DJing on your iDevice as we’re finding out isn’t all about Algoriddim’s djay, great though it is – there are many other programs vying for your attention.
The Future DJ app has been in the app store for almost a year now and curiously seems to get little notice; so today I’m setting out to find out if it’s a hidden gem.
The development team (Xylio) are behind the Future Decks audio / video mixing software which is available for both PC and Mac. FutureDecks is pretty fully featured, so with this prior experience in the DJ software market my expectations for an iOS app from the same company start off quite high.
The user interface
The interface is fairly straightforward, and all of your time will be spent on the main screen (since there really is only one screen!).
The app is displayed horizontally with the tracks stacked (Left deck “A” at the top, Right deck “B” at the bottom) and the waveforms scrolling from right to left.
The deck controls are colour coded with the left deck in red and the right deck in blue. The colour-coded pitch sliders are on the edges of the screen and show a rough volume level underneath in the same colour.
The in-app help feature (via the “?” button on the left) is quite handy on first use and the configuration page can be accessed with the wrench/spanner button on the other side.
There are quite a few key configuration settings to note, some more useful than others:
- Analyze on load – Set this to ON otherwise there is no beatgrid or BPM displayed and therefore the sync button will not make any sense! The caveat here is that once the BPM has been detected there’s no way of correcting it. I’m sure it’s not even looking at the BPM data which I’d stored against the track in iTunes. Most of my drum & bass tracks were coming back with a bpm around 115!
- Play on load – This is a strange setting to auto play the track once it’s been loaded. I’ve got this set to “Off”. I can’t think of a circumstance where I’d want a track to play straight away without cueing it first
- Audio split mode – A useful setting if you’re using any form of audio splitting to cue up the next track. There’s no PFL level setting and it does the cueing automatically based on where the cross-fader currently is
- Waveform scratch mode – While I certainly wouldn’t use such an app for scratching, I’ve got it set to “On” which allows me to manually scroll through the waveform (with audio) when setting a cue point
- Auto mix duration – The time taken for the auto-movement of the crossfader from one side to the other. This might be useful if you want to move onto the next track while playing with effects or something else
- Beatmatching when auto-mixing – Very much dependent on how well you’ve aligned the two tracks and if their BPMs are correct
- Use cue as cue-play – A common setting on several apps and down to personal preference
- Enable MotionPlaying – This is the odd one. I really cannot think of a use for this feature apart from a very brief moment of amusement. If you have this set, you can place your iPhone/iPod Touch on a physical turntable and scratch the track loaded by moving the turntable!
Access to your music library is via the “eject” button for each deck on the left.
Ease of use and quick access to tracks in your music library should be paramount for developers of any DJ app, however with Future DJ we are using the generic music library plugin which shows you the tracks as if you were using the standard “Music” app on your device.
When you’re in a live environment and need to get to a track fast this approach is slow and feels clumsy.
For me, the generic view of the library is fine when I’m at home browsing through tracks without time as a constraint. However, when you’re in a live environment and need to get to a track fast this approach is slow and feels clumsy. Sadly this is the quickest, easiest way for a developer to say they’ve given you access to the music library which means it’s the most used approach throughout iOS DJ apps (with a few rare, but welcome exceptions).
Unfortunately with Future DJ there’s no alphanumeric index so if you want to load up two tracks by Zero 7 then you have to either use Search (which is slow with a lot of tracks) or scroll down the entire artist list (again, time consuming). At the very least, the developers should be looking to add a keyed index on the right hand side to quickly take you to “Z” or at least thereabouts.
The other problem with the generic library screen is that it does not include BPM or comments data, so you have no idea what speed the tracks are and what key they’re in. Other similar apps have got this covered nicely and some even allow sorting on this data.
Track detail and control
Once a track has been loaded you get the waveform with beatgrid shown as well as the basic track information (artist, title, BPM and duration left). I’m not sure what the heart icon represents though.
The title bar of the track also acts like a track search bar, so you can press any point along the thin bar and the track will go immediately to that point.
It would be good to see a “double-tap” feature on the pitch to snap it back to zero, and pitch bend functionality as well.
The pitch controls are OK (just). Any fine tuning is out of the question on a small screen and you don’t get any indication of how much you have altered the pitch (eg +/- 10%) – unless you’re very good at quick maths and deduce it from the changes in BPM. It would be good to see a “double-tap” feature on the pitch to snap it back to zero, and pitch bend functionality as well.
The crossfader again is OK, you can punch in (and quickly out) a track by tapping anywhere along the crossfader. The “Mix” buttons either side are for the ‘Auto-Mix’ function which smoothly moves the crossfader from one side to the other. It would be good to see an adjustable fader curve (as on other apps).
You only get one cue point per track (which is stored and recalled next time the track is loaded).
Cue, FX & loop
These are all grouped together and when displayed they cover the current track’s waveform display.
The EQ is limited to low and high, with a gain control alongside. There are four self-explanatory effects buttons: brake (this slows the track to a stop, like hitting the stop button on a turntable); flanger; skip (this skips to the next beatgrid); and echo.
Unfortunately, there’s no way of tweaking these effects so you’re left with static settings. I found hitting brake and echo at the same time brought a nice flourish to stopping a track and when used while fading between two tracks it was quite effective.
The loop functionality is basic but can be effective if your BPM is correct and the beatgrid is aligned perfectly. It’s as simple as pressing “Loop In” to start the loop, and the same button to mark the end loop point.
When you first press the “Loop In” button the Cue/FX/Loop section becomes slightly transparent so you can see the waveform. This all felt OK, but sadly lacking in terms of quality and quantity when you look at what other competing apps are offering in all these three areas. There’s no way of storing loop points or looping based on a set of bar lengths, so it is very much “on-the-fly”.
For a company that has developed DJ software before, the app does fall short of what you would expect. However, the app has been developed with a small interface in mind and there are plans for an iPad version – there are no details of how this will differ though and how it will stand out against established competition on a larger device.
The app just about delivers what is promised, however it is unlikely that many people would choose to use it in a live environment when other more feature-rich apps are available.
- Simple interface
- Audio splitting for headphone cueing
We don’t like:
- Generic music library access screen
- Re-analysis of track on every load
- Limited functionality
Ease of use:
Buy from: App Store
What do you think?
Have you bought or used this software? Have you auditioned it alongside other iOS DJ software? Got anything you’d like to add to our review? Please let us know your thoughts below.
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