Serato DJ is Serato’s new software for controller DJs. Serato DJ replaces the company’s previous flagship controller DJ software, Serato ITCH.
It is currently available in the box with the Pioneer DDJ-SX (see our Pioneer DDJ-SX review), as well as a Serato DJ upgrade for users of the Pioneer DDJ-Ergo, Numark Mixtrack Pro and Denon DJ MC2000. It will be rolled out for all current Serato ITCH and Serato DJ Intro users controllers over the coming months.
In this review, we’ll start by briefly laying out the history of Serato controller software, and explaining how Serato DJ fits in with the company’s other products (and the reason Serato DJ had to happen), to help you decide if Serato may be the route for you. Then, we’ll make a detailed analysis of the package.
Serato and controller software
Serato has always done things a little differently when it comes to how its software works with hardware.
Simplicity of operation has been forefront in its marketing and is central to the software’s appeal to a certain type of DJ.
From the company’s tight partnership with Rane (which makes Serato audio interfaces and Serato-enabled mixers such as the Rane Sixty-One for Serato Scratch Live), to the relatively small number of controllers Serato has licensed to work with its current controller software ITCH, the company has strived to provide “plug and play”, out of the box functionality.
No set-up, no mapping, no audio configurations. This simplicity of operation has been forefront in Serato’s marketing and is central to its appeal to a certain type of DJ.
Serato has also always provided the software for “free”. You effectively “buy” the software when you buy Serato-licensed hardware. This is because, of course, the software just won’t work if licensed hardware isn’t plugged in. So the latest version of all Serato software is always available on the company’s website, upgrades never costing you anything – you just go and download the new versions as they appear, and they arrive ready-tested for your controller. It all feels very Apple, doesn’t it?
Appealing to the masses
To carry on the Apple analogy, the trouble was, there were lots of people who couldn’t afford to buy into the expensive world of Serato ITCH. The cheapest Serato ITCH-enabled controllers cost a lot more than the cheapest basic DJ controllers.
Serato was missing these people completely, and you can therefore almost hear the marketing thinking from Serato as it decided to introduced its last major DJ controller software offering, Serato DJ Intro. (This software is the equivalent of Traktor LE or Virtual DJ LE – bundled with controllers to give a “taste” of a full-priced package.)
“We’re not getting enough of these new users,” Serato’s execs will have concluded in their planning meetings. “We need to be on that playing field too.”
Users of controllers that come bundled with Serato DJ Intro will be able to upgrade to Serato DJ for a fee.
Serato DJ Intro successfully launched, the next issue was that there was no way to upgrade from Serato DJ Intro to Serato ITCH for DJs who outgrew it (and Serato DJ Intro, in line with all cut-down starter DJ software packages, has some clear limitations). With Virtual DJ LE there’s the upgrade path to Virtual DJ Pro, and with Traktor LE there’s the upgrade to Traktor Pro – but not for Serato.
Hence we all guessed that some kind of upgrade would be made available at some point. With Serato DJ, that’s finally happened. Users of controllers that come bundled with Serato DJ Intro will be able to upgrade to Serato DJ for a fee, to unlock the software’s full feature set. At that point, they’ll have “bought in” to the full Serato ecosystem, gaining access to free updates for life just like all other Serato users.
Upgrading from ITCH
At the time of writing (Nov 2 2012), the software is only available for Pioneer’s first Serato DJ controller, the DDJ-SX (read our Pioneer DDJ-SX review here). Over the coming six months or so, the software will slowly be made available for all existing Serato ITCH and Serato DJ Intro controllers.
ITCH users will get it as a free upgrade; Serato DJ Intro users will pay a US$199 licence fee. If you want to be told when the software will be available for a particular controller, you can be emailed by Serato by registering here.
Where is all this leading?
Looking forward, judging by the wording of the Serato DJ press release, the next move will be to bring Serato Scratch Live into the same package – “Serato Scratch DJ”, perhaps? – so that one software package covers all possible user scenarios.
The next move will be to bring Serato Scratch Live into the same package – ‘Serato Scratch DJ’, perhaps?
What is clear from all this is that Serato has undergone and is undergoing a substantial internal reorganisation, to draw on its strengths as a provider of DJ solutions that “just work”.
By simplifying its offerings, the company is clearly attempting to reduce consumer confusion, broaden its appeal, and strengthen its desired market position.
But how good is Serato DJ Intro? What of the much-lauded new Midi mapping functions? The juicy iZotope effects? The new layouts? Let’s find out.
Serato DJ 1.0.0 software review
Installing the software and preparing your hardware
If you’re on a PC you get the fun of installing a custom ASIO driver, which basically bypasses Windows audio drivers to deliver better performance. There’s a small control panel for adjusting buffer size should you get jittery audio. (No need for any of this on a Mac.)
Apart from that, installation simply involves downloading the latest version of the software from Serato’s website and installing it like any other program; once it’s installed, you run the program to open it in “offline” mode.
When you plug your compatible controller in, the decks appear as the software switches to “online” mode. Plugging your headphones and amp/speakers into the DJ controller completes the set-up process. It’s as simple as ever.
Your existing Serato information
One thing that will reassure current users is that Serato hasn’t thrown the baby out with the bathwater here: This software remains compatible with your existing Serato library, and all your tunes are there as before when you open up. You can keep Serato ITCH or Serato DJ Intro on the same machine as Serato DJ if you like, and use them interchangeably.
Note that for users who buy an upgrade from Serato DJ Intro, you’ll be asked for a user password during this procedure to authenticate the software on your system.
