Review: Pioneer’s Rekordbox Preparation Software

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What if you could set all your cue points and loops for your DJ music from anywhere, at any time, straight from your iPad or Android phone? Well, you can. That is, if you use Pioneer hardware to DJ. That’s right, Pioneer’s new version of Rekordbox has given its customers a simple, free software for mobile track analysis that Serato and Traktor junkies will be wishing they had. Today we investigate what Rekordbox is all about and how useful the software really is.

Reviewed: Rekordbox 2.0.1, Rekordbox for iOS 1.1.2, Rekordbox for Android 1.1
Price: Free (after submitting email and survey answers)
System Requirements (Recommended):

Mac OS X: 10.5.8, 10.6, 10.7 (10.8 Mountain Lion not officially supported at the time of this publication); 1.6GHz or greater Intel Core Duo; 1GB RAM
PC: Windows 7, Vista, or XP; 2GHz or greater Intel Pentium 4 (or compatible); 1GB RAM
iOS: iPhone, iPod touch or iPad running iOS 5.0 or later
Android: Get current info on compatible devices at the Rekordbox FAQ

The Good: Allows convenient, mobile analysis and preparation of tracks, including cue and loop points, for certain advanced Pioneer DJ gear. Accurate processing courtesy of MixVibes technology. iTunes compatibility. Desktop and mobile versions connect wirelessly.

The Bad: Music transfers from computer to mobile devices over Wi-Fi only, not USB. No music transfer from mobile device to computer. Limited Pioneer gear support for wireless music playback from mobile devices.

The Bottom Line: Rekordbox gives Pioneer-using DJs the advantages of computer-based music management and track analysis in a free-to-use software. The addition of iOS and Android versions lets DJs do their track preparation from wherever they like. Its a fairly simple, yet very handy service and succeeds in its execution.

BACK ON THE TRAIL

For all of its many important and iconic contributions to DJ technology, Pioneer hasn’t exactly been  the pioneer of computer DJing, mainly instead focusing on building hardware than software. That’s why it’s all the more surprising and pleasing that with the new versions of Rekordbox, Pioneer may have stumbled across the bridge to the future, leaving behind a breadcrumb trail for other DJ companies to follow.

Essentially, Rekordbox is the music management software for a select amount of Pioneer gear: CDJ-2000nexus, CDJ-2000, CDJ-900, CDJ-850, CDJ-350, MEP-4000, DJM-2000, DJM-900nexus, RMX-1000, and XDJ-Aero. Each hardware unit has varying levels of compatibility with the information that Rekordbox can save. The CDJ-2000nexus takes the fullest advantage of all of the Rekordbox features.

Inside Rekordbox, you can store and manage your music collection. The software analyzes and saves the waveform, beat grid, BPM, and key (optional within the Preferences) information of music files, which can then be loaded quickly into a Pioneer DJ player either through a USB device, SD card, wireless LAN, or a Pro DJ Link (wired LAN).

Also crucial to track preparation, you can save cue points, 3 Hot Cues and up to 10 loops per track, all of which you can set in the software using its scrolling waveform playback and real-time quantizing. You can also add artwork, ratings, and other info to tracks, as well as create Playlists and Hot Cue Banks. Rekordbox is compatible with your iTunes collection’s playlists, ratings, etc. and can easily import all of that information.

DESKTOP BOX

While you could use Rekordbox only on a mobile device, the heart of the Rekordbox system is meant to be the desktop software. Here you can create a repository of all the music and data for your DJ sets.

Begin by importing your music collection into Rekordbox from iTunes, another location in your computer’s directory, an external drive, etc. From there you can upload music wirelessly to Rekordbox on an iOS or Android device. From there, you can either load the music wirelessly to a compatible Pioneer player (currently only the CDJ-2000nexus and XDJ-Aero can connect to the mobile app) or sync your changes back to the desktop software. You can then load music either to USB storage or an SD card for playback. Another option is to connect a laptop directly to a Pro DJ Link wired LAN. After a DJ performance, the playlist from the DJ player, as well as any changes made to the music files, can be loaded back into Rekordbox.

As a piece of software, Rekordbox isn’t anything revolutionary, but it’s meant to be a time-saving and convenient way to prepare your music for a performance on Pioneer gear. When you first import music into the Collection, Rekordbox analyzes the music and saves analysis files to a folder on your machine. Like any track browser, you can view and sort your collection by 31 categories based on tags and other file information.

