What is the best DJ software? Which DJ software is best for me and my needs? The answers to these questions rely on a few factors, one being your budget and next your level of understanding DJ software and controllers as a whole. Nowadays, the standard DJ mixer and “two turntables and a microphone” traditional setup isn’t the most popular thing you’ll see in a DJ’s booth. Having a digital-based setup is basically the norm now as you’ll notice at most festivals and shows. Although this makes us feel a bit old being that only 10 years ago or so I was playing around with some used Stanton tables and my dad’s old James Brown records, in this day and age of technology we all, especially us musicians, need to keep up to date with the latest trends. Today that trend is digital setups for DJ’s, which you need both equipment and most importantly software to get you properly rolling. We highlight the canvas of it all, as we go through the best DJ software in the market today.
What is DJ software?
As we highlighted in our giant DJ equipment and gear guide, if you’re going the contemporary route (which most are), you absolutely need software to power it all up. If you already have an idea of what DJ software is, go ahead and continue reading on. However, for those who are looking to read more into what it specifically does, it is basically a computer program that emulates the traditional mixer, turntables and effects processing a DJ usually uses when scratching or mixing and matching songs. More specifically, for playing (aka ‘presenting’) media to an audience during performances or recording DJ mixes onto a track, whether it be a giant mix tape or merely a portion of the song dedicated to some scratching or beat matching.
Sometimes all a DJ does is play a playlist on iTunes (even some popular artists have been accused of this at shows and festivals, but we won’t get into that drama right now — since you’re not doing that, obviously), so software for those may not be too demanding as far as extra features go. Although this can be justified for those DJ’s who usually play at weddings or smaller party’s and what not, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing — their main job is to please the crowd and keep a steady flow going (and perhaps take requests here and there).
To keep it simple, though: DJ software is the result of advanced technology transferring the entire DJ experience into a piece of software you run on your computer. You control just about any of these features with music equipment that hooks up to your computer. The ceiling is very high with this set up as companies are becoming more creative with their gear, software and overall features you can attain to improve your DJ setup.
All in all as read in our how to be a DJ article, we truly recommend at least a partially digital-based setup nowadays. It’s the standard.
How to choose your DJ software
Some are free, some aren’t. We provide the trials so this helps you see if a specific software you’re looking at is worth dropping some money on. Most have gear specifically made for them, and some you don’t even need a piece of equipment for with only using your mouse. Which one you’d like is up to you really, but we’d recommend going with a more popular software that is supported with communities and gear.
The top two DJ software we list (Serato and Traktor Pro) are pretty stingy when it comes to compatible gear. That has both pros and cons, one giving you some security knowing that if you purchase the software as well as some gear that’s stated to be ‘compatible’ then you’re good to go and feeling warm and fuzzy inside. However, if you already have a DJ controller or want more of a broad-based DJ controller you should go with a different software such as VirtualDJ or Ableton Live. Although you are sacrificing some extra features with this option, so pick your poison.
Lastly, don’t forget that you’ll need a proper piece (or pieces in today’s age) of equipment to run alongside your software or you won’t be able to really use it. Read our best DJ controller article to help you with that if you’re still on the lookout.
Our picks for the best DJ software
The following is our top picks for the best DJ software (we went with 5 of them). If you were in need of DJ apps for your smart device, be sure to read that guide as well. Below, the first few are what we recommend going with depending on your needs, but the others may pertain to you as well. We provide a link to their free trials, full versions, community, as well as some other resources helping explain what exactly they are (videos and what not). Let us know which one you go with!
This is one our top picks for the best DJ software. How could we not? There was a close tie between this and Traktor Pro, but we’ll explain the few differences between each other. We’ve basically gone with Serato DJ because it is the standard among most of the top DJ’s we’ve spoken to. But we’ll be honest, it’s not easy choosing to list this first. The hottest debate nowadays is Serto vs. Traktor? Which program is better? Both have their pluses.
Serato DJ is most famous for their scratch emulation software which allows us to literally scratch any sound file we have on the computer. You can transform an mp3 file into a real record (you’ll need a controller to do it by hand). This makes traditional DJ’s mad. What happened to digging in the crates? Finding a rare record nobody has so only you can scratch it? Well, things are completely different now.
Serato also gives us numerous other features. These include vinyl and CD-J control, easy library management for switching between songs and matching beats, cues and loops to trigger and order, easy programming, add FX to songs and tracks, trigger some samples during tracks, cut, cue, loop, and more. The most impressive part of Serato is probably the interface as it is very aesthetically pleasing and organizes a lot of features into an easy package.
