traktor_iphone

Who says DJs aren’t useful?

With a mind-boggling amount of music released daily, the DJ might be more important than ever. The word “curation” is overused … how about selection, or filter? If you’re like me, you’ve grown reliant in at least some genres on mixes from favorite artists and journalists just to skim the good stuff of the top. The best is really amazing. The rest is really abundant.

And, for that matter, who says mobile devices aren’t useful to DJing? (Stay with me – these two ideas connect.)

Here’s the thing: Native Instruments’ Traktor DJ has skyrocketed to success partly because the touch interface it uses is stunningly intuitive. Getting through your library is simply faster. Finding interesting mixes, mucking with how tracks go together, tapping your way through loop points — faster. In fact, it’s notably better than another popular DJ tool – sorry, Native Instruments, but it’s more fun and more accessible to pick up Traktor DJ on iOS than it is to wade through Traktor Pro’s desktop UI.

This speed couples with the ability to work with Traktor DJ anywhere. So, sure, there are reasons other than ease that could keep you on Traktor for desktop. But when you’re away from your desktop…

And that’s where Traktor on iOS becomes truly indispensable. Suddenly, that pile of music you want to dig through is something you can pull up on a bus trip, or sitting on your couch.

Traktor 1.5 is a relatively minor, if welcome, free update to the US$9.99 app. The Beat Grid works more accurately, snaps magnetically, and lets you pinch to zoom. There are performance and reliability enhancements. There’s a new “SuperSlicer” available for in-app purchase, with some useful and fun effects (reverse, slice), and some others that make you sound like you’re faking turntablism badly (scratch, brake, pitch shift). (Well, okay, maybe some of you can make them sound not tacky. See the obligatory video below – it is, at least, very fun.)

But there’s one huge feature, long overdue: History Playlists.

You see, the way I expect most DJs will want to use Traktor on the road is as a satellite for other tools – CDJs, desktop DJ apps. Traktor already gave you the ability to sync loop points between Traktor DJ and Traktor Pro, so you can use the iPad app as a way to take the chore of slicing up tracks on the road. (Note: this Dropbox-based functionality is apparently missing from Traktor Pro 2.6.8 for unknown reasons, though available across iOS devices and 2.6.6; we’re awaiting clarification from NI.) But being able to access playlists is even more important. Most of you are more likely to use this as a way to dig through tracks on the go, then turn them into mixes and DJ sets – either mixing right on the iPad, or going back to your main tool of choice.

Now, Traktor can keep track of what you’ve played, generating set list and mix ideas on the go, whether you finish them in Traktor or elsewhere. It’s even more essential on iPhone – you’re not DJing with your phone, but you might use some spare time to navigate the latest music.

And that completes a list of skills Traktor on iOS has built over time:

traktor_onipad

It’s great for digital crate-digging. Drop some of the music you want to check out on your iPad or iPhone (especially if you have it set to manual sync), and go to town. Browsing the library with your fingertips is fast, and using a mobile gadget to whittle down your music library is a no-brainer. (In fact, the very thing that makes it annoying for serious DJing – limited storage – is ideal for this application.)

NI’s automatic matching algorithms sometimes come up with comically bad ideas. But either way, it’s a win, too: when it’s right, it makes it easy to navigate huge libraries of music and find mates. When it’s wrong, it can actually spark some creativity.

Mess with effects and touch sound. Traktor’s iOS interface is also an exceptional way to mess with effects (via X/Y controls), with a growing collection included. And touching sound directly makes a lot more sense for looping and other manipulations. A lot of it isn’t so serious, but it’s fun to mess around with, too.

No more excuses – finish those mixes. There’s a record button, and plenty of fool-proof controls, and enough effects and touchable slice manipulations to keep it interesting. So, if procrastination keeps you from connecting your DJ control surface, maybe this will get you to the task.

DJ on call. If anyone knows you know anything about music, they expect you to DJ, anywhere, any time. It’s the new digital equivalent of the days when your family made you play piano at all their get-togethers, knowing you were taking lessons. Now, maybe you won’t play a 10,000-person festival crowd using your iPad. But your friend’s party? Sure.

It can still fit into a stage rig. I think for serious DJ sets, you’ll want more storage and more tactile controls. But paired with the Kontrol Z1, you do get basic physical mixing controls and separate headphone outs, in a very compact package. That can make Traktor on iOS useful as a backup for a live set (or extended DJ set).

