It looks great, it’s genuinely innovative, it’s simple to use but powerful, and for Mac, streaming and iTunes fans, it’s a real contender. If Algoriddim can sort out a more complete set of hardware mappings, dedicated controllers/DVS support, perfect jogwheel mapping, and some “pro” Spotify features, djay Pro may well woo more than a few pro DJs to its cause.
First Impressions / Setting up
You buy it from the App Store, so it’s simple to get it downloaded and open on your Mac. On opening the software everything feels, actually, reassuring familiar to anyone who’s ever used djay on any platform: there are two very pretty if slightly kitsch Technics-style “turntables”, a few basic transport, looping and mixer controls, and a big, clean-looking lower section of the screen with the library in it.
I’d actually played with the software without headphones or hardware at a party this weekend, but for the review I wanted to put it through its paces in a little more depth (it’s called “Pro”, after all!). So I picked a modern controller that I know works well with djay on iOS (due to actually having been designed for it): The Reloop Beatpad.
It was recognised immediately by the software, which auto-configured, so no worries there, but the audio didn’t auto-configure, and needed to be selected from a dropdown. Setting up audio interfaces is always a little bit of a head-scratcher for beginners (a bit like setting up printers on computers…), but it’s simple enough overall, and to be fair, the way it works in djay Pro is among the best of the lot.
Over other DJ software, iTunes integration is superior to all, bar none. iTunes is just… there. Indeed, hit the little “expand library” button bottom right and the light/dark theme button next to it (to make the library area black-on-white), and it looks and feels like somebody’s just shoved a small DJing app over the top of your iTunes!
Unlike most DJ software there’s no conscious/forced “importing” of tunes into djay Pro’s system; to all intents and purposes, you’re just DJing with your iTunes library. Mac users, who generally have little or no resistance to using iTunes in their day to day lives, will feel this is how it should be – and I agree. Why reinvent the wheel? But conversely, if you don’t use iTunes for organising your DJ music, I’d go as far as to say even at this stage that this probably isn’t the DJ software for you.
So assuming iTunes is a big part of your musical life, then, this is all good news. Turns out, too, that the info you’re seeing (artist, etc) for each track is pulled right from iTunes’s database and not from the files’ ID3 tags. That means you can have iTunes-specific tags like star ratings right there, which is a big plus, especially for those of us who use the ratings stars to tell us something about our tracks (“energy level”, in my case and that of many others DJs).
It is a shame you can’t edit the track info inline, though, because often you see stuff you want to change when DJing. Algoriddim informs us that it is fine to have iTunes open as well and flip between the two to do this, but it’s not ideal and fixing this would be welcome. One cool thing when you do choose to update something in your iTunes library, though, is that the second you do so, it changes in djay Pro – again, no importing or re-syncing or anything like that.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. Click the little iTunes logo bottom left and select “Spotify” instead and the subtle library graphics turn from red to green, to indicate you’re now in Spotify’s library. The accomplishment here is that nothing else appears to change at all. You still have your playlists, your songs, similar columns (Spotify doesn’t have a genre column, which is a shame, although you can sort by genre)… it’s basically nigh-on perfectly integrated, even with key and BPM information for every song in Spotify. Think about that last bit for a bit: The world’s music, already key and BPM analysed…
Thanks to the fact that to use Spotify you have to be online, you now get access to Spotify’s current top 100, and are also able to get Echonest-powered recommendations of what to play next based on the currently playing track (doesn’t matter whether that track is from Spotify or your local collection). What’s more, you can add stuff to Spotify playlists directly from the software with a right-click context menu. (Actually, drag and drop would have been nicer here.)
The more you play with it, the more you realise what an awesome music discovery tool this is. With all your playlists, starred songs and saved songs available to you, you can be DJing with your local collection and discovering on Spotify all at the same time in a way simply not possible before. djay Pro wasn’t the first DJ software to incorporate a streaming service (Virtual DJ has had a similar streaming element for years, and one or two others have dabbled in the last 12 months), but djay Pro does do it very, very well, and of course uses the leading streaming platform to deliver the music. And it’s all keyed and BPMed. Big difference.
