Chroma Caps Review

 

ChromaCaps02

Noting too deep this time around, but I wanted to take a quick minute to review the new Chroma Caps replacement knobs I recently got for my Traktor S4 controller.  I had posted a couple pictures of it on Facebook and had a lot of people asking me about the new knobs.  I just assumed people know about these already.  🙂

So, as I recently talked about in an early blog post, I recently picked up another S4 controller from Native Instruments to use while DJing with Traktor.  Overall I’m pretty happy with the controller, but it always bugged me a little that they used black knobs on a  black background for the mixer and effects sections.  I looks cool in the daylight, but in a darker studio or on stage, it’s a little hard to see to be honest.  So, for awhile now I’ve been eyeing the Chroma Caps from DJTechTools.com as a way to make it easier to see the knobs on the controller in darker environments.

https://store.djtechtools.com/products/chroma-caps

As luck would have it, right before I was getting ready to the knobs, they released even more colors for both knobs types, and the fader caps.   So I was able to choose from 11 different tones when planning out how I wanted to layout the S4 based on my custom mapping.

Chroma-Caps-NEW-COLORS

As mentioned, DJTechTools.com sells the replacements in three different styles:  a shorter and wider knob (the Fatty knob), a tall skinny one (the Super Knob) like you find on most controllers, and different fader caps.

All of these are covered in the same soft rubber coating regardless of the color (except for the glow in the dark fader caps, no knobs in these yet though).   The rubber is a little softer than the stock S4 knobs, but extremely grippy.  I wouldn’t worry at all about these becoming slippery, even in the hottest and sweatiest environments!  Overall they feel like they are very well made, definitely a better controller than the stock knobs and fader caps.

ChromaCaps01

Putting the new knobs and fader caps on the S4 was a breeze, though getting some of the older ones off first required a bit more work.  Nothing a butter knife, some cardboard, and a bit of patience couldn’t fix though.  One word of caution, the knob shafts are made of plastic, so go slow and take your time when removing stubborn stock knobs.

I’d also like to take second to thank the staff at the DJ Tech Tools store as well.  I had made an error when I ordered my knobs the first time around, and they were quick to respond and eager to solve the situation as quickly and painlessly as possible.  Definitely some nice guys.

And I should point out that the knobs aren’t just for Native Instruments gear.  On the DJTT store, they have a list of all different controllers that are known to use the same size knob.  Head over there for the most up to date list if you’re curious if these knobs will work on something you own.

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EDIT:

Looks like the date for the DJ gig was pushed back one week, so it will be on February 6th now, starting at 6:00.  Join me as we celebrate the opening of the new Beer Authority in Seattle, which is the venue I’ve been running my Liquid Beats events at.  The new space is larger and better laid out for how popular this pub has become, so come on out for some great tunes and great beer.

My DJ Dilemma

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DJing. Lately for me this has been a thorny issue, not for what it is, but because I haven’t been able to make up my mind how I want to do it for the foreseeable future. For the last 7-8 years I’ve been using Ableton Live to DJ, and it’s been working out great. I’ve gotten a lot of exposure for some of the DJ EFX Racks I made for Live (some of which will be included with Live 9 btw!), and it’s been a very stable platform for me.

But, I get bored.

Live hasn’t changed it’s look since…. well, never.  And after years of looking at it for writing and performing live as well, I just needed to stare at something new for a change 🙂

A little over a couple of years ago I decided to look at Traktor based on all the feedback I was hearing on the AbletonLive DJ.com forums. I purchased a Traktor Audio 4 DJ soundcard, which came with a free copy of Traktor Pro. I also decided to go with the Kontrol X1 as a controller, and it was something I was very impressed with. Good build quality, and nice layout and mapping scheme by default. In fact, I was pretty impressed with the soundcard and Traktor too.

Right at this time the Kontrol S4 came out, so I sold the X1 and Audio4 soundcard and bought one right away and set about getting more into using Traktor for DJing. For the most part I liked the S4 and Traktor combo, it felt more like traditional DJing to me, and it was great having a controller so well integrated with the software that you could largely ignore the laptop. It was nice not having to press into duty the APC40 like I’d used for Ableton too. It worked, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve just never preferred a generic controller to a dedicated one like the S4.

