The future of DJing has arguably never been so uncertain: a cloud hangs over the future of the once mighty Technics turntables, leaving the concept of digital DJing in the spotlight like never before. New forms of software are appearing all the time, offering ambitious and creative DJs opportunities to turn their sets into unique performances.
Some software allows the user to experience feel of vinyl without lugging hundreds of records from club to club; others allow for music to be manipulated on the fly: live remixing if you will. With so many options at your disposal, the Juno experts tried and tested all of the major options on the market before coming up with this shortlist of the five best DJ software packages available. Read on to discover our recommendations…
Serato were early leaders in the digital mixing revolution, and despite increasing competition they have maintained their formidable reputation. The combination of the SL3 hardware and the Serato Scratch Live DJ software allows you to connect up to two regular vinyl turntables, CD players and a mixer to their computer to mix and scratch audio files. It’s sold as a complete package consisting of the SL3 audio interface, two control vinyls/CDs, four RCA cables, one USB cable, international power supply, Serato Scratch Live software and a carrying case.
The included control CDs and vinyl have Serato’s control signal which Scratch Live uses to track and simulate the same movement within the software. Users coming from a vinyl background will have no difficulty adjusting to this system which, with the Serato timecode, is indistinguishable from playing on vinyl. 24bit/48kHz convertors, USB 2.0 connection and studio grade phono pre-amps ensure high sound quality and an auxiliary input/output lets you get creative by hooking up a sampler, live feed or recording a live mix. The solid build, upgraded audio and hot outputs make the SL3 a regular fixture on the professional DJ circuit, and ensures it justifies its premium price tag.
Allowing up to four deck mixing with vinyl and CD control, Traktor Scratch Pro is one of the most complete and feature packed solutions available for digital DJs. With 28 professional effects, automatic beat-gridding of tracks, advanced beat detection and Sync Lock, a comprehensive track management system, as well as support for multiple MIDI controllers, Traktor Scratch Pro certainly doesn’t scrimp on features.
The high-end Audio 8 DJ interface is at the heart of the system. With a brushed aluminium casing and a slick black fascia, it certainly looks the part, but with 24 bit/96kHz and Cirrus Logic AD/DA converters, also sounds spot on. The rugged and weighty exterior of the interface and the two small handles which protrude from the front of the unit protect the knobs and buttons and safeguard your investment should it be dropped.
Connecting up is pretty simple thanks to Native Instruments’ Multicore cables, which also mean less unsightly entangled cables and a rock-solid sound and performance. Installation of the software is not as effortless as some Digital Vinyl Systems (DVS), however once up and running, use of the Traktor Pro software itself is intuitive and uncomplicated. The layout is clean and uncluttered, the vinyl control is extremely responsive when mixing or scratching, the built-in effects sound fantastic, and the ability to record your mixes within the software is a godsend.
One minor gripe with Traktor would be that the waveform display is slightly small and being only one colour, it’s not as easy as other DVS systems to spot breakdowns or changes in the track at a glance. That aside, Traktor Scratch Pro is one of the most serious contenders in the DVS rankings and certainly stands out from the crowd in a seemingly saturated market – no wonder it’s the professional’s choice.
Installation of the Ableton Live Intro software is fairly simple and straightforward even on a modest computer (in this case a PC with a 3.0Ghz Pentium 4 processor and 1GB of RAM, running Windows XP). Ableton Live virgins will welcome the ‘info view’ box at the bottom-left of the screen, which displays useful information about Live when hovering over things on-screen with the cursor. The ‘help view’ is also useful for a newbie, offering shortcuts, lessons, sounds and reference for navigating to the Ableton manual.
We suggest you start off with ‘a tour of Live’, which should get you up and running quickly. Creating the new arrangement can be fun and creative – a refreshing alternative from the usual monotonous ‘copy and paste’ style of arranging that people using traditional DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstations) are used to. Other lessons – including the ‘creating beats’ section – are also useful, even if you’ve never used any of Ableton’s software before.
