HANDS ON: Traktor DJ shoehorned into the iPhone

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Native did a sterling job of cramming a pretty comprehensive Traktor Pro performance into an iPad via Traktor DJ. It wasn’t the complete experience of course, but was completely tailored and designed from the ground up to  utilise the key selling point of the iPad — the full touch screen environment. And Scott Hobb’s clear expertise in this area from his Attigo project really paid off for NI. And now it’s been further scaled down into a space I didn’t think they’d be able to do  — Traktor DJ for iPhone and iPod Touch is here.

Before we dig in, let’s hear words from NI, which essentially says it’s Traktor DJ, but smaller:

Native Instruments Releases TRAKTOR DJ App Exclusively for iPhone & iPod touch

TRAKTOR DJ, top-selling professional DJ app for iPad, now released for iPhone and iPod Touch

Berlin, May 2, 2013 – Native Instruments today released the TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone App, available now on the App Store for iPhone and iPod touch. Following the release of the unique, hands-on DJ app for iPad, TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone delivers the same intuitive workflow and advanced feature set as the iPad version, with an optimized interface to fit the screen real estate of iPhone and iPod touch. The TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone App is aimed at DJs of all levels from novices to touring professionals. Users of TRAKTOR PRO, Native Instruments’ flagship DJ software for Mac and PC, can also complement their setups with bi- directional content synchronization with TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone.

The release of TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone is the realization of one of Native Instruments’ long-term visions – to use touch-controlled waveform displays to create a more direct way to interact with music. The success of the iPad version demonstrates this new paradigm has been eagerly adopted by the DJ and wider iOS community.

TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone follows its iPad counterpart in putting the waveform at the center of user interaction. A user interface optimized for the iPhone’s screen size delivers the same dedicated 3-band EQ and filter sections, and 8 proven TRAKTOR effects as the iPad version. Users can view both decks simultaneously or use the convenient touch slider to quickly adjust the size of each waveform in relation to the other. This allows users to set loops, perform scratches, mark cue points for live re-editing, and scrub, browse or navigate through tracks with the same precision and ease available to iPad users – all in the most portable version of the industry-leading professional DJ software to date.

Also on board are TRAKTOR DJ’s advanced performance features. Freeze Mode lets users slice up a waveform into playable parts for on-the-fly remixing and entirely new musical performances. Users can also create beat grids in real time, intuitively mapping out a song’s groove without having to stop the music. TRAKTOR’s refined automatic tempo detection, sync engine, and precise downbeat analysis make beat mixing completely straightforward and free users to creatively interact with their music via the touch interface. A powerful recommendation engine uses advanced tempo, key, and timbre detection algorithms to recommend compatible tracks with the same tempo and harmonic structure in real time. This allows users of all levels to create smooth and ear- pleasing mixes. Users have access not only to their TRAKTOR collection, but also the music available on their iPhone or iPod touch. And thanks to TRAKTOR DJ’s Notification Center, users learn the app at their own pace, unobtrusively receiving tips, tricks, and techniques from within the app.

TRAKTOR DJ bi-directionally syncs track settings and properties with TRAKTOR PRO. This gives DJs an ideal workflow for planning a set when on the move. Users can also transfer their stored work in TRAKTOR PRO directly to TRAKTOR DJ – all beat grids, cue points, loops and BPM counts seamlessly transfer between iPhone and TRAKTOR PRO and back via a free Dropbox account.

Additionally, because of the powerful Core Audio engine built into iOS, TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone also offers ultra-low latency playback, manipulation and recording while also supporting professional class compliant hardware audio interfaces, such as the TRAKTOR AUDIO 6 and 10, something currently not possible on any other mobile platform. DJs can connect these and other devices to their iPad using the Camera Connection KitTM for optimum audio quality and pre-listen and cue functionality, or via a splitter cable with dedicated cue and master controls. All of this allows TRAKTOR DJ users to easily record their mixes live on their iPad, or pump their music out to the house in the highest quality possible.

Pricing and availability

TRAKTOR DJ for iPhone is available for $ 4.99 / 4.49 € / 450 ¥ from the App Store on iPhone and iPod touch or at www.AppStore.com/TRAKTORDJ.