Eventually however I decided to go back to using Live for the reasons I outlined in more detail here:

http://tarekith.com/traktor-s4-thoughts-after-some-more-use/

The simplest explanation was that while I liked using Traktor, it lacked the EQ I preferred and some other functions that I felt could be better served by my hardware mixer (an A&H Xone62). Also, I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m mostly what people call an “A to B DJ”. I mainly just play tracks as they were written, I don’t really want to remix them on the fly and do all sorts of crazy edits to the tracks I play. So a lot of the functions on the S4 felt like they were not getting used, and so I sold it.

For awhile I was fine using Live and the APC40 again, it was comfortable and more than capable for me, so I was once again DJing as I always had. But then Traktor started getting updates that addressed a lot of the issues I had with it. A 4-band EQ, increased headroom, resizable mapping editor, better beat mapping, etc.

I decided to try and pair the APC40 with Traktor, and had a bit of fun doing that for a few months. I was using some interesting templates I found for the APC40 online, and eventually I started getting into mapping my own custom templates. As I got more into the mapping editor in Traktor, I began to see how powerful and configurable it was. I was pretty impressed to be honest, NI did a really good job here.

But, I was still using the APC40, and while it worked, I just didn’t like it as much as the X1 I had been using before. So, once again I bought a Traktor Audio 6 soundcard with a free copy of Traktor Pro, and an X1 to control it with (still using the Xone62 for the mixing and cueing though).

Life was good. 🙂

I was happy DJing again, and Traktor was working out very well for how I like to mix. I had a nice little custom layout on my X1, the Xone62 of course sounds very good already, and the Audio 6 soundcard was working out nice too.

Actually, let me stop here because that last part isn’t totally true. For awhile the Traktor Audio 6 was having an issue with the audio quality slowly degrading over time, almost like you were applying more and more sample rate reduction on it. NI eventually told me that I had to buy a $30 power supply for it, which pissed me off since I bought it because it was supposed to be buss powered. Anyway, the power supply fixed the issue, and THEN the soundcard was working out nicely too.

So, I had a set up that worked, and things were great now, right? Well, not exactly. I’m a minimalist when it comes to gear, I like just the core fundamentals that I need to get a job done. So while the DJ set up was working, I began to miss the one to one integration that I had with the S4. That and having all your controls all right there on one panel in front of you was a nice way to work, I liked having that sort of workstation or groovebox feel the S4 had to it.

Once again I began to look at the S4, thinking about if I really wanted to put away the Xone62 in favor of it. I’m a huge fan of that mixer, but it is getting a LITTLE bit long in the tooth. And like I said, there was a lot to be said for the all in one aspect of the S4 too. Eventually I caved and bought the S4 again when I saw a really good deal thanks to a Christmas sale, and so far I’ve been really glad I did.

To my surprise, the faders on the newer S4’s feel nicer than they did on my 1st gen. one. It’s not a huge difference, but they definitely feel a lot smoother and more solid. That was a huge complaint of mine about the S4 the first go around, so I was pretty happy about that. I didn’t even have to install Traktor again or anything, I could use my current library and just install the S4 driver. Simple.

(registration and simple are two words I typically would never associate with Native Instruments!)

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Where the S4 has really come into it’s own is with the way I’ve been able to custom map the controls I’d normally not use. The jog wheels for instance are the filter controls now, which is useful since I use the normal filter knob as the low EQ band in Traktor’s 4 Band EQ set up. The EQ controls for decks C and D are my controls for Effects 3 and 4, both of which are Delay T3 units. This gives me direct control over separate delays for both tracks.

I like delay.

So far the whole experience with the S4 and the latest version of Traktor has been a really positive one. Mapping your own controls is easier than ever, the hardware feels better than I remembered it, and I’ve got a lot more controls at my disposal mapped the way I see fit. NI even added some new effects, which (to my surprise) modeled the way I had set up my Ableton Live DJ EFX Racks. The effect is off when you have the knob dead center, and increasingly adds more and more of the effect as you turn it left, or a different flavor of that effect if you turn it right. Sounds familiar!

I still have a couple small complaints though. Namely the metering is still pretty vague for accurately setting your levels, even a cheapo Vestax hardware mixer is way better in this regard. Also, the black knobs on the black background are impossible to see in a night club type setting. So I’ll probably end up buying some replacements from the DJ Tech Tools store eventually (late xmas present anyone?).

