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Tools of the Trade

An early look at Native Instruments' Traktor DJ iPad app

By Chris Galvin
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Every once in a while a new DJ product is introduced to the DJ world that ultimately revolutionizes the way DJs perform. Take for instance the Technics SL-1200 turntable that was launched back in 1972. The 1200 was the first turntable to revolutionize how the club DJ played for two main reasons: The first was a Pitch Control slider that gave the club DJ the ability to seamlessly mix together two records by beat matching. The second was the Start/Stop button because it gave the DJ the capacity to do push-start cueing. While those two features might seem miniscule compared to today’s technology, they were monumental in terms of opening the door to new ways of mixing and performing as a DJ.

Today, Native Instruments launched their iPad version of Traktor DJ, and, like the introduction of the SL-1200, this new app is going to significantly transform DJing. Last week we received a pre-release copy of the app to review and we were blown away.

What’s so groundbreaking about Traktor DJ is not that it’s a scaled-down version of Traktor Pro adapted to the iOS platform, but the way the product designers approached the user interface and features to be easily controlled with basic iOS standards—my three-year-old was able to play with music from the get-go. DJing a long time ago broke away from the standard mixing of two tracks back to back, and Native Instruments has recognized that with Traktor DJ. Some might argue against it, but Traktor DJ for iPad is no longer tied to a linear sequence of playing two stereo tracks back to back; now users can perform with loops, “finger-triggering” sounds directly from the waveform with intuitive iOS finger gestures. Traktor DJ also removes the barriers of Traktor Pro’s not-so-intuitive approach. Instead, Traktor DJ streamlines the DJ workflow by scaling back the feature set and making it the perfect marriage of a fun-to-use app while at the same time professional enough to use in a live performance (check out Richie Hawtin using it below at a recent gig).

Some of the main features of Traktor include looping, cue points, EQ, FX, Freeze Mode, and simple library management. I installed the app on my device and I was immediately mixing music and making mixes with an extremely easy and intuitive interface with familiar iOS finger gestures, like pinch and swipe.

While looping is not something new for Traktor DJ, the ability to control and touch the waveform and loop by “grabbing” grid markers to regulate the loop count, and then instantly swipe down to release the loop, make it a really powerful feature for all kinds of possibilities with live play.

But the biggest game-changer by far in Traktor DJ is the Freeze Mode, which allows a user to freeze and slice parts of the waveform into playable parts on the fly—just like using a trigger pad but right on the waveform while the track stays in time and synched to another track. This to me is the most exciting feature of Traktor DJ because it opens the door to a variety of creative and clever hacks that have yet to be discovered. I’m excited to see what comes of this feature from the Madeons and Ean Goldens of the world.

Other features include eight FXs that can be controlled with a swipe and drag gesture and can also be locked to free your hands to do other mixing tricks. The EQ is also a nice touch with bass, mids, lows, and a volume slider. The Beatgridding is a no-brainer with the tap mode to fine-tune your grids. There’s also the proprietary Traktor automagical tempo detection and sync engine. While not always perfect, in the few days that I’ve been using it, it has been about 95% accurate, especially with newer tracks that are comprised of straightforward four-four beats.

There’s also the built-in bi-direction content synchronization to sync track settings already done through Traktor Pro. My test version didn’t have that feature so I’m eagerly awaiting that functionality. There is also full iTunes integration making library management painless and making it even easier to find tracks when performing. There’s also a recommendation engine that can suggest similar tracks for you.

Overall, Traktor DJ will be the best thing that has happened to DJing in quite some time. Traktor DJ’s ease of use, the “scaled down” feature set, and $19.99 price tag will make this a very popular application on the iTunes store as well opening a up DJing to a whole new group of users. Like its predecessors, Traktor DJ’s clean user interface and design will fundamentally transform the way we DJ, if we can even call it that anymore. Check back in the weeks to come for a full chat with Traktor DJ’s product and design team.