Ableton’s accuracy is stunning: it gives the user the ability to mix tracks of completely different genres and tempos seamlessly. Being able to mix an old disco track (originally played on live instruments by musicians and possibly not totally tight, timing wise), seamlessly into a dubstep track, then into a country & western song is mind blowing. The creative possibilities of using Live Intro for producing, jamming, remixing tracks on-the-fly and DJing are huge.
After a 12 year run of gracing the pro audio market with high performance interfaces and controllers, M Audio have entered the digital DJ software space-race. It’s a somewhat surprising entry, especially when you take in to account the recent technological advances made by the likes of Rane & Native Instruments alongside the increasing number of budget imitations. A quick look at the impressive list of features and specifications quickly reassures you that this system does not fit into the latter category.
Out of the box the Conectiv USB interface connects with two pairs of RCA stereo inputs and outputs. It contains a pre-amp for connecting to turntables, a ¼” TRS microphone input and headphone out. The top panel boasts two large, firm knobs which allow you to seamlessly mix between the incoming analog audio from a turntable or CD player and the digital output of a connected Mac or PC. There are also line switches and a mic/monitor control room. Although the unit is made from plastic it doesn’t feel too cheap.
Once installed, the software appears to be intuitively laid out, although the small function icons take a little while to get used to. Just like its counterparts, you can mix with control vinyl, CD or internally if you choose. Torq’s browser will scan your computer’s iTunes database and supports Apple Lossless files alongside the usual WAV, MP3, AIFF, WMA, AAC file formats. The waveform display is not to everyone’s liking as it is split in half, making the peaks the only real point of reference. However its large size and zoom features make this manageable and the addition of a second, smaller full waveform on each deck make adding up to six cue points per track easy enough.
There’s an impressive amount of on-screen knobs and buttons which can be controlled by mouse, keyboard or MIDI controller. The centre-piece of these is the effects module, which aside from being bundled with ten basic effects will also load third party VST plug-ins. The tempo-synced sampler is a tasty feature which allows loaded samples to be manipulated on the fly and you can route the output of Torq to any ReWire-compatible host application (like Pro Tools M-Powered 7.3 or later) and share synchronization information between the programs. Some users may gripe about the fact that Torq only supports two decks overall, but somehow you get the sense that any more would over complicate this already feature packed little system.
The Mixvibes Cross Pack can be safely filed in the ‘lesser known DJ software’ category, but is well worth investigating. It boasts an impressive audio interface, which comes with a 4-In/6-Out soundcard that allows you to use it with the included timecode CDs and records. Earlier scratch systems had teething problems – losing the loop – because of the timecode quality, prompting Mixvibes to invent the quote-unquote ‘Ultimate Timecode CD’. Alternatively you can use Cross with your preferred MIDI controller.
Beneath the essential channel equalizers Cross lets you loop tracks in different steps from 16 to 1/8 bars. You can set locators that you can jump to, play the track in reverse mode or use the match and sync options. While using timecode media the smart anti-skip feature is very handy: if you are scratching and the needle bounces there is no interrupted sound in relative mode. Those who are looking for breakdowns can see the waveform of both tracks in the player and can zoom in or out to find a view that suits your needs.
There are several different ways to manage your media. The master media library allows you to add all your tracks and organise them by BPM, or you can use the media explorer if your tracks are stored in a clear structure on your computer. The iTunes integration allows you to import your whole iTunes library into Cross, playlists and all. If you mark a track in the collection, playlist or explorer you can see its cover and all information from the id3 tags.
Mixvibes deserve credit for implementing user feedback into new versions of Cross (in the upcoming update, for example, there will be three different effects voted by Mixvibes users). The popular Mixvibes forum is also a handy resource if you have trouble setting up your Cross Pack.
- Reviews: Dicken Lean, Stefan Balluff, Ben Daly.
- More info http://www.juno.co.uk/