Review: Virtual DJ Pro 7
Virtual DJ sometimes gets a bad press. Maybe it's because the manufacturers and developers, Atomix, began many many years ago making some seriously toy-like DJ software of the same name (mind you, it would run on anything). Maybe it's because the company doesn't have "pedigree" by not being an all-round electronic musician's software developer like Native Instruments. Maybe it's just because the "Virtual DJ" name itself gets "real" DJs' backs up. Whatever the reason, it's relatively common to hear the software being derided by both the aforementioned "real" DJ's (you're not a DJ unless you can beatmix 1970s funk on two cassette decks blah blah) and snobby digital jocks ("no pro would be seen dead on Virtual DJ") having a dig at it. So can Virtual DJ Pro 7 which was released today, do anything to placate either group?
Well, the first thing to say in any review of Virtual DJ Pro 7 is that Virtual DJ is, in fact - and has been for a long time - very good software. It is stable, easy to use, insanely configurable, powerful and because of all of this, wildly popular. It is more immediate than Traktor for the beginner, it will work on just about any hardware, it has busy and helpful user forums, and has been consistently ahead of the pack in many areas, not least video mixing. It also has built-in key detection, something none of the others has managed yet and arguably a must-have DJ tool nowadays.
Multiple decks finally arrive
One area where Virtual DJ was starting to show its age was the number of decks it could support. While you've been able to have 10 samples happily looping away in time to the music in Virtual DJ for years, you still had to make do with 2 decks. Not any more. Virtual DJ now has as many decks as you want (up to 99, in fact). While nobody in their right mind is going to want 99 decks, having 4 is certainly worthwhile, especially with controllers like the new Denon DN-MC6000 badged "Virtual DJ" and ready to take full advantage. The four-deck layout is clear on the eye, intuitive and much needed. This alone makes Virtual DJ 7 a cool update.
In four-deck mode, the decks get a clear colour each - orange, green, red and blue. You can split the waveforms into pairs at the top of the screen, and there are several other waveform choices too, with a new "wave" button to cycle between them. There is a six-deck skin that has all 6 decks along the screen horizontally where you choose which ones are going to be controlled by the main "decks", although strangely enough, this six-deck skin is not available in the highest screen resolution.
Better routing, inputs and outputs
So long as you have a sound interface that has inputs as well as outputs, you can now wire Line-ins (ie anything analogue) right there into Virtual DJ. That means you can not only sample Line-in sources (to replay, scratch, add FX to etc), but also route them to any deck at will, and you get get full control on the input stream, including applying effects, visualizing beat-waveform, synchronising and beat-matching. I have not had a chance to play with this feature yet, but I am really looking forward to doing so. It's the same for the microphone. Seen the DJ Shiftee Traktor Kontrol S4 video where he samples his voice thorough the microphone? Think that.
You can also now control Rewire applications from within Virtual DJ. It's not quite the Bridge, but it's also a versatile way of getting composition software slapped straight onto one of those virtual decks, again with visualizing the beat-waveform, synchronising and beat-matching just like with a normal MP3. This is an incredibly powerful addition.
Virtual DJ has an awesome number of out-of-the-box mappings for DJ hardware including equipment from Pioneer, Numark, Denon, Vestax, Gemini, Hercules, Stanton, American Audio, Behringer and Reloop, and everything is configurable too. In Virtual DJ 6, the developers added VDJScript, a language to help power users modify the software to do exactly what they want it to do with any hardware (or keyboard shortcuts, come to that) and that really comes into its own with the multi-deck capability of Virtual DJ 7. Those Virtual DJ 6 "under the hood" changes are blossoming now, with the more obvious improvements in this version building on their foundations.
The company is claiming the "pure scratch mode" sounds "even more real than the real thing" (maybe...) and that Advanced Master Tempo gives clearer-than-ever sound, even at extreme pitch changes. Clearer than ever it may be, but mixing hip hop at 140bpm is still going to sound rubbish. Still, improvements are improvements I guess.
I'm really not sure about the GeniusDJ premium subscription service, though, that "tops up" your music folders with music based on what you already like, automatically. I am very intimate with my record collection and need to know tunes inside out before they dare claim a place in my iTunes and then my DJ software. I certainly don't want some algorithm downloading and stocking up my virtual crates with stuff it thinks I'm going to like. I'll definitely pass on this feature.
Speaking of virtual crates, they've improved the database management, with bulk ID3 / file renaming, more fields, and the ability to nest virtual folders. This is to be welcomed as library management was never one of Virtual DJ's strong points. For me, their take on Apple's cover flow "look" still looks tacky, and the waveforms still aren't as pleasing or intuitive as Serato ITCH's (although they're much better than Traktor Pro's, and the new "wave" button at least gives you some options).
Overall, anybody who doubts the power of Virtual DJ should be silenced by this release. Vinyl bores are still going to slag it off, just like they probably slag off anything that's happened since 2002, and the snobs will continue to find reasons to deride Virtual DJ, but for many DJs, this will be a very pleasing release. I am actually excited about taking it out to DJ with, and loading up samples and loops onto those virtual decks to see where it take my next set. It is up with the big boys in nearly every area, and surpasses them in many. Well done, Atomix.
What do you think? Is this the future of software DJing, or do you prefer Traktor or Serato? Or are we all heretics who deserve to burn at the stake for our digital crimes against DJing? Do let us know in the comments...