If you are a new DJ and wondering what software/hardware to go for, we got you covered here on DjTechZone. You can check out informative piece How to get started with DJing in 2017 right here.
In this article, however, I want to specifically focus on two DJ software packages, Rekordbox DJ and Serato DJ. Why these two you ask? Because Serato DJ is by far the most popular DJ software, both for professional use as for beginners, and most entry-level DJ controllers come with Serato or are compatible with it.
Rekordbox DJ is nowhere as popular, but it’s built on top of the immensely popular Rekordbox music preparation software by Pioneer DJ. Rekordbox is used by countless professional DJ’s to prepare their tracks, export them to USB and plug them in any compatible Pioneer DJ media player, which are the industry standard. So while Rekordbox DJ is new at the moment, it has enormous expansion potential due to the popularity of Rekordbox itself.
Traktor Pro is the third big name in the DJ software world, and while a very popular package, it slightly less “mainstream” than Serato or Rekordbox. It’s used by many, many top DJ’s but in the last few years, it has lost a bit of its name since updates have been far in between, and as a consequence, the support from DJ manufacturers is becoming less and less.
Back to Rekordbox DJ and Serato DJ. How do both packages compare to each other? Which one should you go for and is the choice important to the point to impact the DJ controller you will buy? Let’s find out!
ROUND 1: The Interface
Serato DJ has a fairly cluttered interface but everything that you need to DJ is right there, and if not in plain sight, never more that a few clicks away. In order to have a fully functional interface, you do need to have a compatible DJ controller connected. Otherwise, you are stuck in preparation mode, which means that only 1 deck is available. This is not a big issue but if you want to try out a mix, you need a DJ controller connected.
From the main screen, you can easily enable different views, such as 2 or 4 deck view, the Serato DJ Sampler, the effects section, record section… Often, you can change these views directly from your DJ controller as well.
Browsing through your tracks and crates is a breeze, and the display quality is crisp.
Rekordbox DJ has a very well thought out interface, building on the qualities already existing in Rekordbox. I personally like the browsing and library display part, full of clear options to sort, filter and read your tracks, folders, and playlists. The mini waveforms in the library display allow for quick scanning of the track’s structure before loading.
Overall, Rekordbox DJ has the same solid interface as Rekordbox and considering that Pioneer DJ has been improving Rekordbox for many years, it’s fair to say The Rekordbox DJ has inherited a solid base.
Furthermore, when you have Rekordbox DJ installed you can use the full software without a DJ controller being connected, which is in my opinion, a big plus compared to Serato DJ.
In conclusion, I feel that the Rekordbox DJ interface comes out as a winner here. It’s less cluttered, and it contains many smart features that make the DJ’s life easier.
Winner: Rekordbox DJ
ROUND 2: Features & Functionalities
Serato DJ comes with many features out of the box, but it’s possible to expand your setup with a series of expansion packs. These packs are not free, but for most them are worth the cost. Notable packs are the DVS and the Video expansion pack, the Pitch ‘n Time pack to alter the key of a track on the fly without affecting its sound quality, the various FX expansion packs from third party effects provider Izotope… Besides that, with the recent refresh of the Sampler (now with 8 sample slots over 4 banks) and the integration of Ableton Link to sync seamlessly to other devices or computers running compatible packages, Serato DJ has ventured into production software territory. Finally, the Serato Flip feature integrates what is actually a sequencer to re-arrange your track based on hot cues & loops.
I recently reviewed the Roland DJ-808 Serato DJ controller and let me tell you, Serato DJ and Roland got it right. The integration is seamless and Serato DJ is rock solid in all aspects.
Rekordbox DJ is not as feature rich as Serato DJ, but for being new it certainly doesn’t look too shabby. It contains most of the same features as Serato DJ, such as effects (which are not bad but inferior to what Pioneer DJ delivers in their professional grade DJM mixers), a sampler, various performance modes, and even a sequencer much like Serato Flip.
You can buy a Rekordbox DVS module separately, there is a Rekordbox Video module as well and you can get additional effects for an additional price.
Serato DJ being around for much longer as the edge here, and while Rekordbox DJ has a comparable feature set, the features, and certainly the expansion packs are still in their infancy stage, and need more fleshing out before they can compete with Serato DJ. The winner of this round is clear.
