Welcome to Part 2 of our on-going series on Ableton Live vs Traktor Pro for the Digital DJ.
– Deck/Track Control
– Mixer/Mixing Options/Flexibility
This is probably the ‘meat’ of the whole article where we are actually dissecting the different parts and functions of the program from a ‘Dj’ing’ scenario. Both these programs are massive and we can endlessly discuss their possibilities, but for this article I am trying to keep it brief and relevant, so if you feel there are any areas that you would like me to discuss further, please post your questions here and I will do my best to answer them.
Lets start with the all important Browser, from where you locate your music and bring them into the program.
Live’s browser is based around the simple ‘Drag & Drop’ methodology, that allows you to find Tracks, Loops, Samples, Presets and FX and drop them directly onto tracks or individual clips. The Browser tab has 3 ‘Favorites’ and one tab dedicated to the Live Library. There aren’t any extensive play-listing features as we may be used to when organizing music, but the browser gets the job done through its basic folder-based navigation. The Browser also offers a preview feature with a waveform display so you can get to any part of the track quickly to preview.
Since Traktor was designed to work with songs and playlists from the ground-up, the organizing and sorting features here are in-depth and offer great flexibility. An unlimited number of playlists can be made to organize your music and there are 8 favorites that can be assigned, for quick access. Full iTunes playlist integration is there as well, so all the playlists that you’ve created in iTunes will be available from within Traktor. The browser offers previewing of tracks and will display full artwork, giving you a sense of browsing through a crate full of vinyl, and it does look pretty. Track info can be edited right from the browser with great detail, even allowing you to set pre-defined gain values for each track. If you are working with full tracks/songs primarily, then the browser and organizing features in Traktor are unmatched.
Here we will discuss the actual controls that allow us to play each track and the features each program offers for controlling them.
Each track in Live can host as many clips as your computer can take, and each of these clips can have their own settings/variations, giving you tremendous creative freedom in preparing different versions of each track/loop/sample. One of the specialities of Live, which no other program can replicate is its ability to launch a row of multiple clips across tracks at once in perfect sync, these are referred to as ‘scenes’. To give you an example, imagine being able to launch the intro of a track, an acapella and a percussion loop all at the same time across multiple tracks, each with their own chain of effects, settings and volume, in perfect sync and timing and you start to fathom the possibilities on offer here.
The start point for each track or sample (think cue point) can be set and saved, so next time when you load the song, Live knows where to start from. You can assign different start points for the same track and have them in different clip slots of the same track, allowing you to ‘juggle’ with them, so some amount of creative thinking is encouraged here. Real-time looping is possible but your options are fairly basic, with MIDI assignable In and Out points. There are some tricks with MIDI controllers that will allow you to create perfect pre-defined loops, but overall, the real-time looping features in Live may not be as exhaustive as Traktor.
One major difference when dealing with the tracks and layout of Live, is that you can only view the waveform and play position of one track at a time, and this is probably one of the biggest areas of concern for DJs that would like to have a clear view of all the tracks currently playing.
Unlike Live, which was was designed for the ‘Performing Musician’, Traktor is aimed solely at the DJ’s so its controls and layout are simple and easily recognizable, with all the standard functions that you would expect such as Play/Pause, Cue, Loop etc. As mentioned earlier, just like how Live has track ‘Warping’, Traktor has ‘Beat-Grids’ allowing you to set up tracks in advance for truly flawless mixing. If Live’s strength lies in its flexibility and power, Traktor’s strength lies in its simplicity, showing you all 4 Decks in one screen, along with their Waveforms, Play position, FX etc, this allows you to see everything that is happening in your set at one glance.
The Hot Cue section of Traktor allows you to set up-to 32 cue points per track and these could either be Load Markers, Cue Points, Loops, or Fade In/Out points, and they are easily identifiable with their own colors. These cue points can be juggled in real-time, and in perfect sync using Traktor’s ‘Sync’ and ‘Quantize’ functions, so you can re-arrange a track on the fly without worrying if it will go off sync, and its in situations like this that your ‘Beat- Grids’ comes in to play, to make sure that multiple tracks are locked in perfectly.
