Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Traktor DJ Review - almost there but playlist handling sucks.

I realize that it has been quite a while since I have postedon here. During that time The Red Bull BPM app grew into the super useful DJPlayer making my initial review look pretty lame.  My favorite Nanostudio devs went on hiatus due to injury (I hope you are feeling better!!!) and came back to release a small update and promises for the future. Tabletop surfaced, midi controllers started working with iOS, the amazing Algoriddim DJay app popped and all sorts of fun soft-synths made their iOS debut. But all of this pales in comparison to the release of Traktor DJ for iPad!!! It was enough to bring me out of lazy retirement!!!

With that said, was Traktor DJ worth me hastily selling my 1st Gen device on ebay and running to an Atlanta deep (I mean really deep) discount electronics store to get a 3rd Gen 64gb iPad? (Incidentally, I was so hasty in selling my 1st Gen that I forgot it was 32gb and listed it as a 16gb. Some lucky guy is getting a surprise in the mail!!!). Initial impressions suggested the answer to my above question is yes. Traktor DJappears to be the most useable DJ application released for iOS to date.  I took it to my regular Saturday night gig to be sure…

Saturday was a weird night at GO Bar with Harouki Zombi putting on an amazing show right before I was to DJ bringing a troupe of dancing zombi hotties with them and basically taking over the bar. With so much going on that night I didn’t get on until 1:00am. We close at 2:00 so I only had an hour to put TDJ through its paces. One great thing about using an iPadto DJ is streamlined setup time. I was on and playing literally in seconds. The club already had a 1/8” lead ready to go and I had a stereo to mono to stereo splitter plugged in before you could blink. This type of situation is what TDJ is made for. If I used my full rig with a laptop and the Kontrol S2 it would have taken me 10 of the 60 minutes I had to DJ just to get ready.
Traktor DJ turned out to be a great tool to just get the DJ job done. With only 1 hour to DJ it was a perfect on the fly partner in the booth and everything just worked. Beatmatching is almost too easy and I actually felt compelled to do FX transitions between every song which is not my style but it was so fun using the X-Y pads! I felt kind of dumb staring at an iPad all night, but I usual have to stare a laptop screen anyway. So overall, yes TDJ works great for a quick jump in and party type situation. But it was far from perfect.


As an engineer I know that it isn’t until actual field use that you discover a new technology’s weak spots. The main one I can point out with Traktor DJ is it’s handling of the music library and playlists. Since you can’t currently import Traktor Pro playlists into TDJ I was stuck with relying on the few rudimentary lists I threw together playing around at home. These were not sufficient. Add to that the fact that you cannot sort tracks by useful tags like ratings, import date or last date played and it was sort of like working blind. I have 8000 songs on the iPad and it was nearly impossible searching the music library to find anything useful. I had to rely on search, which worked fine, but I certainly would have come up with a better set on pro using all my playlists and configuration settings. I don’t plan anything ahead and my fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants style is not compatible with TDJ. In order to fix this issue I have been spending a few hours a day since then creating specific playlists in TDJ. This is getting tedious. Its also not going to be perfect as I still crave sort settings and history playlists to make things work right.


I also was disappointed in how TDJ handles tempo and sync. It really gives you two options: 1. Have the software sync every song for youwhile manipulating the master clock or 2. Turn off sync and try to adjust the tempo of the upcoming track without messing up the currently playing one. Neither one is ideal. TDJ syncs track via the flux mode so everything is on the downbeat leading to delayed starts while the play cursor plays catch up with the next song. Again if you turn it off you can start anywhere in the track you like instantly but there is no time stretching available. It gets really annoying when you are used to just dropping the digital needle and hitting play on Traktor Pro. It does time-stretch though, let's not forget it wasn't too long ago that iOS DJ apps couldn't do this. It sounds good enough, not as good as Taktor Pro, but certainly workable. 

Looping is a frustrating issue. The actual looping process, two-finger touch is amazing. Dropping a loop is so fun it is hard to stop yourself from doing it constantly. However “aiming” and getting the loop just right could be refined as could the innovative way you can drag loops to move and resize them. It really does work but you have to have huge balls todrop a loop and start moving it around while the track is playing. You almost have to jump way ahead and fine tune the loop before you are even near it in the time line.


The final complaint I have is obvious, the audio on an iPad sucks. Especially when using a splitter so you can monitor cue. I have the S2and Native Instruments keeps hinting that they could actually get the audio on the S2working with TDJ since it supports core audio. However, that would sort of defeat the purpose of using TDJ since I could just bring my computer and have access to the entire controller. There are a few compatible interfaces from NI, but they are a bit pricey just to run audio out of an iPad. The obvious solution is for NI to release a Traktor Audio 2 interface with core support. I already own a Traktor Audio 2 DJ and I would be annoyed to buy another one but I would to have the boost in audio quality and volume.


8 cue points are certainly awelcome feature. This appears to be the only data that really syncs with Traktor Pro. As I said earlier the FX are really fun to play with. The screen layout is also pretty great as you are basically looking at two touch controllable waveforms the whole time. The audio never skipped which is probably the most important feature of the software, as the bells and whistles don’t matter if you can’t get through a track. I would say it was one of the most solid audio experiences I have had djaying. Hopefully that stability is maintained as my iPad and the software mature.

The freeze function everyone is excited about is really cool. It allows you to lock a track and tap on each grid partition as a separate sample allowing you to sort of beat juggle by playing the song itself. At this point, I see it as more of a gimmick other than dropping the occasional tapped beat or sound effect. However, when you are doing that, the 2nddeck is occupied perhaps causing trouble later when you have to quickly load and play the next track. Still, a cool feature which I am sure will evolve.


The bottom line is that yes, Traktor Dj is the best DJ app for iOS, without question. The thought that went into it is apparent. It is fun, intuitive and exciting. It is perfect for a party or a short set at club. Using it all night might get a bit frustrating, but that could be fixed with fine-tuning of the playlist, sharing and library mechanics. If you are a controller freak who uses a lot of samples and FX, TDJ will probably bore you quickly. However, if you are a DJ who is more about the songs and the party, this could be the perfect solution as soon as a small, inexpensive 4in 4out core audio interface makes its way to market.