For fun and for small parties, of course. But for serious DJ'ing your iPad should be used as a compliment to a superior dedicated controller setup, such as the Traktor Kontrol

How to DJ on an iPad – can you, should you?

Written by Michael

June 22, 2012 1:44 pm

Short answer: Only for fun.

Long answer: If you’re just looking for fun, then sure. But you can’t seriously DJ on an iPad. You don’t have the level of control needed, the software is too restrictive, and frankly the notion of going to clubs to see people standing in booths rubbing iPads sends shivers down our spines. However, it does have viability as a compliment to a more advanced set up.

They just won’t give up, will they? Yesterday, CNET published a “How to” guide on DJ’ing on an iPad. It contains such classic lines as “one could be forgiven for thinking that DJs indulge in an expensive, complicated craft. But all you need is a DJ app on an iPad” and “here’s how to set yourself on the path to becoming the next Tiesto”.

Are they trolling? Is this tongue in cheek? Or serious? I suspect it is slightly tongue in cheek, but there does seem to carry with the article this serious under tone that you can DJ on an iPad. We slightly disagree, and here’s why we think the iPad is not a “stepping stone” into DJ’ing.

For fun and for small parties, of course. But for serious DJ’ing your iPad should be used as a compliment to a superior dedicated controller setup, such as the Traktor Kontrol

Cost

The iPad starts at £399. That’s an awful lot of money when you consider that you can’t listen to the track you’re cue’ing up, and without that you’re either guessing or just pressing the “automix” button – you cannot beat match effectively without listening to the tune you’re mixing in. This is where you have to spend another £13 on a cable, not to mention the app itself also costs £13.

Yet, according to the article, Kontrol S2 by Traktor is one of the “expensive” options, even though it’s available for less, around the £350-380 mark. Of course, you may already have an iPad – but from the point of view of somebody “starting out” we can only assume they wouldn’t.

Functionality

Whilst DJ software has advanced massively over recent years, it still cannot match the feedback and functionality of having an actual controller in front of you to physically work with. Much as you wouldn’t pluck the strings of a Violin on a computer and expect to be taken seriously as a Violinist, nor can you “scratch” and “mix” platters on a touch screen in the same way you can a physical device.

The feedback and control that physical platters deliver is unlikely to ever be matched by touch screens.

Worse, in order to be able to cue tracks, your only viable option with the iPad is to distribute the audio in mono. One small step forward, one giant leap backwards.

Software

“djay” is basic by most peoples standards. It allows you basic control over mixing, but that’s about it. The looping, sample, effects and cue features of the Kontrol S2 are vastly more advanced and powerful, allowing for more inventive mixes.

Portability

Of course, the iPad here is the most portable option. But frankly, any DJ who complains about carrying around a Laptop and a MIDI controller needs a head check. Not so long ago, a DJ had to carry all their vinyl around, meaning lugging multiple flight boxes. If you are serious about DJ’ing then having to carry a laptop and a controller really should not be a cause for concern, enough to swap it out for the vastly inferior iPad solution.

Our “lowdown” on DJ’ing apps for tablets is this. We have no problem with them as a bit of fun, or as great tools for small parties. The problem we have is when people start to think they can DJ professionally using such an app – you will not get anywhere near that level. Like it or not, there are too many technical drawbacks (the mono output, the lack of feedback, lack of advanced functionality) that would make it impossible to DJ on a serious level with these apps. DJ’ing on an iPad is a bit like doing photography on a point-and-shoot, there’s nothing wrong with it, but you’re certainly not doing it properly.

Where the iPad could undeniably come in handy is as a touch pad controller to go with an existing hard ware setup. The best use of the iPad for DJs is as a compliment to more advanced controllers, such as the Kontrol 2.

You’ve also got to think about the showmanship aspect of DJ’ing. DJ’ing is as much about playing records as it is whipping up the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy. Standing in a booth rubbing an iPad with your fingers is not going to look great to your crowd, and it’s going to piss off those who feel they were coming to see a “professional”. Using hardware controllers like the Kontrol allow you to play to your crowd in an extremely visible manner – people love to see a DJ doing their thing.

As for the future, we do expect future apps to get better, the djay app in particular seems the most solid. However, if you want to DJ professionally whilst using an iPad, you should still invest in a decent controller. Remember, it’s about using technology together that compliments, so you get the best of all worlds. Further, there are apps for your iPad that tie in seamlessly with Traktor Kontrol and the Traktor software, which would be a vastly superior setup, allowing you the “cool” factor of the iPad, but with the better control of a dedicated controller and the superior Traktor software.

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