The Looping section of Traktor is one of its biggest strengths, with every possible control available here. You can create perfectly cut loops in selectable musical phrases of 1,2,4,8,16 or 32 beats, or you can also go down upto 1/64 of a beat, for your classic stutter effect. If you are more traditional and want to create your own loop lengths, there are manual controls for Loop In/Out. Combine this with Traktor’s incredibly powerful ‘Move’ functions and you can move your whole song, or loop in any direction forward or back in perfect sync, and in perfect musical phrases for flawless jumps.
In this section we’ll discuss the different routing options available and the mixer and mixing features that each program offers.
Since Live is an open ended DAW, the mixer here is incredibly powerful, allowing you to route tracks freely and also send each of its tracks to a separate physical output so you can bring in as many channels as you want on your Mixer. Or, depending on how many stereo outs you have on your Sound Card you can customize this. To give you an example, Native Instruments Audio 8 DJ has 4 stereo outputs so you could maybe route 3 tracks to each of its stereo outputs and bring them onto individual channels on your 4 Channel DJ Mixer such as the DJM 600 and have the 4th Channel route all your VSTs, FX, Acapellas, etc. Or you could just mix ‘In The Box’ and send just one stereo output to the Mixer, its all up to you, and Ableton Live will support them all.
The EQ’s and filters that you use for mixing can be set-up any way you like and these EQ curves can be customized to your mixing style, giving you full control over how they ‘sound’. And since Live accepts 3rd party VST’s, you could maybe use an expensive hardware modeled vintage EQ or Filter to mix your tracks… imagine mixing using the sound of the classic Neve console EQ’s! :).
Traktor’s Mixer is your regular Dj style 3 band EQ (unless you choose a Xone EQ Emulation which is 4 band) with a dedicated filter on each channel. You do have the option of switching these inbuilt EQ’s to respond to hardware mixers that you are used to such as the DJM 600, or the classic Xone mixers, and this is a really nice touch as each DJ can pick a mixer that suits his style best. Or, you could also choose to route each of the Traktor’s decks to individual outputs if you choose to bypass its internal mixer and mix externally.
You could also use TimeCoded CDs or Vinyl to control the decks and the beauty of that is that you could probably have 2 decks controlled by TimeCode for your scratches, etc and have 2 decks running in internal mode (or any of those combinations), and each of these routed either to individual outputs or mixed ‘inside the box’. From a DJ’ing scenario, Traktor has you covered whichever way you want to do it.
And finally, the effects section of each of the programs.
Live comes built in with tons of great FX, including your standard Delays, Flangers, Reverbs and some (not so standard) super fun ones like Beat Repeat. Each track can have an unlimited number of Effects running on them, and this itself gives you great amount of power that is impossible with any hardware. But to truly take these effects to the next level, Live allows you to chain these effects in different ways using its ‘Effects Rack’ that allow you to customize and combine these effects in a way that is truly mind blowing. Add to this its support for 3rd party effects via VST’s and the power here is unlimited.
While Live offers you unlimited effects, Traktor doesn’t, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as the effects and routing options here are top notch and probably all that is needed for DJs. Traktor comes with 28 effects built in effects and these sound great since many of them are taken from NI’s flagship software instruments such as Reaktor. In addition to the standard effects suite (Like Reverbs, Delays, Etc) Traktor offers some very unique and powerful ones such as IceVerb (great for buildups), Gater, and Beatslicer, which samples a 1 or 2 bar piece of audio and rearranges it in realtime (and in sync).
There are 4 effects slots available globally, each of these can be switched between ‘Advanced’ and ‘Chained’ mode where Advanced offers you in depth control over any one effect, Chained mode allows you to chain upto 3 effects in series. So at any one point, each track can have upto 12 effects on them… plenty if you ask me!
In Part 3 we will look at the all important MIDI Controlling aspects of these programs and a final summary of all that we have discussed.
Feel free to post your comments/questions here.
– By Tanseer
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