The offline player
So as mentioned, first thing you see if you open Serato DJ without a compatible controller plugged in is the Offline Player (you can go and do it now – downloads the software from serato.com and have a look!).
Here you can set loops, cues, prepare crates, audition tracks, set beatgrids (that tell Serato where the first beats of bars are etc. for easier syncing later on), analyse files (determine gain etc) and so on.
In Serato DJ’s offline player, the cueing and looping information is much more clearly displayed than in ITCH, but otherwise it’s business as usual here.
The opening screen
As if to reinforce the likelihood of Serato Scratch Live being brought into the fold before too long, the opening view once you plug a controller in swaps ITCH’s horizontal waveforms for a more Serato Scratch Live-esque vertical view. This puts a wealth of waveform information into a large square panel in the centre of the screen.
You get detailed rolling waveforms, a “bird’s eye” rolling view of the current sections of the tracks against each other for easy matching of peaks to aid manual beatmatching, and also as a manual beatmatching aid in the form of a static peak (usually kick drum) readout too.
In Serato ITCH, this information is spread out in different places pretty much across the whole top half of the screen; in Serato DJ, it’s unified in one place, leaving more screen real estate for other stuff. Overall, as with ITCH, waveform feedback remains streets ahead of any other DJ software – richly and usefully frequency coloured, and highly detailed. Waveriding remains lots of fun here.
The decks are now considerably bigger and contain more detail. The white circle that shows deck movement was empty in ITCH; in Serato DJ, it contains BPM, BPM variance from true, tempo fader range, and – the most useful of all – time elapsed and time gone. Yup, now there’s need to click the numbers to cycle between these.
Note that BPM now shows to only one decimal place. Whereas Traktor’s three decimal places seems silly, one decimal place seems equally so to me – two is right for accurate beatmixing. I’d like to see an option at least to bring back that second decimal. By the way, there’s also an “original BPM” number that never changes, to the right of the track name – a nice touch.
Outside of the white circle, there is now permanent visibility of cues and loops – up to eight of each, although you can only display four of each at a time. There are also indicators of loop length, loop 1/2x and 2x controls, a save / lock button for loops / cue points, transport controls, an eject button, keylock button – all things absent from ITCH, where they were traditionally available on hardware and there was no perceived need for them to be repeated on screen. In this respect, Serato DJ is more like other DJ software than ever before.
One major addition is VU meters, both for individual channels and for master; with the VU meters come individual gain and master out controls, that – certainly on the Pioneer DDJ-SX, currently the only controller I can test this with – work independently of those on the hardware. I expect with simpler hardware that doesn’t have standalone mixer functionality, such as the Denon DJ MC2000, they’ll be mapped to the hardware controls.
I wasn’t a fan of the alternative views to the horizontal view in Serato ITCH; they didn’t really seem to offer much choice, and appeared tacked on. But here the alternative views do offer real choice; certainly enough to make up for the removal of the daytime mode, which I am sure some DJs will miss.
Switching to Horizontal offers the same feedback as Vertical, except the middle section expands from a square to a rectangle, all the waveforms flip 90 degrees, and the gaps down the far left and far right of the screen disappear. This makes better use of the available space, resulting in more of the waveforms on view.
Moving on, Extended mode might make you assume if you’re familiar with Traktor that you’re going to be bombarded with information, your library shuffling right to the bottom of the screen with an apologetic one or two tracks showing. But no, in Serato DJ it’s something different.
This view is really very close to the current version of Serato ITCH…
What it means here is “extended waveforms”; in return for losing the ability to display more than four cues or four loops at any one time, you gain full-width view of the main waveforms. This view is really very close to the current version of Serato ITCH, although you do additionally completely lose the BPM aid waveform views, which is a shame.
Library view is very similar to ITCH, with rudimentary waveform and deck information squashed to the top of the screen to show almost a full-screen view of your library section. Let’s look closer at the library.
The changes here are evolutionary. Played tunes go grey instead of bright green (a sensible change); the grey/black dividing colours for rows are a little more obvious; a few of the buttons have moved around; the colour-code column for “colouring” tunes (for mood etc) now has blocks instead of little coloured dots; and the iTunes library, if enabled, can now be minimised.
Gone are the full album artwork views; you can now view the album art as tiny (and unadjustable) squares in a list view, or not at all. There’s no option to view album art at the bottom of the tree section any more, either, despite the manual saying there is – unless it is, in fact, there and I’ve just missed it. It seems Serato has definitely decided album art isn’t really important to DJs, as this is all a step backwards from ITCH.
File handling itself is unchanged; it is the best file handling system in any DJ software. I think this because of the way it plays nicely with iTunes (you can edit ID3 tags from your iTunes library, which I love, and which some others can’t or don’t want to do); the way you can DJ from external drives easily, and then when you plug those drives into other computers running Serato software, all the info is “just there”; the ease of copying and moving crates; and also because of its “Smart Crates”.
For those uninitiated in Smart Crates, they’re like Smart Playlists in iTunes – you set parameters and your music populates the crates automatically according to them. You can use this to autosort, say, all house from 1988-1992. The only change from ITCH is that the smart crates and normal crates have inexplicably become harder to differentiate from each other (now a small “S” in the graphic shows a smart crate, rather than a completely different colour).
The Files, Browse, Prepare, History and Search functions remain as they are in ITCH.
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Tags: denon dj, Electronic Musical Instruments, Scratch Dj, Scratch Live, serato, Serato Audio Research, Serato Dj, serato scratch, serato scratch live, Serato Software, Software, Sx Serato Dj, Traktor
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