The software features playback, cues, hotcues, loop points, and the ability to save everything into memory. With the Playlist tab in the browser, you can create Pioneer-friendly playlists to use in your sets. Click the Collection right arrow to expand the music Collection side-by-side with the Playlists for easy dragging-and-dropping (see screenshot below).

To import iTunes playlists, go to the Bridge tab of the browser, navigate to the iTunes playlist you want, and right-click on it to select Import Playlist. You must import it to your Collection if you want to use it with your Pioneer gear.

When you’re ready to either send music to a mobile device or to a USB drive or SD card to use with Pioneer gear, click the Devices tab in the browser. You’ll see compatible external media that you can drag tracks or playlists to. Anything you save to external media will appear in a Contents folder, which is what compatible Pioneer gear will use. You don’t have to format your external media specifically for Rekordbox/Pioneer, which is nice.

There is also a WiFi/Mobile button to connect to an Android or iOS device. If you have your mobile running the Rekordbox app on the same network as the computer, a message will pop up on the mobile screen asking you to connect.

TRACK TRANSFER OPTIONS

Keep in mind that the Rekordbox system lets you transfer music from your computer to your smartphone or tablet, but you can’t transfer music from the mobile device to the computer. You can only sync the track settings changes from the mobile to the computer.

Another option is to analyze pre-existing music on the mobile device and then to load that music directly to Pioneer gear over wireless LAN, but that option is currently only available for the XDJ-AERO and CDJ-2000nexus. Android devices can also connect to the CDJ-2000nexus over USB.

I had a USB stick with music stored in a Contents folder from the Rekordbox desktop software. Then I tried to drop some songs into that Contents folder that had been processed in Rekordbox for Android. However, those songs from the Android device would not load into a CDJ-2000, while the music from the laptop would.

With those limitations, it seems to make sense in most cases to have any music you want to use in your computer, transfer it to the mobile device to create settings, and then sync those settings to the computer prior to playback.

Rekordbox on an Android tablet in landscape view.

LITTLE BOXES – REKORDBOX ON MOBILE

Whether on an iPhone, iPad, Android smartphone or tablet, the Rekordbox app looks basically the same. The menu page hooks you up with main options to Import music from the device’s memory, Connect with Rekordbox desktop software, Load music to a networked Pioneer device, or Prepare tracks.

Any music that was transferred from Rekordbox on a computer will already appear in the music menu that comes up when you touch Prepare. From there you can navigate to the song you want to load in the player.

The mobile app player retains most of the important features of the desktop version. You have a two waveform views: a smaller one that shows the whole track and the locations of any saved Hot Cues and loops, and the larger scrolling waveform.

Again, you can set Cue, Hot Cue, and loop points in real time with or without Quantize, or scrub the waveform to the desired spot for setting a point. Rather than 10 selectable loop slots, the mobile Rekordbox lets you save set loops with the Memory button, and then gives you arrow buttons for jumping from one loop to the next.

While the Rekordbox app appears to be designed for the small screens of smartphones — and looks sharp and clear on those screens — it also scales up well to full tablet size.

ON WITH THE SHOW

The first time I tried to load Rekordbox-prepared music into a CDJ-2000 from a USB thumb drive, the Hot Cue and loops were showing up in the hardware’s display, but when I would hit the Hot Cue buttons, my saved Hot Cues were not loading. I found out later that it was because when preparing the music files, I didn’t have “Prepare Hot Cue Auto Load setting for CDJ use” in the desktop Preferences and “Enable Auto Load Hot Cue” in the mobile app Settings — these options are turned off by default.

I’d rather have those options turned on by default – but that’s what I get for breaking my normal habit of reading manuals. Once I reloaded the music to the USB stick with Hot Cue Auto Load turned on, the Hot Cues responded well next time I loaded them into the CDJ-2000.

Loops and other settings and track information also showed up and worked just fine from the CDJ-2000’s USB menu. Really, once you get the music files to the Pioneer gear, the Rekordbox work is over, and it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. The preparation and pre-analyzing of waveform, BPM, key, etc. save time and can take your mind off those details so you focus on your set.

The Rekordbox files also worked like a charm on the CDJ-900, although with the 900, a lot of the features, such as Hot Cues, aren’t available. You can get an idea of what Rekordbox features will apply to what Pioneer from the online Rekordbox manual.

For example, with the DJM-2000 mixer connected to Rekordbox over a Pro DJ Link, you can monitor Rekordbox music through the DJM-2000 headphones without playing it on a CDJ.

