Serato Play is an expansion pack for Serato DJ Pro and Serato DJ Lite that lets you mix songs using just your laptop’s keyboard and mouse. It adds three-band EQs, filters and a crossfader onscreen, and you’re able to adjust them using either keyboard hotkeys or your trackpad. While these functions are baked into other DJ software like Traktor, Virtual DJ and Rekordbox DJ, they still are welcome additions to Serato. If it were free we’d give it five stars, though at US$39 it’s a small price to pay to be able to prepare and audition mixes better, and even potentially mix during gigs if you’ve got a DJ splitter cable.
First Impressions / Setting up
Want to join the beta and try out Serato Play? Here are the links: Serato DJ Pro 2.1 beta and Serato DJ Lite 1.1 beta.
Serato Play is an expansion pack for both Serato DJ Pro and Serato DJ Lite. It’s available to purchase in-app for US$39, and you do it through the My Serato menu in the software. Once you’ve activated it, you just need to click on the Serato Play icon at the top of the screen to enable it – it’s the icon that looks like a crossfader. Serato Play is also part of the Serato DJ Suite and Expansion Pack licences and subscriptions.
Serato Play consists of two new features: first is a three-band EQ, filter, crossfader and headphone monitoring section that appears in the centre of the screen. This lets you tweak EQs, mess with filters and fade between the decks. You can mix with four decks in Serato DJ Pro by the way, which is cool for club and mobile DJs who use four decks and who need all four of them present to prepare and practice sets. The second feature is a suite of new keyboard shortcuts for controlling the EQs, filters and crossfader, making mixing with a keyboard and mouse possible and easier.
Prior to Serato Play, you didn’t have access to a mixer and EQ section if you were just using Serato DJ Pro or Serato DJ Lite without any audio interface or DJ controller connected. You could prepare your playlists and manage your library, but you just can’t perform because of the lack of mixer controls, plus you didn’t have a way to do any headphone cueing which is essential if you want to listen to and prepare the next track while you’re DJing. Serato Play fills the gaps in all of these.
The mixer controls in Serato Play’s interface consist of low, mid and high EQs, a filter and a crossfader. You also get a Cue Volume knob for adjusting the level of your headphones, and you get headphone cue buttons for the left or the right deck. You can adjust them using your mouse by clicking and dragging, or you can control them using Serato Play’s keyboard hotkeys (more on them below). There are “reset” buttons at the top of each knob, letting you snap the controls to their default positions at the click of a button.
These aren’t revolutionary: these controls are found in almost all DJ software when used standalone without the need for an expansion pack just to enable them, but they are now making their debut in the Serato ecosystem. Better late than never!
Serato Play also comes with a set of brand new hotkeys that let you take control of the mixer. Combined with hotkeys for triggering hot cues, sync, and starting / stopping decks (which have always been around in Serato) you now have a suite of keyboard shortcuts that make mixing and even performing using just your laptop running Serato DJ a reality.
It would’ve been nice to be able to modify the “speed” with which the controls are affected by your key presses. For example, if I wanted to do a quick filter tweak that would go from the 12 o’clock to the 4 o’clock position, for example, it takes a while for the knob to do so if I use its associated hotkey. Using a mouse gives you greater control over the speed and ramping, but the thing with using a mouse is you’re only able to manipulate one control at a time. Hotkeys allow you to tweak as many controls as you have fingers, and so being able to modify the behaviour and speed of these hotkeys would be a huge bonus.
DJ splitter cable compatibility
Serato Play also gives you the ability to use a third-party DJ splitter cable: it’s a lead that splits the stereo output of your laptop into two. One goes to your main speakers, the other goes to your headphones. This lets you prepare and cue up your next track in your headphones without affecting the music coming out of your speakers. This is what makes it possible to DJ and perform with Serato Play – before this, there was no way for you to have a headphone cue output unless you had a DJ interface / controller / mixer connected to your laptop, and so preparing and cueing up your next track was a matter of looking at its waveform and knowing it well enough to know where to start it.
Serato Play is a welcome addition to the set of Serato expansions. I’d say that it’s even essential for the gigging DJ since it basically gives you a backup option for spinning should your DJ controller, mixer or interface fail to work at a show – just make sure you’ve packed a DJ splitter cable too. For beginners using Serato DJ Lite, it’s an alternative to buying a controller that you can spin with, though it’s a heck of a lot more fun to spin with even the tiniest, most basic DJ controller like the Hercules Starlight or Numark DJ2GO2 than spinning with your keyboard and mouse. Overall a decent expansion and if it were free we’d give it five stars, though at US$39 it’s a small price to pay to be able to prepare and audition mixes better, and to even perform without a controller.