What's in the mix?
With all due respect to vinyl junkies and CD stalwarts, when it comes to convenience, cost-effectiveness and flexibility, there can be little doubt that the best way to DJ right now is on a computer, be that Mac or PC. And if you're going to do that, you're going to need a suitable piece of software.
Fortunately, the market is awash with applications that will enable you to mix using not just two but - in many cases - up to four decks. What's more, the best of today's DJ software offers up myriad creative options, so you can give your performances some real pizzazz.
Add a hardware controller and you've got a setup that feels great and will enable you to do anything that was possible using an old-school setup and a whole lot more.
Click through the gallery to discover what we consider to be the best DJ software applications in the world today.
Native Instruments Traktor Pro
Over a decade on from its launch, Traktor Pro is pretty much the gold standard of digital DJing. While some of its rivals may do certain things better, no application can match Traktor for all-round flexibility and reliability.
Between its excellent Sample Decks, Remix Decks and Loop Recorder, its high-quality effects and its impressive beat and key analysis algorithms, Traktor has pretty much everything a modern DJ is likely to need.
Native Instruments’ own hardware controllers - the flagship S2 and S4, and more compact X1, F1 and Z1 - are some of the best around, too, ensuring that the company has a vice-like grip on the current market that it shows no sign of relinquishing.
4.5 out of 5
Ableton Live is something of an anomaly in this list, due to the fact that it’s not really a true DJ application - or at least it wasn’t originally imagined as such. Still, while it may have been first envisioned purely as a production tool, in the years since its inception Live has become a favourite of DJs across the world.
Key to its popularity with DJs is the Session View - a brilliantly implemented and cleanly designed window for launching sync’d audio samples, MIDI clips and tracks. It’s this view, along with the intuitive way that Live handles retiming audio, that makes the DAW a fantastic tool for blurring the lines between DJing and live performance.
With the added bonus of a heap of built-in instruments and effects, the ability to host plugins and an intuitive MIDI learn function, Live makes an unbeatable one-stop-shop for electronic musicians. What's more, you can choose from any number of controllers that are specifically designed to work with it.
4.5 out of 5
Serato has come along way since spearheading the birth of digital vinyl DJing more than a decade ago. The company may have lost its grip as market leader to Native Instruments over the years, but constant development has meant that Serato’s DJ software is still up there with the best.
With the launch of Serato DJ in 2013, the company finally combined the two disparate strands of its software - the digital vinyl-based Scratch Live and controller focussed Itch - into a single unified application.
The app has developed nicely since then, offering plug 'n' play support for a range of controllers, expansion packs that enable you to add to the software's capabilities, and multiple views that can accomodate both 2- and 4-deck mixing.
With the company now focussed on a single product, the future seems bright for Serato, and its software looks set to be a big part of the DJing landscape for years to come.
Pioneer DJ rekordbox DJ
Originally developed for Pioneer DJ by French developer MixVibes, rekordbox existed for a good few years as a music librarian and track preparation tool for use with Pioneer's range of CDJs and digital music players.
In 2015, rekordbox got a significant upgrade in the form of rekordbox DJ - an expanded 'performance' version of the software with full mixing, effects and sampling capabilities.
There's up to four decks of track control, a library browser with tagging and track recommendation system, per-track and master effects - each with multiple slots – along with a looper, beat slicer and eight-slot sampler.
What’s more, Pioneer DJ recently opened up the rekordbox ecosystem to all DJs - rather than just those who use one of its controllers or mixers - by releasing the Interface 2. This is a 2-channel audio interface that enables you to scratch and control the music on your PC or Mac using any setup.
Fully featured, flexible and boasting unrivalled cross- platform compatibility, rekordbox is already looking like a serious contender.
4 out of 5
Now under Gibson ownership (the company acquired the software from FL Studio developer Image-Line and also owns Stanton, hence the name) Deckadance features some great beat grid editing tools, a highly customisable interface and a great Smart Knob function, which allows macro-style control over multiple effect parameters at once.
