Review: Mixxx 1.10.0 Beta Free DJ Software

Review Summary:

Mixxx is now better than it’s ever been. If you’re an open source enthusiast who knows a bit about Midi, XML and coding in general, you can get involved and adapt Mixxx to suit whatever Midi gear you have, but if you’re just a plug-and-play DJ, unless you have one of the controllers it is already mapped for, it isn’t going to be of much use to you.

Mixxx 1.10.0 Beta Free DJ Software
Mixxx 1.10.0 review - hello to sample decks, multiple timecode support and, erm, spinny round things! (Click to enlarge.)

Mixxx 1.10.0 review - hello to sample decks, multiple timecode support and, erm, spinny round things! (Click to enlarge.)

Review: Mixxx 1.10.0 Beta Free DJ Software

With all the talk of alternatives to Traktor and Serato, it's timely that the team at Mixxx - the open-source alternative to paid-for DJ software - has today announced its latest update, Mixxx 1.10.0 beta. The latest version adds a wealth of new features: Sample decks, beatmatched loops, quantisation, phase sync, beatgrid adjust, software microphone support, better library, new skins, improvements to the mixing engine, updated Midi mappings and last but not least, Serato-esque spinning decks.

(It also has much improved timecode support for digital vinyl users, including the ability to use Serato and Traktor timecoded vinyl simultaneously.)

Download and set-up is just that little bit less intuitive than with commercial packages, but in truth you probably don't need to do anything more that install the software, make sure your audio interface is up and running with the correct drivers, and select it in the simple audio setup page in Mixxx's preferences. This is the same as you'd do for most DJ software, in other words. If you're reasonably technically minded (and arguably that's a prerequisite for today's digital DJ), you'll be going in no time.

The first impression with the default skin is that the latest incarnation of the software looks like like a cross between Torq and Traktor. There are no parallel waveforms on first load, but this is corrected in the Late Night version of the skin. (There are also skins that hark back to the earlier days when the software was designed for much lower resolution screens, and also there are lighter versions for those daytime gigs.)

Mixxx 1.10.0 - LateNightBlues

An alternative skin for Mixxx 1.10.0. There are several new skins in this release. (Click to enlarge.)

The waveforms don’t scroll quite as nicely as some other software (the beat markers flicker as they move from right to left) but it’s been tightened up a lot in recent years and is certainly visually acceptable, especially as it has more skins than ever now.

The library area is much improved and looks great, with a shuffle-able auto DJ section, the ability to create both playlists and crates, a good recording section that allows you to specify when a recording should be split (for instance, at 650Mb for burning to separate CDs) among other options, the ability to read your Traktor library, and iTunes playlist integration.

The new sample decks are basically four extra mini decks on top of the two in the main software. You can load single hits or whole tracks on them from the library, and they have their own headphone cue buttons, gain controls, tempo sliders, hot cues (four) and play/pause/stop buttons. Each can be routed to left, right or master to enable them to be cut in or out with the crossfader. They have loop controls too.

What they don’t have is sync or nudge, so they’re going to be fiddly to get bang on time. However, they’re a great start and would be useful for having emergency tracks lined up on, simple drum or percussion loops ready, or vocal drops / DJ idents to hand. They can be toggled on or off to release their screen real estate as desired.

Mixxx has for a while now done the basics fine, and it still does - loading, playing and mixing tunes is as you’d expect, and the beat looping is a much-needed addition which means all the basic controls are now present and correct. The keylock algorithm sounded OK to my ears too, and you can adjust the bass and treble cutoff points in the preferences which is great for getting the EQ exactly how you want it.

The software is still limited compared to commercial software in some areas: While adding beatmatched loops, phase-matched sync and a software microphone input has definitely pulled it in closer behind other packages, and it has a decent broadcasting section, there is only one effect ( a flanger), albeit with LFO, depth and delay so you can have some fun with it.

Midi and mappings
But the crucial area where Mixxx still lacks for me is in out-of-the-box Midi control. Mixxx 1.10.0 comes with support of variable quality for a small number of controllers, but it’s not the ones that are selling well today.

Midi mapping the VCI-400 with Mixxx

Midi mapping the VCI-400 with Mixxx.

Now, it is perfectly possible to produce your own mappings. Indeed there’s a Midi Learn option where you are talked through the various controls to get a rudimentary mapping going in a matter of minutes (I got the Vestax VCI-400 we are currently reviewing partly controlling the software in less than five minutes).

But getting your mapping 100% right? That’s harder. Jogwheels are famously the hard bit about Midi mapping, and you need to get your sleeves rolled up and start hacking in order to add this kind of functionality to a custom mapping, using Midi sniffer apps and writing XML. If you thought mapping Traktor was hard, wait until you get stuck into this beast. There’s a friendly user community and an excellent wiki, but plug and play it ain’t, unless you have one of the controllers it natively supports.

