Why do some DJs love rotary mixers so much?

What is it about rotary mixers that has created such a passionate community of users? We asked 12 DJs to share their thoughts and experiences.

When you step back from it, the distinction we make in the DJ world between mixers with rotary and linear faders can seem strange. After all, we’re essentially just talking about controlling a channel’s volume in a different way, right? Pushing a fader up and down versus twisting knob. Why do DJs have such strong preferences?

While it’s true that both types of faders have basically the same function, the way that they perform that function can feel very different. Without fail, all of the DJs we spoke to said something along these lines. Dig a little deeper, and you see that rotary mixers appear to be built in a different spirit and with different aims, with the features they offer and the aesthetics they embody diverging from their linear counterparts. This rotary vs linear question really comes alive when you consider that the reasons some DJs dislike rotary mixes are the exact same reasons that some DJs love rotary mixers. 

Look back at the earliest days of club culture—this iconic photo of Larry Levan in the DJ booth at the Paradise Garage in New York, for example—and you’ll always see big, wide rotary mixers in the booth. Mixing in the spirit of such pioneers will appeal enormously to some DJs, while others might find the idea antiquated, instead valuing modern technology.

The same goes for the relative simplicity of rotary mixers. Where some DJs see liberation in the limitation of not having a crossfader or FX, others see unnecessary restrictions. If you’re a DJ who values sound quality above all else, you’ll probably gravitate towards a rotary, whereas other DJs think about a mixer’s audio output among a range of features and considerations. 

The euphonia aims to bridge the gap between these two separate ways of seeing DJing. It’s a four-channel rotary mixer that combines the clarity of digital with the richness of analog, and in this respect it’s the first rotary mixer of its kind.  

To get a broader perspective on the passionate community of rotary mixer users, we turned to Gilles Peterson, David Morales, Hilit Kolat, Rob Mello, Roger Sanchez, Lefto Early Bird, Timmy Regisford, Terry Hunter, Kerri Chandler, Ron Trent, Farrah Sabado and Millie McKee, who each explained what they like most about this way of mixing.

Gilles Peterson

For the BBC radio broadcaster, rotaries steer him away from predictable mixes

What do you like most about rotary mixers?

What I like most about rotary mixers is the fact that they make me approach what I do differently. And they take me away from the same inevitable conclusions. They make me approach my work differently. Which is a really good thing when you’ve been doing the same thing for so many years.

How about the feel of them versus standard linear faders? 

It’s more the fact that the mixing aspects is the thing that makes it different. Because you mix differently and you transition differently when you use a rotary mixer. And initially, especially if you haven’t used a rotary mixer before, it’s almost frightening, because it seems to be more complicated. But the truth is that it allows you more time to go from one track to another, more subtly and in a way, it’s a smoother transition—I find it creates a smoother transition. 

Now, the problem that I’ve got, and have had in the past, is that rotary mixers tend to be really good for blends of songs that are similar… But going from one type of music to another, from one BPM to another, with a rotary mixer has been more of a hindrance, because you have never had any sort of echo, or reverb or any sort of effect. So it feels like the transitions are more raw if you’re going between different tempos. But evidently with this mixer, which has all the benefits of the Pioneer mixes of the past, with all the effects, to have the effects added to the beauty of the rotary, that’s a perfect combination. So that’s very exciting.

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers?

Well, the sound quality seems to be of a higher level… although that’s probably debatable.  

But I feel that the rotary is almost like cooking food—having been used to cooking food with electricity, and suddenly cooking with gas… They both do the same thing. They both heat up food, but the flame that you get with gas, it draws out the artfulness of the thing.

David Morales

The Grammy award-winning artist thinks the feel between linear and rotary faders is like night and day  

What I like best about a rotary mixer is the transition from one track to the next. Normally on a “good” rotary mixer you have full gain on the channel. What that means is that you never have to max out the level, therefore you have headroom on the channel when you mix. I normally have the channel between six and seven, so there’s still headroom between seven and 10. When you mix between two channels there’s a transition point between five and six. On most fader mixers the channel is maxed out. On a proper rotary mixer the curve is like a square, there’s no slope. 