But other than that, I think it will be a really good set up for me over the next few years, or until I get bored again. Now if I could just kick this cold so I could record that new Tech House set I’ve been dying to get to all week….

Pursuit Of Music Interview

Earlier this week I was asked to give an interview for the Pursuit Of Music blog.  In this interview I talk about getting started as a professional audio engineer, my DJ history, and of course I offer up some advice for those looking to follow the same career path.  Enjoy!

http://www.pursuitofmusic.com/dj-tarekith-interview/

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A few people have asked me when I plan to post about why I decided switch back to the Traktor S4 for DJing recently.  It’s coming, I swear!  🙂

Unfortunately last week I came down with a nasty cold and sinus infection, so it’s been all I can do to keep the studio running at the moment.  Hoping I can get some time later today to write the S4 post, and I’ll get it posted by the weekend if all goes well.  Thanks for your patience!

Also, the Production Q&A posts I sometimes write are going to start backup again soon.  So if you have any questions about audio production or performance you’d like me to answer, please send them my way.

Finally, I want to thank all the people that donated to the blog in 2012 one last time.  Your  contributions really helped, thank you so much!

“Not All Futures Fade” – Downtempo DJ Mix

Not All Futures Fade
Downtempo DJ Set 12-19-2012

Well, it’s been far too long since I had the time to put together a new DJ set, but now that the year is starting to wind down a little I finally got to shop for some new tracks.  Here’s a new downtempo set, the tracks were selected for this one with the winter months in mind.  Tracklist:

Start Time – Artist – Track – Label

00:00 – Stay Under Construction – Hyperunactive – Everlasting Sensation
06:16 – Dhamika – Whispers – Uxmal
10:39 – Kayla Scintilla – Break Belief Bounce (Whitebear Rmx) – Merkerba
15:09 – CJ Art – Levitation – Mistique
18:42 – Incolumis – Cloudcage – JOOF
24:24 – Chronos – Sequenced Remix Limiter – Uxmal
26:23 – Beauty, The Breakdown – Forever (Loopsy Dazy Rmx) – Everlasting Sensation
33:10 – Sayr – Thru It – Muti
37:18 – Aes Dana – Horizontal Rain – Ultimae
41:24 – Okapi – Stay Home – Loony Moon Experiment
45:57 – Nikosf – Sensual Colours – Etoka
51:41 – Aes Dana – Low Tide Explorations – Ultimae

Speaking of DJing, my next gig will likely be January 3rd or 4th for the opening of the Beer Authority’s new location (right next door, much bigger space now).   I’ll post the details ont he blog once they are all finalized.

Liquid Beats 2

Just a quick reminder that this Saturday from 4-6 PM I’ll be DJing at The Beer Authority in Seattle once again.  Planning on doing a downtempo set this time around, so stop by for a cold micro-brew and some chilled out beats!  It’s Hoppy Hour, so if you buy any two bottles, your first pint is only $2.  Hope to see some you there!

Preparing For Gigs

Since my last post about nerves before a gig, I’ve had a lot of people asking what I do to prepare for my live shows.  I’ve covered some of this in the past in my Playing Live Guide, but it’s worth covering the basics again.

The first thing, obviously, is having a live set ready to perform in the first place.  I normally try and have at least an hour of music I play before I start looking into getting booked gigs, or agreeing to take any.  Sometimes if I’m close to having enough material ready I’ll accept and use that to motivate me to finish, but normally I try and have the basics down first.

Once I get booked for a show, I want to know the details.  Where is it, what kind of crowd, when am I playing, how long am I playing, etc.  Normally the promoter will give you all this information when they contact you with the booking in the first place, but if not it’s worth getting ahold of them asap so you know exactly what to expect and what to plan for.

Think about other, less obvious things too though.  Is there a hotel nearby, and how are you getting there?  Will there be some place secure for you to stash your gear before and after the gig, or are you responsible for it?  What kind of connections will you be plugging into, DI’s or a FOH (or even DJ) mixer? Who has the drink tickets?

 

Usually by this point I’m a couple weeks out from the show, and I’m putting the finishing touches on the set based on what the promoter told me.  Tailoring it for the crowd, are they looking to dance or chill out, fine tune the track order, etc.  I then make back ups of all my data to DVDr to bring with me.  You can’t count on it, but it seems more often than not someone has a laptop available if you need it these days.  I don’t just back up the data for my sets, but also the apps needed to use/send it to my gear too.  It helps to have these installers for both OSX and Windows.