This ease of use carries right across into “live” DJing with Spotify. Loading, previewing and playing the world’s music of course has potential issues – don’t get too drunk or that Bolivian marching band you loved on holiday in ’87 might just end up getting spun! – but it turns out that one of the potential issues that’s been raised about all of this can be put to bed right now: namely, that “losing the internet” will stop the music. Actually, that isn’t the case at all.
The way it works is that when you browse, choose and load a song, you do indeed need to be online, but once that song is fully loaded onto a deck, the software effectively has a “local” cached version to use – and it’s rock solid. One improvement might be for the software to quietly download in the background any tunes you drag to the temporary queue / prepare window, or even better, to interface with your “offline” music in your Spotify app, so you could effectively DJ from Spotify without an internet connection at all at your gig. As it is now, you’re going to want to have a local collection too (ie in iTunes), unless you totally trust your internet connection – but if you do, you can easily DJ from Spotify 100%.
Speaking of gigs, at the moment the streaming quality isn’t quite up to playing on big systems. Having said that, the “you can’t DJ with 96kbps tracks!” objection that’s being thrown around is a bit of a misnomer, these being 96kbps Ogg Vorbis-encoded tracks, not MP3s; this is Spotify’s native mobile format, after all, and trust me, the audio is in a different ballpark to 96kbps MP3s. I suspect it will actually be fine for many DJs and occasions.
Algoriddim tells us that choosing this relatively small file size is to ensure the software is rock solid (it is, and it “feels” just like playing local music, even across four decks of Spotify tracks), but nonetheless higher bitrate has to be offered (maybe as an option) if the Algoriddim wants Spotify streaming is to be used by pro DJs. I expect this to come very soon.
Also, you can’t record your Spotify sets. When you turn Spotify on, the record button in the software disappears, to be replaced by a history playlist. Understandable for licensing reasons I guess, but a shame. There are hacks to get around this of course, but they’re clunky. And finally, a small irritation is that several times the software listed songs in Spotify that upon trying to load led to the error “This song is not available in your country”. These results should be filtered out and so never presented as options in the first place.
Other library features
As mentioned earlier, you can choose night or day themes, and you can also decide whether or not to show the top part of the tracks’ artwork, which is more “visual” but of course reduces the number of tunes you have onscreen at once. One way of showing more music onscreen is to enter “library” mode, which leaves small (usable) decks at the top of the screen but uses up most of the real estate for your library. Combine this with adjusting your laptop’s resolution to the highest available and you can fit an awful lot on the screen if you wish.
There’s an automix function, which I suspect is not for most of us, but worth experimenting with if you have to regularly provide background music before DJing, for instance. As far as these types of things go, it’s pretty well featured with BPM matching and setting mix points among its options. With Spotify it could actually provide pretty much infinite, pseudo-mixed background music. Wonder how many bars will adopt it as their “DJ bot”?
The search system deserves a mention here. Start typing in the search box and it’ll give you your results in a small extra right-hand column, so you often find what you want in a couple of taps, while never obscuring the main library – a nice touch.
There is easy, intuitive instant previewing of all songs from anywhere in the library – Spotify, local, search window, queue – which is an awesome addition and a great improvement over the original djay Mac app. Finally, when you sort by History, the app doesn’t care whether the tunes you played were in your local library or on Spotify, further blurring the boundaries between the two sources. This is a good thing.
Basic DJing functions
Loading, syncing, playing, pausing, looping, nudging, scratching and mixing tunes – the stuff all DJ software does in pretty much exactly the same way – are as you’d expect here. The only non-standard thing for me is the way the cueing system works across two buttons (one for set, one for play), but you get used to it, and to be fair it’s always been that way with Algoriddim apps.
The pitch sliders can be set to work so moving it towards you either speeds up or slows the song down depending on your preference, and there are visible controls for crossfader, line faders, EQ, filter, basic looping and for controlling mic, headphones and so on. The idea seems to be to give you the awesome library functions we just spent so long describing, with a very simple and intuitive two-deck DJ interface, that really does look and feel like just playing records on two turntables. Hell, they’ve even got real “grooves” on the records, to correspond with the loud and quiet parts of the music, one of many “catch up” features from the iOS apps that’s now made it to the Mac offering.
