Digital Crates: What are the best Flash Drives for DJs?

Amazingly, in just 15 years, we have gone from toting around a crate of 50 records that weighed 60 pounds to carrying five thousands songs on a small stick of gum that weighs a few ounces. Since many DJ’s entire set is carried on modern flash drives, is there a difference between them? Which ones are the best for high quality music storage? In today’s article, we are going to run down the different types of flash drives. on the market and which one’s should be considered for Pioneer CDJ’s.

USB Flash Drives For DJs

There is a lot of computer science that goes into making flash drives work but DJ’s only need to understand a few key concepts when looking for the right one to hold your music for a gig. Flash drives are the natural successors to floppy discs and CDs that allow for storage into the gigabytes (GB) compared to megabytes (MB).

All of Pioneer’s recent CDJ models such as the CDJ-2000NXS2 and XDJ-1000MK2 have the ability load media from flash drives alongside disk media. The latest model, the XDJ-1000MK2 (check out DJTT review), solely uses USB flash drives. They come in all shapes and sizes but run in different capacities due to their file systems and USB type.

File Systems

First of all, all CDJs use specific file systems when reading your tracks to be played. CDJs (and most media players for that matter) only read FAT16, FAT32 or HFS+ file systems from flash drives because they are great for indexing files (such as different tracks) and recalling the information quickly.

Most flash drives are FAT systems, but some rare cases such as NTFS, will have compatibility issues.

Speed – USB 2.0 or 3.0?

Secondly, when looking for USB flash drives, you need to pay attention to whether a drive is USB 2.0 or USB 3.0. The distinction between 2.0 and 3.0 is how fast a device can transfer data, with 3.0 being the fastest.

While most laptops on the market today have USB 3.0 capabilities, Pioneer CDJ’s do not. Avoid buying a USB 3.0 flash drive in hopes of faster track analyzing because it will only read it at USB 2.0 speeds. However, you will notice the increased speed with USB 3.0 when transferring music between a computer and the flash drive. To take advantage of USB 3.0 your computer must have USB 3.0 ports. Flash drives that use USB 3.0 are backwards compatible with USB 2.0 ports but will run at USB 2.0 speeds.

Not all USB drives are created equal in terms of speed. Just because two USB drives are USB 2.0/3.0 doesn’t mean the transfer rates will be the exact same. As you’ll see later in our USB drive comparison, the transfer speeds vary, even from the advertised speeds. Although both USB 2.0 and 3.0 have a max transfer speed (2.0 = 480Mbps, 3.0 = 4.8Gbps) most drives won’t reach these speeds. So you’ll need to dig a little deeper for the real transfer rate when you’re shopping for the fastest DJ USB drive.

Storage – How much space/music do you need?

The next thing to carefully consider when selecting a USB flash drive is storage size. Flash drives come in various sizes ranging from 1 GB all the way up to a whopping 512 GB, but the most common sizes will be in the 16 – 64 GB range. How many songs can we fit per GB? The file size of a 320kbps MP3 (Find out why we recommend 320kbps) ranges from 8 MB – 15MB, sometimes even larger depending on the length of the track.

To keep the math simple we’ll assume all of our songs are 10 MB. There is 1024 MB in 1 GB, therefore each GB gives us 100 songs. So a 16 GB flash drive should hold 1600 songs. The size required really depends on the DJ. If you play genre specific sets then you can probably get by with 16 GB. However if you’re a mobile/wedding DJ that needs to have a wide variety of music then you may need 64 GB.

SD Cards

Another form of flash media is the SD card. Unlike USB drives which are on most current Pioneer CDJ’s, SD cards are only on the CDJ 2000 and CDJ 2000 Nexus. These are just as portable as USB drives, but don’t protrude from the top. SD cards also have their own file systems you have to pay attention to because CDJs and most media players only accept SD and SDHC cards. SD stands for Secure Digital and SDHC stands for Secure Digital Higher Capacity.