The next phase for me is the trial run of the set.  I force myself to pretend I’m doing it for real, and do it front to back to make sure there’s no issues (at least on that day).  Ideally I’m doing the set someplace else, a local small bar or a friends house, you name it.  Some place I have to physically leave my studio and pack like I was going to a gig.  I look at all the cables and connections I need, and then I bring twice as many of the same types.

Cables always fail at your first big show.  I swear gnomes exist that do nothing but trash your most important cables minutes before you’re supposed to start playing.

Not only do I pretend that I’m performing in front of people. but also setting up and tearing down my gear.  Will I be able to hook everything up in advance with a soundcheck, and just leave it in place until I play?  Or will I have to set up while someone else is finishing their set before me?  Plan for both, and know what to do so you can do it quickly and correctly.

 

Speaking of sound checks, when possible, insist on them!  This is your last trial run before the show, and it also lets you see if your set is sounding the way you want on the sound system you’ll actually be using.  Hopefully there’s a sound guy there to help you sort any issue (too bright, too bassy, etc), but if not, play some of your live songs and walk around where the audience will be.  If there’s a mixer you’ll be plugged into, use it’s EQ to get things sounding the way you want later on. Keep in mind an empty space will sound much brighter than one full of people too.

When you’re done practicing the set, pack your stuff up like you were leaving for the night.  Imagine someone else is trying to get their gear set up too, and plan to keep things as simple as possible.  Flag or tape your own cables so there’s no confusion, make them unique.

I’m a big believer in packing everything up neat so the next show I could just unpack and set up as if I just left the studio.  Coil cables carefully and use velcro wire wraps to keep everything separated.  Don’t just toss it all in your bag in a big heap, that’s how you break cables and forget things at the venue.   Do it right, but be efficient and considerate of those playing after you. Double-check that you actually grabbed everything you brought with you.

For the most part, this is pretty much all I do when prepping for shows.  Sometimes during the trial run I’ll hear some things I need to go back and tweak, but I try and not obsess over this too much beforehand.  It’s always a fine line between practicing enough to be prepared, versus hearing the same music so many times you get sick of it.  Plus, each time you change something, you need to create new back ups and burn new DVDr’s, so that’s a consideration too.

I generally try and get all the prep work finished 3-4 days in advance of a show.  Gives me enough time to rush order anything that breaks or needs replacing, and it also gives me a few days away from the set before I actually do it for real.  Like I said, no need to get burned out on the set before you even get in front of people.  🙂

Nerves

Less than a week away from my next big gig, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I wasn’t feeling some butterflies, just like I always do.  Which is really weird for me when I think about it, because I’ve been playing live electronic music in front of people since just about when I started writing music in the first place.  That was more than 20 year ago, and still… I get the butterflies.

You’d think that over time it would get easy.  Well, maybe more realistically I should say easier.  And I guess in some ways it has, despite the last minute nerves that make me feel otherwise.  In the past I was always worried about how “I” would do, what mistakes “I” would make that might make people hate my music.  And sure, over the course of 20 years there were definitely some mistakes here and there.

But for the most part I’ve learned that most people don’t care when you mess up.  I mean, sure, it’s not like you can hide catastrophic errors where the music stops, or you REALLY mess up.  But a lot of times when you’re performing, you tend to fixate on the the little things along the way that don’t go according to plan.  And really, most people don’t even notice.  Heck, even when I record my own live sets and listen back to them a week later, usually I can’t spot the stuff that bothered at the time either!

No, these days I tend to find myself worrying about technical issues more than performance ones (quiet in the back).  Will the power be good?  Will I be able to hear myself in the monitors?  Will I have enough time to set up and REALLY be sure it’s all working right first?  Will my equipment work the way it has for months leading up to this? Will there be anyone there?  🙂

You know, the kinds of things you have no control over, and won’t know the answers to until you get there anyway.

 

Still, I worry.

 

I realize now it’s a good thing, in small doses anyway.  As the gigs get closer, I start getting that question popping into my head more often, “What if?”

What if it goes bad?

What if one of my machines just frreaks out on stage?

What if I forget a cable?

What if I leave my back up disc at home?

Etc.

