It's not all about Traktor, Serato and Virtual DJ when it comes to DJ software. PC and Mac users do have other choices out there, and one such choice is Cross DJ from French company MixVibes, which has recently reached its landmark v2.
Since we last looked at Cross DJ (see our Cross DJ 1.5 review), the software has acquired better effects, a four-channel mixer and sample decks - oh and a shiny new black paint job. But should we care? Yes, as it turns out…
First impressions and setting up
You can buy the software (the version we review here is actually 2.0.1) as a download from the MixVibes website, or you can get it as part of a more traditional pack, with an audio interface and control vinyl and CDs, so you can use it as a digital vinyl system with existing decks or CD players. Finally, you can buy it bundled with the company's own U-Mix Control Pro hardware. It is available in English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Italian, selectable from within the program.
However you buy it, you just install it along with drivers (PC only), and you're ready to go.
Since we last looked at the software, it's had a bit of a makeover, but is essentially recognisably the same program. Areas of the software can be switched on and off via the "view" menu so at first it doesn't look like much else has changed, but dig a little deeper and you discover eight sample slots per deck that can be switched on and that appear under the existing two decks. Another big difference is that there are now four channel faders, not two, up the middle of the mixer. The VU meters are now tucked "inside" the channel meters (making them harder to view when the fader knob cover graphic is over the "red" part of the VU meters).
To set the software up with your hardware, you first need to check it's supported (about 60 controllers are): the page on the MixVibes website referenced from the program is out of date, but a bit of digging reveals a Cross DJ 2.0 compatibility page on the same site, which represents a pretty wide range of mapped controllers; I had a Vestax VCI-400 sat here so I plugged it in, and the available mappings all suddenly appeared, with the Vestax already highlighted. However, note that not all controllers by any means are mapped.
If your controller isn't mapped you can do so yourself; the mapping system here is quite straightforward if not exactly easy; its' somewhere between Traktor (very fiddly) and Algoriddim's djay (surprisingly easy). The mappings section in the configuration are also recognises your OS and quite nicely, gives you the option of choosing a laptop or full keyboard mapping; again, the correct one was already chosen. you can remap the keyboard shortcuts, too.
Bear in mind that you can't just jump in and hack existing mappings; probably quite wisely, they're locked. What you can do is duplicate them and change your own duplicate version.
Finally in your setting up, you need to enable the audio routing. This tells the software what sound card settings to use for your headphones monitoring and master output. You get a choice of internal or external mixing; with a controller you'll typically use internal mixing, using the mixing function in your software rather than a hardware mixer. The software has a quit elegant "patch bay" graphical use interface to help you get your head around this typically tricky task of getting a new digital DJ set-up working; while not straightforward the first time you try and get your head around it, the way it is handled here is pretty good.
So, all set up and the sound coming out of all the right places, it's time to take a look at what the software can do.
First you'll want to get some music ready. The system can read your iTunes playlists and collection easily, although it does so in a dark-on-light window that looks a little like Serato's daytime mode, and is not switchable for the more traditional DJ light-on-black, the colour scheme used for the software's own collection window.
No matter really though, as it's not particularly advisable to play out of iTunes directly with this software (although you can); every time you play a tune it is analysed and imported into your "collection" automatically anyway, so best just to analyse all your tunes from the off and play from MixVibe's collection.
This task is made easier by the ability to auto import iTunes lists, Traktor playlists (including at least some of Traktor's custom data), Virtual DJ playlists, and from Pioneer's Rekordbox (more about this later).
You can even have more than one collection. So if you are a wedding DJ to pay the bills and an underground techno DJ for fun, you can keep both sides to your DJing life completely separate (just to irrevocably remove the tempatation to slam down a sambuka and slap Beltram's "Energy Flash" on to liven up a particularly boring wedding first dance…).
There is a preview mode so you can listen to tracks quickly before loading onto a deck, and, some nice touches too - for instance, MP3 quality is shown by colour coded smiley faces, 320kbps MP3s being a cheeky little dude in sunglasses, 96kbps rips appearing very frowny indeed in the "Quality" column! Also, album art is handled nicely, with Traktor-esque top fifth views in the lists, but also the choice of having a horizontally scrolling strip of artwork too above the main list.
Decks and mixer
There are four mixer channels, two of which are for decks and two for sample channels, the latter not apparently usable for anything else. The deck channels, however, can be switched to line inputs (or mic if your sound card has such inputs), and when you're using the digital vinyl features, you can even play old-school vinyl right through the software. Assuming you're DJing with MP3s though, when you load an MP3 you get the waveform in the deck, and if you've got the main waveform at the top of the screen selected in the "view" menu, the waveform loads there too. Waveforms are monochromatic, appearing in yellow and red depending upon the deck.
Transport and hot cues controls work as you'd expect, and there's looping with the usual half/double smart looping matched to the beat, and the ability to move the looped are too. I like "smart seek" that jumps forward or back a set number of beats that you can decide, but I wished it went "up" to 32 beats, or 8 bars, which is a useful jump amount; it stops, instead, at 16 bars so you'd need to tap it twice for the same effect.
