Thanks to a bunch of new articles and videos out there, the buzz around Virtual DJ is growing. But if you are a long time user of Serato, does it offer something more? The short answer is yes, but the long answer is it depends. Let’s deep dive into this topic.
And after some months I made a final call. Check out the conclusion of this experiment…
…and just when you thought it was over, I switched back to VirtualDJ thanks to some fixes with the Numark NS7iii and then Atomix decided to redo their entire interface.
VDJ? Serato? Why even bring this up?
All right so to give you a little bit of history of my background, when I got into DJing once again I actually started on Traktor. I had a Traktor S2 controller (now it has an MK2 variant) and I had started to use it in 2011 as a bedroom DJ since at that time I was 12 years out of the last professional gig I had done, and I had no idea that I’d be starting Paris Creative just one year later. I chose Traktor because there was a seeming trend towards it, especially in Europe. Q-Bert had made a big deal at the time of it, so I gave it a whirl.
It was ok but just ok. I just could not get my S2 to respond to my scratches to how I liked it, and overall the application seemed more geared towards live producers than the simple two-turntables-and-a-mixer styled DJ which favored the EDM crowd.
Since I originally started on wax, and later CDs, I wanted something a little more simple, and Serato Scratch Live (SSL) fit the bill and I stuck with Serato, changing over to Serato DJ (SDJ) and now Serato DJ Pro (SDJ-P) exclusively till recently. Now I did give Virtual DJ (VDJ) back in late 2012/early 2013 a try, but VDJ threw me for a loop. The interface seemed wonky, not intuatuivintuitive immediate things, and I honestly just did not give it a thorough walkthrough to consider.
When I approached selecting my software I had simplicity in mind, but as time has come and gone, as a wedding DJ I needed more tools. For instance, I will tend not to be behind my booth for a cocktail and dinner as I tend to be talking to the couple, the guests, vendors, and executing everything that needs to happen other than music. And the fact that Serato to this day has not really incorporated anything close to what I need in addition to what they have, most likely because Serato is more of a “purist” application for DJs (scratch DJs in particular) I knew that I would have to give VDJ a try,
And thanks for DJ Rachel Lynch for pushing me, I decided to give it a whirl for the past few months starting in November 2018 and taking it exclusively for gigs. So what do I think of it? Well, here’s my report on it.
A quick note before we jump into all this… I am NOT a VDJ expert. I have spent some months on this and I think I know the application pretty well, but I am learning new things every time even to this day. I’ll throw a question out on the Facebook forums or
even the tech support forums at the VDJ site and typically get a very good response. So good that I want to talk about an experience I had. I noticed that grouping wasn’t searchable in VDJ but the id3 field was there in the grid. I threw a ticket upon the feature and they simply implemented it. Imagine getting that type of response from Serato (well maybe if you are Jeff or Skratch Bastid).
Now I’m sure they are not going to go out there a way for every little request, but it makes sense, they are not opposed to improving their platform from users feedback,
The “VDJ Is not professional software” discussion
First and foremost I cringe every single time that I hear that VDJ is “not professional
DJing software”. Such bull. This stigma of what is professional software or not is a tired argument, to begin with, but to date, there is no other software out there that is this customizable. None, zero. Other platforms you are locked into their hardware, and in most cases very little is controllable. VDJ has almost every little thing under the hood as something that you can change.
VDJ is universal
The heart of VDJ is that virtually everything is scriptable or has some type of parameter or selection that could be modified to what you need. Now, this can be a weakness for those that expect absolute uniformity and a more limited set of equipment to use their software on, but this is an absolute strength with support for hundreds of mixers, controllers, and peripherals.
Now one might consider it a weakness because your VDJ could be much different than someone else’s. Different keyboard mappings, skins, other settings could throw you for a loop.
I got so used to how Serato works that I ended up remapping some of my keyboard layouts right away. CMD+left or right arrow to load, simply pressing 1-0 to assign a hot cue, CMD+I for my tag editor, CMD+O for my POI editor, and some more. The fact that this can be done makes my life so much easier on this platform.
In the end, VDJ allows you to be adjusted to fit your workflow, Serato (and others) demands you work into theirs.
The interface… well…
Now there are a couple negatives I do want to immediately put out and one of them goes back to even back in 2012 when I first started playing around with VDJ and that is the interface it’s not my favorite. I think this is where some of the “it’s not professional software” discussion comes from. It does look a bit toyish with the default skin, and the whole top third of the UI is just too small, especially on a 13” laptop, but even a 15” is much smaller compared to Serato.
And yes, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of skins that you can use but honestly, most of the skins really have an even more juvenile look to it. Some do improve on the default UI, but they are few and far in between.
My hope? VDJ takes a new approach to the default skin. Streamline some, bigger font choices on top, less clutter. It’s not like they can’t have the old skin to fall back on.
Comparing the UIs side-by-side
So as you see right off the bat the stock browser windows look generally similar you have your left pane for your major a folder selection in VDJ, you do have two decks right off the bat and for a long time Serato was limited to 1 deck playback without being hooked up to a controller. Not any more where now you can toggle between 1 and 2 deck control.
