Many years before starting Codec Moments, Matt and Andy used to be professional DJs; to drop a few names they worked alongside the likes of Zane Lowe, The Cut Up Boys, Judge Jules and Trevor Nelson. Both learned to mix on old belt drive turntables, in the olden days before CD mixing became the norm, well before laptops and tablets became a DJ staple and replaced the record box. At that time Final Scratch and Traktor DJ Studio were still fairly new technology, so we stuck mostly to the trusty Technics 1210s and prestigious Pioneer CDJ-2000s. For them vinyl is the first thing that comes to mind when talking about mixing and scratching and it’s something that’s been extensively emulated in recent CD and mp3 decks that are becoming cheaper every day; so when Andy suggested they try out some DJ apps he’s been using recently on the iPad, Matt insisted they compare them to what they know best.
No instructions were given to Matt on how the apps worked and he’s never used them before, providing a baseline to establish how intuitive they are and so Andy could laugh at him. This is done with the home DJ in mind as if you’re a professional, you’ve probably got this all covered anyway.
The kit we used for this comparison was:
- a pair of direct drive Stanton T92 turntables,
- a Denon DN-S3700 CD/mp3 deck (with vinyl emulation),
- a Pioneer CDJ-1000 mk3 (used as an iPad stand),
- a Gemini PS424X 2-Channel mixer,
- a 3rd generation iPad mini.
“First up was Cross DJ, which looks familiar in that it resembles a twin deck and mixer setup. It was fairly simple to figure out what it was showing and how to load a track into each deck. Play and cue were also straightforward ‘button’ pushes, and the touchscreen used to manipulate the digital record to the right points. BPM setting via the pitch controls, and the use of pitch bend to bring the beats in line with what was already playing, were reasonably well implemented if a little bit sensitive. One thing I did notice was the play/cue ‘button’ was not overly responsive and would not activate 100% of the time, and it was disappointing that you couldn’t cue up a second track without it overlaying the audio on what you can hear. Cross DJ is definitely not a replacement for a pair of turntables, but in a pinch you can use it as an additional input when you’ve got your music collection on your tablet.”
“Cross DJ is in the same vein as many of the other DJ apps on the market, replicating the traditional twin deck and mixer. The app is easy and intuitive to use, but the cue and start buttons aren’t quite punchy enough for my liking and cue flat out refused to work on a number of occasions. The auto-sync function is mostly good, but will every now and again completely misjudge the song selection, meaning it’s always better to keep an eye on it if you’re having a party. It’s a good starter app for those willing to switch the sync function off as they start beat matching, and at £2.99 on iOS and Android you can’t really go wrong.”
“Traktor is an amazing piece of software on the iPad; the trick to it is taking the time to learn how it works by setting your cue points and ensuring your beat grids are properly mapped. If you do this you can have flawless mixes time and after time. Now many traditionalists (Matt) will say that this isn’t DJing, but it enables to focus on other key skills that are required for great DJs such as showmanship and most importantly, song selection. Traktor analyses the music library on your device for BPM and key detection, allowing you to perform harmonic mixing with greater ease. It’s expensive for an app at £13.99, but if you want comprehensive mixing software on your iPad (it’s also available on iPhone and it’s cheaper for that version), then this is the one to get.”
“Finally I got my hands on Pacemaker, probably the least recognisable of the bunch because it looks more like it should be on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise instead of plugging into a mixer. That said, it was surprisingly easy to use once you’ve played around for a couple of minutes and worked out the symbols. Tempo setting and pitch bending was easy and intuitive and felt most like the controls of a physical deck, and I probably had the most success in using this as an input source than the other two programs. I like the clean interface and the fact it didn’t try to be something it’s not, and the effects built in were pretty comprehensive. The downside is that music selection is a pain. For some reason the track selection screen shows you everything you own on iTunes and not just what’s on the device, so scrolling and selecting a tune becomes laborious.”
“I love Pacemaker for the fact that it’s an original yet immediately understandable interface, that isn’t straight up imitating vinyl or CD mixing. It’s free too for the basic software that allows you to mix tracks, then you can add the bells and whistles should you feel so inclined (at the time we tried it, we were able to unlock all six effects for £2.69). Unlike Cross-DJ the cue and play functions are punchy; to set a cue point you need to pinch zoom the track waveform, letting you accurately pick your start point. Sadly, unlike Traktor and Cross DJ you can only set one cue point, which means you can’t mark-up breakdowns and other sections of interest that you might like to drop into other songs with ease. On the plus side, Pacemaker will link with your Spotify account allowing you to stream songs from that when you have a connection.”
Which of the DJ apps would we pick though? We didn’t prefer any of them over the other equipment, but to be fair a few hours of use can’t compare to years of practice with the more traditional tools; there was something missing in the lack of tactility that made us think it would take a while to get used to using a touchscreen device. The lack of ability to cue tracks on one of the digital decks, whilst the other is playing is frustrating; OK, we know it’s possible to split the output in all of these apps, but the degradation in sound quality put us off doing this in these circumstances (most nightclubs though use mono, so we’re attempting to ‘borrow’ one to test this in the future). The advantage that these devices have is the cost; we compared them to over £2000 worth of DJ equipment, so no wonder we seem critical. These DJ apps cost a fraction of that and allow you to make masterful mixes in your home, by plugging your iPad or tablet into an amplifier. With that in mind…
“I think I’d go with Pacemaker as my favourite, simply because it worked the best as a deck, and I could see it sat there as part of my home setup.”
“Traktor is the one for me. It’s the whole package and good enough to use professionally if you so pleased. It will elevate any house party to the nth degree!”
Let us know what you think of DJ apps, or if you’re still happy with a good old mix tape, in the comments below!