../ DJ Hardware Technology Eclipsing Software
Music Trends May 2005
The DJ hardware industry appears to be about 9 to 18 months ahead of the software offerings and this has prevented digital DJing from exploding into wide-scale adoption.
The MusicMisse show at Frankfurt confirmed that the music hardware industry is far ahead of the software
concerns in providing cutting-edge technology to mixologists around the globe. Two new significant launches by
Allen & Heath and
Mawzer (see pictures below) detailed how the hardware manufacturers' long term
horizon is much more far-sighted then the leading software developers who have just attempted to duplicate
the physical mixing experience instead of taking the model the next level.
The Mawzer lets you customize the controller to suit your style via Lego-like plug-in modules
Even with Ableton's
Live music production software, which several high-profile mixers have adapted to their particular style via
Evolution's controllers or their own
custom creations, the DJ software offerings have come up wanting in several very basic areas. And to be honest,
Ableton Live is not all that live when it comes to DJing.
Visiosonic's PCDJ, who had an early market lead, squandered
the opportunity by releasing buggy new versions that lacked quality control and investing in a controller that merely duplicated the
lackluster dual CD deck interface.
Sasha DJing with Ableton Live and his own custom Maven Controller at Crobar
When Native Instruments
made the announcement that they were entering the market, many assumed that they would level the competition in one swift blow. While their
Traktor software did quickly rise to the top, it wasn't because
of the features or reliability. The software was hampered by an uninspired graphical user interface (GUI), weak effects, poor playback, reliability issues, and a host of other
missteps. The same company that brought us the ground-breaking Reaktor, had failed to come up big in the DJ realm. However, NI's marketing muscle and brand awareness enabled it
to make a high profile deal with Stanton to allow Traktor to become the computer brains behind
FinalScratch's pioneering time-coded records and ScratchAmp interface, perfectly translated the mechanics of analog DJing into the digital world. In other words, it made DJing
digital music files fun, creative and very in the moment.
NI's Traktor interface - Am I supposed to be DJing or flying a F-16 Fighter Jet?
Serato, a small concern out of New
Zealand, followed up FinalScratch with their own model, except they didn't outsource the software. Serato developed the software in-house, and
they gave it a lot of thought. The big difference is that they placed the running waveforms in the GUI to
look like the dividing yellow lines on a highway, so that you could see the waveforms right next to each other, and thus mix visually.
Everyone else was showcasing each source's waveforms, but side by side. By placing the waveforms next to each other, a DJ could not only utilize his/her ears, but also could
view how the songs transients lined up visually.
The Serato interface. Beat-driven effects please...
Other DJ software followed suit. VirtualDJ
from France placed the two different waveforms on top of each other, each depicted by two different colors, and stacked the two track's transients for an exciting new visual metaphor.
VirtualDJ's open source philosophy has also enabled enthusiasts to develop their own GUIs via downloadable "skins," as well as effect plug-ins. This has resulted in a fervent
community and VirtualDJ taking market share from other products, most notably PCDJ.
The Virtual DJ default interface. Hokey yes, but the merged waveforms rock!
However, none of these software products have created a new paradigm for mixing. None of them can mix
more than two sources, the effects are downright lame, and DJing on a computer is just not that engaging. Yes, you can achieve incredible results easily, but
it's still boring. Most mixers rather develop a mix in Live or ProTools, then in any of the dedicated DJ software
since you can get very precise with the transitions, and utilize a wealth of sophisticated effects.
Some companies have tried to develop dedicated controllers to make using the computer software fun and exciting.
The best product right now is the EKS XP10 controller. It's a USB controller with a
Pioneer CDJ-1000-like wheel and several additional buttons. The product comes bundled with its
own Bison DJ software, but its still in Beta and very immature. However, you can use the XP10 with VirtualDJ and this
is the best combo at the time of this writing. Each XP10 is a dedicated sound card with a high-output RCA stereo connection.
By plugging in two XP10s into a DJ mixer, the user has a great solution for tactile mixing. Several hip-hop DJs
have adopted this approach because the XP10's can be used for basic scratching. It still isn't instantaneous like vinyl,
but if they can reduce the latency even further, it can be an effective portable solution.
