LAST UPDATED: 10TH MAY 2021
Choosing the right DJ software doesn’t need to be painful, although there are a couple of things you’ll want to consider.
In this post, we’ll break down the best DJ software providers in the market right now (the 4 most widely used by working DJs around the world), whilst also considering WHO they’re best suited to.
As well as providing the relevant ‘trial’ or ‘demo’ links for the top 4, we’ll also link to our other two suggestions at the end.
Understanding DJ software
Going back to the mid-90s, DJ software was originally developed as a library storage tool, with the idea that DJs would no longer need to lug their heavy record boxes back & forth to gigs. Nowadays, of course, it’s a much more powerful technology, with way more utility.
Once you have your preferred DJ software running on a laptop, all you need is some compatible DJ hardware (like a DJ controller) to take full advantage of its features & functionality. From there, you’ll receive regular ‘in-software’ updates that keep you at the forefront of the latest DJ tech & innovation – for what’s a relatively small investment.
Compatibility with DJ controllers
Whilst there are some DJ controllers that work universally with most DJ software, the majority are only compatible with the software program (or programs) that are endorsed by the manufacturer.
That said, it’s definitely recommended that you stick with the software the controller was designed for (or at least one that’s listed by the manufacturer) if you want to avoid compatibility issues.
Fortunately enough, when you buy a DJ controller the appropriate software usually comes with it!
What else to consider?
As we spoke about in our DJ Controller post, it will help if you already know what the purpose of your DJ setup is. Meaning: is it a stepping stone to playing out or is it just for fun?
And, if you do plan on playing out at some stage, what kind of DJ are you aspiring to be?!
Aside from that, your choice of software can simply come down to which one you’re most excited about and/or which interface you’re most comfortable with. You don’t need to overcomplicate it!
Once you’ve decided (or at least narrowed it down), you can then start looking for a compatible piece of hardware to marry-up with your preferred software.
Now let’s take a look at those top 4 DJ software providers in the market right now…
1: Serato DJ
Serato is very easy to navigate with a nice clean-looking interface, which are great selling points if you’re a beginner. They also have a stripped-back version called Serato DJ Lite, which can be easily upgraded to the Pro version at any point. Usually, the Lite version is fine for your typical two-channel entry-level controllers, although you’ll want the Pro version for anything more serious.
Serato was very popular with scratch DJs back in the day (and still is), and it remains the preferred choice for many pro/working DJs around the world today… in both dance and hip hop circles.
It’s one of the market leaders for good reason, and it’s a great option if you’d prefer not to be locked into one of the main manufacturers’ ecosystem of products (ie Rekordbox with Pioneer’s hardware, or like Traktor with Native Instruments hardware, for example).
Supported streaming services: The latest versions of Serato DJ integrate with streaming platforms including SoundCloud Go+, Beatport Link, Beatsource Link, and Tidal.
Cost: The Pro version starts at $129 USD or $9.99 per month. The most you can pay (if you had the ‘Serato DJ Suite’ license bundle – which most DJs probably wouldn’t need) is $349 USD or $14.99 per month.
Supported hardware: You can view their full list of supported hardware/DJ controllers here.
Free version: download Serato DJ Lite here.
14-day free trial: download Serato DJ Pro here.
Master Serato DJ: View short course
The most recent to enter the market out of this top 4 (quickly gobbling up a significant market share) is Rekordbox. It’s a music management system and DJ software that natively integrates with Pioneer’s hardware.
Because Pioneer setups still remain standard-issue in bars and clubs around the world, one of the most obvious benefits of using Rekordbox would be a smoother transition from bedroom to DJ booth. The reason for this is that Pioneer’s Rekordbox-compatible controllers all mirror a ‘CDJ’ club setup/workflow.
Not only that: if you do ever transition to playing in a bar or club, you can also prepare your music at home in Rekordbox (setting cue points and creating playlists, etc.), put it onto a USB, and not require the use of your laptop in the venue.
The release of Rekordbox 6.0 (and iOS 3.0) in April 2020 brought a completely new 3-tier subscription model, scrapping the licensing model they had previously. The plans include ‘free’, ‘core’ and ‘creative’, with the major changes incorporating cloud music management across all devices (on the top plan) in conjunction with 3rd party services such as Dropbox.
It’s important to note, though: when you purchase a ‘hardware unlock’ device (which is basically any Rekordbox controller) – unless you choose to upgrade your plan at some stage – you won’t need to pay a monthly subscription for the software.
