February 26, 2013

The Traktor DJ App for iPad And Whether It’s Right For You


Bringing a familiar system and all new tactile advantages, Traktor has landed on the iPad.

So I bought Traktor DJ for iPad Thursday.

Before I go any further I want to say again that I bought it Thursday. At the time of writing, it is Monday the following week. When I bought the product, I was thinking “I’ll just bang around with it, test out the sync functionality, set a few loops and cue points, and bang out a quick review for the blog.” That didn’t happen for two reasons:

1) I really dragged my feet on the whole “leaving Snow Leopard” thing. Snow Leopard was fine. I wanted to stay there. Over recent months, this or that driver update excluded me and I realized the day was coming when someone would force my hand. NI were the someone, and 2.6.1 was the update to do it. Mac users will want to note that full use of the app’s functionality with Traktor Pro 2.6.1  requires OS 10.7 (Lion) or higher. My test of the product quickly added “make sure it won’t break your studio and then upgrade to Mountain Lion” to the list of tasks. (I did it, it went well, and didn’t take too long- but this is not about Mountain Lion, though it appears I am spending a fair amount of time talking about it…)

2) It’s pretty fun. Seriously. I played for hours and have been back to it throughout the weekend. I usually buy an iPad app, play for about 20 minutes, and then sit with my buyer’s remorse. I couldn’t help but twiddle with this through hours I had set aside for writing about twiddling with it. It also gave me something to do while I updated my OS and then Traktor.

Yes, I have poked around the forums and seen the mad people being mad about things that mad people always get mad about. I am aware that the Traktor DJ app for iPad in no way replaces my Traktor S4. On the other hand, it sure is a welcome assistant to library management and set planning. Oh, and also marking loops and cues and set selection are all kind of a breeze. We may not all do it on a beach Richie Hawtin style, but I think having a portable way to test out transitions and match things up for a set is the kind of futurist luxury we all expected with the transition to digital, knob-y, trigger-y things.

That said, I love the app. I certainly have a wish list (we will get to it later,) but the release version already being this great is not typical. Especially given the shortcomings of the iMaschine app. It seems with Traktor, Native Instruments were able to find a firmer balance in the design of the app and their approach that ruled out any needs to gimp it excessively in a cannibalization related fear kind of way. Above statements notwithstanding, for all practical purposes (as long as you accept the iPad part at all) the unit is functional and could run a set all by itself, for those who like living on the edge. I wouldn’t do it… unless at someone’s house being weird or something… and even then… just… no… but it could. I think that, though, is because I own other equipment for such tasks. My attitude would be much more “OH WOW! I CAN DO THIS!!!!” were I not in possession of a controller. My attitude tends to fall in with others who have remarked that the limitations of the app are more a statements of the current limitations of tablets in general.

However, from a preparation standpoint, the Traktor DJ app succeeds in ways that might not even be that obvious. The freeze function that opens up all of the slice functionality can quickly lead to some DAW exportable loops and other quick hacks for the nimble minded editor. The improved metadata and analysis for tracks helps one to quickly group items in a similar key and can lead to quick skeletons for Madeon/M4SONIC type set building in Ableton Live. It takes no time at all to prepare a bang out quick phrases of slices and loops and export via mixtape to Ableton or the DAW of your choice. The effects system, while limited, can be used very intuitively with the filter and EQ and a little bit of planning can set you up with some great transitions to drop into your sets with an F1, or cut into your own edits. While I’m thinking of the F1, despite there not being access to the remix decks from the app, it does make the task of hunting down and setting up loops faster. With the sync function, as long as you don’t mind wiping cue points until you get everything you need, you can easily set up loops for your remix decks. I see a lot of nights with the F1 and the iPad sat next to each other on the desktop while DJs prep more technically minded sets.


Slice and set cue points with precision and ease using the iPad friendly freeze mode.

Now, if you don’t own Traktor Pro, or any other DJ software, the main caution I will throw you before you buy is this: Read what it is and does from a more thorough review of the product. Read the specs and limitations. In fact, do it if you DO own Traktor Pro or some other software or controller. For God’s sake don’t be one of the mouth breathers rage posting about how it won’t work with your Mixtrack or how it’s not a controller for Traktor Pro. Honestly, I can’t estimate for all the things that will still be said, nor do I expect the people who buy without reading about the product to read an article here, but people really need to weigh their rage against what a product turns out to be versus their own diligence as a consumer. If you do own it, this app is in many ways an assistant to the Traktor DJ on the go. It can help you plan your sets while your rig is stowed in the belly of a plane. If you are on a trip and don’t have your rig with you, you can still test out those ideas you had from your hotel room, bedroom at home or wherever.

I personally think this app should appeal to any producer who likes to slice for obvious tactile and Librarian oriented reasons. Because I am spending all of my creative time in the studio these days, I recently built a shelf to sit my S4 and F1 over my synthesizers and installed Traktor to the studio comp so I could ditch the laptop. I then ran the S4 as a second sound card and have Traktor set up to dump one shot samples into any waiting DAW or sampler through my mixer and into my main interface. Rather than making this process redundant, I feel that simplifying the front end of the selection process allows me to up my game. Taken as part of a sampling or editing system, owning the iPad app, S4 and F1 suddenly feels like having a comprehensive tactile discovery system. This is a tool that can go well beyond pop cultural cut and paste music creation and  reach into the ability to remix and prepare edit style effects for personal work. The greatest thing about the Traktor DJ app, in my mind, is that despite the limitations, it still gives the ability to accomplish these tasks. NI don’t have to worry about cannibalizing their market, because the app is so complementary to their other hardware that it will most likely serve as a gateway drug to all their other software.


While limited by Traktor owners’ standards, the Traktor DJ FX panel combined with the EQ and Filter panel can result in some fun and intuitive gesture versions of familiar effects.

The best approach to purchasing the Traktor DJ App is most likely the best course of action for most iPad app purchases: It probably isn’t gonna replace anything. This doesn’t mean it is useless, or can’t find a place in your creative workflow, but you might have to think for a bit on the best approach for you. I think the purchase is a no brainer if you:

A) Have an iPad.  (Required.)

B) Have Twenty Dollars. (Required.)

C) Have Traktor Software and any combination of controllers. (Optional.)

D) Have actually read the product description and think that what’s on offer has any application for something you are doing. (Recommended.)

E) Think it looks like a pretty cool app. (Will most likely improve your experience upon purchase.)

I’ve tried to prioritize the reasons to buy here. If you can knock out A and B, you’re well on the way to buying it in a “what the Hell” kind of mood and being pleasantly surprised with what you get. I think that’s the way to walk into this app. As for the wiz kid who gets this thing throwing loops from AudioBus into looper while playing along with Samplr and blows up the internet with some amazing app switching finger jam YouTube extravaganza:

Make sure those app people pay you well.