Last week, I started my 4-part series on DJ software packages with Traktor. This week, I’d like to shine a spotlight on perhaps the most underrated workhorse of the digital dj world: Virtual DJ.
Virtual DJ began as AtomixMP3, a program designed by Atomix Productions in 2000 as one of the first MP3 DJ Mix softwares around.
It was re-christned Virtual DJ in July 2003.
Virtual DJ is perhaps best known as it’s free version Virtual DJ Home. This version allows you to use your laptop’s keyboard and trackpad to control the software. This was a popular choice for early-adaptors of Digital DJ’ing who enjoyed the simplicity of showing up to gigs with nothing but a laptop and a pair of headphones. Unfortunately, as many DJ’s soon found out, the keyboard and trackpad is not the best substitute for knobs, faders and sliders.
Although there still is a contingent of Dj’ing rocking parties with Virtual DJ Home Edition, the flagship version of the software is Virtual DJ Pro Full, a comprehensive software package with MIDI implementation.
Virtual DJ is known as being a “feature-laden” software package. That means that it packs an incredible amount of features that outnumbers all other software packages to date.
Here are some of the amazing features of Virtual DJ that set it apart from other DJ softwares:
Virtual DJ easily has the most configured hardware available for it than any other software package out there. Many MIDI controllers and DJ controllers made in the past few years came with Virtual DJ mappings or were natively made with Virtual DJ in mind. Due to the straightforward design of the software, and the easy mapping language (press a button on your screen and then press the corresponding button on your controller, brilliant) it is very easy make hardware dance with Virtual DJ.
Virtual DJ was the first major software package to include video mixing into its interface. You can use a secondary display (such as a projector) to mix video along with your audio. The video mixing offers many of the features associated with audio mixing, such as using effects and blending video signals together. The effect adds a whole new level to the experience.
Virtual DJ was also one of the first software packages to offer native key matching. Key refers to the melodic structure of the song. If one song is primarily in the key of B Major, then mixing it with another song primarily in the key of B Major, or neighbouring harmonies, will sound more aesthetically pleasing to the ear. This is known as “harmonic mixing”. Virtual DJ will scan each song and display its key in the tag info.
Another redeeming feature of Virtual DJ is that if you do not like the default interface, you can download another custom “skin” on top of it. The Virtual DJ community has created a skin for every major controller and mixer, and many other unique designs. People may not know you are even using Virtual DJ, if your custom skin is radically different than the default design.
Lastly, Virtual DJ offers the ability for users to download additional effects, use virtual studio technology (VST) or the ability to emulate studio equipment, and download custom samples. With this level of customisation, you can create sets that can either add that extra edge or re-create the performance concept entirely.
Virtual DJ offers such unique features such as key filtering (the ability to change key without affecting pitch or speed), and parametric EQ’ing, which gives the DJ much more fine control of EQ ranges. These features, up until this year, were exclusive to Virtual DJ.
Unfortunately, nothing is perfect and Virtual DJ is not without its faults. Here is a rough breakdown of its deficiencies…
Virtual DJ is known for having limited effects (the pro version only includes 8-10 effects) which may not sound as professional as other packages may offer.
There is nothing inherently wrong with Virtual DJ’s sampler, its just that it seems a bit “last-generation”. There is no option to sync samples to the master output or add FX to them, and many of the stock samples that come with Virtual DJ are a bit cliched, such as the siren wail or the vocal reprise of “put your hands up in the air”.
Virtual DJ is the most expensive DJ software package on the market today, apart from production software like Ableton Live which can also be used for DJ’ing. Virtual DJ Pro Full will cost you roughly $250 to $300 depending on if you already own a limited version that came with a MIDI controller. Of course, the amount of features in Virtual DJ may outweigh that of other packages, but many complaint lies in the fact that the cost may not justify the means.
Perception in the music scene
Lastly, since many aspiring DJ’s learn how to digital DJ using the free home edition of Virtual DJ, there is a image of Virtual DJ being the software of choice for beginner DJ’s. This is of course a false notion, especially with the amount of features available in Virtual DJ, but sometimes perception is reception.
That concludes my review of Virtual DJ. I myself started out with Virtual DJ and found it to be a very easy, intuitive piece of software. Its customisation features alone can really appeal to DJ’s looking to stand out from the rest, although not without a lot of hard work and patience.
Stay tuned next time for part 3 in my 4-part series of DJ Software Comparisons. Next feature will include the super-reliant and popular Serato DJ!
Until then, thanks for stopping by the corner.
– DJ BRUAEL