The timestretching algorithm with keylock sounds excellent, and there are three modes you can employ here: "speed" is standard, "tempo" locks the key, and "hybrid" locks the key close to the original pitch, allowing the key to finally change when you move a long way awa from true pitch (to preserve sound quality).
Beatgridding and sync
The beatgridding is excellent. There's a little control so you can do your beatgridding right there on the deck, and not only can the software handle music that's not uniform 4/4 (ie old funk and disco, rock etc) sometimes referred to as "elastic beatgridding", it can also handle music that's completely all over the place.
It does this with the addition of extra "user beatgrids" that you can lay over the standard grid to show extra sections in tracks, a dropped or added beat - anything you want. Top marks, and it steals the show against Traktor (which has very limited beatgridding) and Serato (which has elastic beatgridding but can't handle tempo changes or non-standard time signatures in the same way that Cross can).
The strong beatgridding is reflected in equally strong sync functions. The software divides sync into "snap" and "quantise" functions, allowing you to sync to the nearest beat, bar or "cycle" (as in multi-bar musical phrase).
This is verified against the beatgrid, and reflected in the waveforms with little circles that rotate at a user.choosable frequency; setting it to four bars (the maximum) lets you see at a glance not only whether your tracks are "on the beat", but whether they're musically lined up too. these meters also work like Traktor's phase meters so you can manually hold mixes in time by watching the deviation shown.
Of course, you can turn all of this stuff off and wing it, old school style, if sync isn't your thing, but again, it's some of the most advanced syncing I've seen on any software.
Effects and samples
The effects have improved immeasurably since 1.5, where they were frankly poor. Now you get decent filters, phasers and flangers, with easy effects assignment and two complete effects units to choose from. The echo and delay are a bit limited; echo is tied to the beat but there's no visual representation of which fraction or multiple of the beat it's echoing; delay is fixed to half a beat.
The sampler features are far better than 1.x versions of the software, though - then, there weren't any! Now though, you get eight sample slots per "side", 16 in all, and they can be looped, one-shotted or set to momentary. You can sample from the decks and everything quantised up nicely. They run through the two "spare" mixer channels.
They're not up to Traktor's remix decks, more akin to Serato ITCH's sample decks. Sample sets can be stored and loaded, and indeed there are professional samples available for free to all purchasers to get you going.
There is a record button for direct recording from the software, which can record in four lossless formats (not MP3 though); I didn't test it but I don't expect any surprises here.
A nice touch is the availability of iPad and iPhone apps for remote controlling the software; you set up an ad hoc wireless network and then can change tunes etc from anywhere within WiFi range. For wedding DJs, for instance, this could be a godsend. These apps are mature and ought to work well.
A word regarding jogwheel control with external hardware. I tested this with a Vestax VCI-400, and the mapping supplied was very good. The jogs were 9/10; they felt slightly unrealistic when going into a spinback from free play but they were tightly mapped 1 to 1 to the software, which bodes well for the other 60 or so controllers pre-mapped. I have to say I didn't have any compatible digital vinyl here, so couldn't run any DVS testing.
There's no question that this is mature software and well up to the job. Limited compared to something like Traktor, it nonetheless has most of the features most DJs would want most of the time, and in some areas (I'm thinking beatgridding any sync) it's actually ahead of any.
Where it falls behind is on decks (only two, the second two channels being sample decks only) and effects (these are much better than 1.5, but could be much better still).
So who would buy it? Firstly, if you buy MixVibes' excellent U-Mix Control Pro DJ controller, it's bundled - so you would just have bought it. You might find you never want to use anything else.
Secondly, DJs wanting a good value DVS system may be tempted by the all-in-one pack that bundled control vinyl/CDs, an audio interface and the software for less than an equivalent Serato pack although no cheaper than Traktor's take on it (the Traktor Scratch A6 pack).
Thirdly, mixing DJs who truly mix all genres and ages of music may well be drawn to it because its breatgridding will continue working where others are going to fall. Traktor is basically only good for electonic musc when it comes to beatgridding, and while Serato can handle same-tempo "live" stuff better, only MixVibes Cross DJ lets you beatgrid pretty much anything.
And finally, because MixVibes also developed Rekordbox for Pioneer (the library management software Pioneer is pushing hard across its CDJs and new controller XDJ-AERO controller), Cross DJ plays nicely with that too. So DJs who play professionally on Pioneer gear in the clubs may choose this as their party/home DJ software because all thier cues, loops and so on should in theory work on both systems.
I think the one things MixVibes should concentrate on to get more traction for this software (apart from continually improving it, of course) is getting good mappings for all controllers in to it as soon as it can. Although that's hard to do (no surprise there are notable absences even from its pretty up-to-date supported controllers list at present), it would give MixVibes a market differentiator - "the DJ software that works with all controllers".
As it stands, the software does nothing wrong and an awful lot right - but whether that's enough to tempt a decent proportion of the masses away from the more highly marketed leaders of the pack apart is something that remains to be seen.
Are you a MixVibes Cross DJ user? Do you like 2.0? Have you seen anything here that would tempt you to switch? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.