They both perform in the same ways while the major difference being that SDHC cards hold more storage (4-32GB) than SD cards. An important factor on all cards is to consider the class of the card. This is the rated speed of the card and the maximum speed (MB/s) it can write/read. This is important to a DJ because the faster the track can be read, the faster it can be loaded and played.

Choosing Your Digital Storage Crate

Now that we know more about how storage systems work, choosing a flash drive comes down to a few important characteristics:

  1. Speed
  2. Storage Size
  3. Durability

Below is a list of flash drives that we found to work best with Pioneer CDJ’s. This list is based on the criteria above and affordability.

Best USB Flash Drives for Pioneer CDJ’s

Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth (Most Durable)

Advertised Speed: USB 3.0, Read = 85 MB/s, Write = 70 MB/s
Real Speed: Average Read = 55 MB/s, Average Write = 26.3 MB/s*
Storage: 64 GB (other sizes available)
Size: 7.5 x 1.8 x 5.4 inches
Enclosure: Hard-anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum housing
Price: $54.99 (Available on Amazon)

SanDisk Extreme CZ80 (Fastest)

Advertised Speed: USB 3.0, Read = 245 MB/s, Write = 190 MB/s
Real Speed: Average Read = 156 MB/s, Average Write = 107 MB/s*
Storage: 64 GB (other sizes available)
Size: 0.4 x 0.8 x 2.8 inches
Enclosure: Plastic, retractable USB
Price: $47.99 (Available on Amazon)

SanDisk Ultra Fit CZ43 (Great Value)

Advertised Speed: USB 3.0, up to 130MB/s read speed
Real Speed: Average Read = 86.5 MB/s, Average Write = 24.7 MB/s*
Storage: 64 GB (other sizes available)
Size: 0.8 x 0.6 x 0.4 inches
Enclosure: Plastic cover
Price: $32.99 (Available on Amazon)

SanDisk Cruzer Force CZ71

Speed: USB 2.0, Average Read = 19.9 MB/s, Average Write = 3.98 MB/s*
Storage: 32 GB (other sizes available)
Size: 1.4 x 0.3 x 0.5 inches
Enclosure: Durable metal casing
Price: $19.89 (Available on Amazon)

Kingston Data Traveller SE9

Speed: USB 2.0, Average Read = 18.8 MB/s, Average Write = 6.83 MB/s*
Storage: 32 GB (other sizes available)
Size: 1.5 x 0.2 x 0.4 inches
Enclosure: Durable, sleek metal casing
Price: $14.66 (Available on Amazon)
*Real Speed data came from USB Userbenchmark

The Wrap

There are no shortage of USB flash drives on the market, both good and bad. We did our best to narrow it down to some solid choices. As a final note, be sure to avoid freebie or generic USB flash drives. These use low quality components and the transfer speeds are usually very poor. We hope this list makes it easier for you decide on a high quality USB flash drive to pick up for your next CDJ set.

Over to you: What USB flash drives do you rely on for DJing? Let us know in the comments below!

CDJ 200 Nexuscdj-2000nxs2cdj-900 nexusdigital crateflash drivepioneer cdjSD cardUSB 2.0usb 3.0USB Flash Drivexdj-1000xdj-700XDJ-RX2
Comments (66)
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  • Luiz Zen

    After reading this post, I bought the 64gb version of Sandisk Extreme CZ80. I then started reading that Pioneer CDJs have some kind of limitation on the size of a USB stick, being it 32gb.
    Is that true? 🙁

  • Anna Nelson

    Amazing work! I’m influenced together with your written work aptitudes. Making USB reinforcement duplicates of bodily media has dependably been a predicament for some people corporations. SD Memory Card

  • Best Equipment For Digital Dj | Computer DJ Traktor

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  • Aryan Sharma

    I took this a step further and got better results in both read/write speeds as well as keeping my data safe, with an upgrade in memory size. All I did was buy a 2.5 inch ssd 120 gb drive and stick into an external USB enclosure. Bought a very sturdy mini USB to USB cable, et voilà! Now I don’t worry about speed OR space. I get amazing transfer speeds, even from rekordbox. This is definitely an option you could look into. Cost me about the same as two sandisk extremes.