Allen & Heath demonstrated the Xone:3D at Frankfurt which is half DJ mixer and half software controller.
The prototype was controlling Ableton's Live program and piqued the interest of many DJs sashaying through the exhibit
(the unit was developed with Richie Hawtin who lent his expertise to the
CNTL:92, a mixer with MIDI training wheels). Many were quite surprised
at a product of this nature coming from the analogy Allen & Heath camp.
The Xone:3D Prototype at MusicMisse
Mawzer, a new company from Germany,
debuted an inspired approach to a DJ/MIDI controller which allowed the user to completely customize the physical interface via separate modules that plug into a master board.
Futuremusic has been following the FaderFox
micromoduls - which are only available in Europe and have a similar approach - but Mawzer has taken the concept a step further.
The takeaway from this is that the DJ software market is very much up to grabs. Without one killer app to
inspire DJs to move over to the digital realm in droves, anyone can come in and take the industry by storm.
In the next 12 months, the market is going to see some substantial new products and we'll outline a few of them here.
Native Instruments should have version 3 of their Traktor software out by Christmas. Hopefully, they've
learned from their past mistakes and will address several key deficits to make a serious impression on the industry. Version
3 should see at least four sources available with better sampling "pads", stacked waveforms, and hopefully much, much better effects. Native has been incorporating
5.1 surround sound features in their last couple of updates and hopefully this will make it into version 3.
A dedicated hardware controller should be available in 2006 which could make using Traktor a seamless and entertaining experience.
Serato's Scratch Live will probably be updated by the end of the year. This sleeper product out of the Rane camp could move the industry decidedly
forward with more innovations, effects and even tighter control. An
all-in-one mixer/controller solution from Rane's hardware division would make a lot of sense and broaden the
Serato's reach. This seems likely. Rane recently released the one unit rack mount
MP-4, a new unit that nicely integrates analog and digital mixing into a single DJ rig,
demonstrating that they're already thinking about a comprehensive solution. In addition, Serato
has been a big hit for Rane and it make sense that they would focus on this profit center with more ancillary products.
Rane's MP-4 rack module - Front and Back
Pioneer could also stun the industry with an updated CDJ-1000. If it was up to us,
Mark III would have a USB/Firewire port that
would allow the deck to not only play CDs, but also control several of the software solutions mentioned. As the industry-standard CD "turntable" with an incredible
club install base, the new CDJ could help digital DJs easily incorporate their laptops without having to go through
the elaborate setup process that Serato and FinalSratch require.
However, the real money is on Ableton.
With updates to Live coming fast and furiously (every 9 months or so), Live 5 could surprise everyone by incorporating
significant mixing tools to make the product much more DJ friendly. Stacked waveforms, an updated DJ-oriented GUI that would showcase all mixing attributes on one screen (including effects),
the ability to needle-drop on the fly, 5.1 surround sound options,
and advanced beat-oriented processing specifically designed for mixing would make this product a category killer. With its substancial remix and production muscle, Ableton Live could also own the DJ software
vertical by making the learning curve to a DJ interested in dipping their toe into production, worth the investment.
Sasha, a high-profile DJ who has gone entirely over to digital mixing via Live, has pretty much
lifted the stigma of using a laptop to mix opening the club doors for DJs who are both new to the digital game, as well as
those who have been on the computer mixing bandwagon for some time.
Current Ableton Live 4.1 Interface with our proposed additions of better DJ effects and stacked waveforms for Live 5.
Close-up of the stacked waveforms with transient arrows and the ability to instantaneously play from any point in the song.
The DJ hardware industry appears to be about 9 to 18 months ahead of the software offerings and this has prevented
digital DJing from exploding into wide-scale adoption. Very few of the software concerns are thinking out of the two turntables and a mixer paradigm causing DJs to sit back
and wait before jumping into the fray. Beyond the close hardware/software collaborations of FinalScratch2 and Serato Live, there is a real lack of quality software to match up with
the new wave of hardware controllers. The coming year will be quite exciting as the software leaders debut new versions,
and a few entities come out of the woodwork to challenge for the title.
The Future: Rocky! Rocky! Rocky!
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