Skip to main content Skip to footer
Call 866‑388‑4445 or chat for exclusive deals, plus save on orders of $199+
Search
View Cart

Finding the Right DJ Software

Finding the Right DJ Software

Choosing your DJ software is one of the most pivotal decisions you can make—not only when building out your rig, but also for optimizing workflow for your style of DJing. Whether you’re a total beginner or a seasoned DJ who’s willing to swap some hardware if necessary, familiarizing yourself with what each software does and doesn’t do will help you pick one that optimizes your DJing experience. Because DJ hardware tends to “lock” you into using one or two types of software, cueing up your software first and using that to filter your options for gear is a wise move that can save you precious time, money and effort down the road.

Table of Contents

What Is DJ Software and Why Is It Important?
rekordbox—Pioneer DJ’s Club Standard
   Using DVS With rekordbox
   Who Should Use rekordbox?
Serato—the Scratch DJing Icon
   Using DVS With Serato
   Who Should Use Serato?
TRAKTOR—Native Instrument’s Gift to DJing
   Using DVS With Trkator
   Who Should Use Traktor?
Virtual DJ—the Full-featured Original
   Using DVS With Virtual DJ
   Who Should Use Virtual DJ?
Other DJ Software Worth Considering
   Engine DJ
   djay Pro AI
Build Your DJ Rig Around Your Software

What Is DJ Software and Why Is It Important?

From preparation to performance, the role that DJ software plays depends on whether you’re gigging with a laptop or USB drive. If you’re a laptop DJ, it serves a couple primary purposes: preparing and playing your music. It gives you a platform to prepare your music library, where it builds graphical waveforms, analyzes your tracks to determine key and BPM, and lets you add cue points, create loops and build playlists. Software that makes it easy to edit metadata—artist, album, song title, year, genre, etc.—or even automatically update it for you, is key for preparing your set as well. It also functions as a performance tool, serving as the “brain” of your system—with your controller essentially acting as a remote control for the DJ software on your laptop. Your jogwheels, faders, knobs and performance pads are functioning as input devices for your software. And your software displays your decks, waveforms, timeline within the song and, most importantly, your library. If you’re a USB DJ, you use it as a means to prepare your set, so that all you have to do is plug your USB stick into your gear and work exclusively on that equipment—sans laptop.

While there are some regional differences in DJ software prevalence, which we’ll elaborate on, the two most popular are rekordbox and Serato, which are about neck and neck in terms of users. And at about half the numbers of rekordbox and Serato, TRAKTOR and Virtual DJ have a roughly even share between the two. In much smaller numbers, Engine DJ—made by inMusic, the parent company of Denon DJ, RANE and Numark—has seen its popularity rising in recent years, and Algoriddim’s djay Pro AI has a small yet enthusiastic, growing following as well.

rekordbox—Pioneer DJ’s Club Standard

Pioneer DJ has been the club-standard brand for DJ gear for quite some time—and this has had enormous implications on the trajectory of its in-house DJ software, rekordbox dj. Every Pioneer DJ rig, from the beginner-favorite FLX-4 controller to the pro-level CDJ-3000 media player, uses rekordbox. Originally developed as a music preparation software in 2009, it made the jump to a full-fledged professional DJ software in 2014. Its beginnings are evident today, as its functionality as a prep tool are unrivaled. And unlike Serato and Virtual DJ, which don’t make hardware of their own, you can only use rekordbox with Pioneer DJ gear. Some of the more advanced features, like vocal position detection and display, as well as DVS control, require a subscription.

It's modern, powerful, has streaming services built in, and you can even create playlists comprised of music from multiple streaming platforms. It also boasts video playback, lighting control and cloud library features. The related tracks feature can help you decide which song to cue up next, with BPM, genre and key as your criteria. However, at the time of this article’s publishing, rekordbox currently doesn’t have the real-time stems feature that Virtual DJ, Serato and djay Pro AI have.

