Serato vs Traktor - Comparing the best DJ software
Which DJ software is best for me?
When you want to take your DJ skills to new heights it pays to know a little bit about the types of software that are on the market. There are two mains options: Serato DJ Pro and Traktor Pro, so to make sure you end up with your perfect match we’re going to take a closer look at both and see how they get on.
Let’s start with a little bit of background on both.
Serato is the creation of cofounders Steve West and A.J. Bertenshaw and their story began way back in 1997. This was the year that Steve was attending Auckland University in New Zealand, and he stumbled on something that was set to change the art of DJing forever.
He was learning to play the bass guitar to give himself a break from his studies and wanted to be able to slow down the complicated bass solos he was trying to emulate so that he could clearly make out each individual note.
The problem Steve found was that by simply slowing the playback speed he’d unintentionally alter the pitch of the notes.
This was no good because it wouldn’t give him an authentic feel for what was actually being played. All he wanted was a slower piece of music that sounded exactly the same. There were a few rudimentary pieces of software available at the time but they didn’t do a great job and often took a whole day to do very little of note.
Ever the innovator, Steve turned to mathematics for the answers he’d been looking for and used his knowledge to build a unique signal processing algorithm. This finally allowed him to alter the playback speed of any audio file without having to put up with unintentional modifications to the pitch.
Over the next 7 years Steve and A.J. tried to introduce their new idea to companies all over the world with varying results.
When they realised they were speaking to the wrong people they decided to turn their attention to the world of DJing and developed a technique for scratching with a mouse off of a CD. This eventually led to the release of Serato Scratch Live in 2004 and scratch DJs haven’t looked back since. You can check out the latest version of Serato Pro DJ here.
Traktor kicked off the 21st century with a bang and has since gone on to become one of the biggest pieces of software in the world, but how did it all begin?
Back when it was first released in 2001 Traktor was only available for use on PCs.
The early years saw a productive partnership between Native Instruments and Stanton Magnetics that was principally geared towards vinyl emulation, scratching technology, and expanding the range of hardware that could be used with Traktor.
When this collaboration came to its natural conclusion in 2006 a decision was taken to shorten the name to make it more appealing to the mass market. From then on Traktor DJ Studio 3 was known simply as Traktor.
Traktor Pro then followed a couple of years later as did Traktor Scratch Pro with its added DVS functionality. These innovations allowed for quick and easy time-coded control of CDs and vinyl inside a single software suite.
Over the years Traktor has continued to expand and release new software suites under its brand. 2010 saw the debut of Traktor LE which was a budget option aimed at entry level users who would gain little benefit from paying for a large amount of specialist advanced features.
It became commonplace to find Traktor LE included with a wide range of MIDI devices. This allowed the name to continue to grow as more and more DJs not only sought it out for advanced sampling and looping, but also learned to DJ on it from the day they started out. You can check out the latest release of Traktor Pro here.
Serato is known principally as a highly detailed piece of software with a slightly geeky style that is used by a whole host of scratch DJs. By being able to delve into the fine details of how harmonics are treated during scratching,
DJs are able to rapidly speed up and slow down their music without any artefacts arising due to changes in pitch.
One of the big advantages of going down the Serato route is that it allows you to pair up with Rane hardware and import your entire music library instantly. This allows you to scratch and sample any track with the click of a button without having to shuffle through your collection and manually upload each track that you’re interested in.
The real brains behind Serato is the complex mathematics that are used in the fast signal processing algorithms.
Whilst the foundations were laid way back in 1997, Serato continue to innovate and fine tune their offering so that it works with an ever-expanding range of hardware.
Not only that, but due to the inherent fast response of the algorithms they use you can scratch and record in real time without having to spend hours afterwards trying to pick out the true sound from the distorted or frequency shifted harmonics.
This makes Serato a great choice for DJs looking to experiment with their music, and specifically for scratch DJs where the ability to improvise on the spot is crucial to performing.
Traktor is just as multi-purpose as Serato, but as with every product it has its own specific strengths too. Whilst it is a little less geeky in its implementation, the maths that allows you to chop and change any song without altering the underlying harmonics is still present.
Its real strength lies in sampling so that you can easily pick out key sound layers from other tracks and mix them in to create something unique and original.
By being able to layer sounds and identify potential interferences between harmonics you can preserve the tonal independence of each part of any given track. This makes it a great option for those of you who want to be able to create a multi-layered sound that feels like it really speaks to the crowd and allows every listener to be able to enjoy each layer and tone.
Another aspect where Traktor is particularly strong is looping over and over again. In other pieces of software this can be quite a laborious and time-consuming process that can’t be sped up in anyway. Traktor approaches things a little differently and hides a lot of subtlety and complexity under a simple and intuitive GUI.
This isn’t to say that it cuts out functionality to make the user experience a little less daunting at first. What it really does is make what used to be a complex process simple and straightforward for DJs of all abilities.
This approach is one of the principle reasons why suites such as 3 LE have taken off to such a great extent. Without the intuitive aspect of the GUI many DJs would find looping much harder to pick up than they do.
