I visited the trade show BPM this week to check out the new DJ technology offerings from the big manufacturers. I didn’t go to see what new toys I should buy, but to see if I could pick up on trends and see where the DJ industry is heading. It’s noticeable that a number of manufacturers are releasing controllers for ipads to enhance their functionality for use in performance. Some controllers such as the Numark iDJ Live are toyish, but there are a number of more rugged controllers including the Numark iDJ Pro, Vestax Spin 2 and the Pioneer XDJ – AERO which offer increased functionality and control for ipad DJ’s.
The idea of using an iPad to DJ is not new, there are many iPad apps which allow users to DJ at parties, but these are not aimed at professional users. Ipads are also commonly used as multi touch interfaces when connected to a laptop to control elements of programs such as Traktor and Ableton Live, by artists such as Richie Hawtin. What is new it that these controllers now remove the laptop completely and use the iPad as media player and controller with increased functionality for audio outputs and headphone cueing. This post is not a detailed product review, but gives examples of the new controllers which suggest a trend leading to a post-laptop era of DJ’ing.
Numark iDJ PRO
The Numark iDJ Pro acts as an iPad doc and controller for the Algoriddim DJay app. You can use the ipad’s touch screen to select tracks and use the physical controls to cue and mix audio tracks. You can cross-fade between tracks, scratch, beat juggle and cue samples allowing physical control of all the functions in the app. The unit also provides headphone cueing and a stereo phono output to connect to speakers.
There are some limitations in the DJay software compared to software such as Native Instruments Traktor, but there is little difference between mixing on an iPad or a Laptop. I predict that this a market Native Instruments are likely to move into as they are currently offering a range of controllers to suit a variety of approaches to DJ’ing. Due to limitations of processing power on the iPad, they may offer a stripped down version of Traktor, much like their iMaschine iPad app.
The current limitations of the ipad for DJ’ing are storage capacity and processing power. At the time of writing, the iPad only has a maximum storage size of 64GB, which is a limiting amount for a DJ’s music library, but this file size is likely to expand over time or DJ’s will stream tracks from their phone or directly from the cloud. The other limitation is the A5 processor found in the current Ipad, but as processing power increases ipads will be able to run more powerful DJ applications such as Traktor.
Vestax Spin 2
Vestax have also recently released the Spin 2 for ipad DJ’s. Like the iDJ Pro, this unit acts as a controller for Algoriddim’s Djay app. This is a simplified controller compared to Vestax controllers such as VCI-400 DJ-Controller, but more advanced controllers are likely to emerge as the DJay app features develop. Functions on the controller allow the DJ to select and mix tracks, apply equalization, cross fade and trigger samples, with similar functionality to the iDJ Pro. The unit also works with laptops and the iphone, which seems like a nice practice tool for DJ’s on the move.
Released earlier this year, Pioneer also had their XDJ-AERO unit on show at BPM 2012. The XDJ-AERO connects with your wireless devices such as your smart phone or tablet PC, allowing you to stream tracks directly from them using Pioneer’s Rekordbox mobile app. The Aero also works as a standalone DJ mixer and media player with USB input and has inbuilt hardware effects. This unit also suggests a trend towards a post-laptop era of DJ’ing.
If you walk into a club today, it’s likely you’ll see a DJ hunched over a laptop. The laptop is loaded with cultural baggage and DJ’s often look like they are checking their emails instead of engaging with a crowd. The Numark’s IDJ Pro places the screen on the table with the controls, removing a barrier between the performer and the audience. With this in mind, removing the laptop from the DJ booth can be seen as progress. The XDJ – Aero does away the the laptop completely, with DJ’s spinning tracks from the cloud.
The DJ industry is constantly in flux.
To briefly review the DJ market over the last 10 years or so, the digital vinyl systems such as Final Scratch released in 2001 and later Serato Scratch Live (released 2004) and Traktor scratch (originally Traktor Studio, 2005) can be seen as a transitional medium, which attracted vinyl DJ’s to digital DJ’ing by using the vinyl record as a controller. Beginners today are likely to bypass this stage altogether as software and a controller is much cheaper than two turntables and a DJ mixer.
In 2007 Matt Moldover coined the term controllerism to describe an approach to music making, using laptops and controllers to remix music instead of turntables and a DJ mixer. Moldovers approach to performance took influence from hip-hop turntablists and it was founded on a DIY aesthetic of hardware hacking. Over the last 5 years the DJ industry responded to the needs of controllerists and DJs with a wealth of affordable controllers to interact with their laptops. These include the Allen and Heath Xone 1D, Novation Dicer, Vestax VCI-400, Akai APC 40 and Traktor Kontrol F1 to name just a few.
Wider post-laptop trend
The increasing use of iPads in the DJ world can be seen as a reflection of a wider trend in society towards a post-laptop / post-pc era, as computers get smaller and faster, with more and more computing on smart phones and tablets, rather than laptops or descktop PC’s. Looking at the new iPad DJ controllers from Pioneer, Numark and Vestax, I believe that controllers in some form are here to stay, but in the next five to ten years, the laptops will be gone.