There has been plenty of hype about Emulator, a multi-touch overlay for Traktor Pro that was first brought to most people’s attention last year when its presentation on a big glass panel wowed a lot of DJs.
Today I’m going to answer the question that many people asked at the time, and have been asking since: Is this really the future of DJing?
I’ve prepared a video walkthrough of Emulator Multi-Touch, to accompany this short review.
First impressions/setting up
Since Traktor Pro doesn’t offer a plug-in interface, Emulator has to use some tricks. It communicates with Traktor via Midi. A virtual Midi device is good enough for the task: that is basically a driver that fakes an actual Midi device. Since Windows (it’s written in .NET, so is Windows-only at the moment) has no built-in way to create such a device, Emulator comes with the free LoopBe1 Midi driver.
However, a lot of Traktor’s functions can’t be accessed like this. Therefore Emulator displays parts of Traktor’s original user interface (like the waveforms and file browser) through its template. So it truly is an overlay for Traktor!
The overlay has a clean interface with vibrant colours. It’s integrated as tightly as is possible with Traktor Pro and makes good use of Windows 7’s built-in multi-touch capabilities (of course, you need a suitable screen to use it at all). However, I was disappointed to find that no multi-touch gestures are used and that there are no innovative controls to make use of touch control at all. For instance, where are X-Y meters which work so very well on touchscreens?
Instead, I found that the layout of the controls is not optimal (it takes too many taps to be able to use the effects, for instance), and that there’s no way to customise the layout. Several other features are really quite basic: Only two decks are supported, and the only screen resolution is 1280 x 800, for instance.
These things would be reasonably easy to solve in a future version, but more of an issue is that due to relying on Windows 7 Input API, the latency is pretty high – something that is more difficult to solve.
To unlock the potential of multi-touch interfaces, developers have to think outside of the box. Now that we can interact directly with the user interface, there are a lot of new possibilities for us get our heads around, and Emulator, in sticking to the tried-and-tested, hasn’t yet done that.
Up until now the best way to control a DJ software was using external controllers, and I have to say that I’d prefer my old-school buttons, knobs and faders any day over something which does exactly the same minus tactile feedback.
So, despite the sleek style-factor of a transparent multitouch-screen, Emulator doesn’t have much to offer that a serious DJ would want at this stage. It’s a good first attempt, but let’s hope version 2 will address some of these fundamentals.
Finally, I think the high price for the software (US$249) is prohibitive if you consider that you can get Traktor Pro for as low as US$200.
• Alexander “Hedgehog” Zigelski is the creator of the Midi Fight Club party series, which pushes digital DJing by showing that turntables, controllers and studio gear can live side-by-side in perfect harmony. On his blog www.ali.dj, he talks about the technical side of DJing and releases tools for Traktor, among others.
Have you tried Emulator? How do you think touchscreen devices should interface with DJ software? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.