Serato does a good job of supporting most of the major brands on the market when it comes to powerful yet easy to use hardware.
Rane, Pioneer, Mixars, Roland are just a few of the major brands that are supported by various versions of Serato software.
To ensure you get the perfect fit for your setup it’s important to make sure that the hardware you buy works with the specific version of Serato that you’ve had your eye on.
Take the Roland DJ-505 for example. It’s designed to be paired with DJ Pro and can also be used with Serato DVS if you want to be able to scratch vinyls and CD off one setup.
This video is a great introduction to the power of Serato compatible hardware like the 505.
The interfacing process is quick and easy for such complex bits of tech which is really refreshing. What you may find instructive is the Serato official site where they list different mixers and explicitly say which version of the software will work best with them.
This will give you a better insight into what you can expect for your money.
Those of you who big fans of the classic 808 will be pleased to know that it’s also fully supported by DJ Pro. As is the four channel Reloop RMX-90 DVS.
The reason I mention this last one is that although Serato has become a firm favourite with scratch DJs all over the world, you shouldn’t feel limited to only using it for this purpose.
It includes everything you need to be able to sample and loop, and works with a wide variety of four channel mixers so you have plenty of choice in terms of hardware. If you’re looking for more info on the right mixer for you check out my article here.
Watch this video for a perfect example of why Serato and hardware like the RMX-90 is pure heaven for scratch DJs.
Traktor actually offer their own standalone hardware which is a nice touch for those of you who want to ensure integration is always seamless. Take the Traktor Kontrol S2 for example; the layout has been designed to partner with their own software suite so that you always have everything under control. This is great not just for new DJs who want to know that they have everything covered, but also for performers of all abilities who want a nice closed ecosystem where everything works in harmony.
Check out this intro to basic controls on the Kontrol S2
The added bonus of producing their own hardware means that they are able to offer every techie’s dream: plug and play hardware. Because you don’t have to spend a few hours fiddling around with mapping and control assignments during your initial setup it means that you should in principle be up and running as soon as you power on.
I highly recommend checking out the Kontrol S8 if you really serious about DJ-ing especially with loops.
Make no mistake though, just because you don’t need to map doesn’t mean you can’t customise your setup if you decide to go with same name hardware. You can assign anything from hot cues and favourites, to your tried and trusted presets with a quick couple of clicks.
Of course there is still the option to add in all the big names like Mixar and Roland if you want to stay with an 808 for example. Ideal if you never want to be tied to one brand for the sake of some great software.
Here’s a good example of mapping the controls of a Pioneer DJM-900 to the Traktor controls through midi mapping. Pretty straightforward and means you can use pretty much any digital DJ controller hardware.
If you’re interested in Traktor hardware as your DJ solution take a look at the latest prices on Amazon here.
This is where things get rather interesting, because it’s really a matter of what you want to be able to do with your setup.
If you’re someone that loves to be able to change anything and everything and understand the signal processing to the nth degree then Serato would be a good choice. This is the reason why the world’s premier scratch DJs tend to favour it over the competition, but that doesn’t mean this is the only reason you should go with it. There’s always the option to use it without paying undue attention to the fine details of the processing, ideal if you’re just starting out but don’t want to settle for budget software that you’ll soon outgrow.
That said, there’s still Traktor to consider. What’s good about these guys is that they offer you a fantastic range of choice and flexibility. If you want a stripped down and yet still powerful piece of software then the LE packages are a viable option. Or if you prefer the full suite of functionality but with hardware that has been designed specifically for one brand of software then you have that option too. Traktor is the Apple of the DJ world. Perfect hardware with perfect software.
The secret here is to take a look at the fine details of each software package and see which one you think you feel most at home in.
By giving a little thought to how much you’re going to want to use it and how your skill level may have progressed in three months time you’ll be able buy something for tomorrow as well as today.
My personal choice? I love the end-to-end experience of Traktor hardware and their new Stems music system is truly game-changing stuff. Right now I think Native Instruments have the edge with Traktor, but Serato wont let you down either. For pure creativity go for Traktor, for pure geek scratch mixing heaven Serato is your best bet.
As you would expect from the world’s two leading DJ software packages, the world’s best DJs use Serato or Traktor heavily and have strong opinions on their features and benefits. So I’ve selected a number of great interviews that are worth watching to get a sense of what makes each DJ software the best.
World famous DJ Fatboy Slim moved from vinyl to Serato and never looked back. Now he pushes it to the extreme
If you want to see just how accurate Serato can be for scratch DJs I highly recommend watching Mix Master Mike at work with the Serato graphics on screen so you can see just what he’s doing. Epic stuff. Its worth noting this level of precision is on Traktor too.
This video with Carl Cox talking about the new Kontrol S8 hardware and Traktor software explains perfectly why its worth considering.
Live comparison of Traktor and Serato
Check out this awesome video by world famous scratch master DJ Q-Bert who gives you a live demonstration of both Traktor and Serato for scratch mixers.