Ableton vs Traktor – For the Digital DJ (Part 1)

Aug 7 • Editorials • 65503 Views • 1 Comment on Ableton vs Traktor – For the Digital DJ (Part 1)

Welcome to Part 1 of our on-going series of articles that discuss Ableton & Traktor for the Digital DJ. Click here to read the ‘Introductory Post’.

Part 1

– Inception
– Target Audience
– Design
– Layout

Ableton Live:

Live was nothing short of revolutionary when it came out in 2001. It was the first program that was designed from the ground up with a Live environment in mind, allowing musicians to interact with samples, loops and virtual instruments in real time without worrying about tempo or timing. The entire program is based around their ‘Elastic Audio Engine’ which keeps all the clips (Audio or MIDI) in sync all the time, irrespective of their individual tempos, allowing us to manipulate and ‘perform’ these sounds. The entire program was designed to fit into any live performance environment, as part of a band providing the background and structure, to sampling sounds and keeping track of tempo, or for artists wanting to perform complete tracks live using bits and pieces of their entire song. In any of the cases, till date there is nothing that can come close to offering the same functionality. While Live started out being an audio only program, it quickly grew into a complete monster DAW offering VST instruments, MIDI, effects, etc to such an extent that the big boys such as Cubase, Logic, and Pro Tools were found playing catch-up. As noted before, in this article we are going to focus on the DJ’ing side of Ableton Live and not the whole program (we can keep that for a later article :) ).

Live’s elastic audio engine was so powerful and flexible that it was only a matter of time before more and more DJ’s started incorporating it as part of their live setups, with Sasha being one of the trailblazers for everyone else to follow.

Sasha performing on Ableton Live

Live offers unlimited tracks of ‘in sync’ audio that gives DJ’s the potential to mix as many songs or tracks as they like at a time, while not worrying about traditional DJ’ing techniques such as ‘Beat-matching’ and ‘Pitch-bending’, as the program now took care of that role, allowing you to focus on the music. This single feature in itself, was game changing. Add to this, the flexibility and power of the inbuilt effects and the ability to add any 3rd party effect opened doors to deeply customizable effects giving your songs a personal and custom sound that allowed you to stand out from the crowd. The way Live keeps whole songs in sync is by applying ‘Warp Markers’ to the track, which basically tells it where the beats are and where in the track you currently are. This became an automated process by the program since version 7, but for perfect results, some minor adjustments was recommended.

The layout of Ableton Live is split into 2 parts, one is the ‘Session View’ and the other is the ‘Arrangement View’. The session view is a grid type view of all the clips/loops/samples that are available on each track, and these could be triggered in real time either individually or as scenes where you trigger multiple clips/samples at the same time. The arrangement view is a more traditional time bound sequencer where you can record and arrange your entire track or set. The unique feature here was that we could ‘perform’ the track in the session view and have it recorded exactly the same way in the arrangement view, allowing you to go back and edit it as you see fit. This ‘Live’ way of producing and sequencing tracks, gave a whole new dimension to music production.

These clips in session view could be anything from full length songs to loops/samples and also virtual instruments and effects which in n addition to keeping all the tracks in time through its elastic audio engine, Live also offers many different ways of triggering clips that would enable you to have them launch in perfect sync, either on a bar, sixteenth note, quarter note and so forth. This way we didn’t have to worry about triggering clips off time or how they would fit into a musical phrase.

Ableton Live Session View

The routing in Live is extremely flexible, allowing you to either route all tracks to one master output or route individual tracks to different outputs on your sound card. The latter method of one track per output meant that we can replicate a feeling of 4 decks on our mixer as we can output 4 stereo tracks individually on our mixer, allowing us to mix and EQ on our DJ mixers as normal, but have all the power of the software on hand. Since Live is a full blown DAW in its own right, the mixer capabilities also brings Aux sends, groups and busses that allow further routing options for the discerning DJ.


Originally released in 2000 as Traktor DJ Studio, Native Instruments premier DJ’ing platform has been one of the pioneers and trailblazers for digital DJs. Unlike Ableton Live that can don many hats, Traktor was designed solely for the purpose of DJ’ing, so it took all the traditional DJ’ing techniques and combined that with the power of the digital platform, allowing DJ’s to do a whole lot more that what was possible with hardware designed for DJs. Their latest version ‘Traktor Pro’ is a complete redesign of the entire software, keeping all the best bits from the past 10 years of development and adding critical new features that make this their most robust and powerful release to date. This version has been praised and lauded by all the biggest DJ’s in the world as the ultimate combination of Power, Ease of use and Flexibility. Even DJ’s using Ableton Live (such as myself) have been lured into Traktor’s brilliance as a pure DJ’ing platform.

The layout of Traktor is very straight forward with a ‘What you see is what you get’ vision behind the program, giving you access to all parts of the program in one screen, this is very important as you could at one glance see all that’s happening with all your decks and effects. Traktor offers upto 4 decks at a time that can be controlled either by MIDI Controllers (more on this in the next chapter) or by Time Coded CDs/Vinyl. For those that are new to the Time-coded CDs/Vinyl concept, what it offers is the ability to control the decks on Traktor for tasks such as cueing, playing, pitch-bending, scratching using your CD players/Turntables just as you would to physical media. This is achieved through special Time-Coded CDs/Vinyl that have special information on them that tell Traktor at what speed the track is playing and at what point in time they are. This brought the best of both worlds together for DJs that still preferred to play using techniques and skills that they have gathered over the years.

Traktor 4 Deck Mixing using Timecode as Control

If you choose not to go the time-code route and control Traktor using MIDI Controllers, then the program offers automated syncing features similar to what Ableton Live can. Just like how Ableton Live uses ‘Warp Markers’ to detect and manage tempo and timing information, Traktor uses ‘BeatGrids’ to do the same. The new Traktor Pro it also introduces a ‘Snap’ and ‘Quantize’ feature that automatically syncs the track to the beat even if it has been triggered a little off. Again, similar to Ableton Live, Beatgridding is an automated process by the program, but for best results, it is recommended you adjust the grids slightly to get them absolutely perfect.

Traktor has the ability to either mix ‘in the box’ or externally where you could route each deck to a separate output so you could mix them on a regular DJ mixer, just as you’re used to. To aid this, Native Instruments have released a variety of top notch sound cards with different input/output configurations allowing you to customize the setup to your style, more on this in the next part.

Thats it for Part 1, in the next part we will be taking a closer look at their functionality and the possibilities on offer. Please feel free to post your comments or questions here and I’ll be sure to address them.

– By Tanseer

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