There’s definitely a lot more screen real estate even in the single deck mode with Serato than what VDJ and when you are out of browser mode it’s even more clear. This comes to one of my initial beefs with VDJ and that the order is just too small. I’m coming from a 13-inch MacBook Pro I’ve used Serato forever and the interface is clear, large, and easy to navigate. With VDJ I found it much more difficult at times because they put a lot more into the default interface, and with smaller font choices to boo,t it makes it just harder to make out things. Now there are some DJ’s out there that just DJ on the laptop, without a controller, so they need this control right there. But honestly, I think it can be improved.
Comparing the two with Serato hooked up to a controller makes things look even more drastically different. BPM, timer, pitch adjust, all has much clearer resolution. Now there is a skin called ControllerHD which mimics closer to the Serato look, but with a ton of clutter.
It’s all about the files baby
One clear advantage of VDJ is its library management. Like, there really isn’t even a comparison where Serato has virtually none. Within Serato I created a system of organizing files outside of Serato, moving them to a few core root folders, and then injecting those root folders in Serato. Because Serato does not like nested folders, I kept things as simple and streamlined as possible to have things load up fast. So, in general, I adopted a less-is-more philosophy and kept my library to ~10,000 files. As for editing, Serato does not really have a file/mp3 editor. You are left with doing changes in line. It can be quick for bulk changes, but still, not much to look at in the end.
VDJ, on the other hand, has real file management built in. I can launch a tag editor and covers all the major tags. You can also bulk edit by selecting multiple files. This is definitely a much more robust solution than what Serato has to offer.
Speaking of files, launching either app yields much different results. Serato takes 10+ seconds for my 10,000 song library on one of the fastest SSDs out there. VDJ does this in under 2 seconds!
Now I decided to experiment a bit with the potential of using an external drive so I can have my entire library at my disposal. After some serious pruning and re-ripping my entire CD collection, I got my library to about 62,000 songs. I also bought an external 2TB SSD drive with incredible read and write times so I really wanted to put this to the test, and I found some interesting results:
- VDJ has no measurable difference in load time in selecting internal vs. external and a spinner vs. SSD.
- VDJ will typically load a local 10k SSD library, external 62k SSD library, or external 62k SSD library in 2-3 seconds.
- SDJ has no measurable difference in selecting an external spinner or SSD in load times
- SDJ does increase load time significantly with Smart Crates.
- SDJ loading the external 62k library took about 30 seconds to load songs, and about 30 additional seconds to refresh 25 smart crates
- SDJ, after deleting about 15 smart crates took about 17 seconds to refresh after loading in
And for playing back files, there are still differences. If you are working with an external drive, and you disconnect it during playback, Serato will stop while VDJ keeps going. This is because Serato streams the song from your hard drive in real time while VDJ caches the entire song. Now, this does not help if say your external hard drive is hooked up to a hub, and the hub goes out because your controller will disconnect as well. But it’s still an interesting observation on how they handle file playback differently.
The short of it is if you are using an external drive, if you have a larger library of songs, if you want to edit songs inside the application, you will benefit from using VDJ.
Sorting it all out
Now there are some striking similarities with Serato Smart Crates and VDJ Filters, with VDJ filters offering far more capabilities of creating complex queries. One interesting difference on basic file listings are that Serato automatically recursing (seeing that folder selected and any subfolders below) where VDJ requires you to right-click and click recurse. Certainly not an end-of-the-world difference, but it is a little bit jarring initially. But where it lacks automatic recursing it has the ability to search the entire library at all times. Very smart. But I do think there could be a beneficial option to have select “always recurse” on one or more folders.
I can say there is a pain point I have to point out, how VDJ indicates an already played file. With Serato its crystal clear, the entire text of that file changes color (blue by default). In VDJ they elected to use a graphic image, with a faint red line in it.
This is horrible.
You really cannot see this without some deep concentration. Did you catch the VDJ file already played? I am sure you did with Serato. I’m not quite sure why they chose this method. VDJ has the capability of changing the color of the text since when you load in files into a sidelist, if you have color-coded a file the entire line changes. In the default view, it’s just a small graphic to show color which is similar to Serato.
There are some skins that do a better job of this, V8 by Fruit changes the whole color of the icon red which is much easier to see. But in the end an entire line color change I think would be more clear for people.
I do want to mention the skins that are available. Honestly many are just not good, borderline elementary design more focused on mimicking pieces of equipment rather than functionality and workflow in a concise UI. I think this feeds into some of the feedback that VDJ does not “look professional”.
Customizing, customizing, customizing
I’ve already mentioned this earlier but it bears repeated, there are just so many damn things to customize in VDJ, from smart scratch to quantizing to job vibration protection. The list goes on and on. Wisely, VDJ also has the ability to display all the changes you have made in one view. Very nice touch!
As an IT person, I am beyond appreciative of all the customizability. But I can also see for some thing can be a daunting mountain to understand. A number of Serato users are used to a purely plug-and-play environment, and while there is plenty of equipment that you can obtain that requires no tweaking, one would be foolish to not explore and see what options you can tweak out. It will take a bit of a learning curve for people to learn, but it’s an exercise well worth it. And whenever you get stuck there is a large community of users willing to help out.
