DJing on the Mac

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This guide is intended as an introductory guide to DJing with your Mac, including the various software programs, equipment/hardware and so on.

Contents

Software

The first point of call for learning to DJ on your Mac is software and there are numerous programs, freeware and licensed, to choose from. Following is a list of programs that can be used without additional hardware.

For using time-coded vinyl to control software, see Digital Vinyl System below.

Equipment/Hardware

In order to DJ effectively with your Mac, not only will you need a decent software program, but to play properly you'll also need a slew of additional equipment such as a sound card with multiple outputs, a MIDI controller (the digital equivalent of a channel mixer) and a decent set of headphones.

External sound cards

First up, if you're planning to use separate outputs for your main speakers and a monitor output (headphones), you're going to need a new sound card. None of the built-in sound cards on the iBook, PowerBook, MacBook or MacBook Pro systems are capable of producing two (or more) separate outputs.

There are a number of options for sound cards, from USB, Firewire and PCMIA/Cardbus slots (PCMIA cards work for PowerBook only). For most programs, the sound card needs to have four output channels (i.e. two stereo outputs, one for the main speakers and one for the monitor). Some programs allow to use the Mac's internal audio out together with an external (two-channel) sound card, although the quality and/or latency might be worse.

USB sound cards

FireWire sound cards (Note: FireWire is often the preferred interface of DJs and other musicians due to fast, consistent throughput of data.)

  • M-Audio Audiophile Firewire (discontinued but still available in small numbers). Predecessor to the Firewire 410 and now available for less than US$100. Great value while still available.
  •  M-Audio Firewire 410. A popular interface to use at clubs with all the requisite inputs and outputs.
  • M-Audio Firewire 1814. Overkill for playing out at clubs but could form the backbone of a quality home setup. Expensive.
  • Stanton Scratch Amp 2 (Works in tandem with Stanton Final Scratch)

PCMIA/Cardbus I/Cardbus II sound cards

  •  Indigo Echo DJ Note: Be careful in choosing this card as there's also a very similar Echo Indigo I/O (in/out) card that is no good for DJing on your Mac. Also, the Indigo Echo DJ PCMIA soundcard will only work with the PowerBook G4. The MacBook Pro has an Express card slot which is not compatible.

Headphones

You can spend anything fom US$20 to $300 on a usable pair of headphones that will withstand the rigours of being used and abused. Some models stand up to abuse better than others. Here are some of the most popular high-end sets:

  • Sony MDR-V700DJ: Top spec headphones used by countless DJs. The Sony MDRV 700s have been at the top of the Pro Headphone pile for a long time, jostling for position with the Sennheiser HD-25s. Only just starting to be outclassed by newcomers including the Pioneer HDJ-1000 and Technics RP-DH1200. However, they do have a bad habit of snapping their hinges after a year.
  • Technics RP-DJ1200: Excellent headphones from Technics although they've been out for a few years now.
  • Technics RP-HD1200: Stunning new headphones from Technics that have been designed to complement the new SLDZ CD decks. These headphones standout feature is the volume to which they can be pushed without distorting. The bass is also mightily impressive.
  • Pioneer HDJ-1000 (Click on Accessories): Genuine challengers to Sony's MDRV 700DJ, the Pioneer HDJ-1000 packs a powerful punch, but build quality has been a major issue.
  • Sennheiser HD-25-1 Long-standing favourites of many famous names. These headphones will crop up in any top headphone guide.
  • Sennheiser HD-25-1 SP despite the "SP" tag, these are a cheaper alternative to the Sennheiser HD-25-1 headphones.
  • Grado headphones are also recommended for home use.

MIDI Controllers

Fig. 1.1: Pioneer's DJM800 DJ mixer has 61 assignable MIDI controls
Enlarge
Fig. 1.1: Pioneer's DJM800 DJ mixer has 61 assignable MIDI controls

DJing using software offers unlimited possibilities with regard to using multiple clips, channels, tracks and so on and there are many possibilities with regard to digital MIDI controllers to control and manipulate the tracks you're using. One MIDI controller designed to look and operate similar to a standard two-channel DJ mixer and thus enable straight-forward mixing is the M-Audio X-Session Pro. For a setup including jog wheels for scratching, the Vestax Spin offers good value and includes algoriddim’s djay software for Mac.

