Back in September, Sound Trends released their latest iPad Music App, meta DJ. At the time it had a mixed reception, but Sound Trends has been hard at work answering the requests of their users. With 6 updates now, adding everything from Audio PasteBoard importing to performance recording, I felt it was time to give this "50% DJ - 50% Producer" app a look.
If you are at all familiar with DJ software like Native Instrument's Traktor, then this is going to be immediately familiar to you. If you are not familiar with DJ software, then God have mercy on you because the tutorials and manual won't; more on that later.
The slimmed down TrackDeck gives you all of the controls you need, including the ability to do hot loops by tapping the loop size selector. They managed to cram a lot of features into a tiny space. Some features are missed, like tempo nudge, but they try to make up for it with BPM scaling (1/2x, 1x, 2x the auto-detected BPM).
Tracks seem to sync up nicely, though I had some issues with a couple of tracks that had odd time-signatures or too many tempo changes. For acoustic tracks that don't perfectly match their BPM you can assign the down beat to re-align the grid. The BPM can be synced via MIDI (and Virtual MIDI) to play along with other apps like Genome, but I had severe issues with running any other apps in background audio mode. The MIDI sync should probably be left to syncing with external devices or computers.
If you turn off sync you can even beat-juggle, like Ean Golden, with the 4 Hot Ques. The buttons are highly responsive, making this modern style of DJing possible!
In addition to the obvious DJ TrackDeck you can assign several other "instruments" into the 4 deck slots. There is the new Riser mini-synth, keyboard sampler, one-shot sampler, drum machine and Looper; based on Sound Trends other app Looptastic. Several of these are surprisingly robust, the sampler and Looptastic implemntations are great. The Drumtron drum machine has some wild results that make it very playful. Each instrument has it's own effects pannel with X/Y controller and lots of effects choices.
The Loop Store initially looked to me like a ploy for in-app purchase money, but they supply a huge amount of free loops in addition to the premium ones. All of that said though, there are better and easier avenues available on iOS for producing original music. All of these instruments add greatly to the DJing experience, allowing for your own variations and highlights to come into the mix, but out of the DJ context they seem less inviting.
Some features are buried and lost in the whole package, as they attempt to meet all of their users' requests. I don't fault them for this; in fact I think it is a great bit of engineering to cram all this into one app. The Pasteboard implementation is the worst offender here, necessitating a convoluted route to import your own samples.
I had to get help from the Dev to figure this one out:
I won't knock them for that though, because I'd rather have to go through the process than not have it available at all!
What I will fault them on is the low priority they have given to maintaining their support material. Hitting the "Help" button in the app takes you to the wrong page, and even if it was working, it was intended to take you to their forums instead of a simple manual. The current manual is also admittedly outdated by their aggressive update cycle. I feel terrible pointing out the flaws they've raised by trying to make their app meet all of their user's expectations, but I think the over-all experience for new-users suffers from the disorganized tutorials and outdated manual. If their tutorials were clearer or the manual maintained (and readily available) this could be a great introductory app for anyone who has ever thought about DJing.
This is much closer to the modern DJ experience, than any of the many goofy DJ apps out there that are merely screechy-scratch emulators. I was able to immediately transfer my knowledge of Traktor to playing around in meta DJ. I would expect folks could make the same journey in reverse, while having a lot of fun. That is understated and buried in all of this critical analysis, but I had quite a lot of fun with it. I don't think you're likely to be creating the most amazing mixes, but it is fun to just mess around in it!
As an example of its power, and my fresh mixing skills, I wanted to give it a tricky test. Any app or idiot can mix an 120BPM Electronica track with another 120BPM Electronica track, so for this test I wanted to mix in an entirely acoustic track. Kronos Quartet's "Lux Aeterna" was handled very well, and I threw it on-top of Morgan Page's "The Longest Road" ... because Morgan's stuff sounds so beautiful it makes anything sound better! This is not a very clean mix, but it is an honest one, featuring my own fuck-ups as well as a few instances of meta DJ's loop buffer fighting me when BPM Sync was on. I was having a lot of fun putting this together though, and I think that is the most important part of any music experience.