Monday, September 6, 2010

Sonorasaurus Rex Review

Since this blog is called iPad DJ and one of the better iPad DJ apps just released a significant update I figured now is as good a time as any to review Sonorasaurus Rex from Pajamahouse Studios

One reason I didn't start this blog earlier is because no one has really produced any software that really allows the iPad to be the centerpiece of a DJ setup. The holy Grail would be a ripoff of Traktor and this is sort of what Sonorasaurus Rex is going for. Unfortunately whether due to lack of processor horsepower or an accelerated development cycle S. Rex isn't quite there although it does make some strides in this direction with its latest 2.1 update.

The Interface
The interface quite resembles a colorful, stylized version of the classic Traktor interface. Two decks divide the left an right side of the screen complete with 3 band EQ, gain, cue switch, volume fader and independent channel effects. There is also a traditional crossfader between the two decks. tracks are loaded by tapping a load button on either deck which opens a menu containing folders of all uploaded tracks. like most current audio apps, tracks must be uploaded directly to the app as iTunes library support has not yet been integrated.

The lower half of the deck is a slight diversion from the Traktor-esque interface and is where the app innovates, taking advantage of the iPad's touch interface. The waveforms are displayed horizontally one atop the other. Sort of like a horizontal version of the lanes in Serato. This is something I always wished Traktor incorporated a long time ago. This is where things get really fun and interesting. Thanks to the touchability of the iPad, you are actually able to grab waveforms and line them up. This is the feature that really makes Sonorasaurus Rex shine. If the rest of the app gets fleshed out, this could actually convince me to leave my Traktor based PC setup at home on Saturday nights and just carry my Ziploc shrouded iPad down to the bar. It should be noted here that each track must be processed by the iPad to generate waveform data before use in the app.

Track specific scrubbing and pitch are controlled by two sliders beneath the the waveform display. This is where S. Rex let me down a little. There is only pitch control, time stretching is not available in Sonorasaurus Rex. This is kind of the deal breaker. It is likely that the processor load required for such manipulation is too much for the iPad, but other iphone DJ apps like Amidio's Touch DJ have implemented such functionality albeit in less processor intensive interface environments. Pitch shifting is limited to 10% in either direction which is sufficient for me but is not enough for some of my more mashup oriented colleagues.

Other important interface elements include a pulsing orb on each track that helps identify the beat, 3 point plus cue and transport buttons and a BPM cluster. The cue system is actually pretty useful, but the BPM tracking system is kind of lame and requires user input and tracking to determine baseline BPM numbers which are then stored with the track.

The Mix

When it comes down to it, a pretty interface doesn't mean anything if you can't mix with it. To this the verdict is still out. It is possible to achieve acceptable mixes with S. Rex, however advanced mixing such as beat juggling, mashups, etc. are a little more challenging.  The cue system does facilitate some interesting possibilities but it takes some serious planning ahead to do anything really exciting live. The promising thing here is that it is possible. Up until now, no other DJ app really made such techniques possible in the iOS.

Monitoring actually works well in split mode which allows split of left and right channels between cue and play decks. This requires use of a stereo to mono miniplug splitter. This is harder than one would guess to assemble as it requires splitting a stereo signal to mono and then back to two stereo signals. New in 2.1 is the option to route each channel to a separate mono channel.This allows routing through a hardware mixer enhancing control of the output signal.

Wrap Up

Sonorasaurus Rex is probably the best stand alone DJ app available for the iPad at this time. It is the only program I would trust to back up my Traktor rig in case of failure on a packed Saturday night. However, without time stretching and more precise control over starts and stops as well as beat mapping options I am not quite ready to transfer my entire music collection to the iPad and leave PC at home. Giving the devs the benefit of the doubt I will say it is the best attempt so far on iOS and lack of functionality is likely due to lack of horsepower from the iPad's system on a chip. Perhaps with the next iPad, Sonorasaurus Rex will become a full on, grown up DJ app.
Sonorasaurus Rex


  1. have you tried i don't think anything on a touch screen will ever beat a hardware crossfader but that's my current favorite app for "getting by"

    glad to see a mobile music blog with some meatier content/reviews!

  2. Please have a look on the Red Bull BPM product line, especially the Red Bull BPM HD.

  3. I just reviewed these two apps.