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 digital system, be that Mac, PC or even iOS or Android. And if you're going to do that, you're going to need the right software application.
Fortunately, the market is awash with applications that will enable you to mix using not just two but - in many cases - four or more decks. What's more, the best of today's DJ software offers up myriad creative options, so you can add real interest and take your mixes to the next level.
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.
So, what are the best DJ software applications you can get for PC, Mac, iOS and Android? Click through the gallery to find out...
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Native Instruments Traktor Pro
Traktor Pro 2 was first released back in 2011 and it’s remained solidly at the top of the digital DJing game since then. Much of Traktor’s appeal lies in the fact that its well designed interface is approachable and easy-to-use enough for newbies to get to grips with without too much hassle, but it still packs a lot of depth, allowing advanced users to do some seriously creative things with it.
Between its excellent Sample Decks, Remix Decks and Loop Recorder, its quality effects and its solid beat and key analysis algorithms, Traktor has pretty much everything a modern DJ is likely to need. A digital vinyl system is also available, in the form of the Traktor Scratch upgrade.
There’s real innovation in here too, in the shape of NI’s Stems format. This offers up commercial releases broken down into four competent ‘Stems’, to be played back and manipulated separately by Traktor’s Stem Decks.
Traktor is well supported by hardware, too, from NI’s own extensive range of controllers and interfaces as well as numerous third-party options. It can be mapped to any controller you wish, too, which makes it extra flexible.
For all its success, though, there’s no denying that seven years is a long time in the software world, and despite lots of ‘point’ updates since its initial release, Traktor Pro 2 is beginning to show its age. Fortunately, NI is promising big things before the end of 2018. According to the development team, there’s a whole new version on the horizon that will see the application ‘rebuilt from the ground up’. We expect it to be accompanied by a new range of controllers, too. As such, if you’re considering taking the plunge on Traktor, it might be worth holding off for version 3.
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 can work with it.
Ableton’s recently developed Link tech adds to its appeal as a performance tool. This is an open software tool that allows developers to add wireless sync to their applications. You can find Link as part of a host of DJing apps, iOS tools, DAWs and plugins, making it easier than ever to jam with multiple laptops or tablet devices.
READ: Ableton Live 10 review
Serato DJ Pro
Serato spearheaded the birth of digital vinyl systems back in the early ‘00s and has remained one of the major players in digital DJing ever since. Its range of software applications has gone through a host of iterations and name changes over the years, but since being unified and refreshed under the banner of Serato DJ in 2013 the application feels tighter and more refined than ever.
In recent times, Serato has put a lot of work into making its software reliable and low-latency, and its these factors that make it a popular choice amongst pro club DJs. The app also offers plug 'n' play support for a range of controllers and solid digital vinyl capabilities.
Beyond this, there are all the creative elements you’d expect from a top-quality DJ application, including sampling capabilities, effects, four-deck mixing, sync and analysis tools and much more.
Users can get to grips with Serato for free, too, via the cut down but still well-equipped Serato DJ Lite version.
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 are up to four decks of track control, a library browser with a tagging and track recommendation system, per-track and master effects - each with multiple slots - along with a looper, beat slicer and eight-slot sampler.
More recently, it’s been expanded with an Auto-Mix feature, an automated tool that will do a lot of the work for you, which is a great option for beginners looking to rock a party without wanting to spend weeks rehearsing first. At the more ‘pro’ end of things, it can sync and control light shows and stage effects. rekordbox DJ can also be expanded with add-on packs for digital vinyl, video mixing and lyric functionality, which is ideal for karaoke and events DJs.
Unsurprisingly, rekordbox DJ is best used with Pioneer’s own controller hardware. Its biggest appeal is probably cross-platform compatibility, since its workflow and track library is shared with Pioneer’s industry-standard CDJs and mixers.
rekordbox DJ can be downloaded as a 30-day free trial, and it's also available in a variety of different purchase options, including monthly subscription plans.
Native Instruments Traktor DJ
NI’s mobile version of Traktor is based on the look and features of its desktop sibling, but it’s very much its own application. Where the main version of Traktor offers depth and flexibility, its iOS counterpart is all about ease-of-use, with a straightforward interface that makes it easy to browse and play tracks, as well as mix using faders, EQ and simple effects.
That’s not to say you can’t do some interesting things with Traktor DJ, though; it still features an adjustable looper, cue points and a freeze mode. You can enhance its power with the SuperSlice add-on, too, which offers a neat and tactile way to add scratch, pitchshift and reverse effects.
Traktor DJ can also be used with some of NI’s own controllers and interfaces for a more pro-feeling, hands-on DJing experience. Unfortunately, one of our favourite features – the ability to sync track metadata with the desktop version of Traktor – has been removed. Here's hoping it might make a return in a future update.
Mixxx is a free and open-source music making application: 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.
Mixxx has recently been updated to version 2.1, bringing a slicker graphical interface, a host of new and refined effects and lots of other workflow improvements. If you don't currently have a favourite DJing app, Mixxx has got to be worth a try. Being free, you’ve got very little 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 for mobile and event DJs.
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.
Recent updates have added even more grand tools and features into the mix. The previous update, version 8, rebuilt the audio engine from the ground up, adding Sandbox feature for private mix previewing, an enhanced sampler and more.
The latest edition, VirtualDJ 2018, puts the focus mainly on visuals. Video Skins offer a way to project your DJing skills live onto a big screen, while new visualisation tools offer automated ways to generate video to accompany your mix. There’s also an automated scratching tool, new lighting compatibility and new methods for broadcasting directly to social media.
The software also features audio line-ins, and comes with mappings for a fairly substantial range of DJ controllers. If you don't want to pay upfront, you can 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 Mac, but also iOS and Android devices, making this a truly cross-platform offering.
algoriddim djay Pro
algoriddim was one of the first brands to take the idea of mobile DJ software seriously, and its djay Pro app is still one of the best tools on the iOS and Android platforms. It can hold its own as a desktop application, too, with some features that will likely be of particular interest to casual/house party DJs, like the ability to load tracks directly from Spotify, and an Automix AI tool, which intelligently suggests and mixes playlists of tracks.
This flagship version of the software software supports 4-deck mixing and offers turntable and waveform views. There's a sampler, too, plus effects and an ‘advanced’ track library. djay Pro also offers native support for over 50 MIDI controllers and is augmented by integration with Pioneer's CDJ and XDJ devices.
While the Pro version is pretty affordable anyway, there’s also a cheaper version, simply titled djay, which offers the same core features and is even available for Apple Watch (albeit in a very limited form).
DJ Player Pro
DJ Player Pro is a highly customisable and very flexible DJ app, and probably the most ‘pro’ feeling mixing application you’ll find on mobile.
It boasts a clean and non-fussy interface that lets users easily mix and manipulate tracks right from the device’s touchscreen, but it’s the hardware compatibility that really sets it apart. There’s plug-and-play support for an impressive range of MIDI controllers, plus a dedicated editor for those that aren’t pre-mapped. It's DVS compatible, too, meaning you can hook your turntables up to your iOS device (via a compatible interface). It’s also the only iOS app to support Traktor’s Stems format (even NI’s own Traktor DJ doesn’t).
Add to that a healthy helping of built-in effects, looping, solid sync and pitch tools and much more, and the app really begins to earn its ‘pro’ name.
DJ Player Pro is free to download, but for full use you’ll need to invest in the (slightly pricey) subscription plan.