Choosing the best DJ software can be a complicated business; it’s not just a simple case of knowing what OS you’re running and how much you’re looking to spend.
It’s worth considering what you want your software to do: do you need the ability to play four or more tracks at once, or will two decks suffice? What about playing samples or loops?
Then there are controllers to consider – do you want a piece of software that can work with your favourite MIDI controller? Or what about using old-fashioned turntables and a digital vinyl system? Or there’s the exciting new possibility of using an iPad for the ultimate house party solution.
To help you get to the bottom of the confusing deluge of options available, here are 10 of our favourite DJing applications.
1. Native Instruments Traktor Pro 2
Price: US$89 (around £59/AU$87)
The top end of the digital DJ market is dominated by Native Instruments and Serato. Of the two brands’ applications, NI’s Traktor just about comes out top thanks to its endlessly flexible performance features and its all-round intuitiveness and reliability.
Traktor comes in two forms: Traktor Pro, which can be controlled using a traditional mouse and keyboard or one of an endless list of hardware DJ controllers, and Traktor Scratch, which is designed to be used in conjunction with one of Native Instruments’ digital vinyl setups.
2. Serato Scratch Live/DJ
Price: US$129 (around £85/AU$127)
Serato was an early pioneer of the concept of digital vinyl DJing, and for years the company dominated the professional DJ software market. Scratch Live is probably still the most popular digital vinyl system out there, but it’s only available when bought in conjunction with an official Rane audio interface.
Serato DJ is the latest version of the company’s controller-orientated software, and it’s the first version of Serato that can be used with any MIDI controller. A free version, Serato DJ Intro, is also available.
3. Ableton Live
Ableton Live wasn’t initially designed as a DJ application; when the software first launched in 2001 it was pitched purely as a DAW (digital audio workstation) and marketed as a piece of music production software.
It quickly proved immensely popular with DJs, however, thanks to its unique Session View – a window dedicated to launching synchronised loops – and the intuitive way it handles the retiming of audio files.
For those after an application that blurs the line between DJing, live performance and production, Ableton Live is unbeatable.
Read our Ableton Live Suite 8 review
4. Image-Line Deckadance
Price: US$99 (around £65/AU$97)
Deckadance comes from Image-Line, the developer behind cult production software FL Studio (or Fruity Loops, as it was originally known.)
Its two biggest selling points are its open nature – meaning it supports a huge range of DJ controllers and digital vinyl system – and the fact it can run as a VST within a host DAW. The downside is that it only features two decks, as opposed to four like Traktor and Serato.
5. Magix Digital DJ 2
Digital DJ 2 is effectively a cut down, entry-level version of Image-Line’s Deckadance. It’s relatively basic and light on advanced features, but it certainly gets the job done.
What’s more, the features it does pack are all of a high quality; its auto beat matching is excellent, the effects sound good and it includes a neat little sample player. It also supports a wide range of hardware controllers, which is a big plus.
6. Native Instruments Traktor DJ for iPad
Price: £13.99/US$19.99 (around AU$21)
Recently launched iOS app Traktor DJ is almost certainly the best of the ever-growing list of DJ tools on the App Store. It’s a stripped back version of its PC/Mac counterpart, offering two-channel mixing, basic effects and the best beat detection capabilities of any iPad app.
The app makes excellent use of the device’s touchscreen for intuitive track navigation and mixing. Best of all, it syncs bi-directionally with its bigger sibling, meaning Traktor users can share track info between their iPad and main DJ setup. The app requires iOS 6.0 or later.
7. Mixvibes CrossDJ
Price: US$49.99 (around £33/AU$49)
CrossDJ, from French developer Mixvibes, punches well above its entry-level price point; despite being cheaper than some of its closest rivals, the software is surprisingly well equipped, reliable and nicely designed.
It also has one of the best beat mapping systems of any DJ app on the market. It does, however, have a handful of minor limitations, such as featuring a maximum of just two decks and having a fairly weak collection of effects.
8. algoriddim djay for iPad
Price: £13.99/US$19.99 (around AU$21)
The djay app was originally launched as an entry-level Mac application, but it’s in its iPad incarnation that algoriddim’s software really shines. Although these days Traktor DJ is probably the most effectively implemented tool on the App Store, djay held that title until very recently, and it still has a few tricks up its sleeve.
Chiefly it boasts the ability to connect to a variety of hardware DJ controllers for a more traditional mixing experience. The app requires iOS 4.3 or later.
9. Atomix VirtualDJ Pro 7
Price: US$299 (around £197/AU$293)
For years VirtualDJ had a bad reputation, which could be traced back, in part, to the fact that its earliest incarnations were relatively naff, toy-like DJ applications. Recent versions, however, have become very impressive and have been able to compete with – and in places outdo – the bigger names.
Notably, version 7 can support up to 99 decks (not that anyone in their right mind would need so many) and can live-sample incoming audio.
10. Pioneer Rekordbox
Pioneer’s free Rekordbox application doesn’t actually handle any mixing, rather the app – which Pioneer describe as an “iTunes for DJs” – is a tool for prepping and managing audio files ahead of DJ sets.
The software can be used to analyse tracks to discover their BPM, view waveforms, set cue points and edit track information, all of which can be read by Pioneer’s CDJs – which are the industry standard in clubs around the world.