I was going to list some downside here, but I … can’t. I’m not sure this is reason to get an iPad or iPhone if you don’t have one, but it’s equally hard to argue against spending ten bucks to add this if you do. There are some very strong other DJ offerings, but I find Traktor superior in terms of sound fidelity, effects, and ease of navigating the library, as well as overall how clean and accessible the UI is. You might choose Algoriddim djay for its superior controller support, but that only becomes relevant if you’re intending to replace your laptop or hardware.

I’m as keen as everyone else to see where Traktor and its rivals go next with computer DJing. (And there’s the question of Pioneer’s next move, apart from getting into the turntable business.) But for now, I think Traktor on iOS is one of the most useful tools out there. Even casual DJs and those who are mainly producers will probably find a reason to keep it in their toolset.

Until now, though, I didn’t use it nearly as much as I’d like because of the history question. So now… it’s on.

Traktor DJ for iOS [Product Page]

  • Jason

    “Traktor already gave you the ability to sync loop points” – Maybe you are referring to syncing loop points between two copies of Traktor DJ, but syncing between Traktor DJ and Traktor Pro was removed by NI. I really hope they add this back as it was the absolute best feature of Traktor DJ in my opinion. I would love to be able to prep my tracks wherever I am and have all that work synced to my laptop.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yikes, you seem to be right as of Traktor Pro 2.6.8.

      I updated the post both to clarify what I meant and to make very clear I think this is an important feature. Hopefully they restore this functionality; I’ve inquired with NI.

    • Jason

      Thanks Peter. Would really love to hear that NI plan to bring this back!

    • Jeff

      their #1 problem though is that the library can get easily corrupted, causing all songs to be lost and all playlists. For some people, this can mean losing hundreds of hours of curation and planning. Not only was it unstable, but they also pulled the plug-in on Dbox sync, which was really helpful way to back up your set.

      I still love love love Traktor DJ (and Traktor Pro on the Mac) but lets hope that they’ve worked out this terrible bug.

      The new IAP features are pretty excellent.. I’ve been having a lot of fun.

      Ok, also, one thing that seems so obviously missing is the ability to preview tracks before loading them onto a deck. I know, I know.. Vinyl works this way, but seems unnecessary in Traktor DJ.

      I’m using an iPad w/ NI Z1. Perfect portable DJ rig.

  • Immon

    When sync gets restored, I hope that track data is transferred regardless of bit rate. This is because my laptop has a much bigger hard drive than my ipad and I’d want to be able to transfer a ton of tracks to the ipad.

  • Bob

    As a non-DJ who using Traktor DJ differently, I’m still disappointed that there is no audiobus support or IAA capabilities. I use the looping facility to sync and blend different parts together (having access to my iTunes library is useful here), and I find that Traktor DJ excels at this, and performs far better than similar apps (DJ2, Wave DJ, Loopy) in terms of the sync and loop aspect. But without being able to use it in a chain I have no way, when I’m not at my computer, to access the loops to manipulate further. So I don’t use it. I would love to, but until they add audiobus or IAA it’s useless to me… one of the best apps I have and there’s no point me even opening it. Frustrating.

  • ogc

    Am I missing something? With iOS 7, NI had to remove the syncing of metadata (which includes cue points). It had nothing to do with Traktor Pro 2.6.8, but it was a choice implemented in Traktor Pro 2.6.8. This is a huge, known problem, and a ridiculous backslide from what was a revolutionary way to prep your tracks. You gotta know the background on this before writing about Traktor DJ.

  • James

    Thanks Pete.
    Just to offer more considerations, in other words a “downside”, this does sound like a great way to test out different mixes. And the playlist history I think is better at populating a track list for Mixcloud or thefuture.fm than really point to anything I would need to repeat again.

    But the limits are that one is still playing with tracks that are downloaded and presumedly owned. So this is really not a music discovery sandbox, but rather blocks that you are already familiar with. Some of your best investigative reporting of late had to do with pointing out that the consumer-class dj platform, Djay, offers streaming tracks to be dropped on the decks. I’d like to see more partnerships with better apps and other services than Spotify.

    As for this neck-and-neck small controller race that we’re seeing this fall, this is definitely another reach forward for the NI camp. Still, there are x-faders as well as dedicated audio interfaces I like a bit more, and if anything I’m more torn by the choices.