Conclusion

Mixxx is now better than it’s ever been. A lot of the work on this new version has happened with the timecode section which we didn’t test as of course we focus on controller DJing, but we couldn’t help but notice that you can run Traktor and Serato timecode side-by-side! The biggest challenge the Mixxx team has for me is in getting quality mappings in place for modern controllers, and augmenting that list quickly when new models appear.

At the moment, if you’re an open source enthusiast who knows a bit about Midi, XML and coding in general, you can get involved and adapt Mixxx to suit whatever Midi gear you have, but if you’re just a plug-and-play DJ, unless you have one of the controllers it is already mapped for, it isn’t going to be of much use to you.

(Of course, you could just use the keyboard to DJ with, and indeed altering the keyboard mapping - while still involving a little hacking - is actually pretty simple.)

But that aside, this release does, as stated, catch up with a lot of commercial software in a lot of areas, and is to be commended for that. Apart from filters (nowadays I’d say pretty much essential) and other effects (desirable), it’s pretty much fully featured now.

As always, being open source it’s a free download, and as always I recommend the curious or more open minded DJs among you to download it and have a look. And if you decide it’s got legs, and you take the time to create a nice custom mapping for your particular controller, then do let the Mixxx guys have it so they can add it to the presets and share it with the world. You'd be helping a worthwhile project.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

Mixxx is now better than it’s ever been. If you’re an open source enthusiast who knows a bit about Midi, XML and coding in general, you can get involved and adapt Mixxx to suit whatever Midi gear you have, but if you’re just a plug-and-play DJ, unless you have one of the controllers it is already mapped for, it isn’t going to be of much use to you.

Mixxx 1.10.0 Beta Free DJ Software

Are you a Mixxx user who’s been waiting for these features? Do they tempt you to give Mixxx a go either again or for the first time? Let us know your thoughts and experiences with this software in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. Will Marshall says:

    Mixxx is getting really good: I hope to be able to switch to it soon (especially as I have the skills to contribute to the app itself in future).

    However, I’m deeply ambivalent about the support for skinning. I’m not a UX (User Experience, designers who specialize in usability rather than shinyness) designer, but I work with them daily and a certain amount of their knowledge has seeped into my programmerly brain. One of the great mistakes we programmers make is assuming that more configurability is automatically better: in reality, the research suggests that options should be as limited as possible for a product to be most useable.

    Skins are one of these things: they seem like a good idea at first glance, but in practice they turn into something of a consistency nightmare. A project (like Mixxx) usually benefits from providing a single skin (with a few configuration options) and focusing all their UI effort on perfecting it. You can do this: lots of people think that good UI is about personal preference, but in reality it’s pretty consistent across most people.

    Good UI design is hard, and requires lots of user-testing, iteration and constant tweaking. When you increase the number of available skins that difficulty increases exponentially, as you’re faced with having to both A: put all that work into each skin, and B: keep all the skins consistent as well.

    The approach Serato and Traktor take is actually pretty awesome. Their UX has a lot of work put into it, and while the interfaces are mildly configurable they’re also consistent, which is more important. I also think one of the main reasons VDJ has had such a (perhaps partially undeserved) bad rep is actually the support for skins.

    The mainstream classic example of this principle is Apple: who have become the dominant PC company by ditching what was (at the time) the conventional wisdom that more == better, and focusing on small feature-sets done well. Twitter is another, less contentious example of basically the same thing.

    TL;DR: more options is not always better.

  2. @Will Marshall,

    That’s a very fair point and believe me we think about that a /lot/ when designing Mixxx. Being open-source, in order to keep all the community members happy sometimes you have to support different use cases (e.g. we have a healthy radio-broadcasting community and they want to cut out all the DJ-stuff and only use things they need for running their radio show like Shoutcast and sample decks).

    In the end, we have 1 lead designer who designs all the skins that ship with Mixxx, and we do not currently ship community provided skins with the releases because they are not all polished to our standards. This means that for our 2 main skins (Deere for people who prefer split waveforms and LateNight for people who prefer parallel waveforms) there has been a lot of UX focus on getting those 2 just right.

    Stay tuned, we’ve got a lot more coming up in early 2012!
    RJ Ryan
    (Mixxx Lead Developer)

    • Will Marshall says:

      Cheers for the response! This is always a tricky problem for OSS projects, especially as user testing is basically expensive and tricky to find volunteers for.

      Out of interest, is the format you use to store beatgrid and tempo info documented anywhere?

      I’ve been playing around with scripts to batch-processes Traktor .nml (xml) playlists, but I’m interested in putting together a set of Serato –> Traktor –> Mixxx migration tools. In theory it should be feasible to migrate beatgrids from one app to another.

