As a singer/songwriter/dance artist just getting my feet wet in DJing, it's an interesting time to throw myself in the mix. Just as CDs were the new vinyl, mp3 files are establishing themselves as the new CD. I'll save the debate for another day, but it's safe to say that as a novice DJ, the thought of simply grabbing my laptop and external hard drive instead of cases and cases of CDs was very tempting. Not to mention instant access to my entire musical library and hours gained not having to burn CDs. For some, Native Instruments' new version of Traktor (3.2) may make the temptation to switch to laptop DJing even more enticing.
With my Pride DJ gig less than a month away, I decided I would give Traktor a go. I have a new MacBook and a Firewire 410 that I use to run my audio applications. Installation was a breeze, and after quickly setting up my inputs and outputs, I was good to go. I chose to use my external mixer and made my connections this way; however, you could also chose to use the mixer built into Traktor and perform mixes with a midi controller. Make sure your sound card has at least two audio outputs if you plan on using the program— as you will need the ability to cue up you next track.
If you're like me, you rather hit the ground running with the program instead of spending countless hours reading a complicated manual that makes no sense. So I thought I would experiment with the program, just to see what it had to offer. Even though I was new to the laptop/computer concept of DJing, most of the features were logical, intuitive, and I picked it up right away. Like other Native Instruments products I've used in the past (such as Battery) the displays remain very user-friendly. I quickly loaded two tracks, set my cue points, pressed the sync key- and the tracks were instantly beatmatched. You have the option of keeping the track in its original key while changing the tempo (much like the "master tempo" button on the Pioneer CDJs), or not- something I like because sometimes changing keys changes the mood of the song. There is even a horizontal bar graphic that shows if your tracks are in sync.
The display screen is straightforward, with enough information to make things logical, but unlike some other DJ programs, not cluttered to the point where you start the program and don't know where to begin. I mostly used the "Effects and Master" screen, but there are nine others with such features as a "Beatjuggler" that lets you jump ahead to other parts of the song, as well as other screensets that allow you to view your playback decks differently.
Native Instruments promotes several new features with the new version.
Even though I used my own external mixer, I found the new Allen & Heath emulation mixer very easy to work with. The built-in effects are cool and I was able to incorporate the the flanger, delay, and reverb into my Pride set. If you are not using an external mixer, the new version of Traktor allows you to add effects to the original track or over the entire mix- so this was a useful addition. And of course the built-in recorder was excellent, because I had the ability to record practice sets and my actual set without having to worry about an external recorder. Running the recorder had no effect on my CPU as I could tell— or affected playback in anyway.
Traktor 3 boasts about its compatibility with Beatport. While I can see this as a great benefit for frequent Beatport users, I can't help but see this as more of a marketing tool. Since I get music from legal download services and promos--having this interactivity was good, but nothing that would specifically benefit me. And while the program does say you can import your iTunes playlists, keep in mind this does not apply to DRM-protected files. If you downloaded a track off iTunes that has DRM protection, you will have to burn this on to a CD and rip it as a mp3 file to be able to use it in Traktor (And yes, I did have to spend hours burning CDs after all!).
Finally, I should mention, I was able to do just about everything I wanted with Traktor without reading the manual. One problem I did encounter is that I noticed some clicks and pops in my audio. Upon reading the troubleshooting in the manual, I learned that this was because I had my latency settings too low (1.5 ms)—and after changing to the suggested 5 ms—the clicks went away. Also, whether PC- or Mac-based, be sure to read the manual for useful advice on optimizing your system to run Traktor (Some of it common sense, such as turning off your screensaver).
If you'd like to give the new version a spin yourself, NI has a demo version you can download off their site. Traktor allows you to really focus on the music, not worrying about hunting through books of CDs. You can do what you do best: dropping hot tunes and keeping the crowd going. My first DJ gig went off without a hitch and I was able to do just that.