  • Irvin Cee

    I would avoid long (=standard length) usb sticks and would go for as short as posible. The long ones stick so high out of a cdj that accidents prone to happen. Damaging your stick and the cdj. Or maybe use a short extension cord so it doesn’t stick out.

  • Diogo Moreira

    Hs anyone ever heard of an encrypt able flash drive that can be unlock via an app? I’ve seen a DJ performing last weekend and he plugged his flash drive on the cdj but it wouldn’t read it before he got his cellphone and typed the unlock code. Only then the cdj was able to read the drive.

  • Maxime (BM)

    Here is one of the usb stick I use for my gigs.
    I made it with a roe deer antler I found in the forest.

  • Rich Curtis

    I’ve been using hard-disk drives ever since the CDJ2000 was released and had no trouble – except on cheaper CDJ models like the 850. Usually I’ll start a gig with a 32gb Sandisk stick containing only my playlists for the specific gig/tour, but will always have the 2TB HDD ready (or even plugged in) as a backup and source of extra music if needed

  • Garrett Cox

    I would think a low profile would be best for CDJs. Imagine someone learing over and knocking it, or as your hands are moving, either knocking it out and franticly looking for it, or breaking the usb port, and needing to repair your player.

  • guest 2

    Does anyone here use portable hard drives with the nexus? I am interested in swapping to this for storage as i have too much to store on flash drives.

  • Michael Wagner

    I used to use the Kingston Data Travelers but lately have been partial to the San Disk Ultra fits.

  • Wojciech Trusewicz


    great article BUT I found one mistake plus one new aspect.

    The class of the SD cards is it’s MINIMAL sustained speed it can read/write.

    And, for me, the most important aspect of a flash drive is it’s shape! I’d stay away from everything that is long – the smallest one is the best one. Having a long flash drive is an easy way to permanently damage itself or USB port – especially during a gig, heat of the moment, dark DJ booth, alcohol and things…

    Pretec Bulletproof – water/fire/shock resistant and the biggest I can imagine to be rather safe
    or some of the micro-drives like
    Patriot Tab (slow write but fast read speed, all metal housing, it’s great as a main drive and backup – always on your bag/keys/neckles)
    or some Sandisk Ultra-fit and similar.

  • Guest

    In your post you mention 3 factors to consider: speed, storage size (capacity), and durability. Another consideration you missed, whenever you use flash technology, is endurance. Flash chips can only have data written to them a limited number of times before their fail. There is also a limit of the reads, but writes tend to be much more restrictive. Endurance is a metric that will tell you how many times a flash device can be written to before failure.

    The better flash products out there will have technology on board that help manage this and protect your data, this is called a groomer which will move data from blocks that are starting to fail to blocks that still have some lifespan left in them.

    This is an important consideration for both DJs and photographers to keep in mind, because like any other digital equipment you need to be aware of your points of failure. Have backups of your data, and if you’re playing a gig, have spare Flash devices just in case.

  • partofthepuzzle

    Am I the only one who’s concerned that having the USB drives sticking straight up out of the deck is an AWTH (Accident Waiting To Happen)? I saw one DJ accidentally smack the drive while he as playing. It popped out but luckily it wasn’t damaged and he was able to put it back in and go on. Worse case scenario: knocking into it could damage the USB slot.

    Possible solution: use an USB extender cable so you place the drive somewhere safe.

    • boof

      Holy shit! DJTT needs to make chroma cable like this.
      Like the original, the male end would be at a right angle.

      It shouldn’t be too hard to match the profile of some the smaller drives.

  • Discern

    The best, tuffest, and smallest to me is the Verbatim Tuff’n’Tiny

    • Discern


  • bkbikenerd

    I rock something similar to the Kingston Data Traveller SE9 but made by Team. The Team C125 64GB made of steel not aluminum. It’s pretty hardy. It’s been on my keychain with most of my music for years. I recommend it because it’s not easily damaged and Serato has no problem playing mp3s from it. I have never tried ALAC of FLAC files.

  • DJ ERV

    Hasn’t Failed Me Yet…

  • Kiano

    i use 16 gb max capacity, because bigger drive’s tend to break. in any case 16 gb is enough space for bunch of songs.