After I initially published this article I heard some information out there that VDJ does not support a lot of file types, so I decided to put it to the test. I put in AIFF, ALAC (Apples lossless file in m4a format), APE, FLAC at 92 bit / 192 kHz HD rips, FLAC, MP3, OGG, WAV, and WMA files. To my surprise, Serato didn’t hit them all, where VDJ did.
So much more
Now there are a ton of videos and blog posts out there that cover so many aspects of both VDJ and Serato, so I am not going to get into much more detail beyond the file management perspective.
My controller experiences
It would be much better to watch the video to see a bit more of detail of some of the quirks I have run into, particularly with my Numark NS7iii controller. A quick summary of those are:
- The LED lighting on the controller get a bit lost if you have the application open first before the controller is turned on
- Pitch lock on the platters is non-existent.
VDJ support people have been very proactive in addressing things for users, including myself, so it would not surprise me if one or both these issues are resolved someday.
So what do I think?
So what ultimately do I think about VDJ and the potential from switching over
from Serato? Well it’s not a slam dunk and I really wish it was. There there are plenty of really really great features that VDJ has over Serato, automix with POI control really gives me so much more management over my cocktails and dinner.
For dance segments, it’s a good performer, but with a couple odd quirks of workflow on my NS7iii, it keeps me from being a full convert early on. There are some users of the NS7iii, some with different workflows, some with different techniques that did not run into the issues I had. So I could be a real rarity out of the bunch.
Am I a full convert? Not yet, but it’s honestly not far off. The file management is just huge, and how it handles large libraries is outstanding. If you happen to be doing video (which I don’t) then this is definitely the platform for you.
If you are a club DJ, then I still think Serato is the one to beat. It’s more streamlined interface just gives you a clearer path to get things done without anything to get in the way.
I am curious what the next three, five, and ten years will hold. With the buzz getting louder on VDJ will more people adopt? With the rumor of Pioneer ending their relationship with Serato will there be further erosion of Serato that either they put out more features to attract people or will they stay the course?
At a minimum, I hope this article at least opens the eyes on some people that may have not considered VDJ in the past. It is an amazing application but not a perfect application. At a minimum, you should give it a try for a period of time and see if it can be a more powerful tool in your arsenal.
June Follies and a Conclusion
So I thought that the dust was going to be settled on VDJ vs. Serato for my use, but it seems fate had other plans. In may I had dislocated my shoulder in karate which forced me to rethink my setup. I could no longer reliably lift my heavy NS7iii controller and case onto my folding stand which drew me to go back to my decks + mixer setup. And since I really needed something that could work in farms, barns, and tents where the floor is not so nice to things like needles and timecode I had a choice to make of using my Phase or picking up a pair of Rane TWELVES which I decided on a later (and that is another story to tell).
So after buying my TWELVES and hooking them up to my Rane 62 I had one day of practice to break them in and see if I could find any issues. All seemed well so it was off to my next wedding (check out the Gig Log here). Not only did that wedding pose some other issues I discovered a couple of show stoppers using VDJ with the TWELVES. One big one was this “wow and flutter” sound that would come and go. I could not isolate the issue to any specific thing but also heard of some others with similar complaints. I also ran into an issue with automix where the transition between songs caused the platter and waveforms to slow down abruptly and pick back up on each track. I did not remember hearing this with the NS7iii but it was always there on the TWELVES. The automix feature was one of the core reasons for me to use VDJ so my cocktails and dinner could have nice transitions without me having to be behind the decks.
So with that in mind, I had a decision to make… and that decision was to go back to Serato. Above all, I need stability and predictability which at least with the TWELVES I cannot achieve with VDJ. Now I am quite certain that the folks at VDJ are hard at work to make sure these work perfectly in the program, and it is a tremendous program that everyone should consider. But for me, for now, with this current setup, the nod has to go to Serato.
And yet… I switch again…
I don’t know if this article can continue to expand, but it certain has done just that. As noted above, In September of 2019 I found myself switching back to VDJ after some critical fixes to my workflow on the NS7iii (specifically pitch lock) and now that my dislocated shoulder was feeling good enough to lift heavier equipment I threw this back into my rotation. Then on Sunday September 22nd 2019 Atomix decided to revamp the UI to make some major improvements. So one of my pet peeves of the design has now been morphed into a slick interface. I plan to do a retake on my shootout between Serato DJ and VDJ with 2020 to compare against feature for feature, but that will take some time to get out.
This article was originally published on February 9th, 2019. An update and conclusion published on July 9th, 2019. And yet another update published on September 23rd, 2019.
Biography: Lou Paris has been DJing since 1988 and has a deep passion for music of all styles and genres and became a wedding DJ in 2012. Coincidentally, Lou is also a successful 20+ year IT professional and has merged many technology concepts to ensure a successful night of entertainment. Click here to learn more about Lou's background and if you find this content interesting contribute to my Patreon.