In early 2023, rekordbox is releasing a completely overhauled, feature-rich iOS and Android app, offering more versatile, streamlined performance for both standalone and laptop DJs alike. It offers Beat Loop, Manual Loop, Performance Pads—including Hot Cues and 4 Beat/Exit—Pad FX, Release FX, Beat Jump and Sampler. Mic settings like EQ, Effects, Talkover—which attenuates midrange frequencies from your music as you speak—Feedback Reducer and more can be controlled by the app. It even covers more meticulous details like Back Spin length, Crossfader Reverse, Crossfader Cut Lag, channel- or master-level meter selection, Smart Fader settings and many others. You can manipulate rekordbox with MIDI control via Bluetooth as well.

Using DVS With rekordbox

More recently than its top competition, Pioneer DJ added a DVS (Digital Vinyl System) component when it introduced rekordbox dvs. This technology allows DJs to use timecode vinyl on a turntable to control their laptop’s software, and is only available via a paid subscription to the Core, Creative or Professional rekordbox tiers. Like other DVS platforms, it offers absolute and relative modes. Absolute mode acts like traditional vinyl, such that needle position determines what is playing. This means if the needle skips, you’ll hear it. Relative mode, on the other hand, is a bit more forgiving and will take the direction of rotation into account rather than the position of the playhead on your control vinyl. It will also give you more digital control via hot cues and sync, for example.

Who Should Use rekordbox?

You should use rekordbox if you’re a professional club DJ, aspire to be one, prefer a standalone workflow and showing up to gigs with nothing but a USB drive. Of course, simply having an affinity to Pioneer DJ gear might be reason enough to become a rekordbox devotee. Compatible with Mac and PC, and iOS and Android apps, it’s an excellent all-around choice of DJ software, and one of the most prevalent.

Serato—the Scratch DJing Icon

Serato DJ has its roots in Pitch ’n Time, which was developed in 1997—and eventually became one of Serato DJ Pro’s most famous Expansion Packs. Created by Serato co-founder Steve West, Pitch ’n Time’s original purpose was to help him to learn how to play complicated bass parts by slowing them down—but without altering the pitch. Needless to say, that kind of technology had a useful application in the DJ world, too. What became Serato DJ earned its reputation early on as a scratch DJ’s software, especially in the United States. While it’s since gained ground in functionality for other types of DJs, its foothold in the scratch DJ community is undeniable. Designed by laptop DJs for laptop DJs, Serato requires a laptop in all uses, not allowing for a USB export option—unlike rekordbox. Another major distinction is that Serato doesn’t manufacture its own hardware, meaning you’ll be using licensed, Serato-ready hardware from a third party. Due to its ubiquity, the biggest names in DJ gear—even the ones who also have their own software—including Pioneer DJ, Denon DJ, RANE, Roland, Reloop and Numark, make Serato-compatible hardware. Yes—while rekordbox and Serato are dueling titans in the DJ software realm, they also work together to make some Pioneer DJ hardware compatible with Serato DJ. The beginner-friendly DDJ-FLX4 and DDJ-REV1-N up to the higher-end all-in-one XDJ-XZ system are a few examples of Serato-branded Pioneer DJ controllers. This is a testament to Serato’s indispensable value to the DJ community, as well as its renowned reliability as a platform.

Serato is included in the form of Serato DJ Lite with smaller controllers, equipped with a feature set that is aimed at beginning DJs who are learning how to mix and scratch. It comes with a free one-month subscription of Serato DJ Pro, which has been the most popular DJ software in the world in recent years and is available as a paid subscription. Serato DJ Pro offers a slew of modern frills, including streaming integration via SoundCloud, video playback and an exceptionally strong beat gridding system that has an impressive ability to find the important transients, like your kick, snare or other instrumental hits, in non-electronic music—which is something that other software tends to struggle with. This makes Serato an excellent choice for electronic and non-electronic DJs alike.

