It’s not a controller app. It’s not a “my first DJ app.” Native Instruments has released a full, two-deck version of Traktor, built from the ground up for the iPad, that nonetheless does essentially what the desktop app can. The same team behind the desktop Traktor has reconceived the library, effects, looping, sample navigation, and mixing around touch.
CDM has been testing the result with the developers and in release candidate builds. You can use Traktor DJ for iPad on a bus, or – if you’re Richie Hawtin or on vacation – on the beach. You can then turn around, sync what you’ve done to Traktor on your “desktop” Mac or PC – or skip the whole sync thing and just DJ with an iPad.
What’s a bit surprising about all of this is that NI may have built a Traktor that appeals to a wider audience than the original. Having been instrumental in popularizing first digital vinyl, then digital control systems, NI could prove the company that takes the iPad into the club.
Now, this isn’t Traktor Pro – no massive libraries of effects or four-deck rigs. But what you do get is:
- Two decks
- Two channels, each with 3-band EQ and filter section
- Eight Traktor effects – for now, you can use one at a time per channel. (High on my list would be chaining filters on the X/Y pad, a la Korg KAOSS Quad, etc.)
- Waveform manipulation, looping, scratching, cueing
- Full library features
- Two-way sync with Traktor Pro – all your library files, cue points, and the like can go in both directions. So you can set some new sample loops on a plane, then go back to your laptop for a DJ set.
Let’s talk about what all this feels like to use.
Tap the ‘Freeze’ button, and you can trigger slices of a sound – matched to beat grid – for a sampler-style experience of a track. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, and something we’ll cover in more detail soon.
Touching sound, now for DJing. This may all sound a bit vanilla, but the actual experience of using these features via a touch point is radically different. Using gestures like pinch and swipe, you can more easily surf and scrub a waveform with your fingers. Setting cue points and looping, for instance, is as easy as gesturing directly on the waveform display.
You can slice the waveform into parts and trigger bits of a sound – all locked to tempo grid if you so choose – and make beat grids in real-time.
This could also be the end of the silly use of turntable metaphors on iPads – the plague that infects other iPad DJ apps. Instead of looking at a picture of a record, which makes it difficult to see what you’re doing, lacks the tactile feedback of a real turntable, and behaves in unexpected ways, you scrub around a waveform. In fact, the experience is so good I fully expect some music makers to pick up Traktor DJ and use it as a production tool, making it into a sample/loop app instead of a DJ app. There are other apps dedicated to that purpose, but Traktor DJ has some neat tricks – and NI’s effects – that could make it an appealing instrument and sound design tool.
Make no mistake: Traktor DJ on iPad could help people make some really awful DJ sets. (It’s a shame we didn’t record the terrible sounds I made with it in my first play.) But with some practice, it could mean for DJs who don’t just want to mix tracks, the possibility of doing some clever looping and slicing in a new way that could be genuinely musical.
Apart from sample slicing, effects are perhaps the most fun part of Traktor DJ on the iPad. You get the same wild-sounding NI effects from the desktop, now with a nice, X/Y pad interface. (In fact, NI, maybe a separate effects app is in order? Reaktor for iPad? One can dream…)
Library functionality and recommendations. Finger-remixing is likely not for everyone – you need some finger dexterity and improvisational musicality with samples. What will appeal to everyone is the library functionality. On the iPad, Traktor DJ integrates with your iTunes Library directly. (Hope you bought a 32GB or, ideally, even 64GB model.) The same tempo detection and sync engine from the desktop version work their magic on your collection of tunes, now with precise downbeat analysis. (If it’s wrong, it’s also easier to correct than ever before, by gently swiping on the waveform rather than mucking about with the mouse. That may not sound a whole lot more intuitive, but trust me, it is.)
Traktor DJ also does something DJ apps haven’t done before: it builds a recommendation engine into the app itself. That seems to me to be inevitable in the Spotify and Last.fm age. While it may make some DJs cringe, the software itself now uses tempo, key, and even timbre metadata to work out what music will match well with what you’re playing. This same functionality is on its way to Traktor Pro, too, via today’s 2.6.1 update (which also provides sync functionality). I have some speculation about the deeper meaning of this move, but it’s only fair to save that discussion for a separate article. (This will also be a good time to go into the significance of machine algorithms for recommendations generally, a topic I covered with some colleagues including fellow Berlin resident BarbNerdy at Campus Party last summer.)
The details of sync, audio interfacing:
Now, some of your likely questions answered.
Cueuing has been the big question mark on iPad DJ apps. You can use a splitter cable, yes, though that means DJing only in glorious mono. (Fine for some clubs, but, really? This is 2013.)
With Core Audio support, Traktor DJ does the better thing: it works with any class-compliant audio device, including the Traktor Audio 6 and Traktor Audio 10, via USB and the iPad Camera Connection Kit. That cuts down on portability a bit, sure, but it also makes this a real DJ solution when you’re actually playing in front of people.
Sync works via Dropbox accounts. It uses only metadata, so even a free account will cover you. Beat grids, cue points, loops and BPM transfer between desktop and tablet.
What isn’t there, apart from four decks (though that seems it’d be overkill on iPad)? You don’t get MIDI control, for one, which would have been nice, though the touch interface is lovely. And you can’t really customize the interface very much. So, I think there is a window for a different DJ app to rival Traktor with a distinct approach; this market isn’t over yet.
You’ll need an iPad 2 or better; I think it’s safe to say the first-generation iPad is mostly a paperweight at this point, unfortunately, as far as developers are concerned. However, the iPad mini is a really beautiful device; I don’t own one, but tested one at NI, and it’s fantastic. Performance is slick, the interface is perfectly reasonable, and you can hold it in one hand.
Price: US$ 19.99 / 17.99 € / 1700 ¥
Available now. iOS 6 or later required.
Yep, it’s Richie Hawtin time. Oh, it’s fine, Rich. You enjoy testing Traktor on the beach; I’m having a … great time … in this … Berlin … winter. Ahem.
(I can tell you, having talked to NI, I don’t think this is as staged as it may appear. Richie really did play this at BPM. Good thing that iPad is thin and compact, and no one could see Traktor on the tablet before it was released! And yes, Richie Hawtin is a brave early adopter – not everyone would do a big gig like this on an app they just started testing.)
Photos courtesy Native Instruments.
Heh… watch for our images next week, probably not including me as a hand model.
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