the top, it is called ‘faders up’.
Both the crossfader, and volume fader, are essentially potentiometers. If you remember from high school physics, potentiometers are basically devices that help vary resistance in a circuit. The higher the resistance- lesser the signal that goes through, and vice versa.
All right- enough science, let’s get down to the practicalities of cross fader vs line fader for mixing.
What should you use while mixing? Cross fader or line fader?
There really is no correct answer here. I read through a lot of accounts by DJ’s online and could not find any logic for using one technique for mixing over the other.
There are arguments to be made for both techniques. For instance:
As a beginner DJ, I personally prefer to use the cross fader as it is easy to visualize track transitions with cross fader control. It’s less fuss for someone who is still learning everything from scratch.
However, DJ’s that go the other way say that volume control helps make the mix cleaner and is ultimately less work as it, to a large extent, takes care of other things that keep you busy- EQ, compression, etc. I’ll talk more about that in a bit.
The gist is though- if you’re just learning the basics for now and, aren’t going to focus too much on compression, EQ and plugin usage, you can go ahead and mix however which way you like. Crossfader or linefader- it doesn’t really matter that much- initially.
The reason I say that is you should still know how to mix with either, even if you prefer to use one technique. I know I’d rather be a more well rounded DJ than a one trick pony who does ONE thing really well
Now, if you’re going to be mixing with crossfaders, there’s another thing you should be aware of- cross fader curves
What is a cross fader curve?
Remember what I said earlier about cross faders and volume faders basically acting as a variable resistance in the circuit? The more you increase the resistance the lesser the signal goes through.
Well, that’s not always entirely true for a cross fader
You see, the above statement I made was assuming we’re talking about a linear response curve. Which basically means that as the knob gets displaced from it’s central position, the resistance towards the signal from one of the decks increases as well.
This does happen when you’ve set the cross fader to a linear curve setting.
However, there also are other options- such as to set the crossfader to a sharp cut, slow fade, dipped setting, the list goes on and on.
Here’s a helpful picture to explain the different types of crossfader curve settings.
Keep in mind that crossfader curve settings are largely brand specific, and sometimes even mixer/controller specific. Which is why you may not find all the same curve settings across different crossfaders in different controllers.
I guess it’s nice to have as many options as you can have in order to experiment and learn more- but I personally won’t sweat it while looking for a entry level controller for a beginner, such as myself.
The type of crossfader curve setting you use is also dependent on the style of music you mix. For instance:
While mixing hip-hop, you might notice a lot of sharp crossfader cuts. Another genre that uses sharp cuts is scratching.
On the other hand, if you’re mixing two different music genres, you’ll probably want to use a smooth fade setting.
Another type is the constant gain setting which is useful for mixing two tightly beat-matched tracks.
Mixing with a volume/line fader- a technique you may not have thought of
I mentioned earlier the ‘upfader’ and ‘downfader’ positions used to denote that the individual volume faders may be totally up or down.
The natural tendency while mixing, at least for beginners, is to use the crossfader to mix in another song and then introduce it at full volume.
The technique that I came across while researching for this article employs the downfader position. It basically mentions that when you’re putting your mix together, you should turn down the volume for both tracks all the way down.
Then, slowly increase the volume on one track and try to make out each element within it.
Once you’re able to distinguish all the elements, now start to introduce the second track, try to distinguish each element and figure out how to best mix it with the first.
Of course- being able to do this will take some practice, but it makes logical sense for me to start practising this way.
How EQ plays a role in your mixes
To make a track sound even better, EQ or equalization is sometimes needed. What EQ means is to boost or cut certain frequencies in your mix. There can be a single band EQ knob on your controller, a 2 band knob(hi-lo), a 3 band knob(high, mid, low), a 4 band knob(high, high-mid, mid-low, low)… you get the idea.
Experienced DJ’s whose accounts I read online mentioned that mixing with line faders helps take care of other aspects- such as EQ and compressions faster.
For instance, if you mix a clip a few dB’s lower, you probably won’t have to EQ the high frequency bit that clips the higher end of your speakers.
That being said, all parts of your mix aren’t going to sound the same and there will be sections that will be harder to mix, and will require some EQ.
Rather than looking at the individual controls and sticking to just one or two, the way I’m learning things is to understand what everything does and pick the best option for my mix.
I believe it’s important to look at all the controls holistically rather than just sticking to one or two.
What about you guys- have you been primarily using line faders or crossfaders till now? Any particular reason why?