Other popular MIDI controllers include:

  • Pioneer DJM800 (See Figure 1.1, right): This is a stunning new mixer from Pioneer that has 61 assignable MIDI controls. probably the most highly recommended DJ-esque MIDI controller you'll find off the shelf and coming in at around US$1500.
  • Allan & Heath XONE 2D & 3D: These are derivatives of the awesome Allan & Heath range although the look of the MIDI versions is slightly unorthodox. The XONE 3D is a monster.
  • Kontrol DJ500: A versatile, high-quality, fully assignable MIDI controller from Kontrol Products.
  • Vestax VCI-100

Digital Vinyl System

Some DJs still use turntables and CD decks when DJing. There are programs out there that allow DJs to use timecoded CDs and vinyls to DJ with their Macs. Doing this, DJs do not need to bring their CD or vinyl collection with them. They can play any non-DRM songs from their mac using their turntables or CD decks to control it and are able to use any mixer they want.

DJs who use Macs and DJ software

Some of the world's most popular DJs now use Macs in their sets. Some use just the computer, others use a mix of computer, CD decks and vinyl. Well-known names include:

  • Sasha: Uses a PowerBook G4 and an iMac G5, together with Ableton Live and a custom-built MIDI controller called "Maven" (see figure 1.2, right)
    Fig 1.2: Sasha's custom-built MIDI controller - nicknamed "Maven" is a unique controller based on the MIDI Box platform
    Enlarge
    Fig 1.2: Sasha's custom-built MIDI controller - nicknamed "Maven" is a unique controller based on the MIDI Box platform
  • Charlie May: AKA "Spooky" and often co-produces music with Sasha, has been known to use an iMac G5 and Ableton Live.
  • Paul van Dyk: Uses two laptops (Either PowerBook G4s or MacBook Pros) and a combination of Ableton Live, Rane's Serato Scratch Live and also CDs.
  • Armin van Buuren: Uses a combination of Ableton Live and CDs.

Where to buy electronic music online

There's dozens of places online where you can buy digital tracks to use when DJing, varying from single track downloads to subscription models. Here's an initial list:

Beatport

Beatport: Beatport has an excellent selection of new and back-catalogued electronic music all encoded at 320KB VBR (Variable Bit Rate) MP3s and selling for US$1.49 - $2.49 per track (album prices vary). The Beatport site runs on a flash interface and allows you to listen to clips of high-quality while browsing. A smart, fast and thorough search engine finds tracks, artists, labels and albums quickly and easily. Purchase requires registration and your credit card can be stored on file and configured for one click downloading (occasional random verification required). Beatport also has a useful discussion forum attached. (Note: Beatport's flash interface does not get on well with Apple's Safari browser. Firefox is far more robust with this site.)

Audiojelly

Audiojelly: Audiojelly offers an excellent selection of new tracks and a substantial back catalogue of electronic music. Tracks are available in superb quality 320KB MP3 format and single track prices start from US$.99 upwards. Audiojelly sends out a high-quality weekly e-mail with all new releases, often notifying of new tracks well before other sites.

iTunes

iTunes: Until recently iTunes was a no go, with DRM'd 128KB Bitrate (AAC) tracks that were practically useless for anything other than casual listening. However, with EMI's change in stance towards DRM and 256KB tracks soon to be available, iTunes will be worth a look.

Bleep.com

Bleep.com Starting in 2004, bleep.com offered a digital outlet for the UK based Warp label, offering DRM-free 320kbps downloads and FLAC lossless downloads. It has expanded over the years to include many independant labels with a tendency towards indie-rock, dance and electronica. Prices are £6.99 or $9.99 for MP3 albums, 99p or $1.35 for individual songs. Notable labels include Warp, Ninja Tune, One Little Indian, Twisted Nerve, XL recordings, !k7 and Compost.