Serato also offers several additional feature sets in the form of Expansion Packs. Both versions of Serato work with Windows and Mac. Perhaps Serato’s most famous expansion feature is the aforementioned Pitch ’n Time, which revolutionized digital DJing. Other notable expansions are Serato FX, its customizable effects suite; Serato Flip, which lets you extend, shorten, edit, remix or reshuffle your tracks; and Serato DVS, which allows you to control Serato DJ Pro using Noisemap Control tone CDs or Vinyl. And for DJs looking to incorporate video into their sets, the Serato Video expansion gives you the same control over your video as Serato does for audio. In late 2022, Serato introduced stems mixing functionality in its beta release of Serato 3.0—available in both Serato DJ Lite and Pro—joining the ranks of Virtual DJ and djay Pro AI. And while Serato’s stems mixing technology isn’t quite as mature or polished as Virtual DJ’s, the way this feature is cleverly implemented for DJing is arguably more important. 

Using DVS With Serato

Among the several Expansion Packs Serato offers is one that enables DVS capability—and it’s known as one of the best control vinyl options on the market. Serato control vinyl has a reputation for having an authentic feel as well as the lowest latency. It’s also available in a wide range of pressings, for DJs who love to color-coordinate their gear. There are a couple of ways to access Serato’s DVS capability: unlocking it via Serato DVS hardware, or a paid subscription via the Expansion Pack.

Who Should Use Serato?

All in all, Serato is an excellent choice for laptop DJs of various genres, from open format, scratch and hip-hop to electronic. Vinyl turntablists who are looking to live exclusively or primarily in a new digital vinyl system format should seriously consider Serato’s control vinyl, compare it with TRAKTOR Pro’s and see which workflow suits them best. If you don’t mind paying a premium for some of the more advanced features via Serato’s Expansion Packs, Serato DJ Pro can unlock any ambitious DJ’s full potential.

TRAKTOR—Native Instrument’s Gift to DJing

Some time has passed since its heyday at the forefront of DJ software, but Native Instrument’s TRAKTOR PRO boasts a feature set and layout that is beloved by its devotees. Developed in Germany and released in 2000, TRAKTOR has enjoyed enormous success in Europe. Like Serato, TRAKOR PRO 3 is exclusively laptop software, with no USB or standalone option available. And, similar to Pioneer DJ, Native Instruments created TRAKTOR as a proprietary software that is optimized when used in tandem with Native Instruments’ gear, such as the TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 Mk3 controller and the TRAKTOR KONTROL Z1 mixer. Like Serato, TRAKTOR PRO 3 functions well with club-standard gear like Pioneer DJ’s CDJ-3000.

With recent additions in streaming platform integration, TRAKTOR PRO has gained some lost ground on the more cutting-edge rekordbox and Serato. However, it lacks video functionality, and its relatively rigid beat gridding system can leave some non-electronic music DJs hanging. That said, it’s a compelling option for electronic, techno and house DJs who live in the Native Instruments ecosystem—particularly when used for production. And while its interface is complex, with a steeper learning curve than its more widely used competition, TRAKTOR PRO 3’s one-shot samples and looping functionality on its Remix decks is regarded as the industry standard. What’s more, its sound quality is some of the best in the business, with its comprehensive mixing layout, autogain and external mixing options. TRAKTOR PRO 3 saw the introduction of a new limiter type, Transparent, which compresses the signal in a less audible manner than the Classic setting, which lets some slight digital distortion through once the limiter threshold is reached.

While TRAKTOR DJ 2 is offered as a free iPad and desktop platform featuring SoundCloud integration, TRAKTOR PRO 3 is Native Instruments’ flagship DJ software with up to four decks and powerful features like Elastique 3 time-stretching, iTunes sync, filtered Smartlist playlist creation, Sync button to quickly beatmatch your tracks, as well as Hotcue and beatjump functionalities. It also offers over 40 high-quality effects, including TRAKTOR’s celebrated Deck FX for tweaking your tracks, and its new, easy-to-use Mixer FX collection. If you still crave more, TRAKTOR PRO Plus is an add-on subscription that keeps your DJ software up to date with all the latest and greatest features from TRAKTOR.

Using DVS With TRAKTOR

When it comes to its DVS capabilities, TRAKTOR is often regarded as a top choice, along with Serato. TRAKTOR PRO 3 includes TRAKTOR SCRATCH, which allows DJs to use timecode vinyl with the soundcard of their choosing—whether it be TRAKTOR SCRATCH-certified or not. This allows you to use TRAKTOR control vinyl to play back-to-back sets with other DJs using different DVS rigs, so long as you’ve got TRAKTOR PRO 3 on your laptop. You can maximize your TRAKTOR DVS enjoyment when you have the corresponding Native Instruments gear, like the TRAKTOR KONTROL series of DJ controllers and mixers.