No sterling? Really? Even though the UK is the 3rd highest revenue country for iOS? What have you got against we Brits NI? ;)

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Back to the app itself — the iPad version of Traktor DJ is wonderful. It’s a proper translation of the key features of the desktop app shoehorned into the touch world. Obviously, compromises have been made, because every feature cannot be crammed into a single window and remain useable. So you can only imagine the tough decisions that have been made to attempt to give the fullest experience without crippling the feature set.

As far as the features go, the iPhone version appears to be just as fully featured as its bigger sibling. It does at first glance appear to be less featured, but when you start to dig inside the screens, it soon become apparent that more or less everything is there, even if it does take some work to find it,

The technical stuff first — this is a separate iPhone purchase, so the iPad version won’t work on the iPhone and vice versa. It’ll also need at least a iPhone 4S to run on as well. After all, audio processing is a tough task, especially when you’re using 2 sources and layering effects and filters over the top.

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Once you’re in, you’re greeted with a similar  experience to the iPad version, although more optimised to make best use of the available space. The way Traktor DJ for iPhone works is to offload functions into secondary screens, or to give a fuller single waveform experience. In the dual waveform display, you get instant access to loops, sync, beat grids and freeze mode, with the same touch based way of using both controls. I’m still not a fan of the pinch gesture for expanding or crunching loops down though — it feels clumsy and lacks accuracy, especially on this small screen.

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You use the AB slider to get access to the full features of Traktor DJ. You can hit A or B for instant access, or if you’re like me and pleased by such things, moving the slider slowly makes for a lovely responsive effect, because obviously you’ll have time for such frippery in the heat of the mix. Side note — just to the left of the AB slider is a pullout box that contains yet more features including access to the audio controls.

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But once into the single view, you can see the hot cues, FX and EQ buttons, with the familiar screens just a press away. NI have realised that to use the controls properly, they have to remain large so that a finger fits properly on the faders and hits buttons first time, which does mean taking over the whole screen rather than just a portion of it. So you may find yourself having navigated deeper into the app and not always being too clear where you are.

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In Use

Given that the success or failure of Traktor DJ is down to the accurate analysing and beat gridding of your library, you’re very much in the hands of the app rather than your skills for mixing. On one hand, chucking music together perfectly in sync and on beat is an absolute doddle. But the lack of pitch controls or nudges does make mixing older non-quantised tracks less easy, and by less easy I mean frustrating impossible. Traktor DJ for iPad and now iPhone remain very much in the realms of mixing new digital tracks together that have a solid and constant BPM and beat grid.

Adding and using hot cues is buried inside single deck view, as are EQ, filter and FX, meaning that you can only do this kind of work to one track at a time, thus incurring the only real limitation of Traktor DJ for iPhone — it really is a one deck at a time affair. In the iPad version, you can have all this on screen for both decks and hammer or tweak away as you see fit. But when you can only EQ of filter one deck, it does feel like a massive limitation.

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The feeling I come away with is that Traktor DJ for iPhone is a marvellous Traktor DJ implementation. It has just about everything the full fat version has to offer and does it with some polish. However, it falls short in the usability stakes because 90% of the app is a screen or 2 away, making the experience quite hard work if you’re wanting to do anything more than A to B mixing. I want features there, right in front of me. Imagine if your hardware controller’s hot cues and effects controls were in a pull out drawer compartment that snapped shut — that’s how this feels to me.

For this reason, I see this as a fun app, or an emergency backup should your impromptu services be required. The upside for those who use the desktop Traktor Pro is that you can do a lot of track prep on the go, and have it sync back to your iPad or desktop Traktor via Dropbox. For busy DJs, this alone is worth the… oh wait I can’t tell you how much it costs in English money can I? And this is what you have to remember — NI are delivering a bloody good DJ app for $5, and I really mean BLOODY GOOD. While I can moan about the ease of use issues, for those who want a casual rather than pro DJ experience, this is about as good as it gets. It is the flipside of the coin compared to algoriddim’s djay, and it’s a matter of trying both (and DJ Player 6 which is due) to see which fits your needs.

Traktor DJ for iPhone is undoubtedly clever and absolutely works, and I tip my cap to Scott, Jim, Chad and whoever else at NI has had a hand in this.