The application also offers four-deck mixing, a 16-slot sample player and - possibly most impressively of all - can host external VST plugins, meaning that you can use your favourite third-party effects and instruments from within the software.
On the downside, Image-Line’s list of preconfigured DJ controllers is a little behind that of some of its rivals, although it does feature an auto-learn function to allow relatively simple user-mapping, and there's a remote control app for iOS and Android devices.
Mixxx is one of our favourite free and open source music making applications: not only can you download it for nothing, but the more adventurous can also delve into the code and adapt its feature set.
As standard, Mixxx features twin decks (each with its own scratchable, scrolling waveform) iTunes integration, four sample decks, loops and hot cues and support for a wide range of track formats. There's BPM detection and sync, and also an Auto DJ function for when you're feeling lazy. There's support for more than 85 controllers and timecode vinyl systems.
If you don't currently have a favourite DJing app, Mixxx has got to be worth a try. You have, after all, got nothing to lose.
Alongside all the standard features you’d expect from a software DJing package - mixer, effects, EQs etc - Dex 3 features integrated video mixing and karaoke support, making it an impressively flexible option.
In terms of straightforward DJ features, the software packs four virtual decks, with beat sync and key-matching capabilities. There’s also a sample player and looper tool.
Dex supports a fairly extensive range of MIDI controllers, and can be used with a digital vinyl setup, too. A trial version is available to download from the PCDJ site.
Atomix VirtualDJ Pro
VirtualDJ Pro can get pricey - you'll have to pay $299 for a full license - but it does offer some hugely flexible ‘pro’ features.
Most notably, VirtualDJ Pro can run anything up to 99 virtual decks (obviously, it’s not advisable to try mixing 99 tracks at once, but it’s an impressive amount of flexibility nonetheless.) It’s also ReWire compatible, meaning it can be run in conjunction with a variety of DAWs, opening up a whole world of performance possibilities.
The software also features audio line-ins, and comes with mappings for a fairly substantial range of DJ controllers. The latest version (8) added the likes of a Sandbox feature for private mix previewing, an enahnced sampler, an updated audio engine and more.
If you don't want to pay upfront, you can also subscribe to VirtualDJ Pro for $19 a month, and there are also free and controller-specific versions available.
Cross, from French developer Mixvibes, has undergone numerous updates over the past few years, resulting in an impressively extensive feature set. You can choose a free version, the best-selling Cross DJ, or the full-on Cross, which adds video mixing features.
The application features a highly customisable interface that contains four decks, two eight-slot samplers, eight assignable cue points and 14 different effects. There’s support for a range of controllers (more than 80 at the last count) and digital vinyl systems, and it’s possible to import your music library directly from Pioneer rekordbox (which was itself developed by Mixvibes).
There's SoundCloud integration, too, as well as the more predictable option to delve into your iTunes collection. More recently, Mixvibes has added support for Ableton Link.
There’s also a cool iOS remote control app available, which can act as a second screen for browsing tracks or a way to use the software decks remotely. Oh, and there are versions of Cross available for not only Windows and OS X, but also iOS and Android devices, making this a truly cross-platform offering.
algoriddim djay Pro
algoriddim has paid a lot of attention to the mobile market recently - djay is available for iOS and Android devices - and the original Mac version has now been joined by a touch-optimised Windows version, too.
Enabling you to mix both audio and video, algoriddim's flagship software supports 4-deck mixing and offers turntable and waveform views. There's a sampler, too, plus effects and all the automixing and advanced DJing facilities you'd expect.
djay Pro enables you to mix using tracks from Spotify (providing you have a premium account) and your iTunes library, while native support for over 50 MIDI controllers is augmented by integration with Pioneer's CDJ and XDJ devices.
djay Pro could be well worth a try, and a demo version enables you to do just that.