And of course, the bigger the gig, the more questions I pose to myself.  But here’s the thing, despite being a little nervous having to worry about all this stuff, it also makes me think about and truly plan for all those potential problems.  I remember to bring extra cables, double check my memory cards, plan to play for longer than I’m booked, etc.

The more worries I have, the more confident I am once it actually comes time to play.  I’ve thought of as many possibilities as I can, and done my best to hopefully mitigate them as reasonably as possible (you can’t plan for everything).  I know my material, and exactly what I need to do, and suddenly I’m free to just focus on that.

Sure the first few minutes are always a little shaky, but once I realize it’s all going according to plan (or close to it), I can leave that worry behind, and just let myself have fun playing with sound.  I can just let myself enjoy hearing my music louder than I’d normally play it in the studio, and start looking at the audience, using their reactions to shape what it is I’m trying to do.  I get lost in the fun moments along the way, instead of always worrying about the big picture.

It’s a great feeling, addictive to us all.  It’s why immediately after the gig, we find ourselves thinking “should I approach the promoter now about possibly playing again in the future, or should I wait?”  🙂

So in the end the butterflies are still there, but I’ve learned to accept them as part of the normal process of playing live.  It might not be the most fun part (not by a long shot), but without those nerves, we might not be as prepared as we should be.

One last tip:

Always keep a notebook of some sort handy in your study as you prep for a gig.  It doesn’t have to be paper and pen, a text document on your computer or a reminder note on your tablet works just as well.  But almost without fail, you will suddenly remember some critical thing you almost forgot as you plan for the event.  WRITE IT DOWN.  Even if you plan on doing it immediately, it’s amazing how quickly we can get distracted or forget!

Strings & Theories DJ Mix

It’s been awhile since I did a DJ mix, and with summer coming along nicely now, I figured it was time for some fun, groovy music.  This one was done in Traktor 2.5 with the Kontrol X1 and my Xone62.  A Traktor Audio 6 DJ was used for all IO.  I have to say, the new tempo and beat detection NI added in version 2.5 was more or less spot on in all my tracks. Nice.

Strings & Theories
Downtempo DJ Mix 06-28-2012

Start Time – Artist – Track Title – Label
00:00 – Carmen Rizzo – Take Me Over – Electrofone
04:14 – Boot Cut Rockers – Instant Lightflow – Elvissabeat
09:39 – CJ RcM – Forest Rain – Easy Summer
12:41 – Pae – Pacific Interlude – GR8 AL
16:25 – Ekala – Blue Promises – Celestial
20:08 – Immaculate Ibiza – Drum & Drum – Immaculate Ibiza
23:21 – Elvizzards – Blue Rose – Manifold
28:13 – Dive Deep Corp – Dub Up – Elvissabeat
32:19 – Kogyo – Waves – Kindred
36:59 – Ovnimoon – Fab My Sun – Psybertribe
43:08 – Stefwell – Is This Love (OBE Chill Rmx) – Clubstar

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Just a couple more quick tidbits.  Just found out yesterday I’m going to be playing a downtempo live set at Chillography in Seattle on August 4th.  Also, I’ll be doing a more uptempo live set at the Sequential Circuits club night in Vancouver, BC on August 20th.  All this in addition to my live sets at Photosynthesis July 20th in Neah Bay, WA.  Going to be a busy summer!

Details on the new gigs coming soon, just waiting for some artwork and my time slots.  Hope to meet some of you at one of these!

Upcoming live gigs, June and July 2012

Hey everyone, just wanted to pass on some info for a couple live shows I have coming up over the next couple of months.

The first is a chill afternoon gig at the local pub I hang out at,  The Beer Authority.  I’ll be playing Saturday, June 23rd from 4-6 PM, which also happens to be happy hour.  Buy two bottles of beer to go (any size, any kind), and your first pint is only $2.  They have over 800 micro-brew bottles from around the world, and 8 rotating taps.  Great place to just come and chill out, and if it’s nice out they have outdoor seating too.  No cover either.

I’m using this as an opportunity to give the new downtempo set a run through before festival season kicks off, so it’ll be a pretty laidback and low-key event.  Feel free to stop by if you want to say hi, or talk shop afterwards.  Or just have some really damn good beer!

