As an aspiring DJ, picking the best DJ software to start with is the most important decision you are going to make about your DJ setup. These days, the majority of DJs use DJ software to prepare and play their music. It would be safe to say that there is no proper DJ-ing without DJ softwares in today’s time.
But choosing the software right for you can be a challenge as all these different DJ softwares offer the same set of fundamental features on the surface. The real differences are noticeable only when you look beneath the surface. That’s why in this article, we’ll pitch Traktor, Serato, and Rekordbox against each other to see which one is the best DJ software for everyone’s personal needs. We’ll compare their pros and cons and give you a detailed idea about their differences.
What is a DJ software?
In very simple terms, software that is used by DJs to prepare and play their music is called DJ software. We at Yaabot don’t like things that simple though, so let’s learn a little more about it.
A DJ software mainly does two different things. The first type is called a performance tool and the second is called a library preparation tool.
To make their job easier, DJs have to analyze their music files before they can play them in order to categorize them into playlists and add important metadata such as title, artist, genre, and more; a DJ software is where all this is done.
The software can be used by the DJ to add loops and cue points for live remixing. It can also be used to add beatgrids, key analysis, graphical waveforms, etc.
When using a DJ software as a performance tool, the software basically becomes the brain of the DJ setup. This is achieved by plugging the DJ gear into the laptop. Music is loaded, mixed, and manipulated on the laptop. Instead of how we usually use keyboards and trackpads to input data, a DJ equipment is used in this case, which contains performance pads, faders, and jog wheels to make data input more DJ friendly.
In basic terms, it does what analog DJ setups do with hardware, but digitally and in a much more efficient manner.
Things to keep in mind while choosing a DJ software
Once you start working with a particular DJ software, it becomes painful to switch to any other software as you get used to the way that particular software works. Even then, most aspiring DJs don’t think much before choosing a software and usually choose a software based on blind advice or simply by accident. That might turn out to be a big mistake, and as mentioned before, it’s extremely painful to switch softwares once you’ve gotten used to one. That’s why it’s important you choose the right DJ software according to your needs.
Compatibility, ease of use, reliability, and price point are some of the other important factors you should keep in mind when choosing a DJ software.
Let’s look at some of the big names in the DJ software market and try to understand what they do and don’t do, the advantages and disadvantages of using them, and the hardware they work the best with.
Traktor was first released in 2000 and quickly gained a lot of popularity among the DJ community. It’s a powerful and highly customizable DJ software. If you are looking for an affordable DJ software but don’t want to settle for a less capable one, Traktor is where your search ends. However, you need to keep in mind that you need to pay again to get software updates, which doesn’t happen in the case of other programs on this list.
While Traktor is preferred because of its high customizability, the same can get overwhelming for some users. Traktor lags behind other DJ softwares in its inability to prepare music played by real drummers to sync properly and has no video support either.
Traktor can be tough to customize when used with a new controller as it is owned by Native Instruments and is a ‘closed’ ecosystem to an extent. They made it so that it runs the best with Kontrol gear, and using it with any other gear might be an unpleasant experience, especially the custom mapping part. While it is possible to custom map the software to use other gears, it works best with Kontrol gear made by Native Instruments.
Some built-in functions in Traktor are catered specifically towards DJs who like electronic music. For example, its Remix Decks allow playing music in a manner that’s very different from playing them one after the other. Using special music files that are very rare, Traktor’s stems function can be used to isolate some parts of a track, such as bass, drums, vocals, and melody. It also works well as a DVS.
Traktor is best suited for DJs who are heavily into electronic music. Compatible with Windows and macOS.
TLDR; It’s an obvious choice if you own Native Instruments production gear. For electronic music lovers, it has a great sound quality and the best looping and effects. However, Traktor is a bad choice for non-electronic music as it doesn’t support flexible beatgridding. It can be tricky to use due to a lot of customization options.
Available since the 1990s and with the ability to work with a wide variety of players and controllers, even the obscure ones, Serato is perhaps the most versatile option of all the DJ softwares out there. It is undoubtedly the best option if you’re planning on using an obscure controller. Serato’s great-looking interface and easy-to-use layout, combined with its compatibility with a wide range of controllers without any compromise on performance make it one of the best choices in the market.
Serato is famous for its innovations and for updating its software with new features frequently. It is often termed as the most popular DJ software in the industry. It works great as a DVS, too – it can be controlled by special computer code and CDs from any player and compatible DJ mixers or through special audio interfaces.
Serato works with videos and even karaoke and is the best DJ software among all for modern DJ functions like best sync.
Serato is best suited for DJs who are into lots of different types of music. Compatible with Windows and macOS.
TLDR; The safest choice among the three. It works well with electronic music and other styles. A good range of all modern features, including video playback and music streaming integration. Expensive as many extra features are required to be bought separately.
