Best USB Drives for DJing – CDJs, XDJs, Rekordbox (2023)


Best USB Drives for DJing - CDJs, XDJs, Rekordbox (2022)

People are always asking me which USB drives to use for CDJs/Rekordbox. Also, they’re asking me about which SSD to purchase, and I’ve got something to say about that.

I noticed that young DJs often look at the Read speed of USB sticks, which is not much of a factor you’d think you’d have to concern yourself with. Reading WAVs to four separate media players doesn’t cap out USB drives (except if you have antique ones). 

Write speed is crucial because if you want to add some last few songs to your set, or somehow your USB drive got unsafely removed, and you want to rewrite it rapidly, every second matters.

In this article, I will write about USB drives (and some SSDs) that I know work without any issues and with high speed in Rekordbox and on most if not all, CDJs.

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Best USB Drives for DJing

I conducted research online (mostly on Reddit) to see which USB drives DJs mostly use.

I found 128 people discussing USBs for CDJs and Rekordbox.

Here’s what USB drives they use:

Samsung BAR Plus

I’ve used many different ones over the years, but I ordered three of these 128GB steel Samsung Bar Plus drives over the last year, and I’m super happy with them.

Lightweight, durable, super-fast loading (takes ~3S to load up the stick on insertion, even with 50GB used on each of them in ~50+ playlists), and the hole for stringing a keyring through them is solid steel and doesn’t seem breakable.

I configure, customize, and create fresh playlists in Rekordbox on the first USB, format the second, and clone the first to the second one before going to gigs. 

One USB waits on my keyring, and the other on a string attached to the ring that only gets off when I’m able to play. 

If you’re looking for a USB stick for CDJ or XDJ capable of granting swift execution at a low price, this one has writing speeds of up to 200MB/S (real numbers) and a read speed of up to 300MB per second and is a great choice. 

SanDisk Extreme Pro

Coming from one of the most recommended brands, SanDisk Extreme Pro really does the job. My brother has a 256 GB drive, and it blazes through 4k songs.

He said it’s extremely fast and that he transferred 550 tracks / 7 GB in like 10 seconds. 

He was put onto those by James Hype and now has five of them. They’re his regular go-to USB drives. Maybe even the fastest out there, and very, very affordable. 

If you want the ultimate speed from drives, SanDisk Extreme Pro is the one. Pioneer DJ support used to recommend the former model of these, and they are truly like rockets.

The only downside is that they are pretty large, very difficult to lose, and very easy to knock if you’re clumsy. I’ve also had the pro version and regular ones, and they’ve been great. 

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He paid $70 for the 256 GB model, but you can check the price on Amazon.

There are two USB drives that I’ve had no luck with, and some people do swear by it. 

It’s KingstonDataTraveler that died on me fully corrupted after about three weeks. I also didn’t get on well with Corsair Flash Survivor. 

Now some DJs do seem to recommend those. But if you head to the Pioneer DJs forum, you’ll notice that in May of 2021 (here’s the link), they said they don’t suggest them for use with CDJs and certain XDJs. 

Pro tip: create a notepad file on your SSD/USB named “If found, please contact” and write your name, address, and phone number on it.

One day I forgot one of my USBs at a gig, and a few days later, I got a text from the promoter saying he found my USB at the end of the night. Met up with him for a quick beer and received my USB back.

What to Consider When Buying a USB for DJing?

Except for capacity, is there anything else that makes a USB drive ‘better’ than others?

Speed is the most critical feature of USB drives but is usually misunderstood.

Why is speed so critical?

Well, it’s not actually so much for playback. WAV or AIF files played at once to three media players from one USB drive will need less than 1 MB per second read speed, which virtually any USB stick can handle.

A faster read speed can improve the CDJ’s or XDJ’s ability to be more snappy when scanning and searching for songs.

A good USB processing speed is also hugely important if you don’t want to spend hours waiting for your tracks to transfer from Rekordbox to your drive. 

There are four USB standards that you’ll come across in 2022: USB 2.0, USB 3.0, USB 3.1, and USB 3.2.

All four vary in theoretical maximum speeds. But just because a USB stick is marked as one or the other doesn’t really reveal its real-world speed at all.

For example, when I first began playing around with my XDJ-XZ, I bought some 3.0 USB drives, thinking that if I have a laptop with USB 3.0 ports, and it’s a USB 3.0 drive, that’s going to be fast.

I was very wrong. In fact, it was slower than the cheap USB 2.0 SanDisk I’d had for common use up to that point. I was shocked.

So how do you know which USB is actually fast? Well, I usually advise buying USB and SSD drives from Amazon and no third-party sellers, just Amazon Direct.

When you go to the product page, you’ll regularly find CrystalDiskMark tests in the reviews that give you a rough guide to the actual speed of a USB drive. It’s a free program for Windows if you want to check your existing media. For MacBook, use the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test.

A brand is not that important, here’s why

From this talk on USB flash drives at Shmoocon (American hacker convention), we can learn that the name brand of flash drives is meaningless. 