      Another random thing: I notice the current version ships with fixed-perspective skins at somewhat curious resolutions (e.g. 1440×900 is missing). Are there any plans to move to a scalable/vector UI?

      • All of our beat grids and other track metadata are stored in a SQLite database. It’s pretty easy to access from another program or export into a standard format.

        RE: Traktor NML files — Mixxx 1.10.0 Beta has support for loading your Traktor library directly within Mixxx (goes alongside our support for iTunes and Rhythmbox libraries that came in 1.9.x). To accomplish that, we parse the NML files. The Traktor beatgrids and other track-based information itself is not stored in the NML file — it’s stored in a binary blob alongside the track. We haven’t yet been able to reverse engineer this format.

        With regards to Serato — they store their entire library as a binary blob. We have made some significant progress in reverse engineering it and hopefully Serato library loading will be ready in Mixxx 1.11.

        We definitely want the transition from Serato/Traktor to Mixxx to be as easy as possible. Ideally we would like to help encourage the various DJ software manufacturers to get together and form a standards committee to come up with a unified way to store file metadata. Unfortunately I think incentives are not aligned here since most DJ software enjoys some degree of lock-in since people invest tons of time into preparing their libraries.

        RE: fixed-size skins — yes this is a major limitation of Mixxx’s original GUI system (designed circa 2001). It’s one of the last major parts of Mixxx that hasn’t been gutted and re-written since version 1.0. Rewriting the GUI is something we have scheduled for Mixxx 2.0.

        Thanks for the kind words!
        RJ Ryan

      • Regarding Traktor “Stripes”:
        There’s an old software for former users of the Linux version of FinalScratch, which was later updated for support for the first Traktor Windows (and wine) versions.
        This software can actually read, display and *write* the stripes.
        Maybe the developer “Flatfeetpete” would be willing to share the knowledge ?
        http://finalscratch.sourceforge.net/TuneMover/index.html
        http://finalscratch.sourceforge.net/
        http://twitter.com/#!/flatfeetpete
        http://www.flatfeetpete.com/

    • Will Marshall says:

      Technical stuff aside, you guys are doing a fantastic thing :)

      • >The Traktor beatgrids and other track-based information itself is not stored in the NML file — it’s stored in a binary blob alongside the track. We haven’t yet been able to reverse engineer this format.

        Are you talking about the “stripe” files? I saw those. I’m interested in decoding the format myself.

        Is there a possibility for setting up a project or a forum, for people willing to cooperate on these technical matters? I guess that more than just a few readers here would be interested in joining.

      • Bart — we would definitely be interested in any help reverse engineering the format of these files. Email me and we can talk about details: “rryan” at mixxx.org.

  3. I’ve only ever used Mixxx to DJ with. I’m a college freshman – I’ve got a limited budget. But I’ve done a couple of gigs using Mixxx 1.9. I tested this beta out myself yesterday and I’m very impressed. Having never used commercial software, I suppose I’m easy to please when it comes to features, but Mixxx 1.10 is a MASSIVE improvement over 1.9 and I can’t wait to get playing around with it some more.

    That being said, I do have a controller of my own – the DJ2GO – and I’ve mapped most of it, but as stated in this article, the jog wheels are a pain to get programmed. I also don’t have the library controls programmed, but otherwise it’s working. I’ve been trying to get some help in programming these last two parts so it can be added to the project, but no luck yet. Any MIDI mappers out there?

  4. Congratulations RJ Ryan – the latest version of Mixx is looking fantastic!

  5. I started djing with mixxx. I use traktor now, but I still have mixxx on my linux partition

  6. Can someone let me know if MIXX modifies the original sound files in my library? I tried Traktor several years ago, but it mucked around with the original MP3 and Ogg files with metadata. That was pretty much a deal-breaker for me—I want something that is non-destructive (think Adobe Lightroom with its separate database and XML “sidecars”). I don’t want my audio files to be touched—not even their last-modified dates changed.

  7. So I installed Mixx and tried things out. I wrote about my experiences. I’m sorry for being flippant, but at the end of the day it didn’t work for me.

    http://www.garretwilson.com/blog/2012/01/28/mixx-mixed-up.xhtml

    I’m serious when I say that a lot of talent probably went into putting the guts into this thing, and that is commendable. Somebody needs to give the UI a makeover, though, because after about 10 minutes, I’m uninstalling it.

  8. This is looking great, although I’m really looking forward to the enhanced effects system that I’ve seen mentioned as slated for v1.11.

    Garret – if you’d put the “I’m not a DJ. I’m not used to DJ software” before your link rather than two thirds of the way down your blog post I wouldn’t have needed to click!

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