Welcome to the 3rd (and Final) part of our ongoing series discussing Ableton vs Traktor for today’s Digital DJ.
In this part, we will be discussing how both these programs interface with Hardware controllers and what options they provide to get the maximum from them. This in my opinion is a hugely important area, as ultimately when performing, we don’t want to be stuck with a mouse and keyboard, what we want is direct, hands on control of all aspects of the program.
And finally, we’ll summarize what we have discussed to get to some sort of a conclusion on the topic.
While this is NOT meant to be a detailed explanation of what MIDI is, I thought a brief explanation might help those that are new.
MIDI stands for ‘Musical Instruments Digital Interface’ and as the name suggests, it is a standardized protocol that enables two musical devices to talk to each other. In our current scenario, this interface allows us to ‘send’ information to our software from hardware controllers. For example, when we move a fader on a MIDI Controller, the hardware, sends that movement information via MIDI to the software, telling the software to move the associated fader.
Both the programs we are discussing here, have very extensive MIDI support, allowing you to control just about anything you see on screen via MIDI.
Live allows us to map and control just about any parameter in a very simple on screen view, where you click on a function and move a fader/button/know and its mapped, it really is that simple. Using this method, you map out your whole set and save that as a template, so the next time you load it up, all your assignments are ready to go. You can also use your QWERTY keyboard on your laptop to map some functions to it, freeing your MIDI controller of a few lesser used parameters perhaps. Combine these two and you can get to any part of Live without every having to touch a mouse.
While Live supports any device capable of sending MIDI data, there are some dedicated controllers that are designed to work with Live natively. The advantage of devices like this is that there is minimal to no setup required and there is a a two way communication that allows the hardware to automatically update itself based on what you see on screen. This is a highly efficient and easy way to control the software, without the need to look at the screen constantly.
Traktor has one of the most powerful and extensive MIDI control systems on any audio program. As with Live you can control almost any parameter you see on screen, but it doesn’t end there… you can further customize how the data is read by Traktor. For Eg; you could set up a button to toggle between a series of Effects (which is also customizable) or have one button to do multiple tasks such as Load it into a Track, Enable Sync AND change view!
Traktor also has dedicated controllers made for it such as Native Instruments Kontrol X1, which save you the setup time and give you full detailed control right out of the box. One major advantage for Traktor is that due to the browser’s flexibility you can browse for your tracks using MIDI controllers and load them without touching the mouse.
OK, so here we are after all this, for the moment of truth… but as I said right at the start, this article isn’t about declaring a winner (cause there isn’t one), It really comes down to what kind of performance you are looking to do. Traktor is designed primarily for DJs and Ableton Live for the performing musician, and there in lies its most basic definition. However, in today’s world where the line between DJs and Producers is fading away, this definition may be more convoluted.
If you come from a traditional DJ’ing background and want to continue further in that vein, but take your performance to the next level then Traktor may be more suited to you for its familiar ‘Deck’ and ‘DJ’ friendly layout. The simplicity in keeping it to four decks but offering tremendous flexibility and power in controlling those decks are a big advantage, whether you choose to control your decks with CDs/Vinyl (using TimeCode) or use next generation MIDI controllers, Traktor has you covered. Another highlight is its awesome real-time looping options which are amazingly powerful, and couple this with quantized beat-jumps and you can create edits on the fly with ease. The feature set here is perfect for those DJ’s that are still about playing out great music (isn’t that what Dj’ing is about anyway?) with a few creative bits thrown in.
If you’re looking to perform on stage like you would with real instruments, then Ableton Live may be your only answer. Its unlimited power allows you to customize your set with unlimited clips/tracks/samples AND virtual instruments, like no other program can. If you always wished that you could break down an entire song into smaller parts and reconstruct it live, along with samples and loops and ‘play’ them real-time… you can now. Playing your own custom sounds and VST’s in a environment where the program is managing all the tempo information and freeing you to think of only the music, is Live’s biggest draw.
So ultimately it comes down to this – do you want to ‘DJ’ or perform ‘Live’? and these are two VERY different things, and both require very different skill-sets.
Hope this helps shed some light for those that are looking for answers.
Feel free to post your comments/questions here.
– By Tanseer
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