Review: IK Multimedia DJ Rig
Introduced at CES 2012 alongside the iRig Mix audio mixer accessory, DJ Rig is a double-deck DJ mixing app with features for both the casual and professional user, incorporating not only basic mixing between audio sources but also a host of advanced tools including effects, looping, cueing and sample pads. In addition to mixing tracks loaded from the iOS music library, DJ Rig also supports mixing with external audio sources as well as headphone monitoring via an appropriate DJ adapter cable. Beat matching and synchronization is available both with tracks from the iOS device as well as when using external sources, allowing users to leverage the DJ Rig app as a mixing platform with other equipment.
DJ Rig uses a similar pricing model to IK Multimedia’s other iOS apps: a basic version available on the App Store for $2 with additional features available via in-app purchase, in this case as a $5 “Pro Pack.” The current version of the app is designed specifically for the iPhone and iPod touch, requiring iPad users to run it in 2X mode. The app itself can operate in both portrait and landscape orientations with an appropriate user interface designed for each. In portrait mode, only a single deck is displayed at a time, with buttons to toggle the selected deck and an entire set of controls accessible; landscape orientation presents both decks side-by-side with a more abbreviated set of controls.
Loading tracks in from the iOS music library is relatively straightforward with a couple of important limitations. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that any DRM-protected tracks that you may still have lying around in your library cannot be loaded into DJ Rig; what is less obvious, however, is that if you’re using iTunes Match, anything that you haven’t specifically downloaded to your device will appear as “DRM” protected to the DJ Rig app. Visiting the built-in Music app and downloading these tracks manually will solve this problem easily enough—users may wish to create a playlist of their favourite tracks for quick access in DJ Rig anyway, and iTunes Match users can easily download that entire playlist at the tap of a button from the built-in Music app.
DJ Rig will take a few seconds to analyze each new track that is loaded into the app for the purposes of determining BPM for the beat sync feature. Fortunately, this only occurs the first time a new track is loaded; once a track has been analyzed DJ Rig stores the relevant information in its own database, and tracks that have been previously loaded will show the BPM calculation in the track list and can be loaded without this additional delay. An option is also available to analyze the entire iOS music library at once to avoid future loading delays, although users with large iOS music libraries should expect to leave their device running this process for several hours, preferably while connected to a power source. DJ Rig also helpfully provides an option for backing up this metadata in case you need to reinstall the app or transfer it to another device that shares the same music library.
An external line-in source can also be connected via the device’s headphone port for effects processing and mixing alongside an internal track. A unique X-Sync feature can be enabled to perform beat matching with an external audio source as well when connected with an appropriate cable or accessory, allowing even armchair DJ’s to make smooth transitions between tracks with minimal effort.
DJ Rig provides three output modes for different equipment configurations: A full output mode that simply passes the audio from the selected deck out both headphone jack channels for connecting directly to an external audio output, a DJ mode that can be used with a DJ splitter cable to provide headphone monitoring of the secondary deck or a split mode designed to be used with an external mixer such as the iRig Mix that outputs each deck on a separate channel. In addition to the versatility provided by the different output modes, a number of advanced mixing options are available to allow users to choose different crossfade curves and filters appropriate for the type of music and mixing style that they’re working with. A number of other advanced settings are also available providing for features such as automatic volume levelling, cue-to-beat matching and more.
Use of the app is relatively straightforward, with an analog turntable deck displayed by default that can be used to cue and scratch the currently playing song along with a BPM slider to adjust the virtual turntable speed and a crossfader control at the bottom to mix between decks. In portrait view, options are displayed above the turntable for accessing the three-band equalizer, track info, sample pads, effects, loops and setting and retrieving cues. In landscape mode, these options can be accessed from pop-up menu buttons displayed beneath each turntable. The in-app “Pro Pack” purchase also provides a digital turntable deck that can be used in place of the analog deck.
The FX option provides an XY effects touch pad with twelve effects (6 built-in, 6 available as an add-on in-app purchase); effects can be applied from the pad either on a touch-on/release-off basis or the latch option can be enabled to sustain the effect, allowing for spontaneous and flexible use of effects while mixing. Applied effects are also automatically BPM-synced to the music and an extra effects filter and/or boost can also be applied.
DJ Rig also provides the ability to create beat-synced loops while a track is playing, with a choice of eight loop divisions ranging from 4 to 1/32; tapping on a loop interval toggles the loop on from the current position, the user can then tap again to turn the loop off or tap a different loop interval to change the selected loop division from the new point. The app also provides the ability to store cues for a given track—the basic version supports a single cue point, the IAP upgrade supports up to four—that can then be called up to quickly begin playing from those specific points. Cues are indicated on the turntable view and saved with the other track metadata for use with future sessions.
To spice up the DJ recording and performing aspects further, DJ Rig includes a set of sample-based pads that can be used on-the-fly to add additional sounds and effects. Four 3x3 pad sets are available and every pad can be reassigned to custom sounds from one of the built-in sound banks or any live recorded sample. DJ Rig includes 8 built-in sample sound banks with an additional 7 available for in-app purchase.
In addition to live mixing, DJ Rig can also be used to record mixes, both from internal tracks and external audio sources. Multiple recordings can be stored within the app and recordings can be exported via iTunes File Sharing, e-mail or downloaded to a browser via a direct Wi-Fi sharing connection into the app.
DJ Rig provides a nice mix of features and usability at a very reasonable price for just about anybody interested in turning their iOS device into a DJ mixer. The app provides a comprehensive set of features without requiring a steep learning curve and novice DJs and music-mixing enthusiasts will probably find this a fun app just to download and play around with. More serious amateur and semi-pro DJs will likely find DJ Rig to be a useful app for practising or even some gigs when used simply as a controller in conduction with external hardware such as the iRig Mix. About the only major concern with the app at this point is the lack of a native iPad interface; DJ Rig is fun on an iPhone or iPod touch, but we suspect that serious users will want the larger screen real estate of the iPad, and while the app is certainly usable in 2X mode, it doesn’t look particularly great when blown up to that size, particularly on the third-generation iPad Retina Display, and we’re not convinced that the iPhone-specific interface and controls really make the best possible use of the iPad screen.