Tuesday, November 30, 2010

selection of the 5 best DJ software packages

Rane Serato Scratch Live SL3

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 three 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.

The Serato Scratch Live software is well laid out with a simple interface split into three main sections. You'll see two decks with waveforms, cue points and loops on the top, effects in the middle and below that the filebrowser. Scratch Live 2.1.1 also has support for the Pioneer CDJ-2000 & CDJ-900s "advanced HID mode" including library navigation, album art, overview display and highly responsive platter control. Support for The Bridge also means that you can play back your Ableton Live sets through Scratch Live and trigger clips from the Ableton Player as well as record your mixtapes as a multitrack Ableton file.

Native Instruments Traktor Scratch Pro
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.

Ableton Live Suite 8

Suite 8 is the flagship of Ableton's award winning Live Range, and as such is much more than a digital mixing tool. The four-DVD boxed set contains Live 8 itself, a core library of samples and presets, the full set of Ableton's software instruments, a collection of loops and samples from Cycling 74 and Zero-G, a library of Latin percussion instruments and samples, version 2 of the Essential Instruments Collection (EIC), and two DVDs dedicated to session drums. In total there's a possible 48GB, to install so it's worth making sure that you've got sufficient hard disk space.

The options for DJing give the user the ability to mix tracks of completely different genres and tempos seamlessly. Being able to mix an old disco track (originally played using live instruments with variable timing) seamlessly into a dubstep track with total accuracy is mind-blowing. Live sets can also be shared and synchronised with other Ableton users over the internet, via the dedicated file-browser pane.

The creative possibilities for on the fly remixing make Suite 8 unique in its class. You can re-sample in real time or overdub jam using Live's comprehensive range of VST instruments and sound libraries, allowing you to add improvised tracks to your DJ set, or to add edits of your favourite records to your live set.

It doesn't stop there though - Live 8 offers numerous hi-specification features such as powerful MIDI sequencing of software and hardware instruments, 32-bit/192 kHz multitrack recording, and effect racks for professional-grade mixing and mastering. Combine all this with Ableton's completely unique warping and real-time time-stretching capabilities, high grade synthesis generators, instrument and drum racks, and effectively you've got a both a digital DJ set-up and a complete studio in one.

M Audio Torq Conectiv Vinyl/CD Pack
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 1/4" 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.

MixVibes CROSS Pack
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.

This information was supplied to me via E-mail from Juno records.