Just bear in mind, you’ll be pretty much stuck in Pioneer’s ecosystem once you’ve chosen Rekordbox.
Latest Update: In their most recent update (6.1.1 in September 2020), you now have ”Edit Mode”, allowing you to create track re-edits right in the software.
Supported streaming services: Beatport Link, Beatsource Link, TIDAL and SoundCloud Go+.
Cost/subscription options: View plans or get a free 30-day trial here. The two ‘paid’ plans both come with 30-day trials, priced at $9.99 for their ‘Core’ plan and $14.99 per month for ‘Creative’.
Master Rekordbox: Take this online course
3: VirtualDJ Pro
One of the longest-standing players in the DJ Software market is Virtual DJ. It supports more DJ controllers and hardware than any other software (even than Serato), boasting ‘plug & play’ support for over 300 controllers.
There are a few different versions and licenses to choose from, starting with a free ‘laptop only’ home version for PC or Mac, right up to their flagship VirtualDJ Pro offering for professional use. You also won’t need to pay for future updates once you’ve purchased a license/plan, and they offer a cheaper Pro license if you only intend to use it with a single DJ controller for home use only.
Known for its live video-streaming and Karaoke features (to name just a couple of things), Virtual DJ is a widely popular choice among mobile DJs and beginners. It’s got a much slicker-looking interface than it did just a few years back, and there’s also a new ‘event scheduler’ feature which would most likely appeal to mobile, wedding and radio DJs.
Latest Update: In June 2020 they introduced ‘stem pads’ which allow for real-time track separation, allowing you to remove or isolate components of a track such as the drums, melodies or vocals in the mix.
Supported streaming services: Beatport Link, Beatsource Link, SoundCloud Go+, and Deezer.
Supported hardware: You can view their full list of supported hardware/DJ controllers here.
Cost/subscription options: The Pro version is either $299 outright or $19.99 a month (USD). There’s also a cheaper ‘single controller license’ for home use only which could cost as little as $49, although it’s only available with certain controllers. Visit their website here for more information.
4: TRAKTOR PRO
Rounding off the top 4, we have TRAKTOR PRO from Native Instruments. It’s most notably a popular choice among DJ/producers that specialize in electronic genres such as house & techno.
Whilst some say that Traktor Pro software isn’t the market leader it once was, it’s still the preferred choice with a lot of performance DJs due to its live remixing capabilities; specifically referring to popular features such as their ‘remix decks’ and ‘stems’ (stems allow you to remove or isolate components of a track), and of course the high-quality range of FX the software has to offer.
Whilst Traktor integrates with Pioneer’s pro gear in a DJ booth (if or when you use it to play out in a club), it’s still strongly advisable you stick with Native Instruments hardware to ensure tight integration with its software – certainly if you’re a beginner that’s just getting started.
Latest Update: The Traktor Pro 3.4 update in September 2020 came with the long-awaited inclusion of Smart Playlists – or ”Smartlists”. This was one of many improvements, and you can get the full breakdown over on this Native Instruments forum page.
Supported streaming services: Beatport Link and Beatsource Link.
Cost: A Traktor Pro license is $99 USD. Try the free demo or get the full version here.
Master Traktor Pro: View short course
Next in line would definitely be djayPro by Algoriddim, which integrates with streaming services like Beatport LINK, Beatsource LINK, TIDAL, and SoundCloud.
Most recently, they introduced their ”Neural Mix” feature, which allows the user to remove (or separate) the elements of a track in real-time, such as the vocals and the drums — similar to the ”stems” feature on Traktor Pro (…note that this version is called djay Pro AI and is currently only available on Mac or IOS).
Whilst djay is mostly popular on IOS devices for mobile and iPad right now, they also brag a seamless integration with your music library for Windows 10.
In addition to an ever-increasing number of DJ controllers, their software also offers native integration with Pioneer DJ’s pro gear in a DJ booth. From an innovation standpoint, it’s arguably the best DJ software on the market.
If you want to see exactly which controllers are supported based on your device/operating system it’s best to visit their website.
Finally, another option would be CrossDJ from Mixvibes. You can download their software for free if you only plan on using two channels. It’s available on iOS, Android, macOS, and Windows.
More resources for beginner DJs:
- What Are The Different Types of DJ?
- A Quick Introduction to DJ Controllers (and how to choose the right one)
- A Quick Introduction to DJ Mixers: EQ’ing, Faders and Levels
- Understanding Monitors, Subwoofers and PA Systems