Do you find the feel of them is much different to standard faders? 

It’s a totally different feel. It’s night and day in my opinion.

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers above other types?

Well, besides when I first started DJing, the first mixers were faders, like the Clubman One by Meteor Light & Sound, Numark and Gemini, among other small fader mixers. But Bozak, which was before the Urei, was considered the next level. When you got your first Bozak or Urei it was like you had bragging rights lol. Most discos in the ‘70s had either a GLI or a Bozak. The Urei was the evolution of the Bozak. Most American old-school DJs played on a rotary.

Hilit Kolet

For the rising Defected and Rekids artist, rotary mixers are like a musical instrument

I like how rotary mixers, to me, feel more like a musical instrument in comparison to linear mixers because of the natural movement that mixing on a rotary kind of leads to.

Mixing on a rotary naturally encourages smoother, longer mix transitions, and it often results in blends that are more meaningful rather than just practical. And I also like how you can easily accentuate specific frequencies and features and parts of tracks when you’re mixing on a rotary.

Do you find the feel of them much different to standard faders?

100% the feel is different. Mixing on a rotary is more intuitive, and the flow or transitions on a rotary feels more natural. On linear or fader mixes, one little increase on a fader can trigger a shocking volume. Whereas rotary mixers give you so much more control on the overall level, as well as on frequencies.

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers? 

So for the practical and technical reasons that I’ve just mentioned, for the sound quality, which tends to be superior on rotary mixers, as they tend to be analogue. And certainly also for cultural and legacy reasons. Rotary mixers were at the core of club culture in its very early days, and there’s definitely some sort of an aura or mystique around them.

Rob Mello

There’s a pureness in rotary mixers’ simplicity, says the UK house mainstay

What do you most like about rotary mixers? 

Well, a very good quality signal path is very important. Obviously, it doesn’t just stop at the mixer. We had a Bozak CMA-10-2DL, which is one of the original ‘70s rotary mixers, in Black Market Records. After 10 years, it almost became like an extension of you—the weight of the pots and the movement make your approach mixing in quite a specific way. For me, that works with my style of playing music. 

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers? 

Well, they’re a big investment, so you really wouldn’t go there if you weren’t committed. Also, the rotary is such an amazing heritage built on high-quality specs, and used by pioneering legendary DJs and nightclubs. There’s like a pureness in its simplicity. It’s an absolute matter of taste. But for me, they also look so much sexier. I think Pioneer DJ has really built on that concept with a really meaningful twist that brings something different to an already very competitive marketplace. 

I think if I were a hip-hop DJ, rotaries probably wouldn’t work as well. But they really do lend themselves well to house and disco. It’s great for very smooth transitions, you know, changing the level or EQing. After a few hours playing on a mixer, you become more acquainted, and you get more intimate. And so yeah, the feel is also a big part of it for me

Timmy Regisford

The venerable US DJ and producer enjoys the subtly and control of rotaries

Rotary mixers in general allow the DJ to hear and manipulate the sound more than the crossfade-style mixers. There’s a subtly and precision of the control that you have as you’re working the sound that allows you to mix and blend with finer detail than is possible on other types of mixers. The euphonia has particularly nice feel to the knobs. They’re larger and more meaty than other rotaries and it has the proper spacing between them so you’re not cramped as you’re working the channels. You can get in there and do the work without feeling restricted in your movement. The euphonia, unlike others, knows the difference and controls the levels when you go between digital and analog, which is huge. With other mixers it’s next to impossible to have smooth sound between formats.