SUBJECTIVE VIEWS

For all of its convenience, Rekordbox deserves some props, but more importantly, it also functions and responds well. Whether using the desktop or mobile version, the BPM and key detection proved to be highly accurate, with some slight variations that seem to be inevitable no matter what software you’re using. The Quantize feature also consistently set cue and loop points on the nearest beat grid division, as advertised.

For the most part, the touch response of Rekordbox in its iOS and Android versions was also accurate enough to drop cue and loop points in real time with the Quantize turned on. Waveform scrubbing worked really well, too, making it easy to set points with the playback paused.

Basically, everything that Rekordbox IS is good. And its bottom-line coolest feature, which lets DJs analyze and prepare their tracks from mobile devices, is the one that Native Instruments, Serato, and others should go after recreating for their users as soon as they can.

However, it’s what Rekordbox is not that could still use some work in the future. Even recognizing its cool apps, for the most part, Rekordbox is not truly a “post-PC” system. The dream of a traveling DJ carrying only some gadgets and USB drives and then showing up to the club booth to rock the CDJ-2000s still isn’t quite fulfilled here. To have that, the mobile versions of Rekordbox would need greater compatibility with Pioneer gear, both wirelessly and over USB.

At the very least, it would be great if tracks prepared in Rekordbox on Android could be saved to SD card or USB drive and then played directly on Pioneer hardware. Unlike iOS, Android is an open system whose devices usually have SD card and/or USB drive compatibility.

Regardless of all that, Rekordbox is a no-brainer for DJs using compatible Pioneer hardware. It’s convenient, easy to operate and free of charge (you do have to answer some survey questions and provide your email to Pioneer). Pioneer is building an intriguing system with room to grow, and it seems that the company intends to keep building on it. Here’s to blazing new trails. -Markkus Rovito

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  • Billy dj bad

    I have just bought pioneer xdj-rx and been playing with it all night. Now rekordbox is in white at top on this machine ??? Do I have to get laptop with record box installed on it to get it to work through my new deck ????

  • dean

    can i use my tracks directly from spotify?

  • I’m really hating this piece of software. Even more striking is the snobby attitude of Pioneer regarding this software (see http://forums.pioneerdj.com/entries/20118251-Read-this-thread-before-posting-for-help-with-Rekordbox)). It’s like a little spoiled child. Blegh.

  • Mike

    Bad one

  • DG

    Playing on cdj with usb is dope. But (yes there’s a but…)
    how can you update playlist in rekordbox when you updated it on itunes, then update usb key? Whithout erasing the key and loosing 3 hours of analyse. thanks by advance 🙂

  • kane

    Great app in terms of bridging the current wasteland of apps for Android music management, audio player, and djing. However, it intermittently will shut down upon screen lock, memory hog, and general functionality as music player is lacking. Still the best option for me at the moment, hope they continue to develop this software because it has a lot of potential.

  • AND AGAIN. WHERE IS NATIVE INSTRUMENTS SOFTWARE FOR THIS!!??

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to quote myself from a post at the NI forum to show a few of the downsides of the Rekordbox Software on the Mac:

    “[…] the biggest deal breaker for me to go without Traktor is the rekordbox software!

    This is a piece of $%!& – no wonder that Pioneer doesn’t want people to use software for DJing 😉

    I have 2 USB-Sticks that are filled with a rekordbox library that
    includes the Traktor timecode files as well as a copy of the most
    important parts of my Traktor library which I can use as a backup if
    anything goes wrong with my setup.

    Every now and then when I update those sticks with the newest playlists
    from Traktor (using the fabulous Rekord Buddy app for Mac OS) I
    obviously need to touch rekordbox. This is where I’ll always get angry
    and annoyed of this software: It regularly crashes without a foreseeable
    reason and copying the files to the USB-Stick takes ages (more than 1
    hour for about 2000 songs, which would just take about 15 minutes if I
    just copied the files)
    I wonder how people using this workflow on a regular basis deal with
    those issues – I would switch to Traktor hands down because of this
    madness […]”

    Full post: http://www.native-instruments.com/forum/showpost.php?p=1092039&postcount=459

  • Ableton Warping app for iOS… that’s what I want

  • This is one of the coolest, yet least useful features I have ever seen.

  • Warley Tomich

    I´ve tried various versions of Rekordbox but the software simply crashes as soon as it starts on my computer (Win 7). I´ve identified that this problem occurs due to Rekordbox automatic track analysis process. I´ve been looking for a solution to this problem for a long time till now. I saw other people complaining about this problem on the Net as well, but the Pioneer advice is erase the pre loaded Rekordbox library and import all my music again and thus lose all the work already done ;-( This is impractical since I have 80K tracks to be analyzed every time I reload them.
    So my opinion about the software is that it should be extremely stable even before being useful.

