Review: Mixxx 1.10.0 Beta Free DJ Software
With all the talk of alternatives to Traktor and Serato, it’s timely that the team at Mixxx – the open-source alternative to paid-for DJ software – has today announced its latest update, Mixxx 1.10.0 beta. The latest version adds a wealth of new features: Sample decks, beatmatched loops, quantisation, phase sync, beatgrid adjust, software microphone support, better library, new skins, improvements to the mixing engine, updated Midi mappings and last but not least, Serato-esque spinning decks.
(It also has much improved timecode support for digital vinyl users, including the ability to use Serato and Traktor timecoded vinyl simultaneously.)
Download and set-up is just that little bit less intuitive than with commercial packages, but in truth you probably don’t need to do anything more that install the software, make sure your audio interface is up and running with the correct drivers, and select it in the simple audio setup page in Mixxx’s preferences. This is the same as you’d do for most DJ software, in other words. If you’re reasonably technically minded (and arguably that’s a prerequisite for today’s digital DJ), you’ll be going in no time.
The first impression with the default skin is that the latest incarnation of the software looks like like a cross between Torq and Traktor. There are no parallel waveforms on first load, but this is corrected in the Late Night version of the skin. (There are also skins that hark back to the earlier days when the software was designed for much lower resolution screens, and also there are lighter versions for those daytime gigs.)
The waveforms don’t scroll quite as nicely as some other software (the beat markers flicker as they move from right to left) but it’s been tightened up a lot in recent years and is certainly visually acceptable, especially as it has more skins than ever now.
The library area is much improved and looks great, with a shuffle-able auto DJ section, the ability to create both playlists and crates, a good recording section that allows you to specify when a recording should be split (for instance, at 650Mb for burning to separate CDs) among other options, the ability to read your Traktor library, and iTunes playlist integration.
The new sample decks are basically four extra mini decks on top of the two in the main software. You can load single hits or whole tracks on them from the library, and they have their own headphone cue buttons, gain controls, tempo sliders, hot cues (four) and play/pause/stop buttons. Each can be routed to left, right or master to enable them to be cut in or out with the crossfader. They have loop controls too.
What they don’t have is sync or nudge, so they’re going to be fiddly to get bang on time. However, they’re a great start and would be useful for having emergency tracks lined up on, simple drum or percussion loops ready, or vocal drops / DJ idents to hand. They can be toggled on or off to release their screen real estate as desired.
Mixxx has for a while now done the basics fine, and it still does – loading, playing and mixing tunes is as you’d expect, and the beat looping is a much-needed addition which means all the basic controls are now present and correct. The keylock algorithm sounded OK to my ears too, and you can adjust the bass and treble cutoff points in the preferences which is great for getting the EQ exactly how you want it.
The software is still limited compared to commercial software in some areas: While adding beatmatched loops, phase-matched sync and a software microphone input has definitely pulled it in closer behind other packages, and it has a decent broadcasting section, there is only one effect ( a flanger), albeit with LFO, depth and delay so you can have some fun with it.
Midi and mappings
But the crucial area where Mixxx still lacks for me is in out-of-the-box Midi control. Mixxx 1.10.0 comes with support of variable quality for a small number of controllers, but it’s not the ones that are selling well today.
Now, it is perfectly possible to produce your own mappings. Indeed there’s a Midi Learn option where you are talked through the various controls to get a rudimentary mapping going in a matter of minutes (I got the Vestax VCI-400 we are currently reviewing partly controlling the software in less than five minutes).
But getting your mapping 100% right? That’s harder. Jogwheels are famously the hard bit about Midi mapping, and you need to get your sleeves rolled up and start hacking in order to add this kind of functionality to a custom mapping, using Midi sniffer apps and writing XML. If you thought mapping Traktor was hard, wait until you get stuck into this beast. There’s a friendly user community and an excellent wiki, but plug and play it ain’t, unless you have one of the controllers it natively supports.
Mixxx is now better than it’s ever been. A lot of the work on this new version has happened with the timecode section which we didn’t test as of course we focus on controller DJing, but we couldn’t help but notice that you can run Traktor and Serato timecode side-by-side! The biggest challenge the Mixxx team has for me is in getting quality mappings in place for modern controllers, and augmenting that list quickly when new models appear.
At the moment, if you’re an open source enthusiast who knows a bit about Midi, XML and coding in general, you can get involved and adapt Mixxx to suit whatever Midi gear you have, but if you’re just a plug-and-play DJ, unless you have one of the controllers it is already mapped for, it isn’t going to be of much use to you.
(Of course, you could just use the keyboard to DJ with, and indeed altering the keyboard mapping – while still involving a little hacking – is actually pretty simple.)
But that aside, this release does, as stated, catch up with a lot of commercial software in a lot of areas, and is to be commended for that. Apart from filters (nowadays I’d say pretty much essential) and other effects (desirable), it’s pretty much fully featured now.
As always, being open source it’s a free download, and as always I recommend the curious or more open minded DJs among you to download it and have a look. And if you decide it’s got legs, and you take the time to create a nice custom mapping for your particular controller, then do let the Mixxx guys have it so they can add it to the presets and share it with the world. You’d be helping a worthwhile project.
Are you a Mixxx user who’s been waiting for these features? Do they tempt you to give Mixxx a go either again or for the first time? Let us know your thoughts and experiences with this software in the comments below.