Who Should Use TRAKTOR?

TRAKTOR PRO is a solid choice for laptop-toting electronic DJs who prefer bringing their own gear to shows and having meticulous control over their mix, as well as those who have Native Instruments gear and covet that seamless hardware-software integration. If looping is a major part of your workflow, and you love browsing through and implementing effects, you should consider TRAKTOR PRO as well. It also has one of the smoothest-functioning DVS platforms available, on par with the likes of the Serato control vinyl system. Of course, you’ll find scores of veteran electronic DJs who fell in love with TRAKTOR years ago, and still swear by it for its feature set and familiar workflow.

Virtual DJ—the Full-featured Original

One of the first DJ platforms, and perennially among the most popular, is Virtual DJ. It sports the most features of any DJ software, and tends to be ahead of the curve in terms of the newer bells and whistles its competitors eventually end up adopting. It’s similar to Serato in that it’s laptop-only and doesn’t manufacture its own hardware. And while integration may not be as well tied as with other licensed third-party and proprietary setups, it works with practically any DJ hardware.

Among Virtual DJ’s standout, cutting-edge features is its advanced real-time ability to isolate vocals, drums or create an instrumental track—justifiably making it a favorite among karaoke DJs. As the earliest DJ software adopter of this technology, it’s no surprise that it produces the cleanest isolations when compared to Serato and djay Pro AI, which have introduced their versions of stems mixing more recently. This means you’ll hear fewer artifacts from other elements, a fuller sonic character and more consistent dynamics for each isolated element, and smoother starts and ends to vocals. It’s not perfect, as this tech is in its relative infancy, but it is progressing. And, depending on the type of music, the listening experience is understandably more forgiving when blended with other tracks. In any case, it’s a good idea to do a test run to hear how clean it sounds—especially if you plan on shining the solo spotlight on a completely isolated digitally rendered vocal track before playing it in front of a huge crowd.

While other DJ software typically lets you use four decks, Virtual DJ offers up to a jaw-dropping 99. Consistent with its highly customizable nature, Virtual DJ offers a vast assortment of skins you can use to stylize your interface. And, perhaps too powerful for its own good, it also has an auto-mix functionality that lets you cue up your playlist and sit back as Virtual DJ does all the beatmatching and blending for you. This makes it an alluring option for those who are uninitiated in the art of DJing and simply want a software that does all the heavy lifting for the sole enjoyment of listening. For this reason, you won’t see many professional club DJs running Virtual DJ.

Using DVS With Virtual DJ

Virtual DJ lets you plug and play with anything, including Serato control vinyl—though it won’t be quite as responsive as an all-Serato setup. And, unlike Serato DJ Pro’s Expansion Pack, Virtual DJ allows you to use DVS straight away, without an added subscription or need for proprietary hardware. Virtual DJ does, however, have its own control vinyl that is optimized for running its DVS functionality, though this isn’t mandatory for it to work.

Who Should Use Virtual DJ?

In a world of subscriptions, Virtual DJ is a long-term investment that will stay in your DJing arsenal, being the only DJ software in this article to offer a perpetual license with a lifetime of free updates. Whether you’re a mobile, karaoke or video DJ, or someone who loves being on the cutting edge of DJ software features, Virtual DJ is a superb choice.

Other DJ Software Worth Considering

If you plan on bringing your own gear with you to shows, or intend on livestreaming your DJ sets, having a club-standard rig is essentially a nonfactor. Being untethered from venue-supplied gear enables a level of freedom to explore some of the lesser-used DJ software and hardware, since the only people you need to cater to are your audience and yourself. Of course, your software should suit your style of DJing as well as your personal needs and preferences.

