Mixxx: A Serious Open-Source Contender to Traktor and Virtual DJ?

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.

Interface

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.

Mixxx 1

The default view of Mixxx, with two tracks playing

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.

Mixxx 2

An alternative skin which may be suited more for scratching

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.

Features

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.

Mixxx 3

A close up of the BPM read out and sync feature

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.

Mixxx 4

Mixxx's customisation possibilities, showing the range of skins available

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.

Conclusion

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.


Summary

An open-source DJ software package for Mac or Windows.

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  • http://allendunahoo.com Paul Dunahoo

    Djay is SO much better. It looks great, it has the Media Browser in it, and it is so much simpler and yet, it is more powerful.

    • rojcyk

      More powerful? Are you serious?

      • Paul Dunahoo

        I take that back, after looking a bit further. While djay can access the Media Browser, Mixxx has more controls. however, I still think djay is better.

    • fractalfrog

      Better to keep your mouth shut and let the world believe you are an idiot than to open your mouth and remove all doubt…

      I have been a professional dj for a good long while and have enjoyed playing in 25 countries for audiences over 10.000. For the last nine years I have taken the digital route so I know a thing or two about the challenges and benefits of using software to spin.

      When it comes to pro level dj software there are basically only three choices: Ableton Live, Native-Instruments Traktor and Serato Scratch Live.
      Each software package has its own strengths and weaknesses and you must decide for yourself which one fits your need.
      My personal choice is Traktor, while still far from perfect, is the better choice for me as it, in a real time live environment, effortlessly allow me to use multiple channels, multiple effects, loops, sampledecks etc.
      Ableton is super-powerful and allows you a staggering amount of control and precision but also requires more preparation of your music beforehand. Something that I’m just too busy (read lazy) to do.
      Serato has an absolutely horrid interface which just about gives me eye-cancer by simply looking at it. It might have some good things going for it but until they have hired a decent interface designer I don’t recommend anyone using it. Awful stuff. Really.

      Anywho…. back to Mixxx.
      I have tried it and it is an amazing piece of software for the price and I highly recommend anyone wanting to check out digital dj’ing to give it a go. Keep in mind though that you must have a multichannel soundcard (as with all dj software)
      However, it is far from a professional tool so if you have higher ambitions than playing in your bedroom or at a friend’s party, you better get one of the professional software packages.

      • Paul Dunahoo

        I’m not a pro, and I have no plans to play in front of huge audiences :)

        Also, see my above comment.

  • http://twitter.com/ogdel Oliver de Looze

    The Mixxx website seems to be down at the moment, so the download link above isn’t working. Mixxx can also be downloaded from the Mac App Store.

  • DJ M Renegade

    I have just recently heard about mixxx dj and have read some good things about it. For a free program doesnt look to bad. I have been deejaying for about 30 years now and have deejayed alot of events. I have used traktor and virtual dj pro 7 I prefer virtual dj over traktor it is easy to use doesnt crash at least it hasent for me yet and has a tone of features. But I suggest if you are first starting out and dont have the money to shell out for a comercial dj app then mixxx dj is not a bad way to start out with dont know if it would be suitable to dj large events with but for bedroom dj’s and doing small parties I think it would do the job nicely. As far as it being close to virtual dj traktor and other comercial programs out there I still think mixxx dj has a little ways to go to catch up to those comercial dj programs. But if you do have the money and are serious about getting into computer deejaying then I would recomend going with virtual dj pro 7 you really cant go wrong with that program.

  • ricardo

    Explain something to me what is the difference between playing for 100, 500, 1000 or 10000 people?

    If you are good you can only get better no matter how many people you are playing in front of. If the PC don’t crash then just play quality tracks if you have to add a lot of effects and loops to a track for the track to work then don’t play it, it’s crap. There are a host of tracks out there, stop playing for favours and play good music no matter what, I know it’s about money but trust me take your time and you reputation and following will grow so will your value there is no short cut to quality.

    If the software is stable in the bedroom why would it fail in the club I always walk with my own laptop and plug it into the venue system?

    Also doesn’t the genre of music attribute to the need for all the extra functions, samples etc.?

    Bring back the 1210 kits that way we will read a lot less crap by all tom, dick and harry who couldn’t mix on turntables to save their lives, who couldn’t scratch a scatchcard if you gave them the card and a penny let alone sratch a twelve inch.

    Now they are all pros using software that does it all for them and they cry if it doesn’t work exceptionaly. I have used Mixxx and was well impressed, I used Traktor and yes it feels more solid than Mixxx but I would use and have used Mixxx for paid work. Mixxx has come a long way and is a lot more stable now than earlier versions and the key is it’s free.

    So I guess Mixxx is the Mozilla, VDJ the Safari and Traktor the Internet Explorer, now, which one would you use?

    Serato is made for the turntableist so no surprise as to why it’s interface is as is. It is absolutely perfect for those who are master turntablist or those who still want to perfect the art why earning.

    Oh on the topic of 1210s Technics did make a CD version of the turntable which I thought was better than the Pioneer, they just got the launch timing wrong, old classic case of VHS vs. Betamax.

    • hadrian

      Traktor would be Chrome

      • m ę

        Since when Chrome is closed source and costs money?

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