Here’s their website for more info and directions:

http://www.seattlebeerauthority.com/

And here’s their blog for an up to date list of the latest beers on tap:

http://thebeerauthority.blogspot.com/

The next gig is one I’ve been talking about for awhile, and something I’m REALLY looking forward too, Photosynthesis 5.  Once again I’ll be playing in the H’art tent, which was one of the coolest venues I’ve yet to play in last year when I was there.  I believe I’m also playing a more uptempo set in one of the  main tents, though I’m still waiting for set times to find out for sure.

The festival runs from July 20-22nd, and is located in beautiful Neah Bay, the northwestern-most tip of the continental US.  I’ll post my set times once I find out, but if you’re at all interested I highly recommend this festival (even if you don’t want to see me 🙂 )  Here’s their website for more info:

http://www.photosynthesisfestival.com/

I also recommend their Facebook page if you want info, as it tends to get updated more frequently:

https://www.facebook.com/PhotosynthesisFestival

 

There’s a few other gigs I’m still waiting to get confirmation on for later this summer as well, so stayed tuned if you can’t make it to either of these.  Thanks, and I hope to meet some of you before or after my sets!

Peace and beats,
Tarekith

The iOS DJ?

Ever since the iPad was first released, I’ve been intrigued about using it for DJing. Light, portable, decent storage, and more than enough power for basic DJing. Plus, for your average DJ, more than enough screen space for controls to handle mixing two tracks. Of course you can also use one of the many iPad DJ controllers coming out now too, though to be honest I feel that if you’re going to carry one of those, you might as well just use a laptop and controller anyway.

So for awhile now I’ve been eyeing what’s out there, reading reviews, and now and then playing with a couple of the more popular apps dedicated to DJing. I’m not even going to attempt to try and cover all the options available for DJing on iOS devices, instead I’m going to focus on two of the more popular options, Meta.dj and djay. Both can cover basic mixing duties, but do so in ways different enough that there’s little overlap in how they work.
Before I start though, it’s worth talking about the one thing that I think still is a major limitation in the platform for DJing. Namely, all iOS devices can only output a single stereo channel, which means its impossible to cue your tracks while outputting a stereo feed for your audience. Currently the most popular workaround is to instead output a mono channel for the main out, and a mono channel for the cue out using a splitter cable. I’ve been using the popular one from Griffin, which works both with djay and Meta.dj (plus others too):

http://www.algoriddim.com/djay-ipad/accessories/dj-cable

It’s an ok workaround but probably not the most ideal solution. Still, you work with what you have, and on that front it does work pretty well as long as you like mono signals 🙂 A couple of other DJ apps (I.E. DJ Player) let you use something like an iPhone or iPad touch to stream your cue channel from but I haven’t had a chance to play with those yet.

So, first up is probably the most popular DJ app out right now, djay from Algoriddim. The interface will be familiar to most DJs, two virtual turntables are front and center. Buttons around these let you access your iTunes library and playlists, the EQ section, a loop screen, cue points, and in some of the recent updates 6 different effect variations. There’s also the ever present crossfader, and some small channel faders along with decent channel meters too.

The decks can be configure to show you your iTunes album artwork for songs, more or less like a regular vinyl record. Very handy for those people more visually inclined. The effects are pretty well done if a little basic, stutters, gates, delays, flanger, etc. The 3-band EQ is a little harsh to my ears, they give almost full cut when down all the way, but that makes it hard to do subtle EQing too. Loops and cue points can be stored for all your tracks too, which is really handy.

In many ways djay sort of reminds me of using Traktor, most of the basic functions for DJing are there, but it tends to rely on sort of an old school paradigm of mixing. There’s the option to sync tracks automatically, but its still up to you to start them on time. Pressing the sync button again will line up the tempos again, but it also advances the song a quarter note in case you have the tracks in sync, but the phrasing is off. There’s tempo nudging buttons to help get things in sync, but I find them to be really small for how often I use them.

Honestly, this is sort of thing is my biggest complaint with djay overall. The most important functions for a digital DJ are given some of the least screen real estate, while the pretty, but largely pointless, virtual decks always take up so much room. For instance, the loops, EQ, effects, and your cues are all accessed via different views of the same tiny pop up screen. So it’s impossible to set loop points while EQing, or add and manipulate effects while navigating your cues. You can only access one of these functions at a time, while the decks which you’ll rarely touch sit there taking up most of the screen real estate.