Distributed by Pioneer, Rekordbox is one of the most intuitive, reliable, and easy-to-use DJ softwares out there. It is Pioneer’s proprietary DJ software and hence works best for DJs owning Pioneer controllers. That’s not to say it wouldn’t work with other controllers, but compatibility isn’t guaranteed. Pioneer – Rekordbox combination is perfect for beginner DJs that want simplicity and ease of use so that they can get straight to mixing without worrying about the complexity of the software and getting overwhelmed in the process.
Rekordbox’s strongest suit is library management. Apart from being able to help you with the organization of songs, it has many other unique features, such as star rating, which helps sort songs uniquely. While it isn’t as polished as Serato, it offers many of the same features, including video.
One unique feature of Rekordbox that none of the other softwares offer is that it allows you to DJ with and without your laptop if you’re using Pioneer gear. You can DJ from a USB stick as well as your laptop as per your needs because Pioneer uses only one software for both cases.
Rekordbpx is best suited for DJs who use Pioneer gear. Compatible with Windows and macOS.
TLDR; Used by all, from beginners to professionals. Powerful enough with a decent set of modern features such as lighting control and cloud libraries with video playback and streaming services built in. It isn’t compatible with gears from companies other than Pioneer, and you need to pay extra for advanced features.
Traktor vs Serato vs Rekordbox
Needless to say, you can’t go wrong with any of these three as your go-to DJ software. They are all great options. But they all have their own differences and quirks that you should keep in mind before choosing to commit yourself to one.
Serato and Rekordbox are the most intuitive ones among them, making them a perfect choice for beginners as they’d take you straight to mixing instead of wasting your time learning their features. Newbies should choose either Rekordbox or Serato.
If you prefer a minimal UI, you should not look at Traktor at all, as Rekordbox and Serato are much simpler to use. However, if you don’t mind poking around and dedicating some time to learning the software, Traktor offers the best range of customizations and would be the best choice among the three. This decision might come in handy later in your professional DJ career.
Also, if you want to DJ from a standalone gear too, apart from your laptop, Rekordbox is the only reasonable choice for you as a single software would handle all of your needs.
Let us compare the three based on their support for a detailed set of features and rate them on a scale of five in the following table:
The overall score might spell a victory for RekordBox, but do keep in mind that ultimately its upon you to decide which features are integral to you, and see which software scores best on those aspects.
Other options to consider
While there were very few good DJ software options in the past, that is not the case anymore. Earlier, obscure DJ softwares were not fit to use even for beginners, let alone professionals. However, in recent years, many extremely affordable and even free DJ softwares have surfaced online that can be almost as good as the mainstream options. These alternatives have almost all the features fundamental to mixing, but they miss out on a few important things to DJs.
Some of them are:
djay Pro is developed by Algoriddim and runs on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. It is a modern-looking, advanced, and easy-to-use software that integrates well with iTunes. It also supports Spotify integration and integrates well with popular DJ gears.
djay Pro offers real-time stem preparation and also supports DVS and Neural Mix features. It’s becoming an appealing DJ platform due to its frequent updates and affordable price.
DJuced is a free-to-download DJ software that works with a decent number of DJ sets. It is simple to use even though its UI is not user-friendly and looks extremely old. DJuced comes bundled with controllers sold by Hercules and can be a very reliable alternative to the big three.
While DJuced has a limited set of features, its sampler decks can be used to do a lot of stuff, and it’s making big improvements in terms of stability and usability.
If DJ-ing is only your part-time hobby, and you’re more into managing public entertainment such as karaoke and conducting dance classes and gym sessions, or playing at birthday parties and handling speeches, UltraMixer is the one for you. It is best when you’ve to re-broadcast something or take live feeds from somewhere else.
While UltraMixer’s UI is old and clunky, it is great on the inside and makes up for its imperfections with its flexibility. It offers an unlimited trial on its full version, so it’s worth a try for those looking for a DJ software with its feature set.
While the final choice rests in your hands, which your surroundings will heavily influence, especially what your closest friends use, any gear you already have, cost, and more such factors, don’t forget to listen to your instincts. It is important to note that some DJs, even professionals, don’t use a DJ software.
DJ software is only supposed to make mixing music convenient, and your choice of a particular one doesn’t mean you can be stopped from achieving great heights. Other arguably more important DJ skills, such as knowledge of music, techniques, gear knowledge, programming a set, reading a crowd, and performing, have nothing to do with a DJ software.
Make sure you choose comfortable software according to your needs and learn how to use it extremely well. However, never forget that being a DJ is so much more than what DJ software you use. A good DJ can work with anything, and with time their DJ software becomes a part of them through which they can mix music even in their dreams. So don’t think about your DJ software too much; obsess over your actual Dj-ing instead.