The market for DJ software has never been bigger, as more and more bedroom DJs shun purchasing traditional equipment such as turntables and CDJs in favour of the more accessible and cheaper software option. As a DJ who got into the hobby through the use of software, I’m always on the lookout for new programs that boast an impressive range of tools, while still remaining affordable for newcomers to DJing.
Mixxx, an open source digital DJ app that started life way back in 2001 as a university project has recently become a hot topic among computer DJs following the 1.10.0 release in December, which added a number of features that until recently were only found on more expensive DJ software such as Traktor and Virtual DJ.
I decided to download Mixxx for myself and thoroughly test it out to see if it truly was a replacement for my current favourites, Traktor and Virtual DJ. Read on for my thoughts.
On opening the application, I was surprised at how professional Mixxx looked: clean and relatively simple but with every feature a beginner or intermediate DJ would need to get into the world of DJing or simply build on the skills they already have. The default skin (there are a number of skins to suit different tastes) reminded me alot of the more expensive Traktor Pro, following the tried and tested layout of placing the virtual decks above your library of songs.
This layout allows for easy browsing of the songs you want to play, which makes life much simpler both in the comfort of your own bedroom or when under pressure in a live environment. It also allows you to focus all of your energy on creating the perfect mix, rather than wasting time searching high and low for the ideal song.
The number of skins available for Mixxx means that you really can tailor the software to your individual needs. The default interface in my opinion is best suited to beginner DJs who simply need to learn how to mix two songs together. Other skins (such as the one below) are much more suited to DJs who are interested in scratching and turntablism.
When you start using Mixxx I would suggest spending an hour or so trying out all the different layouts and finding one that suits you best. It may be that you prefer a certain colour scheme (admittedly the default skin is quite dark) or you would simply like to have some of the buttons in different places. Every DJ is different in what he/she likes to work with and luckily Mixxx allows you the freedom to find the perfect layout for you.
The list of features that Mixxx boasts is seriously impressive, especially when you consider that it is completely free. With the latest release of Mixxx I was surprised to see features that were only previously found on higher end DJ software options. For example, quantized looping, which automatically loops the track for you to avoid any looping disasters. Hot cue support is also included, allowing more experienced DJs the chance to drop the beat exactly when they want.
Automatic BPM (Beats per Minute) detection is an essential tool for the beginner DJ, which makes beat matching much simpler and with the BPM displayed to two decimal places you should never face a problem matching up the BPMs of your tracks. There is also a sync feature which automatically matches the BPMs of the two tracks for you, ensuring your songs are always perfectly beat matched (even if they become slightly out of time, simply hit the sync button again and Mixxx will instantly nudge the tracks back into sync for you). The sync feature is a great inclusion as it allows first time users the chance to make some excellent sounding mixes without much practice.
Another feature that I love is that Mixxx is compatible with a huge range of MIDI controllers, which allows you much more control over the software instead of using the mouse and keyboard, allowing you to try more experimental things within your mix. I tested the software out with both my old Numark MixTrack Pro controller and my Pioneer CDJ – 350 setup and it worked equally well.
Some other cool features are the inclusion of EQ kill buttons, enabling the highs, mids and lows to be cut from the song at the click of a button. When used creatively, this can be a great way to build energy within your mix and keep the crowd dancing long into the night.
An unfortunate exclusion I feel, is the lack of some sort of visual aid to help with counting the bars of the songs you are playing, this is a feature that can be found on some of Mixxx’s competitors such as the free version of Virtual DJ – an aid that, when I started DJing, I found to be extremely useful in helping me make sure my mixes were perfect. The waveform display in Mixxx is relatively helpful with this, but to be 100% certain that the bars on each track match up, you have to manually listen to the tracks and count the bars out yourself. Whilst this may seem like a trivial matter to experienced DJs, counting bars can be one of the more difficult aspects of DJing for the beginner who is new to the hobby.
Overall, Mixxx is a very impressive piece of software, the fact that it is free is even more astonishing. The features and usability of Mixxx are on par with other DJ software packages, many of which you have to pay for. To answer the question posed in the title of this article: yes – Mixxx is, in my opinion, a serious contender to both Virtual DJ and Traktor.
However, I believe that it is best suited to beginner DJs due to its ease of use, the fact it is free (therefore meaning no outlay for those who aren’t sure they want to take up DJing as a hobby) and because more experienced DJs will most probably have already purchased a software solution – be that Virtual DJ, Traktor Pro, Ableton or one of the many other software options out there for computer DJs. From beginner to professional I doubt Mixxx will disappoint.