Engine DJ

inMusic’s Engine DJ differs from the others mentioned here, in that it’s split into two halves: Engine DJ, exclusively a library preparation software that lives only in your laptop, and Engine OS, which is the firmware that runs on select inMusic-brand-manufactured DJ gear. So, you use Engine DJ to prepare your set, and then export it to an Engine OS-equipped standalone controller or player by Denon DJ or select Numark gear, like the Mixstream Pro. It’s similar to rekordbox in its standalone functionality, but differs in that it doesn’t offer the option to be used with a laptop.

The firmware counterpart to Engine DJ, Engine OS 2.0, evolved from Engine Prime in 2021, effectively freeing it from being used exclusively on Denon DJ’s Prime line—though it’s still proprietary for inMusic brands’ DJ gear. With that evolution came professional-quality DMX DJ lighting via the Sound Switch interface, Ableton link functionality via Wi-Fi or Ethernet, and a more intuitive, easy-to-navigate UI. It also added the ability to prepare tracks streamed from TIDAL, letting you auto-mix those as well. And in late 2022, Engine OS added a highly adjustable “Beat Grid Edit” feature set for streaming tracks. While this functionality can’t be prepared ahead of time on a laptop, it provides a new level of control for aligning the grid as it relates to your music’s transients. Fortunately, so long as you save to a USB drive or SD card plugged into the unit, it’ll keep your grid settings for each song and let you migrate it back to your Engine DJ laptop software.

There are pros and cons to Engine DJ being a relative newcomer. While it doesn’t have some of the library prep features that rekordbox has, it provides Wi-Fi streaming capability and a sleek, fast-working hardware interface with Engine DJ’s corresponding Engine OS. Some Engine-equipped Denon DJ hardware is able to run third-party control vinyl like Serato. Engine can be a solid pick for standalone DJs who prefer the slicker aesthetic, DMX lighting control, tight compatibility with TIDAL and progressive feature set of a newer platform. Engine DJ-ready hardware, such as the Denon DJ Prime Go, tends to be more affordable than the Pioneer DJ standalone equivalents. So, if budget and laptop-free performance workflow are your two most important factors, Engine DJ could very well be the way to go.

djay Pro AI

Heavily inspired by Apple’s software aesthetic, Algoriddim prides itself on having created a thoughtfully designed, easy-to-use, beautifully streamlined interface for its djay Pro AI DJ software. A testament to its inspiration, it even lets Mac users see updates before its PC users. Looks and Mac-favoritism aside, it offers live stems mixing, like Virtual DJ—and is the only other software to do so. It also implements impressive video, streaming and Shazam integration. Its UI lets you select songs to associate with—and mix well with—others under a track’s “Related” section, which can serve as a helpful reminder for where you can go next during a set.

In mid-2022, dj Pro AI launched its own DVS with the release of version 4. Side A of djay Pro vinyl essentially works as any other, but Side B has a unique feature that leverages its stems mixing tech. Side B is comprised of three sections, the first of which will play the song as is, the second as an instrumental and the third a capella. While this functionality can of course be executed on the software alone, it’s a first for control vinyl and opens a world of possibilities for cutting between different elements of a song when using a pair of turntables.

While it’s decidedly not for those looking for a standalone setup, it is laptop- and mobile device-friendly. In fact, it works so well with mobile devices that it will let you use control vinyl with just your iPhone or iPad plugged in and show the waveform on screen—rivaling the gig-ready convenience of plugging in your USB drive. And while there are a few djay Pro-licensed hardware options available, it works well with most gear—especially if you’re a Mac or iOS user.

Build Your DJ Rig Around Your Software

Now that you have the lowdown on the most widely used DJ software, their compatible hardware and what makes them each work for different styles of DJing, you can make an informed selection based on your needs. Like with any new instrument, a learning curve is inevitable, so proceed with that understanding and enjoy the journey. Once you’ve decided on which is the best DJ software for you, it’s time to build out a DJ rig that optimizes your workflow. For more information, check out our article on how to build your DJ rig. As always, come visit your local Guitar Center for all the help you need in finding the right gear for your software of choice and your specific requirements—our associates are always happy to assist.

You are changing the Ship-To country.

Our product catalog varies by country due to manufacturer restrictions. If you change the Ship-To country, some or all of the items in your cart may not ship to the new destination.