With the announcement of Pioneer’s DJM-900 Nexus we see the standard pro mixer for club and touring DJ’s step fully into the digital world. Four inputs and outputs hook up to your laptop via USB and let you use your DJ software without need for an additional audio interface. Direct Traktor support makes this particularly amazing for Traktor users making it fully plug and play. Even Virtual DJ and Torque users will be happy they’re able to assign their outputs to the four channels of the DJM-900 and map MIDI from the mixer back to their controls, not to mention the inputs avail for control vinyl and CD’s. And for Ableton users this mixer can now add all the benefits of a four channel DJ mixer to a Live set.
But the elephant in the room here without question is Serato Scratch Live. From the start Serato has offered their software for free download, only allowing it to open in multichannel mode with the proper hardware attached. This was particularly convenient for the working DJ who has Serato hardware available at the gig but doesn’t necessarily need it at home. I personally started as a casual Serato user, continuing to tote vinyl to my gigs alongside my laptop when playing with friends or at the venues that had a Serato interface before getting my own. Serato entered the controller market with an adapted version of their Scratch software called ITCH, also free to download but again only fully functioning with one of their approved control interfaces attached. While hardware restrictive, Serato’s software remains extremely plug and play and easy to use for those that don’t want to deal with routing and mapping under the hood of their DJ software.
But Traktor users, perhaps more adept at customizing their software setup, have found ways to take advantage of ITCH specific hardware, and now Rane, Seratos long time partner and makers of mixers/interfaces like the TTM-57 and Rane 68, are opening their hardware to work with ASIO and CoreAudio meaning these mixers can now double as soundcards for Traktor and other sofware. So what is Serato to do? The appeal of being able to work with any interface, including this now updated version of Pioneer’s pro standard, may make it well worth learning the ins and outs of Traktor or other software alternative. Will Serato users jump ship given their software is not as flexible? Can you sell a new version of software that’s already free without confusing users or seeming redundant to people who already own Serato hardware? The solution, If I may be so bold, may be for Serato to offer a dongle that when plugged in would allow their software to function with any sound card.
Audio professionals have long used dongles, special USB keys that hold licenses, to authorize their production software and effects plugins on whatever computer they happen to be working on weather it be at home or at the studio. If clubs start to adopt the DJM-900 or similar mixer that also functions as a soundcard (the Xone DB4 comes to mind), why be restricted to having to run everything through your SL box, or worse yet, have to set up your VCI-300 or Xone:DX in the same booth where there may not be room?
The use of a dongle has already seen some discussion in the Serato forums and the point is made that it’s already a pain for CDJ-2000 users to have to hook up a Serato box just so that the software opens fully (all the audio routing and control takes place within the CDJ-2000). Bundling a dongle with Serato hardware or requiring some sort of online authorization in addition to the dongle seem like reasonable ways to prevent piracy, but how do you keep a dongle from taking up your extra USB port? You’d probably be better off keeping your soundcard on it’s own dedicated port, but make the Serato dongle a high speed USB hub and now you’ve got available ports for your USB midi controllers:
Serato’s policy of free for download Software with hardware functionality has done well to get users hooked on their platform, and a great platform it is with samples, effects, and expandable video functionality. But Serato risks falling behind the curve with new DJ mixers that will act as audio interfaces, allowing novices and pros alike to fully customize their setup with their own mixer and sound card. There’s always the possibility Serato will get in bed with Pioneer on the new DJM-900 and eventually allow it to open Scratch Live or ITCH, but I think Serato has to do one better if they’re going to keep up with a mixer and controller product market that will inevitably grow beyond their reach.