There’s a definite difference in how I play when I’m working with a rotary mixer. The control I get lets me ride mixes longer and with much more. I can work the subtleties in a way that’s impossible with other styles of mixers. And with the euphonia I can go between my vinyl and digital libraries without worrying about the discrepancies in levels that exist between the two formats. This opens up possibilities that I just don’t have with other machines. That and the control and precision with rotary frees up my creativity in a way that’s constricted with slide or crossfade. Particularly with the euphonia, the inclusion of delays and the ability to cut between the mid and high ranges with the touch of a button gives me all kinds of possibility in my mixing that no other machine, rotary or otherwise, provides.

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers?

The passion comes from the attributes the rotary provides the DJ, not the least of which is the warmer sound it puts out. The headroom they provide gives more intrinsic balance without have to worry about correcting the levels and lets the DJ focus on the more creative aspects of the mix. Plus, the feel and the aesthetic of rotary is one of a kind. When you love it, there’s nothing else like it.

Roger Sanchez

Rotary mixers are an old-school approach, says the NYC house legend

⁠For longer mixes, I find that rotaries have a smoother, gradual fade, which makes the blend even more seamless. The feel is very different from fader mixers—your arm position is different, as are the feel of the rotary faders when you are “dialling in” a mix as opposed to the “fade in” action. It is a very old-school approach to mixing, which to some DJs feels more authentic. It’s comparable to driving a stick shift car VS an automatic. You feel more in control of the mix with a rotary mixer. 

Lefto Early Bird

Rotaries give you power at your fingertips, says the respected Belgian DJ, producer and radio host

I really like the dynamic of the volume on a rotary mixer, how the sound opens gradually, not like faders, but more like a slow fade in/fade out. There is this boost that comes with it that I love, you feel that there is power at the tips of your fingers. A rotary usually doesn’t have any effects unless you add an external effect send/return, so it requires you to be more precise as well. And of course I like the look—round knobs are really something different.

I definitely play differently on a rotary, as I am usually the kind of DJ who uses effects on the Pioneer DJM-A9 to blend my music. I will say that I play in a more basic, old-school way on a rotary, and preferably disco, house and everything that gets closer to 4/4, as the dynamic with the rotary really comes alive within those genres of music in my opinion. But I do play vinyl-only places where I blend Latin music and hip-hop into gospel and jazz and everything in between, but it’s a very dedicated place. Give me a rotary in the club and I’ll try to stay in the beat with a carefully selected bag of records for the club. I’ve never used CDJs with a rotary by the way, it’s like it doesn’t match with the configuration.

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers?

I think that for some there is this sense of tradition, to revive a certain style of DJing; for others it will be all about the sound but I think that in general it’s really about the different approach, different dynamic of mixing, and how it’s perceived by a crowd. The setup is also very basic and beautiful to look at, especially if it’s with vinyl, there is a different respect for DJs who play on a rotary and vinyl only, the challenge is real. And I think that if you’re a DJ who cares for good sound you are probably a DJ who is looking to buy a rotary mixer or who owns one.

Terry Hunter

The esteemed Chicago artist is relaxed and comfortable on a good rotary mixer

I like the feel of rotary mixers, especially when playing house music or disco. There’s nothing wrong with faders but it’s like driving an automatic car versus a stick shift, in my opinion, the automatic is much smoother getting to the perfect MPH.

I definitely play different on a rotary. I’m more relaxed and comfortable on a good rotary mixer. The feel is everything and especially how the mechanics work in my head. A rotary allows me to highlight certain parts of a songs very tastefully and smooth.

I think rotary mixers represent a great time in musical history and sound. What people don’t know is in the early years of hip-hop a lot of DJs used a rotary mixer. You had brands like Urei and Bozak that lead the way, and now you guys are in the future with the euphonia.

Kerri Chandler

The tone of rotaries is completely different, says the deep house pioneer

What do you most like about rotary mixers?

The sound quality and headroom.

Do you feel that you play differently on a rotary?

Yes, the blends are different, I personally ride mixes much longer and I hear things with a bit more cohesion. And it makes it easier knowing where to have volumes sit as your blending songs.

