In our third and latest entry in our best professional DJ software 2016 series, we take an in-depth look at Serato DJ. If you missed the earlier entries, check here for Traktor Pro and here for Rekordbox DJ.
Serato DJ is the software of choice for lots of professional DJs today, especially scratch & hip hop DJs. Serato Scratch Live has been part of the hip-hop DJ scene for well over a decade and has been recently replaced by Serato DJ that has become the “all-in-one” solution from Serato, thus consolidating all the Serato Djing modules in 1 overall solution, supported by so-called expansion packs. More on that later.
Serato DJ works with a wide range of hardware, from media players such as Pioneer DJ CDJ’s and DJM’s to DJ controllers and mixers using DVS.
There are actually two products: Serato DJ and Serato DJ Intro, Intro being a stripped-down version of Serato DJ, usually shipped with entry-level controllers. These controllers will also work with Serato DJ, but that will require a license, that will set you back USD 99.
In this piece, we will focus on Serato DJ, as this is the full & complete package, and we are looking into professional DJ software.
Midi Controller Support
Serato DJ supports a lot of controllers, and the integration is tight. This is no mere third-party mapping, the manufacturers work closely with Serato to build Serato DJ certified controllers and many of the Serato DJ (paid) functionalities are integrated directly into the controller’s hardware.
A good example is Serato Flip, a sequencer-like feature in Serato DJ. More on Flip later as we discuss Serato Dj’s performance features.
Serato has integrated with a wide range of hardware over the years and has kept those integrations up to date as the software evolved into Serato DJ. A full list of compatible hardware can be found here.
Our top picks
Below is a list of Serato DJ controllers that we recommend for professional use.
|The Denon DJ MCX8000 is a professional DJ controller that works with Serato DJ but also works standalone with Engine analyzed tracks. It features a 4 deck hardware mixer, large jog wheels, 16 touch-sensitive backlit pads, and 2 high res screens that display track and library information. The ideal Serato DJ pro controller! Get yours at Amazon|
|The new Roland DJ-808 Serato DJ controller is not only the first DJ controller from Roland, but it is also the first DJ controller with a built-in hardware drum sequencer! The rest of the controller is not too bad either, with a 4 channel hardware mixer, high-quality jogs & pads, and an overall impressive look. Get yours at Amazon|
|The Pioneer DJ DDJ-SZ2 (that also comes in a gold “bling-bling” version) is the top of the line Pioneer DJ controller for Serato DJ. Build like a tank, it has full size jogs with the typical CDJ center led display, a 4 channel hardware mixer, 2 USB inputs for easy DJ changeovers, color FX build into the mixer, and much more. Get yours at Amazon|
|This list would not be complete without then Numark NS7III. Featuring not 2 but 3 screens, this controller makes it possible to tuck your laptop away and fully focus on your performance and crowd. And it has…moving platters! At this moment this is the only DJ controller that can give you that vinyl feeling. Get yours at Amazon|
Serato DJ effects are created in cooperation with Izotope, a leading audio software company. This ensures high-quality effects and a lot of options, as you can buy fx expansion packs from the Serato DJ store. For more details on the expansion packs, including some soundbites, go here.
The effects can be set to two different modes, single FX mode, and multi-FX mode. In Single FX mode, you have advanced control over different parameters of the selected effect. In Multi FX mode you can control only 1 parameter of each selected FX (3 max) but it allows you to combine effects and create custom FX chains.
The way manufacturers implement the different Serato DJ performance features differs slightly from on to the other. But usually, this what you will find: 8 performance pads per deck, with 8 operation modes (4 available straight away + 4 accessible through the shift button). The pads will trigger cues, rolls, the slicer function, and the sampler.
The sampler in Serato DJ has been improved in version 1.9.3 to contain 8 slots for a total of 4 banks, allowing for 32 samples to be loaded at any given time. The interface has been redesigned as well to offer a more intuitive experience. In combination with the Roland DJ-808, the sampler becomes a powerful sequencer that offers extensive creative opportunities.
Serato Flip is a paying feature in Serato Dj (you need to buy the expansion pack at USD 29) that allows you to chop up tracks using cues and record the changes you make. Serato DJ can store up to 6 different flips per track that you can call up at any time.
The way that manufacturers have implemented Serato Flip into their hardware differs, in the image above you can see the difference between the Pioneer DDJ-SX2 (left) and the Denon DJ MCX8000 (right).