  • totally off topic. I <3 DJTT and the forums but dude, site is SLOWWWW as shit!!! Pretty sure it's not my computer or network. May need some more servers dudes!

  • Spkr4thDeaD

    Pretty good article although I noticed one thing wrong. (Maybe I just read it wrong though) you can ALSO connect iOS devices to a CDJ-Nexus through USB. (I believe the article just says you can connect android devices.) in fact the nexus even comes with a locking iOS connector.

    I do have a few gripes with rekordbox though. I don’t like having to deal with multiple libraries. I already organize everything in iTunes, and don’t want to have to import everything in a seperate library to then have to make a seperate playlist to then copy it to a USB drive. Too redundant.

    Analyzing tracks on iOS is great, and I prefer it over analyzing them on my Mac. (Especially from my iPad) you can almost completely go without using the desktop version of recordbox by syncing the music you want to use for your set with iTunes and then on your ios or android device, import the music you want to use into the recordbox app.

    This would be more than ideal seeing as we already take cell phones with us wherever we are. Essentially all you need to do to play is bring headphones to the club, no USB needed. (And your cellphone of course) and the beauty of this is that if you forgot to sync a song with your phone or you found a new track you want to throw into your set, download it from a store or iTunes Match or whatever (your library in the cloud) analyze it on the fly and you’re good to go.

    The only problem with such a dream setup is that pioneer does not support lossless codecs with the app. No wav, aiff, apple losseless etc. so sad, especially if you have tried to collect high quality music.

  • Anonymous

    Traktor & Serato please take notice. There’s a lot of potential in this.
    Because this is what I want from my music software:
    – Preparing should not be hard work. First time a track loads it should instantly get all the basic settings right: Start point, beat grid, bpm, key, etc.
    – Managing should not be hard work. Collection and settings stored and synced in the cloud, automatically looks for cover art on the internet, automatically detects the correct genre.
    – Always accessible everywhere: Collection and settings synced and stored on multiple devices (smart phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) on multiple platforms (iOS, OSX, Android, Chrome, Windows, Windows Phone, etc.)
    – Exchangeable: On multiple software (Traktor, Serato, iTunes, Virtual DJ, Media Player, Media Monkey) and multiple hardware (Pioneer, NI, Rane, Allen & Heath, Denon, Numark, etc.)
    – Sharable: In multiple ways (Wifi, NFC, IRC, Blue Tooth, WAN, LAN, USB, etc) to multiple platforms (Soundcloud, Facebook, Spotify, Twitter, email, Drop Box, Skydrive, iCloud, Xbox Music, Google Play, iTunes, PS3 etc.)

    We’re getting there with software like Rekordbox but not quite yet. However, when we do we can finally concentrate 100% on the real important stuff: being creative with music 🙂

  • Whereismadeon?

    Wasn’t there supposed to be a how I play with Madeon?

  • JackSon

    iOS users with iCloud keep in mind that Rekordbox will turn on icloud sync for your WHOLE music collection by default which may make you unable to back up your device to iCloud. You can turn it off in iCloud settings.

  • I find the iOS version useful for just prepping tracks, making playlists, etc. while you are on the go (bus,train). Then just sync the mobile app to computer with all the work you did and throw songs onto flash drives. On the side note, does anyone know of a program similar to Rekord Buddy, but for windows?

  • “I had a USB stick with music stored in a Contents folder from the Rekordbox desktop software. Then I tried to drop some songs into that Contents folder that had been processed in Rekordbox for Android. However, those songs from the Android device would not load into a CDJ-2000, while the music from the laptop would.”

    Careful – Rekordbox doesn’t work this way. I’ve been using Rekordbox to manage my music for a couple of years now (I use CDJs exclusively), and this is one of the nuances that can be a pain in the butt for people who don’t realize how Rekordbox works under the hood.

    When you export a playlist, Rekordbox exports additional information as hidden files. The tracks are exported, but they’re not modified. All of the additional information – BPM, gridding, hot cues, loops, etc. – is stored in another file. I believe it’s an XML file, but don’t quote me on that; I’m not at home and can’t check. What this means is that you can’t “drag and drop” tracks into a Rekordbox USB; the tracks themselves will be there, but the library information – what you really want – will not.

    The latest version of Rekordbox has substantial improvements in write speed and stability than previous versions, but it can still get better. I have had no issues of crashes (using Pro DJ LINK and CDJ-900s) with 2.0 and above. I did notice that Rekordbox crashed not infrequently with 1.6 and below (though I hadn’t personally tested Pro DJ LINK with those; I use external hard drives back then).