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What is inside is in perpetual flux. Two USB sticks in the same buyer packaging on the shelf, have the same barcode, identical plastic drives, etc., and can contain completely different flash chips and flash drive controller chips under the hood.

Real-life advice: just purchase some USB sticks, find one that works, work with it, and look after it. It’s quite a crapshoot of what is within. There’s no point in owning a specific brand/size/packaging all the time.

There are “monolithic” USB sticks (power + data links of a USB connector, flash memory chip, and USB flash drive controller chip) encased in epoxy. 

If you need something that generally will be more immune to being snapped in two (because it’s rough 1/8th the volume of a big “thumb” stick), get one of those. Sometimes the large “thumb” drives are monolithic sticks with a huge empty plastic case.

How much storage do most DJs stick to?

Well, 64/128 gig is usually the sweet spot for most people. That’s roughly 5000 tracks in mp3 format, enough for even open-format mixing.

If you have a large collection (over 20k tracks) and want it ALL on USB, it will be a nightmare to locate the song you want and mix it in in time on a CDJ. 

That’s unless you have a remarkably well-organized library with small playlists and you know precisely where to find a specific song.

Also, Rekordbox prepared CDJ USB (with your cues, loops, and tags as set in Rekordbox) will take too long to add more songs every time.

That’s the reason why most DJs stick to a 128Gb USB max and have multiple USBs. 

I’ve been that guy who wanted to have his whole 2TB collection available on CDJ’s. Only to find out that a CDJ is not a computer. And my collection is well structured.

And trust me, the collection on the CDJ USB makes all the difference. I always format my CDJ USBs every three syncs because syncing to a newly formatted USB by then is faster than syncing a few new tracks to an existing collection.

If you are talking about “just a drive with a bunch of tracks, copied over using the Finder/Explorer,” sure, then it won’t take too long to transfer music. 

But you won’t have any DJ metadata such as grids, cues, loops, or even playlists on a CDJ. 

There are a few more factors that you need to consider regarding capacity:

File types: If all your tracks are in AIFF format, you won’t be able to store too many tracks and playlists since they’re much bigger than other audio file types. 

Will the USB be for storing songs and playlists? If yes, then 64GB is fine. If you want to hold backups and all additional bits and bobs, then you’ll want 128GB probably.

Why You Should Consider External SSD for DJing

Now let’s talk external hard drives. At this point, it’s really difficult to suggest an old-school spinning hard drive for any purpose. Except you need terabytes and terabytes of storage.

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Some people still have concerns about the lifespan of solid-state SSD drives, but I’ll take that over the inherent fragility of spinning drives all day long. People shouldn’t be worried about vibration or the dropped or heated drive. SSD is just the way forward. It’s also much, much faster. 

For example, a 7200 RPM hard drive is about as fast as a consumer spinning drive ever gets. And it gets absolutely smoked by this SanDisk 1TB External SSD

I’ve been really impressed by the SanDisk. It’s barely larger than the bigger SanDisk USB drives but comes in sizes up to a terabyte, super-solid, and reliable. The only downside is the price. It’s more expensive.

An alternative is to buy an internal 2.5-inch SSD and a separate enclosure. This 480GB Lexar SSD costs around $45. And combined with one of these really simple ugreen USB 3.0 cables, you’ve got a super-fast, super reliable external SSD for cheap. 

If the enclosure dies, just throw that drive into a new one. With the cost of a normal SSD getting ever cheaper, this is the standard external drive setup of many DJs who don’t want to spend much and are afraid of SSDs dying on them but want more storage.

I can’t do the sales thing. It’s not really my style. The main point is you’ve got to look after your USB, but you’ve got to pick the right one. And for me, it’s always worked out to be Samsung or SanDisk. It may be other names for you. 

When you discover something that works for you, duplicate it. If you find a USB stick you like, order a few more, three more, maybe bring three of them. Because you want that security, you want that backup. If the device gets lost or broken, you need to be ready to keep the party moving. 

SD card is also an option to consider

The best SD cards for CDJs and XDJs come with the least Class 10 class or UHS-I Speed Class of 1. While these can be a little more costly, they can be well worth it. They’re not only faster than regular but also way safer.

While 128GB is generally enough for me, I decided to push things further and picked up this SanDisk 256GB SD card a while back. 

Speeds are decent, and I was stoked to discover that most CDJs cope fine with that number of tracks, up to 20,000 mp3 files. Although I’m normally a SanDisk user, it certainly impressed me with its endurance to go strong for over two years. 

The CDJ-2000 Nexus and XDJ-XZ both feature SD card slots. And the value of an SD card is that it goes directly into the device.

That makes it super difficult for someone to steal or to knock. And if I’m doing a changeover with other DJs, the SD card slots are normally free, making that changeover easier. 

I still carry USB drives as not all CDJs support cards. But if I have the choice, I’m always on an SD card. 

Worth considering if you frequently use high-end CDJs. 

Tray Fiddy

Tray has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous DJ.... but that hasn't stopped him from mixing and researching audio equipment. Tray has over 12 years of experience DJing at home and events.

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