The latest version (1.4) of Algoriddim’s djay for iPad app ticks a lot of empty boxes, bringing it ever closer to being a very useful and mature DJ solution. (Update: You can ready our djay for iPad 1.6 review here). While it will probably not convert any Serato or Traktor fans, it does feature more functionality than you may expect to get from an iPad app.
Of course, there are many apps which claim to be for the DJ, usually split between turntable-based and waveform-based interfaces. djay is (at the moment) the best of the turntable-based apps out there. This is unsurprising really when you consider that Algoriddim have had djay working on the Apple devices since 2008, when it was first unveiled at Musikmesse paired with a MacBook and a Vestax VCM-100 controller.
The development of djay for Mac over the years has ensured that when the iPad version first arrived in December 2010 it had a carefully designed interface with the basic but reliable functionality to match.
Over the past year, Algoriddim has released a trimmed-down interface version for the iPhone/iPod touch (which is a bargain at only $0.99) and won an Apple 2011 Design Award with djay for iPad. djay for iPad now supports 2 USB Midi DJ Controllers; Numark’s iDJ Live and Vestax Spin (a little more on both later).
If you’re unfamiliar with djay, then not to worry, the interface is clear and easy to use. The main screen features two turntables side by side with some of the mixer elements such as the crossfader and volume controls positioned on the screen to allow maximum space for the spinning platters of the decks.
The pitch controls for both decks are positioned at the sides of the screen – not how you’d see it (on the left deck) in real hardware terms, but it allows you to adjust the pitch quickly without obscuring your view of what each track is currently doing.
Above each deck is the scrolling waveform (a welcome addition after lessons learned with the previous Mac versions of the software). This waveform shows the overall track progress; however if you’re scratching the track the waveform zooms in so the detail is visible.
Strangely, the audio quality varies greatly among the apps…
You may think that all DJ apps on an iPad share the same music library therefore the audio output quality would be the same. Strangely, the audio quality varies greatly among the apps and djay comes out (alongside another couple of apps) at the top.
You may not notice the sound quality during normal playback, but at very slow speeds the better apps (including DJay) have reduced digital artefacts and a much smoother sound. This means that the scratching sound from the decks in djay is quite realistic compared with other apps. Don’t forget that DVS systems aren’t faultless with this either – and you don’t need to worry about fluff on the needles with DJay!
Audio output options:
The main limitation that DJ apps face is the restriction (enforced by Apple) to a unique stereo audio output. There are two options to work around this situation:
- Split the stereo output into two mono channels, then use an audio splitter cable to double up each mono channel to give two L+R outputs, one for master output and one for headphone cueing
- Broadcast one stereo signal via WiFi to a second iOS device (like an iPhone/iPod Touch) which would sit in the DJ’s pocket and have the headphones connected for the cueing, while the main stereo output from the iPad would be the master
The popular (and cheap) workaround is to use an audio splitter. However, not only are you likely to be using compressed audio (it takes up less space) on your iPad, but now your audio output is mixed down into a mono signal – likely to sound quite different (when compared with a laptop setup) over a decent soundsystem.
To ensure that the split audio output works correctly, you first open the iPad’s Settings app, select General > Accessibility, and then make sure “Mono Audio” is disabled (OFF position). You also need to enable the Split Output in the djay settings page.
(Note that while the Alesis iODock has plenty of input and output options, it won’t work with the audio splitting of a DJ app. Also note that if the Audio Split setting is set to “On” in the djay app, the in-app recording will also be in mono.)
New features in v1.4
The FX section is accessed via the additional features button (where you’ll also find EQ, loop and multiple cue detail). The effects available are echo, flanger, phaser, bit crusher and gate.
Each can be controlled with an X-Y pad (like a Kaoss Pad) which combines the effect with a high-pass / low-pass filter. There are also six very handy instant FX preset buttons that seem to combine FX and filters (I’ve tried to describe what each button does):
- Absorb – Echo moving into LPF (fade back in on release)
- Drift – Echo moving into HPF (fade back in on release)
- Sway – Flanger
- Crush – instant bit-crushed sound
- Punch – Stuttered/Looped stop with Echo
- Twist – Bounce reverse with slight Echo
The instant FX buttons can give a quick way of adding FX during the mix between two tracks, because you still have access to the cross fader on the main screen.
While other DJ apps have used WiFi to synchronise BPM, cue points and other track data between devices, djay is the first to use the new iOS 5 iCloud functionality to sync this data between devices and a host machine. Again, not surprising given djay’s history with Apple.
The app was also the first to use AirPlay to stream mixes wirelessly, and first to specify iPad 2 only features (in v1.2) such as key lock/timestretching, improved audio analysis (better BPM detection, beatgrid and waveform precision), and loop/cue snapping (auto alignment to nearest snare, kick drum etc).
Audio copy & paste
This feature is most likely to be more popular with music makers. You can now copy audio from another app and paste it onto the deck in djay – you need to press and hold the load button until the “Paste” option appears.