Serato Pitch ‘N Time DJ
Pitch ‘n Time DJ is another expansion pack that allows manipulating pitch, key, and track tempo. It allows you to achieve different things, for example, you can change the tempo of a track to extreme values (ex: think from 80 bpm to 120 bpm) and keep the same pitch, with no loss in audio quality. You can as well keep the tempo of a track and change the key. Again, as with Serato Flip, the way of using the Pitch ‘N Time DJ differs from controller to controller. Below is the Key section of the Denon DJ MC7000 with a key lock and key change controls. The expansion pack will set you back USD 29.
Serato DJ has a performance app for IOS (no Android version available) called Serato Remote. It controls cue points, loops, effects and the slicer amongst other things. This is not a standalone app though, it can only work when connected to Serato DJ. It’s possible to connect to WIFI or USB for the lowest latency.
This is actually a very interesting option for DJs that use more basic Serato DJ controllers and still want to be able to use all of Serato’s performance features. Another use case is DJs that use Serato DJ through DVS. Typically a DVS setup is composed of a mixer and turntables, without performance pads or cue buttons. Adding Serato DJ is a low-cost option (if you have an IOS device of course) compared to a more expensive hardware solution such as the Pioneer DJ DDJ-SP1.
Analysis, Beatgridding & Sync
Serato DJ has the usual features that allow you to analyze the BPM and the key of your tracks. It’s possible to Set key, BPM, and beat grids in one go, and define a BPM range to make BPM detection more accurate.
If for any reason some of your beat grids are off, Serato DJ has many ways of adjusting them. You can do it when your controller is connected, or you can do it in offline mode (when no compatible controller is connected). This means that you can work on your tracks on the go without having to carry along a compatible controller.
Many Serato DJ certified DJ controllers have onboard controls to adjust the beat grid on the fly.
Finally, Serato Dj has several options on how to sync tracks. It can sync without taking account of beat grids which is called simple sync, or it can take those beat grids into account when syncing and that is called smart sync.
Going into more detail would take us to deep into the mechanics of the Serato DJ, so if you want to know more, go here. Alternatively, check out the video below by Djtechtools that gives a very good overview of the different sync modes and beat gridding options.
Serato DJ can be expanded with DVS capabilities, it does require the USD 99 expansion pack. As with DJ controllers, some gear is DVS enabled and works with Serato DJ DVS straight out of the box, other gear is DVS upgrade ready and you need the expansion pack. Find out more about compatible DVS gear here.
The video plugin is available as an expansion pack as well. Apart from the usual video mixing it allows you to layer different types of effects (video, audio, and text/images based) on top of each other to create unique VDJ performances.
Serato DJ Video offers different configurations on how to output the video, It has Syphon support and you can record your video mixes as well.
So is Serato DJ your DJ software of choice? It might be, but a few things are important to keep in mind when making your choice:
- Your DJ controller has to be Serato DJ enabled or at least Serato DJ upgrade ready to work. If you don’t like any of the DJ gear that is ready to work with Serato DJ, no point in considering it. If you don’t have a controller that is compatible with Serato DJ you will need to switch in order to use it.
- Serato DJ’s preparation mode is not as slick as Pioneer Dj’s Rekordbox DJ (that is, in my opinion) so getting your library prepared will be a little bit more cumbersome. Also if you plan to play on CDJ’s directly from USB, you will have to run your tracks through Rekordbox in order to get them ready. Rekord Buddy addresses this problem by making it possible to sync between Rekordbox, Traktor Pro, and Serato DJ, but it does make the process a bit more complicated.
- Serato DJ has excellent effects thanks to Izotope and combined with the different performance packs such as Serato Flip, Serato Pitch ‘N Time, Serato DJ Remote, and the renewed Serato Sampler you end up with a very performance-oriented package. If you are big on performance, Serato DJ is a very strong offer.
- Finally, with the video & DVS expansion packs, Serato DJ is perfect for professional use. Serato has a long experience in DVS and this translates in top-notch integrations with industry-standard DJ mixers such as the Pioneer DJM-900NXS (with NXS2 support coming soon).
If you find yourself in the points above and in the overall features of Serato DJ, don’t hesitate to go for it. You won’t be disappointed.
Next on the list: Algoriddim djay Pro. Stay tuned!