Real-Time Stem Separation For Mac & PC Announced In Virtual DJ 2021

Last updated 19 June, 2020

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Blimey, you wait 20 years for a real-time stem separation DJ app, then two arrive at once! Hot on the heels of yesterday’s announcement of Algoriddim’s djay Pro AI for iOS, Virtual DJ 2021 has just been announced, with the key new feature being… real-time stem separation.

DJs using Virtual DJ 2021 can now work on the fly with the various components of their tracks (vocals, instruments, kicks, hi hats, etc) in real-time to create new mash-ups, remixes and transitions.

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The main difference from djay for iOS is that Virtual DJ 2021 brings this tech to laptop computers. One of the biggest questions that was asked by the community when I interviewed Karim Morsy from Algoriddim about djay Pro AI in our Thursday Q&A yesterday was when it is coming to Mac/PC/Android. As of today, though, if you’re using a laptop and you want to try this technology, Virtual DJ is your choice.

But the way Virtual DJ has implemented this is different too, and in many ways flexible, in that you get choices as to which stems you isolate:

EZRemix mode

In “EZRemix” mode it is similar to djay Pro AI, in that you get drums, instruments and vocals to work with, mapped to the EQ controls instead of bass/mid/treble. Turn a control to the left to remove the element, or to the right to isolate it.

ModernEQ mode

By using a Midi mapped external device, you can control all five stems that Virtual DJ 2021 makes available.

In Modern EQ mode, your defaults become bass, instruments/vocals together, and hi-hats – an option that will please house DJs. But the real big thing here is that when this is Midi-mapped to a four-channel device, you can actually control FIVE Stems – vocals, instruments, bass, kick drum and hi-hats.

This works by “hijacking” the EQs from the other two channels on the mixer to give you enough knobs to control all five stems – and thus works best if you’re only DJing with two channels.

Pad Stems mode

There are also Pad Stems, which may just prove to be the most useful implementation. With these, five of the eight performance pads can cut or isolate the same five stems mentioned above – meaning even on two-channel controllers, you can control all five stems.

Stems pads
By using a new pad mode, you can continue to use your EQ controls normally, which may just prove to be the most popular way of controlling this – much the same way that the Traktor Kontrol S5 controlled its earlier (non-real time) Stems implementation against the Kontrol S8 method.

How does it sound?

Much as with the djay Pro for AI integration we discussed yesterday, it is good, but not great – and results are definitely variable. You can’t really expect miracles with this kind of stuff, so you’ll have to experiment with your tracks and see what works and what doesn’t for you.

The hi-hat separation was usually clean, removing the instruments from a track to leave drums and vocals usually sounded great too, and any individual elements when used “in the mix” with something on the other deck tended to sound passable too. Basically, it’s going to be fine for DJing, but it isn’t a studio stem creation tool, at least not yet.

First thoughts

Just, wow. In the space of 24 hours, DJs have got the tools to DJ with real-time stem separation, on PC, Mac and iOS. Yes, you’ll need a modern, powerful device, and yes, it isn’t perfect-sounding yet – but try it and I guarantee you’ll be excited about the possibilities, even if you’re not wholly won over by the audio quality.

While this will almost certainly lead to an increase in the number of ill-conceived and badly executed mashups (off key, out of time…), in the right hands tools like this will usher in new was of mixing and DJing.

5 stems separation

Whether it’s just dropping the vocals out momentarily to allow your crowds to sing along, looping and removing the instruments from the end of a pop song to give you an instant outro “bed” to mix over, or more complex live remixing, so much more is possible with tech like this.

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I really, really want to know what Serato and Rekordbox have planned here, now that this is starting to look like a trend. Especially with Serato’s pedigree as an audio engineering company, there must be conversations going on right now about what their response will be. Watch this space, as ever people…

• Virtual DJ 2021 is a free update to all Virtual DJ Pro owner. Virtual DJ home is a free download which includes this functionality, and a subscription to virtual DJ Pro is $19.9 a month. There is an outright purchase option too. More details on the Virtual DJ website.

James Hype Mixing Skills