What’s nice is that Serato isn’t just limited to professionals only. It’s great for beginners (although it will definitely take some learning) and once you get the jist of it, you can use it pretty fresh out of the box. The more fancy features will take some familiarity, so it’ll be an investment once you’re ready to keep going.
What I found a bit disappointing was their vinyl scratching emulation software is sold separate. For more information on that you can buy Serato Scratch Live for a decent price.
There’s also a ton of compatible controllers to go along with Serato. But be careful with this; some are listed specifically to be for Serato while others are universal. The made-for-Serato gear works relatively seamlessly while other more broad DJ controllers can be a bit iffy. Some Serato controllers we’ve reviewed include the Akai AMX and Akai AFX controllers, but these are just to name a few. There are mixers, controllers, faders, and even more, so shop around for those if you plan on going big.
Here are some helpful Serato DJ resources:
- Your first day with Serato DJ – Digital DJ Tips
- Serato Tips – DJ Tech Tools
- Serato HQ Videos – YouTube
Native Instruments Traktor Pro
Native Instruments is a huge player in the innovation game with music equipment in general, and their Traktor Pro 2 is one of the best DJ software picks and is the other heavy hitter in the market. To us it’s like PC vs. Mac — everybody has their preference as they both work intended and offer us more features than we can count. What would separate the two is basically your budget; Traktor Pro runs a bit more expensive since it is only truly compatible with gear made specifically by Native Instruments, although some equipment will work decently. The universal gear isn’t as easy to use as it is with Serato. Native Instruments does this so you buy only their or brand’s they’ve approved. So not only will you have to spend money on the software itself, but the N.I. gear along with it to properly control it – gear you already have probably won’t work. They have quite a lot of gear available, too, so if your budget is up there you can get pretty crazy with it.
The main features of Traktor Pro 2 include 4-deck control, looping and cues, over 30 built-in effects, on-the-fly remixing and re-editing of tracks, and easy browsing of your sounds and tracks. These are pretty close to Serato so when it comes to differences there aren’t much besides a few dollars in price and ready-made controllers for each.
NI’s scratch emulation software is also sold separately, which is where they get you in terms of price. Traktor Pro 2 is around $100 retail, but their scratch software is sold separately which starts at five bills. Check their Traktor Scratch Pro 2 pricing for more details and reviews (comes with an audio interface too).
Traktor Pro 2 resources:
Here’s another popular pick as the best DJ software in the market, albeit not as widespread as Traktor or Serato. This is recommended for those who want more of a broad software that will work pretty well with most standard USB or MIDI DJ controllers. It’s not as monopoly based when it comes to gear and software integration which is why we sometimes like this over the expensive Serato and Traktor choices.
Here are some standout features of VirtualDJ: Compatible with Mac and PC, song mixing, FX application, play two or more tracks at the same time, change speed, cross-fade, cues and more. Standard features here but it’s very solid and compatible with most DJ equipment. This is also recommended for beginners who will be doing less daunting shows and want simplicity. Here’s a short video explaining it.
This is made the same company as FL Studio as we saw their program make an appearance in our best digital audio workstation article. Image-Line is very reliable when it comes to gear and software so we’re confident when using this knowing it’s reliable and fully functional, it just isn’t a common software you’ll see talked about in the online DJ community.
Deckadance gives us some decent features here: Up to four deck control, VST compatible, MIDI control, smart knobs (link interface targets to one particular knob), FX chaining, low/mid/high band control and customize the interface. What’s most impressive is the fact that it can be either a standalone program and can be linked as a VSTi in your DAW of choice. You can also combine it with any digital vinyl software, such as Serato or VirtualDJ. It’s pretty cheap as compared to other DJ software out there as well.
Here’s a video introduction of Deckadance to see a little more of it.
This one is for you if you’re looking for the best free DJ software. Mixxx is open-source, so we’ve got some creative minds collaborating together to work on improvements and additional features. The lack of price gives us a “why not?” mind-state, so if you have the time, give it a go to see if it’s right for you. Here are some core features of Mixxx: Crossfading with auto DJ, most sound format compatible, waveform displays and summaries, Mac and PC compatible, BPM detection, vinyl emulation, loops and cues, adjustable EQ, and a lot more. Mixxx is something to take a look at it not only because it’s free but due to the power it holds in terms of overall features. This is definitely a sleep in the “best dj mixer” talk.
Here’s a cool little video overview of Mixxx.