Accessing waveforms and four decks
Here’s where the software has definitely taken a leaf out of the book of Apple flagship apps like Final Cut Pro X, the video editing software. FCPX is really pretty basic upon loading, not looking much different to the consumer-level iMovie program. It’s when you peel away the layers that the complexity is revealed, as and when (or if) you’re ready for it. So with djay Pro.
Tap the innocent-enough looking bar icon at the top right and you jump to your choice of either vertical or horizontal waveforms. The vertical version will be familiar to anyone who’s seen the similar view on djay for iPad or iPhone, the horizontal version looks like a cleaner, smoother version of Serato’s parallel waveforms. And while less intuitive than “decks” to absolute beginners, I think this is the view most DJs will default to.
Let’s keep “peeling”. Want four decks? The next little button switches to four-deck mode, again with your choice of horizontal or vertical. While these views are more complicated (and the horizontal four-deck mode almost obliterates the library unless you up the display resolution on your Mac), small touches make it one of easier to use four-deck modes I’ve seen. I like the easy, colour-coded crossfader assign, as well as the option to have the decks that are inactive (ie “crossfaded out”) automatically dimmed by the software. You can have percussion loops running on extra decks, for instance, and at a glance see if they’re in the live mix or not.
Effects, loops and cues
djay Pro has similar features to the latest iOS versions of the software in these areas, the notable thing being that you click a small buttons to “fold out” the panels so they’re only there if you want them.
Effects-wise there’s Algoriddim’s instant (ie one button) effects, which sound great, as well as three manually selectable effects per deck, and “pad FX” which marry filter with the chosen effect on an X/Y pad. The latter makes more sense on iOS than on Mac, due to the touchscreen interface.
As is the case with Serato, you can buy extra effects, and in a commercially astute move, Algoriddim has built in previews of all of them! It’s not expensive to buy the lot, here in Europe, €8.99. Once bought a single time, you can use them across djay on iOS and Mac, although it’s buggy at present from my own attempts to restore effects and from evidence from our readers; hopefully this process will be tidied up.
Hit the “loop” tab within the window and you can choose “bounce” which is basically loop roll (ie loop plus slip/flux), manual looping (for when the beat grid isn’t quite right), and “pad” looping (like pad FX, it marries loop length and filter on an X/Y pad). This is where to find your cues, too, on the final tab in this window; three per track, colour coded (although their representation on the waveform display I found to be too small to see easily).
Finally, Apple’s Audio Unit effects can be accessed too, but this time using the decks’ menus at the top of the screen. They are shown as small pop-over windows, and are high quality, a definite advantage of the program being on the Mac platform.
The sampler can record from playing tracks, and has 12 slots in total. It’s one of the least developed areas of the app, having as far as I can see no way to one-shot and loop samples or to sync them to the playing tracks, and is really just for dropping in sound effects and so on, of which it comes with a good selection, from total cheese (fog horn, siren) to some nicely refined stuff (Mike & Sugar pack).
There are lots of drum kits among this stuff, but you can’t really do much with them without the aforementioned looping and/or some kind of basic sequencer, the latter being something that would make it all a lot more fun. You could, however, build up idents / jingles and the like for your sets easily enough and it’s perfectly capable of helping you incorporate those into your DJing. It is nowhere near as complex as Serato’s SP-6 or Traktor’s Remix Decks, though.
Other DJing functions
I like the way the software recognises what DJing “sounds” like with regards to vinyl; there is a Qbert “scratch sentence” (set of scratch sounds) built in and loadable without recourse to the library on any deck at any time, there’s one-key backspin, and it is easy to do basic scratching even with the mouse using the turntables or grabbing the waveforms (of course, this is easier with DJ controllers, and very tightly mapped to the Reloop Beatpad we tested the software with). The “scratch credentials” carry across to a software crossfader curve.
Other useful software refinements include echo on the mic channel (good for impromptu live vocals) and a waveform zoom lock for vinyl mode (if you don’t like the way the waveform moves from whole track to zoomed in and back again depending on what you’re doing). Less useful are a pitch control on the mic (!), and Airplay (the lag is to much for “real” DJing when streaming the audio to Apple TV, for example).
