2011 has been quite a year for hype in the mobile world, at least when it comes to iOS. The much-vaunted iPad 2 and iPhone 5 have filled our headlines (come on, you can’t tell me you weren’t expecting Apple to do exactly what they did with the 3GS), but for mobile musicians so too have the apps we’ve been raving about. Beep Street, OneRedDog and arguably Virsyn had serious hype over their new synth apps (Yes, Sunrizer only came out three or four months ago), Retronyms whet our appetites for modular environments again with Tabletop, and if you follow me on twitter you’ll no doubt have seen me pestering Wooji Juice apps asking when Hokusai would finally be released.
I’m no stranger to DJing on the iPad, and many developers have already tried to create the best platform for mixing music on iOS, but this latest release from DS Media Labs might have them all beat
Pretty enticing, is it not? I was certainly beset by it’s design and proposed featureset. Mixr could win the hearts and minds of iOS users on it’s looks alone, the thing is that for DJs looks are secondary to performance, and when it comes to a good-looking performer in this space Mixr is not alone. Enter the Apple Design Award winner of 2010: Algoriddim’s Djay.
And so, with the arrival of the latest version of Apple’s mobile operating system along came Mixr, even better-looking in the flesh (as it were) than the mockups. And now it’s here to challenge Djay for the crown. I think I may have stumbled upon the biggest face-off of 2011.
Mixr Vs Djay
DS Media Labs’ app faces some stiff competition from Djay. The feature set is just as comprehensive. All the requisite features are there, hot cues, 3-band EQ with gain, live effects, BPM detection, monitor mode for headphones, the things most people require in DJ software. On the surface they almost look identical. Don’t be fooled though, the little differences in execution will be what make or break Mixr, depending on what you prefer.
In Mixr, for example, the pitch slide can alter the pitch by up to 25% each way. In Djay you can have it alter the pitch by up to 75%. Mixr has quite a useful set organising system using the drag & drop method used to create folder on iOS to build virtual record crates. Djay solely relies on the organisation of your iTunes library. Both apps will allow you to scratch on the turntable, but Mixr’s turntables respond more like a CDJ would where as Djay’s spin down and back up like those SL-1200s you know and love. They also allow you to use the tonearm for quick track seeking. Djay will work reliably if you’re on an iPad1 and have a few apps in the task bar you just need to keep open. Mixr doesn’t (not that that’s going to be as issue for most people. If you’re running Mixr and nothing else it goes like clockwork.)
I’m usually quite cynical about BPM detection because in my experience it doesn’t always work. Neither of these apps get it right 100% of the time, but if you have a good sense of rhythm you can usually pick up the slack if you’re using monitor mode without anyone being the wiser. The big surprise that hit me on Mixr was that there was no ‘Sync’ button. Nevertheless as I kept putting tunes on I found that what Mixr has is a quite comprehensive tempo module, accurate to .01 of a bpm; you can tap out the tempo of your track in the event of the BPM detection not performing so well and then set the same value on the opposite deck exactly. It’s a lot more of a manual process, but I like it. The wait time when loading a song into Mixr is vastly decreased if you’ve already put it in a crate, so when it comes to pulling up a track out of the blue, it won’t take forever to load up. If you’re just pulling a song straight out of the iTunes library though both apps will take their time about loading it, which will no doubt be sped up on newer iPads. Mixr’s Hotcue system has a handy A/B loop feature I was easier to find than it was in Djay.
Setting up a crate in Mixr is straightforward if you’ve ever made a folder on your iPad. Fine-tuning your set in the playlist editor also works really well – you can just drag & drop a whole crate onto both decks and have Mixr play itself and Djay also has a similar auto-mix feature, but if you’re going to do that then what’s wrong with a playlist?
Form here on, things get nit-picky. There are little things I expected Mixr to do because Djay did them. For example that trick Djay does when you go to spin the turntable to get a cue point and the waveform viewer zooms right in from a shot of the entire song to a tiny segment – I find it much easier to get the cue point just right with that than I do with Mixr. The pitch sliders in Mixr are harder to make fine adjustments with too. I found myself forever correcting the speed because every time my finger left the screen it would shift the slider (the thing is with the power of Mixr’s tempo module you can almost do without the sliders), moving the progress bar of the song rather than the tonearm of the turntable to skip quickly through tracks. Then there are the slightly bigger problems. The current crop of effects on Mixr is limited to delay only whereas Algoriddim have shoehorned LP/HP filters, delay, reverb, a flanger, and a partridge in a pear tree into Djay. Not only that, but Djay also packs CoreMIDI support so it’ll work with Numark’s iDJ and MixDeck hardware. Admittedly the update for Djay with all those effects has only been released recently, and when it comes to app updates the voice of the crowd is impossible to ignore.
Comparing these two DJ apps really does feel like comparing Traktor and Serato. You’re either going to prefer one or the other. There will be some DJs who will choose Mixr in a heartbeat for its crate editor, and some will choose Djay because they prefer the fine cueing system over that on Mixr. Some people will prefer the hands-on approach to beat matching that Mixr has to offer. If I had to choose only one I’d probably choose djay, but then two days after I plunked down $20 on that an update to Mixr will come out that will level the playing field.
Mixr is not a waste of money, not by any means. It’s one of the best mobile DJing platforms I’ve ever laid eyes on. I’ll just re-iterate the point I made near the start of this article: it faces stiff competition.