Alternatively, you can copy recordings made in djay into other apps by tapping and holding the recording until the “Copy” option appears. Here’s a list of iOS apps that support audio cut and paste.
BPM sort on library
This makes the location of which track to play next much quicker – based on the assumption all your tracks have BPM data stored already.
Currently this only works if you’re using the full library screen view and only when listing songs.
You can access the BPM sort by swiping down on the song list to display a header bar which has the BPM button on the left.
By default the songs are always shown in title order. First press of the BPM button shows tracks slowest to fastest, second press of the BPM button reverses the order (fastest to slowest) and third press returns to title order.
Vestax Spin compatibility
Although the app is centralised around the two turntables, Algoriddim has been quick in realising that trying to mimic real-world scratching on a flat touchscreen is not going to satisfy most folk with any skills in this area. Therefore they have made the decision to implement USB Midi DJ controller connectivity, giving the user access to physical knobs, faders and platters. Obviously, the user experience is affected by the build quality of the controller and how well the app responds to actions taken on the controller.
The Vestax Spin has been closely linked to djay for Mac for over two years now, so it is a logical move for Algoriddim that it gets support on the iPad.
djay was the first iOS DJ app to use USB Midi connectivity with the iPad, in June this year. Reviews of the iDJ Live show that it does suffer a few issues, however: It drains power from the iPad (not good for long durations, and while the jogwheel should allow scratch or jog mode, it seems that jog mode (to nudge the track during playback) isn’t actually functional functional.
The Vestax Spin has been closely linked to djay for Mac for over two years now, so it is a logical move for Algoriddim that it gets support on the iPad. Brief details are on the Vestax website.
While the Spin is more expensive than iDJ Live, you can pick up a relatively cheap one second-hand and it should overcome the two main issues with iDJ Live, because not only does it has its own power supply, but the platters have two separate pieces to them, the top surface (metallic) which you’d use for scratching and the sides (plastic) which you’d use to nudge the track.
Bonus! djay tips
On preparing for this review, I pieced together the following which users of the app may find useful:
- If you want the same track loaded into both decks, get it loaded into one deck first, then press and hold the Load button until options are displayed – select “Double” and the second deck is loaded instantly
- If you have two decks loaded with the same track, by pressing “Sync” on deck A not only matches its BPM to deck B but will also align the position of the track to the same point – useful for juggling
- If you’re not sure on purchasing the app for iPad at $19.99, try the iPhone / iPod Touch version for $0.99. It gives you almost the same functionality and also a single-deck mode
Tap the BPM value once to bring up 3 options; Half/Double/Tap – this doesn’t change the speed the track is playing but does alter what djay believes is the BPM of the track. Very useful if you want to mix between two extremes of BPM (eg drum & bass to hip hop). You can also use this to adjust how quickly the auto-cut feature works on the cross-fader (when touching the deck with more than one finger the cross fader will cut quickly in and out at a speed consistent with the BPM)
- In-App recording is a nice feature, however be sure to check the amount of free space available left on your device. You don’t want to run out of space during a critical mix!
- As with most DJ apps, it’s usually advisable to run in Airplane mode with all other multi-tasking apps closed
- If you miss the quality feel of your hardware mixer, then you could use the audio splitter option to route each deck in djay out into 2 Line inputs on your mixer. Do this by pushing the crossfader in djay across to one side (let’s say the Left) and leave it there! Connect the master output from your splitter into Line 1 on your mixer. Then connect the headphone output from your splitter into Line 2. You may need to adjust the headphone output so it matches the master output
The development and success of djay (and indeed all other iOS apps) is restricted by the hardware and operating system controlled by Apple. As such, some of the limitations that djay on iPad faces are out of the control of Algoriddim.
Now that djay has USB Midi capability, it will be interesting to see if Algoriddim extends the range of controller support or even if other DJ apps follow suit.
If Algoriddim could provide a non-audio splitter solution to the single stereo channel issue (such as WiFi broadcast to another iOS device) then djay (coupled with a quality USB Midi DJ Controller) would be edging ever-closer to becoming a credible alternative to a laptop-based setup.
A single-deck mode might be useful, allowing two iPads to connect to a hardware mixer with BPM, cue point etc synced via WiFi / iCloud between the two. If this were possible, you’d no longer need an audio splitter.
If you’re new to DJing, then djay is a very good way to get an understanding of how the principles (such as beatmatching) work with a familiar-looking display.
If you’re an experienced DJ who wants to try mix ideas on the fly, then djay gives you the portable solution (ideal for preparing for a gig during long journeys). Don’t forget you can use it in flight mode, so those long haul flights to Miami might be productive after all!
The mobile nature of the iPad does lend itself very well to testing out ideas and I find myself using djay to do this more and more. As the app develops, it is slowly moving away from a simple “mix-idea-sketchpad” and towards a viable option for playing out.
Have you been converted to iPad DJing by Algoriddim’s app? Do you use it with either of the above-mentioned hardware solutions? And do the new features make you more likely to give it a go? Please let us know your thoughts of this app and iPad DJing in general in the comments below.
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