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers?

Because the tone is completely different. You are being a lot more selective about how you bring records in and out, and as the 7 o’clock position is zero you really make sure you listen a lot more carefully and you learn how to leave headroom for things that need gain without using the input gain. You know how to feel and handle the dynamics of a song differently on a quality rotary mixer.

Ron Trent

The Chicago innovator thinks using a rotary requires a higher level of skill  

The main thing that I like about rotary mixers is the smoothness and the natural feel of blending music together with the control of volume and sensitivity. There is both an organic connection and approach one has to towards presenting music when using a rotary. 

I absolutely play differently with rotary mixers. It allows me to instinctually have a feel for the music that is playing and be able to have full control over the energy, a sense of rhythm, and crafting the right moment of alignment for sound magic. And also the alignment of the right blend or musical selection. 

To be honest, I do think that some of the reasons why certain DJs are so passionate about using rotary mixers is due to the association with a certain class of DJ and music collector. This is the class of DJ that takes his or her music seriously and has historical power aligned with the type of listening environments that are the foundational force behind DJ culture. In a sense it’s a status and a class of its own. Also most notably, using a rotary requires a higher skill level of presenting music. Every passionate user wants quality and that level of being in a league of their own when it comes to their curated system of sound.

Farrah Sabado

Playing on a rotary channels the spirit of the greats, says the classically trained electronic artist

I love how nuanced the rotary mixers are compared to faders. The sheer feel of the knobs can’t help but draw you into the essence of the craft at first touch, and the sensitivity and precision of every adjustment is incomparable. I love how there are (more often than not) no FX. Effects are a wonderful tool, but when removed, really highlight the skill and know-how of the DJ. I believe that if the selector’s selections are strong and the technique is proficient, the tracks can stand on their own mixed raw without all the flashy gimmicks and bells n whistles. It’s all a stylistic choice, so there’s no wrong answer. But I am classically trained, so I am a purist about my music at the end of the day 🙂

I play differently on a rotary. I find I am more thoughtful and sensitive. It makes me feel like I am sharing in the same act of love and service that all the greats and DJ pioneers of our time have been doing over and over, and it makes me skew towards choosing classic and warm selections.

I own a Bozak AR-4, and I looovvve my mixer. I love the look of it, the feel of it, the warm sound of it. When you get to a point in your career (or craft), after many years of experience or knowing yourself well enough to be able dictate what you want out of dance music and DJing (rather than the other way around), you start making intentional choices about what supports you and your ideas/vision/style. After a lot of personal research and a desire to want to refine my skills and craft, I pulled the trigger on my first rotary in 2021 with the Bozak AR-4. I wanted something simple, classic, lightweight enough for me to travel with, and warm.

There are a lot of rotary mixer options out there, and nothing is the wrong answer; it’s all preference. It’s like a pair of shoes—choosing the best fit for all your needs, know what I mean? I feel it is that way with DJs who are passionate users and owners of rotary mixers. They have come to a place where they know what they like and they know what can give it to them.

Millie McKee

The eclectic London DJ and record store boss takes her time on a rotary mixer

What do you like about rotary mixers?

I like the circular, smooth motion of the faders. It affects the approach you take to blending and feels more organic to me. I enjoy a stripped back, less rushed approach to DJing.

Do you feel that you play differently on a rotary vs linear faders?

Linear faders are good for fast, choppy and energetic blends. Rotary mixers can create a beautiful, slower building effect. When I’m using a rotary I feel more comfortable with what I’m doing, especially if I’m playing records, as you can fade between tracks smoothly.

Why do you think some DJs are such passionate users and owners of rotary mixers?

I think it’s personal preference, experience and taste. There’s also definitely a stylistic thing to it. Music lovers who enjoy more high-fidelity, audiophile-type listening might be more inclined to a rotary mixer. It often sounds better if it’s a good one, and as a DJ you can blend songs with total ease.