There’s a lot of really nice functions in the app, but too much of it is dedicated to looking nice (and old school) versus taking advantage of the screen real estate and touch interface of the iPad. By far my biggest complaint with the app.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Meta.dj from Sound Trends, which aims to reinvent DJing based on the specifics of a touch interface. If djay is like Traktor, then Meta.dj is like Ableton Live. Instead of just focusing on a traditional DJ interface, you also have access to built in drum and synth patterns (with more available as in-app purchases), a loop mangler and playback device, and all of your audio is synced to a global master clock at all times. You can up to 4 of the above devices in a project, in any combination you want.

Meta.dj automatically scans your tracks when you add them to a project, finding the tempo and beat placement fairly accurately in my experience. Like djay, you can set loops and cue points for each track too, though these are project specific. Meta.dj also has some really nice performance based effects that utilize an XY touchpad interface for tweaking. However, these are added to each song on a case by case basic, and not on a mixer channel as is typically for most DJ programs. This means that if you want to create a new projects with the same songs, you’ll need to redo all of your cues, loops, effects and beat-grids all over again.

As a result, this means that prepping your tracks for DJing can take awhile (again, like Live) and it’s not possible to share these settings across multiple projects in Meta.dj. So instead of having the app remember the settings for all your tracks and make them available any time you use them in a project, you basically need to make a one project with all the songs you plan on DJing with in one single project. All your tracks are accessible by scrolling across the bottom of the screen in a project, though the names of the songs get truncated making finding what you want difficult at times.

Mixing in Meta.dj is done via nice and simple volume sliders for each of the 4 devices, or via crossfader that works for the top or bottom two devices if you want. Sadly, there’s no metering at all, so you’re on your own to guess the correct levels while performing, with clipping from too hot signals possible if you’re not listening closely.

Meta.dj is an interesting concept overall, a real solid attempt to blend DJing and live performance into a single interface that uses a touchscreen in the best way possible. I didn’t really find the drum and synth loops to be my thing though, and since I use hardware for my live sets, I didn’t really have a need to prep my own material to use in the app that way either. Still, it’s nice you can work this way if you want.

As a strictly DJ tool, I’m really torn on how effective I found it. Lack of metering and difficulty in finding the tracks I wanted to play by scrolling the bottom bar with truncated names were real downers for me. The effects are nice and the beat detection was impressive, but without meters it was really hard to do a more traditional DJ set with this app. It’s one of those tools where prep work is everything (again, like Ableton Live). With better track library management and some real meters. I could see this being a really useful app. Luckily, it seems the developers listen to their user base and do frequent updates so perhaps we’ll see some improvement in the future.

I have to admit, that one of the biggest downsides of Meta.dj is that it’s so different that often times I found myself reaching for the manual, only to find there isn’t one. A quick start guide is linked to from their forums, but other than that you’re sort of on your own to figure out how things work. There’s enough basic functions missing that at times I wonder if perhaps I just haven’t discovered what more experienced might already know. Hard to say without a manual.

Which brings us to the end. Or the beginning. I think like a lot of iOS apps, we’re seeing two extremes of how companies approach taking traditional music making activities and apply those to a touch screen device. On one hand we have djay which aims to mimic the old school DJ set up of two decks and a mixer, and on the other we have Meta.dj which looks to incorporate a new interface scheme based on tablet interactions.

I think both apps have enough positive points in their favor that those determined to DJ on the iPad will get good results if they put in the time to learn and prep their material appropriately. However, I still feel we’ve yet to really hit the sweet spot of providing the tools most DJs use, in an app that makes the most of the touch interface.

As I said at the beginning of this review I’m only focusing on two of the more popular apps right now, I know there’s others out there that fill in some gaps in what these can do. But for now I don’t see myself leaving Live or Traktor on the laptop to go with a more simpler approach on the iPad. 

For one thing, having only a single stereo out is the biggest limitation, and I guess on that front were all waiting for Apple to step up and open up this door. But more than that, I think we’re still in the early stages of trying to figure out the best way to access functions that over time have proven to be useful, on an interface no one is used to.

In the meantime, iPad DJing is something I leave to small impromptu gatherings and other informal events. And for those that are curious, djay is the one I use for now.  What about you, anyone out there using an iPad to DJ with?  If so, what apps do you like, and how have you found the experience so far?