Native Instruments have taken the possibilities of DJing on iPad to a new level with the release of their new Traktor DJ app. Dubspot’s DJ Endo gives us a look at some of the key new features…
NI dropped a hint after NAMM, posting a photo of Richie Hawtin using a “new Native Instruments iPad app” but not revealing what it was. However, given that it was posted on the Traktor Facebook page, most observers assumed that Traktor on the iPad was on its way.
That new Native Instruments iPad app has now been released and is called simply Traktor DJ. It’s compatible with iPad 2 and above (it requires iOS 6), and it brings the full functionality of Traktor Pro to the iPad, minus a few things like external MIDI controller support or the ability to mix on four decks simultaneously (Traktor DJ for iPad only gives you two). NI have now followed up that initial photo of Hawtin with this promo video showing his first day using Traktor DJ for iPad…
I’ve been testing this app myself for quite some time now, and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. I’m impressed with how NI have adapted Traktor’s design to take advantage of the touchscreen interface of the iPad, and they’ve also added in some new features that even go beyond what Traktor Pro can do on Mac OS/Windows. The best example of this is how the whole interface has been designed around the two parallel waveform displays, allowing you to control playback by directly touching the waveforms on the screen! This is a more useful approach than the typical “spinning platter”-style interface offered by many other iOS DJ apps, and controlling the tracks directly on the screen gives a much different feeling than DJing on a laptop and controlling your tracks with keyboard commands or a MIDI controller.
You can also use touchscreen gestures on the iPad to control looping and effects (see the popup four-band EQ next to each waveform in the image above), sync and mix your tracks, or browse through your track library, as well as to trigger slices of tracks via the new “Freeze Mode” feature (more on that below).
NI has also addressed one of the most persistent issues facing would-be iPad DJs: the tablet’s single stereo headphone output. In order to DJ properly with two stereo tracks you need an multichannel audio interface, and NI have given Traktor DJ CoreAudio support, giving it the ability to connect with audio interfaces including (for example) the Traktor Audio series (6 or 10). This allows you to cue the next track in your headphones or (in a forthcoming update) assign a separate audio output for each deck in Traktor if you want to use an external DJ mixer. (You will also need the Apple iPad Camera Connection Kit for this, to give your iPad a USB port to connect your interface.)
Here are some of my favorite features:
- Harmonic mixing is now built into Traktor! This is a first for any version of Traktor, and something I’ve been wanting for a long time now. NI have now given Traktor its own key detection algorithm: when Traktor analyzes a song, it analyzes both the tempo BPM and the key and stores that info, allowing you to take that into consideration when you’re choosing the next track to mix. This also gives you the option to sort your playlist by key, so that songs that mix harmonically will be ordered together in Traktor DJ’s browser. Check this blog post of mine for more on what harmonic mixing is and how to use it.
- There is full integration with the iTunes Library on your iPad. Traktor DJ will analyze all the tracks and make them available in your browser.
- My favorite feature in Traktor DJ is that it now recommends tracks for you to play! It’s kind of like iTunes Genius for Traktor, but it seems to work much better, for me at least. When you’re playing a track, all you have to do is click on the album artwork box and Traktor will open the browser and give you a list of tracks that it thinks will mix well with what you’re currently playing based on the key, tempo and even timbre. I’ve found so many amazing combinations of tracks using this feature, it’s great for coming up with ideas even if you never use it live. This is also a great tool for DJs with a big music collection since it will help you re-discover tracks that you might have forgotten about:
- Traktor DJ has a really cool feature called “Freeze Mode” that basically lets you slice up your tracks and tap on the slices on the screen to play them like drums! You can use this to trigger little vocal fragments, or you can get Aphex Twin-crazy and mangle your tracks by drumming your fingers all over the screen. Just click on the Freeze Mode button on one fo the decks and you can then click on individual beats and retrigger the beats live. You can set the quantize value for the slicing as well. I typically use ¼-beat (16th-note) quantization so I can go crazy with short sharp slices.
- Another fun set of features in Traktor DJ are the hands-on looping capabilities. You can set and edit your loops using two-finger gestures on the touchscreen, making looping much more intuitive. These features work so well that they will definitely be interesting for producers working in the studio looking to record creative looping effects.Setting a loop in Traktor DJ is as easy as placing your two fingers at the same time on the start point and end point of the beats you want to loop. Once you’ve set a loop you can move it by placing your two fingers on the loop and moving your fingers together to the left and right. If you place your fingers on the looped section and move them closer to each other, the loop will get smaller. This allows you to edit the start point, end point of the loop or both at the same time. If you want to get out of the loop you can click on the loop with both fingers and drag your fingers downwards to deactivate the loop. Also when you’re looping, you can click on the Freeze Mode button to slice the loop, then press and hold the slices to repeat the them.
- The effects in Traktor DJ are also a lot of fun. The effects section of Traktor DJ gives you an X Y axis that you can manipulate by placing your fingers on the touchpad, again giving you intuitive hands-on control of the sound. Tempo-synced effects are perfectly in time with the music, and you can also use two-finger gestures to quickly jump between effect parameters.
- Another innovative feature is the ability to sync your Traktor collection with your main Traktor computer via Dropbox, sharing track info including cue points, beatgrids and BPM/key information. This opens up the possibility of doing a lot of the prep work for a performance (beatgridding tracks, setting cue points, etc.) on the iPad’s inviting touchscreen and then syncing your work with your main computer before the gig.
There are a lot of other advantages to consider, too. Besides the intuitive control you get from using touchscreens to control waveform playback, the stability of the iOS platform is also a big plus here: I’ve never had the program crash in all the hours I’ve used it so far. The size of the iPad is smaller than using 2 Traktor X1 controllers or a Maschine controller (my standard setups) and can do pretty much everything you can do with a controller + computer + mixer set up, or could also be considered a replacement for two CDJs + mixer.
Is this an app that professional DJs will use? I don’t see why not. It is a bit mind-boggling to think about how many new DJs this app could create: the learning curve seems to be getting easier and easier, and Traktor DJ can not only sync tracks but even recommend what music to play! That is a subject for a whole other article, but one thing is for sure, Traktor DJ is certain to stir things up in the DJ world! - DJ Endo
Traktor DJ is available via the App Store today for $19.99.
Mike Henderson a.k.a. DJ Endo is a Dubspot DJ course designer/instructor and Native Instruments product specialist, for more info check out www.djendo.com.