All the way back in 2007, I starting this blog with a simple poll to determine which DJ software is the best. Since then, the DJ industry has changed, and along with that, so have the choices in DJ software. It is impossible to claim a particular software is “the best” for every DJ. Which particular DJ program for you will all depend on what kind of DJ you are, and what you strive to be in the future.
In this article, I’ll lay out a few different DJ scenarios and suggest which software may be best for each type of DJ.
The Best DJ Software for “The Budget, I Don’t Want to Pay for Software, Beginner DJ”
If you’re just thinking of becoming a DJ and want to try mixing tracks with no monetary risk, there are a couple of good DJ software options available for you.
The first I would like to talk about is Mixxx (available at www.mixxx.org). Mixxx is an open source DJ software that is completely free and available for both Mac and PC, and is probably the most feature packed free software options.
Mixxx really has everything you need to start DJing with your laptop: dual decks, looping, hotcues, key-lock, and it supports mp3, m4a/aac, flac, wave, ogg vorbis, and aiff formats. It also has EQ and crossfader control so there is no need for an external mixer to fade and eq tracks.
Other nice features of Mixxx include 4 sample decks, solid music library management (crates and playlists, disk browsing, and iTunes integration,) BPM detection and sync, and auto DJ mode which will fade tracks from a predetermined playlist (perfect for dinner music at a wedding or that much needed potty break).
Another popular and completely free DJ software program is Virtual DJ Home edition. Although the Home edition does not have all of the bells and whistles of the paid versions of Virtual DJ (VirtualDJ Pro Basic – $99 and VirtualDJ Pro Full – $299), it is still a great option for beginner DJs to “get their feet wet”.
Virtual DJ Home includes many of the same features as the paid Virtual DJ options including support for multiple decks, key-lock, BPM detection and sync, loops, sampler, and support for video files. However, if you plan on upgrading to a midi controller, using vinyl or CD timecodes, or using an external mixer, the Virtual DJ Home edition just isn’t going to cut it. It does not support separate deck audio out, midi, or vinyl or CD timecodes, so with Virtual DJ Home, you are pretty much stuck mixing on your laptop (unless you decide to make the jump into a Virtual DJ paid option).
The nice thing about Virtual DJ Home is that it is a nice little “gateway” product to the Virtual DJ paid options. One you are accustomed to the basic features in Virtual DJ Home, jumping into one of the paid options is a fairly quick and painless transition. I actually know a lot of professional DJs that use Virtual DJ Basic or Pro at all of their gigs with minimal issues. It is without a doubt one of the best and most popular DJ software programs currently on the market.
You can learn more about Virtual DJ and download the software at www.virtualdj.com.
The Best DJ Software for “The Mobile DJ”, aka Wedding/Party/School Dance DJ
Once a beginner DJ has mastered the basics of laptop DJing, they often decide to jump into the world of mobile DJing and make a little money. What DJ software is the best for this type of DJ is really all about personal preference.
Many mobile DJs simply need a software that will allow them to fade in and out of tracks easily as well as support separate deck audio output (one deck sent the the right RCA rack with the other deck being sent to the left RCA jack). Separate deck audio output is important since most mobile DJs will need a mixer that allows a microphone to be plugged into the soundsystem, and allow them to “cue” up tracks in their headphones prior to them being played over the master output.
Another important software feature for Mobile DJs is good music library management and the ability to create custom playlists or crates for events. Reliability is also key, as there is nothing worse than a program crash right in the middle of a gig.
With the large number of quality DJ midi controllers currently on the market, many mobile DJs have chosen to go this route at their events. A good midi controller allows them to have a simple, all-in-one solution to control the music as well as have control over a microphone and even multiple inputs (if they also wanted to hook up and ipod, ipad, or second computer.) To use DJ software with such a controller, the software must allow midi support so that the controls of the hardware (aka the midi controller) can be synced with the controls of the software.
So, with all of these requirements in mind, either DJ software mentioned above (Mixxx or Virtual DJ) will work just fine for the mobile DJ. If you choose to go the Virtual DJ route, it is recommended that you go with either the VirtualDJ Pro Basic or the VirtualDJ Pro Full paid option to gain full midi support, vinyl and CD timecode support, and separate audio output.
Some mobile DJs walk a thin line between club/bar DJing and mobile work, and as a result go with a different DJ software altogether: Serato Scratch Live or Traktor/Traktor Scratch. Let’s get into these options below.
The Best DJ Software for “The Club DJ”
Being a Club DJ is often regarded as the ultimate goal for beginner DJs. This professional level of DJing also requires a professional level of DJ software. Most club DJs rarely perform with just a laptop (although there are a few exceptions to this rule). This means their DJ software of choice needs to support midi controllers or vinyl/CD timecodes.