  • While I like the idea of being able to set a playlist and even cue points anywhere with any device, I’m not sure how practical or important that is. I don’t find myself walking around thinking “OMG! I must set this loop point in this part of the song RIGHT NOW or I’ll forget it!” and when I have ideas regarding songs I want to pair, I write them down in my notes (either electronically on my phone or on paper, but they’re organized). I get that some people like to have static sets and that they want to be able to add songs to a playlist, but we’re talking about an obscure part of DJing and enabling the OCD nature of the DJ… I’d hardly call this revolutionary or even important. The best part I can think of RekordBox is the Key Detection, but Mixed in Key seems to have that part of the market wrapped up.

    • really, key detection? Could not find it in article, nor have noticed before in rekordbox (using it for more than 2 years). Where can I see that?

    • Anonymous

      Not considering that Rekordbox is free key detection for anyone, and MIK costs money.

  • Shishdisma

    “The first time I tried to load Rekordbox-prepared music into a CDJ-2000 from a USB thumb drive, the Hot Cue and loops were showing up in the hardware’s display, but when I would hit the Hot Cue buttons, my saved Hot Cues were not loading. I found out later that it was because when preparing the music files, I did not have a certain option selected in the settings. This option — “Prepare Hot Cue Auto Load setting for CDJ use” in the desktop Preferences and “Enable Auto Load Hot Cue” in the mobile app Settings — is turned off by default in the software.”
    To this day, I have absolutely no idea why anyone would every want all of the hot cues for a single track to be loaded every time you load the track. Can anyone explain this? It literally completely invalidates the underlying purpose of having the hot cues in the first place! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills here, it makes no sense!

  • D-Kem

    Traktor users wanting to sync their data to Rekordbox may want to check out Rekord buddy.

  • On a related note, is there an iOS app for editing ID tags for MP3s? I really just want to be able to add comments and fix genres so that the songs go into the correct smart playlists in iTunes.

  • I got through the 1 paragraph and stopped. This is crap. Serato and Traktor have things like this already. I had my serato mapped to my ipad and then a ps3 controller just because I could. There’s a reason this app is free.

    • Spacecamp

      Incorrect – this is a track preparation standalone application – no such thing exists for Traktor or Serato.

      • Daniel Lawson

        Exactly, Id love this for Traktor!

  • Chuck Taylor

    If only Pioneer and NI could work out a deal where analyzed tracks in Rekordbox could be read with the same settings in Traktor, the game would be over. As of now, you have to keep to different music collections analyzed for the two different platforms.

    • What needs to happen is a new generation of ID3 tags, maybe ID4 or IDJ. These would follows MP3s as they are imbedded. This way artists can add, bpm, key, beatgrid, waveform, cue and even loop data to the MP3 for purchase. Think of how awesome it would be to buy a track from Beatport and have it already prepared for DJing by the artist who made it!

      • st.villanus

        Lazy. Should the artist give advice on what tracks to mix with the song, too?

      • Play!Doh

        ID3 v2 already supports “chapter” markers, and you could write your own tags for the rest. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ID3#ID3v2

    • May I point out this? http://nextaudiolabs.com
      I does exactly what you suggest. Game over 🙂

      • Anonymous

        THIS I need on my Windows PC.
        Would love both apps on my Windows Phone as well btw. Hopefully the platform becomes interesting enough in the future for developers to port these apps to.

  • Stéphan

    Too bad you can’t connect from your phone to pre-nexus 2000’s over USB yet. I hope they’re fixing that soon, as barely any clubs around here already have nexuses installed.

  • djbchi

    it’s garbage right now, constantly crashes when transferring and then after it crashes and you open the app back up, the tracks that did transfer are not in RB but they are still taking up the room on your iPad and the only way to delete them is delete the app and reinstall, sad release as of now

  • I downloaded this app for my ipad, and never use it. It takes too long to load up songs, and crashes way too frequently for me to consider it for prepping sets. I think one day it will be sorted out, and prob way better but for now I do not use this app.

  • Guest

    I think this is not the killer feature/app you make it out to be. IMO, it remains a cool toy until syncing gets better.

    And arguably, this sort of app will *really* take off when (mobile) broadband speed is fast enough such that we can store our track collection in the cloud.

  • Whatever

    Major coup by Mixvibes! And to think that I’m purposely buying an iPad Mini next month just so that I can analyse/prep tracks during the morning/evening commute with Djay or Deckadance.

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