Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mixing Software Compared, Part 1

If you're looking at different software options, you're in luck today! I know the web isn't exactly flooded with head-to-head DJ comparisons, so I'd like to contribute my personal experiences. Like everything, mixing software has its pluses and minuses. If I were to compare every detail of these softwares, I'd have to dedicate an entire blog to it... so I will be limiting this comparison to what I consider to be important aspects of each. What I do not compare in this article will be covered in another in the future. First:


Serato Itch (Version 1.0)

It is free software designed to be used with Serato's integrated software-hardware solutions. Serato has integrated with a select few midi controllers, including Numark NS7 and Vestax VCI-300. The software interface itself is known for being very stable, simple, and fast to use. The DJ is expected to pay more attention to the midi-controller hardware instead of the software, since Itch mostly displays just the songs, waveforms, time, pitch, and BPM. The controllers display volume, cue points, and other options. It is very important to select the controller layout you like best, since you will not be reconfiguring any button layouts in Itch. It comes as-is essentially. It's best known for it's ease of use, stability, and accuracy. This is a great software for anyone just getting into DJing with the computer. Itch and its corresponding controllers are not very compatible with anything else, so I would avoid this software-hardware combo if you are interested in customizing your hardware or software setup to your liking. It is the Mac of the DJ world - works great, but its options are limited and exclusive to the manufacturer.


Atomix Virtual DJ Pro (Version 6.0)

Virtual DJ Pro is a favorite amongst many digital DJs, although it is not my personal favorite. It is stable and laid out nicely. I personally like the flare of the spinning records, and the waveforms are easy to beatmatch, since the beats of each track are marked on top of one another. You can zoom in on the waveforms in this software, which can be tedious at times but a welcome feature! The waveforms are displayed as Peak Amplitude (zero to positive peak), instead of the traditional Peak to Peak amplitude (negative peak to positive peak). I don't care for the lack of high-resolution full screen skins, but some are downloable on the forums. The number of effects that are available are limited in comparison to Traktor, but they are more than enough if you are not an FX junky. The software can save multiple cue-points in memory too. The thing I like the best about this program is the Sample Player & Recorder. You can record your own sound samples to throw in on top of the mix, so you can throw in a siren in parts of the song and increase/decrease the volume of the siren. This software is great for a beginner-intermediate DJ because it is very straight-forward and easy to use. It is compatible with most midi-controllers, although you will have to configure the button layouts. If you are new to DJing or are looking for something that's not too simple but not too complex, this is a great program!


Native Instruments Traktor Pro (Version 1.2.3)

Traktor Pro is an updated version of Traktor 3, and Traktor LE is the limited edition (can't record, only 2 decks, fewer FX, etc.). Any Traktor version can upgrade to Pro (for a price). This is my personal favorite in-the-mix mixing software. It is not as much fun to look at as Serato or Virtual DJ, but it is well organized and has many good options. It is a stable, professional software that offers 2 or 4 decks to mix between, more effects than you'll ever need, and lots of customization options. It is not an overwhelming software, such as production software, and its accuracy is heavily dependant on the user. Traktor's auto-beatmatching is OK by default, but it will screw your mixes up if you rely on it. Obviously you can beatmatch by ear, but if you really want to auto-beatmatch.. the beatgrid is just for you! You can adjust the overlaid beatgrid so it lines up with the beats - this is tedious, but you can auto-beatmatch just about anything with this method. Another method is to use the built-in Tap BPM counter. Traktor Pro saves many cue points, and multiple effects can be chained onto each deck. All of the mixing is done in the software, and it is compatible with most (if not all) midi-controllers. Traktor LE is GREAT for a beginner because it just gives you the basics to work with, and then you can upgrade to Pro once you are comfortable. This software is not overly complicated, but it is not extremely straight-forward either. I wish Traktor would give more options for viewing their waveforms, such as including more colors and a zoom function.


Ableton Live (Version 8.0)

Live can be used as a studio production tool or a live mixing tool. Beatmatching is fairly automated, and LIVE will match the music bars of two audio tracks for you, which makes it difficult for the user to mess up when bringing in another piece of audio. It is great for mixing instruments, loops, and vocals together to produce a complete song. Also included is a large library of audio loops and tracks. This software is great if you enjoy clicking/punching buttons and turning knobs, but you do not want vinyl emulation for scratching or song scrolling. It's great for electronic music production and remixes! If you have a band, it's a good software for producing your personal music also. I must admit that this is not the easiest software to learn, since there are so many options, but it can be very fun. I recommend investing in a Controller Pad instead of a DJ Midi Controller for this software.


Summary

As always, it comes down to personal preference and the user's needs. For someone converting to digital DJing from vinyl turntables and cds or a beginner with a large budget, you may want to consider Serato Itch or Scratch (not reviewed here). If you want something that's customizable and easy to use, you may want to consider Atomix Virtual DJ. If you want something to be customizable and is a bit more complicated, Traktor Pro is for you. Finally, if you don't care about spinning the jogwheels/platters on a DJ midi-controller and you want accurate music production, Ableton LIVE is for you!

5 comments:

  1. nice overview. you might also want to mention the midi mapping capabilities a bit more. traktor's integrated capabilities seem to be quite powerful yet easy to use. virtual dj seems to surpass traktor in flexibility, allowing little scripts to be written since the latest version, however its quite unintuitive.

    anyways i have added your feed to http://pipes.yahoo.com/digitaldj/planet

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  2. Thanks for the addition to Planet Digital DJ!

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  3. You forgot Mixxx -- the open source, completely free DJ software. :)

    http://mixxx.org

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  4. Great info for anyone overwhelmed as to what DJ software to get.

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