VirtualDJ was first released in 2003 and over the years has grown into a real success story for Atomix Productions, providing professional DJ’s and hobbyists with effective DJ software. Originally sold in shops, this multi-platform ‘Home’ version is now available for free in the Mac App Store and sees the developers adopt an innovative pricing model to offer a largely uncrippled and feature-packed app in the hope of enticing users to eventually upgrade, with the end result being a big win for the consumer.
Let’s take a closer look at this innovative App Store favourite.
Upon launch, VirtualDJ Home simply feels like a quality product, with slick graphics and a feature set which place it on a par with premium audio apps such as Ableton Live, Reason, Mainstage, etc – belying it’s completely free price point. The workman-like UI is not very intuitive to the complete beginner but nor is it overly complex. Rather, both graphics and layout highlight the fact that VirtualDJ Home is a piece of software to get work done.
Taking a look at VirtualDJ Home’s various buttons and sliders, one is confronted with two master volume controls, in/out bus, easily accessible mixer options and a wealth of effects, such as “Flanger”, “Reverb”, “Phaser” and “Wah” to name but a few. The Mac’s hard disk is accessible through the apps file browser and it is not difficult to begin mixing tracks.
Crucially, VirtualDJ Home’s main controls are rarely more than one click away, an important point to consider if one is live mixing without the aid of an external hardware controller (full MIDI-controller support is not offered with this free version of the app).
Recreating The DJ Environment
Admittedly, no app will ever truly replicate the incomparable feeling of dropping needle on vinyl but VirtualDJ Home goes a long way toward giving as authentic an experience as possible from Mac alone and at a fraction of the cost, size and weight. The decision to base the app’s interface on the classic twin deck/crossfade mixer setup is more than mere affectation and plays a large part of making VirtualDJ Home so useable, inspiring the user to lose themselves in the moment.
VirtualDJ has an excellent online presence, with forums, support and advice available.
While VirtualDJ Home contains many excellent features, it is sensible to give some attention to a few of the apps limitations also. As this is a free version of a paid app, Atomix Productions have naturally chosen to restrict VirtualDJ Home’s features in an effort to encourage upgrade. This is carried out so reasonably that one cannot fairly begrudge it, with mostly minor points such as the inability to add to the limited selection of skins.
Perhaps the most prominent limitation within this free version is the lack of MIDI controller support – limiting its effectiveness for live gigs. Beginners wishing to use this app in a live environment may be advised to consider splashing out on one of VirtualDJ’s paid versions and an inexpensive MIDI controller, such as Korg’s affordable NanoKontrol, or something similar.
Mixing With VirtualDJ Home
Transitioning from one track to another is easy with VirtualDJ Home. A graphical representation of the track is clickable, providing an easy way to skip song sections and the built-in effects help to make the blending that much more smoother, while providing new and unexpected sounds for the audience. There’s a healthy selection of samples too and the classic siren sound of the Rave scene even makes an appearance for those wanting to relieve the 1990’s underground dance culture.
VirtualDJ Home’s “Beatlock” engine enables tracks of differing tempo to be matched up together and I was very impressed with its near-flawless implementation, significantly outclassing other such software I have tried. Another interesting feature packed into this app is the option to mix music videos. This works in the same fashion which audio is mixed and comparable tools like an automatic crossfader are available. Though I rarely work with video myself, I can certainly imagine this adding another dimension to live performance for those who do.
Though this version of VirtualDJ does not allow full MIDI controller support, Atomix Productions have released a companion iOS app for iPad and iPhone/iPod which is supported in this app and negates the difficulties of mixing without proper hardware quite significantly. While reviewing, I only had chance to test the iPhone/iPad version but this worked very well, with no noticeable latency on my home network, allowing crossfades, volume and scratching to be controlled with relative ease. From my brief experience using this app, I would imagine that a twin iPad and MacBook setup would be a very useable set of virtual turntables indeed!
Scratching The Surface
VirtualDJ Home is an app with a remarkable depth of features and I’ve only scratched the surface of what it is capable of here. If one is a novice with even a passing interest in DJ software, or a hardware-orientated DJ wanting to take a look at what DJ software can offer, then VirtualDJ Home would be by far the best place to begin at present.
Though the feature packed user interface can be a little overwhelming at first launch, everything is logically placed and it should not take too long to begin mixing. Whereas most free or ‘lite’ versions of apps seem to want to force the user to upgrade, VirtualDJ Home instead gives the impression of gently persuading and at no time do any of its limitations take away from the incredible value baked into this free app.