Well who'd have thought it? The humble iPad, the butt of many DJs jokes (many of whom should know better, as they use laptops themselves!) has grown into a truly capable DJing platform. Not only do Algoriddim and Native Instruments shift millions of copies of djay and Traktor DJ respectively, but then relative minnow DJ Player wades in with the trick to trump them all: Digital vinyl.
Yup, that's right, one of the headline features of the latest release of this iPad software is the ability to hook it up to good old fashioned record decks and control vinyl and DJ away like it's good ol' 1988. But how well does it work? And is it a viable set-up for serious use? That's what we set out to find out today.
The path to iOS DVS
DVS - the use of a "timecode" signal to manipulate digital audio files on a computer using traditional DJ hardware - has been around for years with laptop DJ programs, providing a means to use your existing set-up but enjoy some of the benefits of digital DJing. This kind of thing felt beyond iOS DJ set-ups, though - that is, until last year when Apple announced multi-route audio functionality in its iOS 6 update; this was instantly picked up by app developers as a way to implement stereo master and stereo cueing functionality via an external USB sound card. iMect (the development team behind DJ Player), though, had bigger plans and quickly announced that DJ Player could be used with timecode vinyl or CD.
The major challenge was finding a USB class-compliant sound card that handled the necessary number of inputs and outputs (four in, four out for a traditional two-deck set-up) that you would need. For CD decks, then your choices were limited to a few (such as the Omnitronic DDI 4x4), and for turntables the choice was pretty much a big round zero.
Funnily enough, the breakthrough came from an unlikely source, iMect's competitor Native Instruments, which earlier this year updated the firmware for its Traktor 6 and 10 sound cards, making them USB class compliant. While this was mainly to give Traktor DJ users a way of getting the stereo master and stereo cueing functionality, these two sound cards also accept phono inputs, which finally meant DJ Player's potential as a digital vinyl system could be fully realised relatively simply.
What you need
Interested in experimenting? OK, before you can get started with DVS and iOS, you're going to need the following:
- Traditional (legacy) DJ equipment – We're talking turntables (or CD decks) and a mixer
- USB class-compliant sound card with four inputs and four outputs – Remember, if you’re using turntables you will need four phono inputs. The USB audio sound card will need an independent power supply; you cannot power the sound card from the iOS device
- Camera Connection Kit (CCK) – This will allow you to connect a USB hardware to your iOS device
- An iOS device running iOS6 or above and the latest version of the DJ Player app - If you’re on iOS 7 then smaller iOS devices (such as iPhones) will work as Apple have unlocked the use of the CCK on these
- DVS media – vinyl or timecode CDs. Avoid using Traktor 2 timecode vinyl, they don’t work consistently with DJ Player at the moment
Get connected & configured
Here's the procedure to follow to get connected:
- Connect your turntables (or CD decks) to the inputs of the USB sound card, taking note of the USB audio channels being used. For Traktor Audio 6, the left deck goes into channels 3 & 4 and the right deck goes into channels 5 & 6
- Connect your USB sound card outputs to the line inputs on your mixer, make sure you connect these up properly otherwise you could end up with the wrong deck on a mixer channel
- Connect your USB sound card to your iOS device using the CCK
- Connect your USB sound card to the power supply and switch on
Once that's all done, you’re ready to dive into DJ Player and make the couple of configuration changes you need to get going. Press Shift then the Settings button (at the top, centre of the page) to go into the configuration pages of DJ Player.
Press on the Output button. DJ Player will recognise that a sound card is connected and display a summary of this at the bottom of the page. On the Output page, you need to select "2 Decks" – this means that you will be using an external hardware mixer with DJ Player. Ensure that deck A and deck B have their outputs set correctly (you will need to refer to those numbers on the back of your sound card – for Traktor Audio 6 the left deck is three and four, the right deck is five and six).
At this point, you can go back to the deck screen and play back a loaded track on each deck – the audio should be fed from DJ Player on your iOS device over USB through the sound card and into the correct channels on your mixer. If not, you probably have the wrong USB channels selected or possibly you've made a mistake in your connections – worth checking again!