Some club DJs do use paid versions of Virtual DJ (discussed above), but when you look at the real professional club DJs, the ones that have reached celebrity status, you see 2 main DJ software options: Serato Scratch Live or Traktor/Traktor Scratch. Both of these DJ software programs require the use of an external usb soundcard to allow CDs, controllers, or turntables to play and manipulate the music files.
Serato Scratch Live
Serato Scratch Live is the product of a New Zealand DJ software company called Serato. They created and maintain the software while Rane (a US company) creates and maintains the hardware. Scratch Live can be controlled via CD or vinyl record timecodes, or through native support of various CD players (Pioneer CDJs for example). If you would like to use an all-in-one midi controller with Serato, you will most likely be using a different version of the Serato software called Itch.
Serato Scratch Live is the choice of many DJs who came from a traditional turntable DJ background. In it’s simplest form (Absolute mode), Scratch Live allows DJs to spin their music files just like they were real vinyl records. The outside of the record is the beginning of the song, and the middle is the middle of the song, etc. In “Relative” mode, a Serato Scratch Live DJ has access to all of the fancy DJ software features like looping, hotcues, and skipless scratching (if the needle jumps the groove, the song will remain in the same spot). Scratch Live can also run in “Internal” mode, which bypasses the turntables or CD decks altogether, relying on the laptop for complete control of the decks.
Scratch Live also features key-lock, a sampler, great library management with “crates” and iTunes integration, and a number of built in effects. With Serato’s Video plugin, you can also spin, mix, and scratch video files.
Since Serato has a strong partnership with Rane, you will find a number of high-quality DJ mixers available with Scratch Live integration already built-in. The latest examples of this are the Rane Sixty-Two, the Rane Sixty-One, the Rane Sixty-Eight, and the Rane TTM-57SL.
You are able to download Serato Scratch Live for free at www.serato.com, but don’t expect to be able to do much with it. It’s pretty much useless without a Rane Scratch Live mixer or USB box, although it does allow you to play tracks one at a time and organize your crates (playlists), set cue points, and save loops.
Serato Scratch Live is a very solid DJ software that caries a professional price tag. The Rane SL2 is the lowest entry point at $499. I would also like to add that Serato Scratch Live has an active online community where staff and consumers come together to discuss issues and solve problems. The staff at Serato is also releasing updates to Scratch Live on a regular basis.
Traktor and Traktor Scratch
Another industry standard software for club DJs is Traktor by Native Instruments. One of the big differences between Traktor and Serato Scratch Live is that with Traktor, you can use the software to mix without the need for a usb box, it simply installs on your laptop and the sound is routed through your existing sound card (dual audio output is also available).
The current version of Traktor is called Traktor Pro 2 (recent update is 2.5), and it features all of the bells and whistles that you need to effectively DJ any party. It features up to 4 track decks, cues, loops, BPM detection, beat gridding, and over 30 integrated effects. One of the cool new features in Traktor 2.5 is called “Remix Decks”. Remix Decks allow for live remixing and re-arranging of tracks by allowing loops or samples to be stored in up to 64 sample slots. These samples can then be automatically synced to the tempo of the current track for easy mixing.
Traktor also offers very popular midi controllers including the Traktor Kontrol S2 and the Traktor Kontrol S4. Both of these controller are all-in-one, professional pieces of gear for club and mobile DJs alike.
The Traktor product that is a direct competitor with Serato Scratch Live is called Traktor Scratch A10. The A10 part of the name refers to the Audio 10 USB soundcard that features 10 inputs and 10 outputs. Like the Serato/Rane usb boxes, the A10 is the key to being able to use Traktor Scratch with timecode vinyl or CDs.
Traktor Scratch A10 also features all of the same features as Traktor mentioned above, including the remix decks. Traktor Scratch A10 will run you $559. You can learn more about Traktor and download a free trial on the Native Instruments website.
As far as Traktor Scratch A10 vs Serato Scratch Live, you really can’t go wrong with either one for professional club DJing. They both do a great job of bridging the gap between traditional turntable/CDJ DJing and laptop DJing. It has been noted that Traktor Scratch does has a slightly tighter response than Serato Scratch Live, and Traktor Scratch does have the capability to auto-snyc track via beat gridding, whereas Serato Scratch Live does not. Traktor Scratch also is said to have better effects than Serato Scratch Live, although Serato Scratch Live’s effects are still pretty sweet.
Either Traktor Scratch or Serato Scratch Live would serve any club DJ very well. In addition, either one of these DJ software programs with handle any mobile DJ event with ease, making whichever one you choose the last DJ software program that you will ever need to buy.
Choosing the best DJ software for your needs all depends on your particular situation. If you just want to try out DJing to see if you like it, choose one of the free or cheaper options first, and by the time you get the hang of DJing, you’ll have an idea of which of the more “professional” DJ software programs will best suit your needs.