Winner: Serato DJ
ROUND 3: Stability
I use an aging Macbook Pro from 2011 with 4GB of ram and an ancient HDD. On this machine, Serato DJ works fast and stable and while Rekordbox DJ does work as well, it is often sluggish and slow to load/start tracks. Nothing catastrophic, I managed to do a few gigs with Rekordbox DJ and overall the software performed well, but there were always a few moments that the screen froze and I was nearly going for my emergency solution (iPad with djay Pro) to keep the music going. It will run probably much better on the latest Macbook, but not everyone has the latest hardware.
My impression is that Rekordbox DJ’s blessing (being able to profit and use the features already in Rekordbox DJ) is also its curse: it inherits many of Rekordbox’s stability issues, and as a result, needs more resources and juice for optimal operation.
I don’t think that it is an unsolvable problem. As Rekordbox DJ grows, the development team will iron out the current stability and performance issues over time. For now, Serato DJ has the stability edge.
Winner: Serato DJ
ROUND 4: DJ Gear Compatibility
Right of the bat, Serato DJ has the edge here. If we only count the DJ controllers supported, the count goes over… 50. Many choices here, in all price ranges. The high-end controllers come with a Serato DJ license in the box. Just download the software, plug in the controller and you are ready to go.
If you buy an entry-level controller, chances are it won’t come with a Serato DJ license but there might be a Serato Intro license in the box, the bare bones version of Serato DJ. In this case, the controller will be compatible with Serato DJ.
Furthermore, Serato DJ has a Club Kit that contains everything you need to connect to the professional mixers such as the Pioneer DJ DJM range (the 900NXS2 is supported) and the software has been made compatible through HID (which works via USB) with the CDJ-2000NXS2.
Rekordbox DJ is only compatible with (the newest) Pioneer DJ controllers, so the list is rather limited. That being said, there is something for everyone, as the Rekordbox DJ line of DJ controllers has gear from around USD 300 (DDJ-RB) all the way up to USD 3.000 (DDJ-RZX).
And of course, and this is a big advantage, Rekordbox DJ is compatible out of the box with most, if not all, professional Pioneer DJ media players and mixers. Which means that you can arrive at a club with your laptop, plug in the CDJ’s and DJM (eventually using an USB hub) and play from your Rekordbox music library, or even use the club installation as midi controllers for Rekordbox DJ.
Using Rekordbox DJ has the distinctive advantage that you prepare your music just once, and then use it from the laptop or export it to a memory stick. This is both time-saving and flexible and should help DJ’s easily transition from DJ controller to professional club installations without having to start from scratch preparing their music collection.
ROUND 5: Pricing
Serato DJ’s pricing model is tightly linked the used hardware.
As said above, if you buy an expensive DJ controller, you get a Serato DJ license for free. If you want to get an expansion pack, depending on what you want, prices go from USD 29 up to USD 99.
There are two kits, the Serato DJ Club kit (to connect to club mixers) that contains the Serato DJ software + the DVS pack for USD 169.
And if you want to get everything at once, pay USD 299 for the Serato DJ suite. The bare bones Serato DJ license sells for USD 99.
Rekordbox DJ costs USD 139 and needs the base Rekordbox software to work, which you can download for free. This can be a bit confusing for beginners, so let’s explain. It means that for track analysis, setting hot cues, loops and such you will be using the same software as most of the professional DJs in the world that play on professional Pioneer DJ gear.
If you want any of the expansion packs, they will cost you USD 109 for the DVS pack, USD 159 for the Video pack and just USD 10 for the additional effects.
So ultimately, if you want video, DVS and the base software it will cost you more than Serato DJ. But, Pioneer DJ does give away a license for Rekordbox DJ with all of their Rekordbox DJ controllers, even the cheaper ones, so from the start you save USD 139.
And the winner is…
At this moment in time, I have to recommend Serato DJ. It’s more stable, compatible with a wider range of DJ controllers and the expansion packs are many and reasonably priced.
Still, if you want to keep your options open, match it up with a Serato DJ controller from Pioneer DJ. That way, you have a Serato DJ compatible DJ controller that is also compatible out of the box with Rekordbox DJ. A future-proof approach. The Pioneer DJ DDJ-SX2 is a good choice if you want to keep your options open.
So what about you? Do you prefer Serato Dj or Rekordbox DJ? Are you starting out and still unsure where to go after reading this post? Comment below and other readers might be able to help as well!