Back in the settings page, press the DVS button. In here you tell DJ Player that you want to run the app in DVS mode and will be controlling the basic playback functions (start/stop) and pitch control via an external source (turntable or CD deck). This configuration has been centralised and simplified with the latest version of DJ Player. At the bottom of the page you can select which of the four decks in DJ Player you want to have under the control of DVS functionality.
In my set-up, I’ve got deck A set to "TT 1" and deck B set to "TT 2". Once these are selected, you’ll see a small monitor bar appear for each deck on the screen. This shows the input signal coming from your chosen sources. The detail at the top of the page for frequency and threshold can be adjusted as desired to ensure that your DVS setup is tailored to your hardware and your lightness of touch.
If you prefer a fast spinning deck then you can choose to have the 45rpm button set to "Yes" In my experience most DJs using DVS will be using 33rpm and therefore this button should be set to "No". If you’re using a Traktor sound card then set the "Reverse" button to "Yes". I’m not sure why Traktor is set up this way, but without this your audio will playback in reverse!
Once these two settings pages are adjusted, DJ Player should operate as any other DVS software. You can still use the iOS device for applying multiple FX, playing with loops, cues and all the other great features within the app. You’ll notice that the pitch sliders and cross fader are removed from the main deck screen, which makes sense as you’ve chosen to use external hardware to control these things.
Your choice of USB sound card and timecode may affect some of these settings. I’m using a pair of Serato timecode vinyl which work perfectly.
The functionality has been in the app for a year now, but it's still a bit of a Wild West. Here are some common questions;
- Which timecodes are supported? - Theoretically every timecode is supported, including Serato and Virtual DJ. Users have had problems with the Traktor 2 so far, so best to avoid for the time being
- Q2: Does this work with any CD deck, even budget ones? - Yes, this works with any CD deck. A DVS signal is a really simple thing; it's basically just a sine wave on both L and R channels, but 90 phase difference between them. Anything which can play a sine wave is capable of outputting a DVS signal. The "timecodes" inside the DVS signal are just small modifications of the sine wave
- Q3: What does the bar on the DVS screen show? - The DVS bar shows the signal level. It's a simple VU meter, becoming brighter if the level is above a threshold you set (so DJ Player is "tracking"), and red if the level is too hot (the sine wave distorts - although even this is well tolerated)
And to the future?
iMect has thrown down the gauntlet here, getting one step ahead of everyone else, at least in this area. The reason this is successful is down to the quality of the sound from DJ Player; even the slowest movements sound good and consistent. While I haven't had the chance to use it in a live situation yet, I have been behind my decks more frequently as a result, which is always good news. If you’re a DJ who learned the craft on traditional hardware, then the advent of DVS functionality on iOS may help you jump into digital DJing with relative ease.
For instance, if you find DJing on controllers a little fiddly on smaller jogwheels, then DVS with turntables gives you much more room for hand movements during scratching. The great thing here is that this functionality is available to everyone, no matter what turntable or CD deck you have. You’re not chained to using a particular model or brand. You’re not even tied to using a particular sound card or timecode. This is a refreshing change in a world where manufacturers are quick to pin DJs to their way of doing things.
Ideally, there would be a greater choice of USB class-compliant sound cards out there, and in a perfect Apple-friendly environment we would have a dedicated four-in, four-out DJ sound card with a 30pin/lightning connector to eliminate the risk of CCK suspension of use. But even as it is, it's great. Using my iPad in conjunction with my turntables is something I have longed for since my first iOS purchase, and finally it’s here. It suddenly feels like my journey on iOS is coming to an exciting conclusion, as the technology and apps blossom together into a mature, inclusive DJ set-up that could soon make DJing from laptops appear very old-fashioned.
We'll keep our ears open for a response from the big boys in this field: My guess is that we may see DVS control coming to Traktor DJ in 2014 at last. Maybe Rane will also make its Serato USB interfaces class compliant?
• Try DJ Player free at App Store (DVS functionality is accessible via an in-app payment).
Are you a traditional DJ considering moving to DVS? Are you an iOS DJ now considering a DVS set-up? Please share your thoughts in the comments.