Quick thumbs up for the beatgridding. It’s simple to adjust your beatgrids with Slip and Set Grid controls (again that can be popped in /out) but I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with the accuracy of the beatgridding. For instance, Booker T & the MG’s excellent Green Onions – a track that pre-dated drum machines by about a quarter of a century – was beatgridded pretty much fine straight from Spotify, and messing around dropping rhythm-based FX and loops with the track sounded as good as doing the same stuff with EDM. Might impressive.
A final mention to the iCloud sync for all your cues, beatgrids etc. This lets you prep tunes on iPhone or iPad and DJ with them on Mac flawlessly. It’s a function Traktor used to have between Traktor DJ and Traktor Pro (although not using iCloud), but then it broke and never came back. That makes djay Pro and djay for iPhone and iPad the only set of DJ programs that have this, to my knowledge.
Using with & without extra equipment
Generally, djay Pro is good in that it doesn’t need you to own a controller, or an audio interface, at all. You can use a DJ splitter cable (Algoriddim naturally sells one) to give you a headphones and a master output so you can pre-cue songs without additional gear, and you’re off.
All the keyboard shortcuts for loading, syncing, playing and mixing songs are clear enough, and of course you can use the mouse too, or – more usually, in practice – a combination of the two. Even with just the keyboard you can achieve the basics, especially if you kick back and rely on automix sometimes. However, even though Algoriddim clearly values its consumer users who may just download it to “have a DJ app”, it’s definitely more fun with a controller, which nearly always nowadays also gives you an audio interface for better sound and pre-cueing.
To use with a controller, you need a Midi mapping. djay Pro works, luckily, out of the box with a lot of the lower to mid-range controllers, including the one we used it with, the Reloop Beatpad. Indeed, the mapping was practically flawless, with even great intuitive LED feedback via the LED ring around the jogwheels. Scratching was fantastic – tight, with no “lag”, and the jogwheels overall were nearly perfect. not as good as Serato’s, which to me are always mapped better than anyone’s, but not far off.
It would have been good if the “cue”, “bounce loop”, “instant FX” and “sampler” buttons opened their respective windows and tabs on the software when pressed, but overall the mapping to this particular controller was perfect – perhaps unsurprisingly, being made for Algoriddim’s iOS software. Reports from users of other controllers, though, are equally positive, so it looks like Algoriddim’s done a good job of mapping many of the controllers of its target market.
With Traktor and Serato battling it out for the hearts of “pro” mixing DJs, and Virtual DJ quietly mopping up the mobile market, Algoriddim’s djay has traditionally been the high quality “consumer” program. By adding such an awesome Spotify integration, four decks and waveforms though, it could have just pivoted into the program for any DJ, from consumer to pro, who’s decided streaming is the way forward. As with all new ideas, people are calling streaming in DJ sets everything from “the end of music” (I kid you not, it’s a comment in our Facebook product announcement) to “illegal” (because Spotify’s T&Cs state “personal use only”. But then again, so do iTunes’ and Beatport’s…). But despite the objection, this is definitely the future.
More than that, though, it has huge appeal for Mac users who value the Apple approach to software (make it beautiful and intuitive, have the power features just under the hood for those who need them). Being Mac only, of course, has also allowed it to trumped the other big DJ programs in areas like smooth scrolling and pin-sharp Retina / 5K graphics.
If Algoriddim really wants djay Pro to appeal to pros, it would help if it shipped with mappings for all mid- to upper-end controllers. The Midi Learn functions are great, but working out of the box with “pro” DJ gear (for instance, all the Pioneer equipment, including CDJs, Traktor gear and so on) would be a great statement of intent for the software. Likewise, being controllable by timecode vinyl would bring it into line with its major competitors. A really nice pro-quality four channel DJ controller designed specifically for this software would be great, too. (Go on Reloop, you know you want to!).
So to conclude, it looks great, it’s genuinely innovative, it’s simple to use but powerful, and for Mac, streaming and iTunes fans, it’s a real contender. If Algoriddim can sort out a more complete set of hardware mappings, dedicated controllers/DVS support, perfect jogwheel mapping, and some “pro” Spotify features (higher bitrates, DJing from offline files), djay Pro may well woo more than a few pro DJs to its cause. Whatever, it’s a great v1.0, so let’s hope they can keep the momentum going.