    • Spencer Conwell

      Please for the love of god somebody tell me where I can buy these.

      • Spencer Conwell

        Edit, I’m a dummy, right there in your link.

    • Mark Smith

      Way too expensive for the amount of memory you get.

    • Michael Baumgartner

      I’ve got one. I got them gifted to when I bought the xdj 1000s. They are rather slow. I imagine they could be a little annoying in a dark club…

    • Stuart Sleigh

      i have 2 bro

  • Scott Frost

    I use the Sony vaults. Good balance of speed. Mp3s are small anyway so you won’t notice much speed issues. They are also aluminum and seem tough. 64gb

  • alfredo otero

    whatever you do, never ever use a mimobot, those things look cool, but are a piece of crap, and won’t work. trust me, I learned it the bad way

    • Tom Cobbly

      Made me feel sad to belong to the human race when I saw that site 🙁

  • tony corless

    I stick to 32 gig max as if I need to format it I can do this on a windows machine without needing any 3rd party software,or am I missing something?

  • Scribbl3

    I’m a flash drive junkie. I have some serious commitment issues. I still haven’t found “the one.” So many choices, so little time.

    • Ryan Dejaegher

      Hey Scribbl3, what are some of the drives you’ve used so far?

      • Scribbl3

        I have the Kingston drive mentioned in the article on my keychain. It’s the only drive that has lasted any period of time on their. I’ve been through various Kingston and Sandisk drives. Recently I’ve found PNY drives to be pretty good. Fast write speeds (faster than the Sandisk drives that I’ve been using). I will say that everything I do has been on USB 2.0.

  • Nebouxii

    I use these ones. Doesn’t get more “stick” than this and they are a real conversation starter. Never thought of it that way in the first place, but every DJ that plays after me simply starts talking to me and everyone thinks they’re awesome. “Were did you get these?”, “Did you make them yourselves?”,…

    • Casin Noah

      good article guys. where’d you get the stick? analog/digital fusion very nice.

  • zzzuperfly

    not related but i looked for the footwork article and it seems broken

  • killmedj

    I would recommend naming your drive as your name and phone number when you format it as well.
    Those SD cards can be pretty exxy!
    I have 4 128 GB SD’s which I’ve found in CDJs just in the last 6 months alone!

    • Ryan Dejaegher

      Great suggestion! I can only imagine how many “digital crates” end up in a lost and found.

    • Sandeep Kumar

      how’d you use a 128GB SD card in a CDJ, the manual says the max for SD card is 32 GB…. I literally just bought 2X 32GB SD cards for this reason

      • killmedj

        oops I meant USB =/

  • Robert Wulfman

    I always make sure to look for designs that don’t have removable caps as those things get lost easily. also be careful with drives in funny shapes as those might not always fit in the slot you need to stick it in

    • Unreallystic

      Agreed for the most part, you need to take care that the drive you get is easy to keep up with, and won’t “lose parts”. There are fancy looking drives you can find on amazon, but durability is WAY more important. I love the drives like the CZ43, they are small enough that you can put them into a USB port, and leave them there – without fear of them breaking off.

  • Meta at em

    I’ve had good results from the kingston data traveler. Kingston also makes a black and blue semi-waterproof rubber stick that’s a little more expensive, but very reliable. Counterfeits are also something to consider when buying flash drives. There’s a not insignificant amount of lower quality fakes out there.

    • Dean Zulueta

      I agree. The Kingston data travelers are great and I have never had one fail on me.

      • andre holland

        For 6 monts I use the scandisk ultrafit 64gb and they work so fine for me.
        There are so small that guest don’t see them in my gear.

        But 64 GB is not enouf becouce I use WAV, not mp3.
        I like to see a test with ssd’s

        • Sandeep Kumar

          my Ultrafit 64GB is painfully slow with Rekordbox, has anyone else had the same issue??

    • Dan White

      I’ve been duped before by SD card counterfeits as well – always check your actual capacity and access speed when you get a drive delivered!