One undeniable trend in both music production and DJing is that software developers are working overtime to leverage the prevalence of mobile devices (i.e., smartphone and tablets) in both the studio and the DJ booth. Some are going for full functionality on platforms like iOS and Android, as witnessed by the proliferation of DJ apps on these platforms. While I remain a bit skeptical that we’re going to see too many of the top festival DJs of the world doing a gig from their iPhone anytime soon, I do see the value in another popular approach: Extending the studio onto the smartphone or tablet as an adjunct to existing desktop workflows.
It is along these very lines of thinking that I take a look this month at a couple of different options for such control: Conductr, as well as a pair of apps from Portuguese company Imaginando.
Spain’s Patchworks makes Conductr, and the Barcelona-based company designed the product as a powerful tool for both Ableton Live and for Traktor, delivering utility for many different types of DJ Times readers. The app is designed for the iPad, and uses a “server” component (available for download at no charge from their web site), installed and run on your desktop computer, to facilitate a wireless connection between the iPad and your desktop.
For Ableton Live, once installed and fully activated, the product provides a number of modules, which can be selected and loaded into what the makers call the “playground.” The modules include a so-called Brandl MIDI Drum Pad, Claydr MIDI Keyboard, and XY-4D Pad, along with Clips, Master, Mixer and others. The playground can be divided several different ways, and easily changed on-the-fly while using the app, but provides support for one, two, three or four modules to appear on-screen at once. But, for example, when there are four modules up, you can touch an icon and expand any module instantly, or contract them just as quickly.
The interface design is very modern, very Spartan, and not particularly intuitive. Thankfully, the documentation on their web site was quite good, and after a quick view of the highlights, suddenly it all made sense.
Most of the functionality seems geared to Session View users—not Arrangement View users like me. (The same can be said of virtually all Ableton controllers on the market.) That said, it still offered many interesting capabilities, the Claydr Keyboard being one of the most interesting; you can set it to a specific key, the buttons conform automatically, essentially preventing you from hitting a wrong note while developing melodies and the like.
For Traktor, the app provides control for all the usual functionality: transport, mixing, and effects. It was perhaps the effects section that is of the greatest interest; most dedicated hardware controllers for Traktor have fairly anemic (if not non-existent) support for effects, so I could easily see using this function alone, in tandem with existing controllers, to give better hands-on access to effects during a set. However, there still seems to be an awful lot of touching and scrolling that strikes me as something that’d be a little tough to execute well without a fair amount of practice.
I configured Conductr and used it over my regular home wireless network, and much to my surprise, the latency was undetectable. The main wireless access point in my home is just the other side of my studio wall, so conditions could be said to be “optimal.” But the fact that it performed as well as a hardware controller connected via USB was both impressive—and surprising.
Note that Conductr is available solely for iOS devices as of press time—no word on whether Android support is coming.