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….

5 Replies to “My DJ Dilemma”

  1. Thanks for the article. I always like reading about your journeys in Tech-Land, finding out what works for you. I’ve bought a few devices because you were using them and been happy with them.

    I’ve felt the same about Djing with Ableton Live; the interface gets boring, as it’s so ‘scientific’ compared to the traditional DJ software of Traktor. For this reason, I too started using Traktor to DJ. It was refreshing to have that feel again. I regained my enthusiasm for DJing. The ‘not-so-perfect’ transitions made in Traktor reminded me of the ‘human’ quality that a DJ set can have.

    Despite all of this, I’m back to Ableton. I’m using the Lemur app with an altered version of the Live Control template. The control and precision of Ableton will likely keep me using the software until the world ends… or we all go deaf. We’ll see which one happens first.

    Keep up the good work. Aloha.

  2. I am loving my Z2 mixer. I am using it with two custom mapped F1’s for regular deck control rather than the Remix deck mode style. Along with the turntables it is the best setup I have ever had for sure.

    I love the quality of the mixer and the portability of the F1’s which can easily be used with any DJ mixer.

  3. from a guy who comes form the old school days of vinyl, surprised you dont use the dvs, i can see this for the club setting if there isnt cdjs with usb or flash, ie pioneer, but for home and places where technics are available, i am digging TSP or Duo in my case.

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