First Look: Image-Line Deckadance 2 Beta

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It’s been more than six years since Image-Line launched Deckadance 1.0. After many incremental updates, the version 2 beta has now reared its head to registered users. With a redesigned modular interface, 4-deck support, Smart Knobs, the slick Gross Beat rhythmic effect and other enhancements, Deckadance looks to give the giants of DJ software a run for their money for a second time. Read our full pre-review inside!

Pre-Reviewed: Image-Line Deckadance 2 Beta DJ software
Price: $179 (Club Edition) / $99 (House Edition)
Available: Beta available now to registered users; commercial availability TBA
Supported Audio Formats: MP3, Ogg, M4A, WMA, FLAC, AIFF, WAV (records to WAV)
System Requirements: 

PC: Windows 7, Vista, XP (SP2); Intel PIII 1 GHz or Althon XP 1.4 GHz; 512Mb RAM; DirectSound or ASIO compatible soundcard.

Mac: OSX v10.4 (Universal Binary) or later; G4 1.5 GHz or Intel Core Duo family; 512Mb RAM; CoreAudio drivers.

The Good: Efficient, customizable modular interface. Convenient Beatgrid editing tools. Extremely flexible Smart Knobs with many presets. Infinitely creative Gross Beat effect built-in. 4-deck support. 16-pad sampler. Vertical waveform view. Internal recording to WAV. Straightforward MIDI mapping. Effector VST included. iTunes Browser support. 

The Bad: Sampler can’t route through effects. Some bugs and very glitchy playback in the current beta. Some missing controller and plug-in support in the beta.

The Bottom Line: We have to reserve final judgment until the commercial version launches, but at the very least, Deckadance 2 plays a decent game of catch-up to the most popular DJ programs while adding some amazingly deep performance functionality that’s unlike anything else.

Keep in mind that as this is a first-look preview of a beta software, we’re neither being overly critical of some of the bugs that we experienced, nor did we attempt to find a comprehensive list of bugs. But the biggest problems we had with the beta revolved around the browser. For some tracks, the BPM info didn’t show up, even though they were analyzed/tagged in Mixed in Key and also loaded/analyzed by Deckadance itself. Other BPMs showed up just fine, however, so it was inconsistent.

Also, there were problems reading or finding some tracks in the iTunes library. Occasisionally, Deckadance 2 beta wouldn’t load some of them, even through in previous sessions it would. 

The version we looked at (beta 8) didn’t have the preconfigured controller support loaded that the commercial Deckadance 1.94 did, and also the Effector VST plug-in that will come included with Deckadance 2 was not part of the beta download. There is, however, a short section on Effector below, just to show what the full version of Deckadance 2 should include.

NEWLY DECKED-OUT

The cleanly redesigned, modular Deckadance 2 interface feels more in line with the modern feel of Image-Line’s flagship software, FL Studio, but with an even better handle on clutter that can populate the FL Studio screen. On the Deckadance 2 top menu bar, buttons let you quickly toggle from 2 to 4 decks, and loaded songs get the delicious multi-color waveform treatment.

You can set the decks to include 0-8 Smart Panels, which are small control panels for segments of deck functions, including Loop, Cue, Grid, DVS, Key, Smart Knobs and Tempo. Within a small space, the Smart Panels offer a full complement of looping controls, 8 cue points to set/trigger per track, a convenient set of beat grid editing controls, etc. Like Deckadance’s other software controls, each Smart Panel control can be mapped to a MIDI controller from Preferences > MIDI Learn. 

SMART KNOBS – CUSTOMIZABLE MACRO CONTROLS

Deckadance 2's Smart Knob editor window

The Smart Panels of Deckadance 2 decks are a nice new cosmetic addition to the software’s interface, but one of the particular Smart Panels, the Smart Knobs, represent a giant leap forward in Deckadance’s programmability and real-time performance potential.

Each deck can have two Smart Knobs active. Basically, Smart Knobs group 2 or more functions onto a single knob, and Image-Line has included dozens of useful presets related to effects, EQ, the dedicated channel filter, track volume and the crossfader. 

You can also while away hours of your time (or seconds, if you’re fast) creating your own Smart Knob settings, which you can then save to disk. You can choose any number of 20 parameters to assign to a Smart Knob, and each parameter has an editable x-y curve that determines the relationship between the knob input to the control output. You can also insert any number of control points to the x-y curve, and assign them shapes like Pulse, Stairs, or Half Sine.

Editing the Smart Knobs could be a brain-melting affair if you go really deep with it, or if you just want to do something simple like make an effect parameter go up while the dry/wet mix goes down, you can do that fairly easily.

(Editor’s Note: Do Smart Knobs look familiar? You might have seen these types of automation curves in the Mapulator Max4Live automation tool that BentoSan released over a year ago)

Deckadance 2's Gross Beat Function Panel

GROSS BEAT

Definitely one of the coolest new additions to Deckadance 2, Gross Beat is a stand-alone plug-in from Image-Line that’s been built into the new DJ software. It’s a pattern-based effect that manipulates the pitch, playback position and volume of audio in real time to create a vast variety of stutter, repeat, reverse, gating, scratch, and other turntable-style effects in 4-beat (1-bar) chunks.

You can access Gross Beat from one of the six tabs on the Function Panel, which is the center section of Deckadance 2, comprising the mixer, effects, sample, Peakscope (vertically scrolling waveforms), VST plug-ins, and Gross Beat.

Each deck gets 8 Gross Beat slots for different effects, and there are well over 100 Gross Beat presets of different effect styles. You can simply click on the slots or assign them to controller pads/buttons to trigger the effects in real-time. You can even trigger Gross Beat effects from a paused deck, and they will play back in sync with the master track.

This is a really quick and fun way to add plenty of rhythmic flavor to your music, and of course you can create, edit, and save your own Gross Beat settings from the editor window, which uses pretty much the same x-y axis editor that the Smart Knobs settings use. You can click and drag the Gross Beat curve along the x and y axes, add Control Points, and even flip the curve vertically to see what wildness ensues. If the Gross Beat grid doesn’t make sense right away, you can just observe the grid while the effect plays back, and you’ll soon understand visually how it works.

Gross Beat settings can play back in one-shot, re-trigger, or loop modes.
Deckadance 2's Gross Beat editor window

SAMPLER

Deckadance 2's Sampler Function Panel

Another section of the Function Panel, the Deckadance 2 16-pad sampler almost speaks for itself with its standard 4×4 grid that you can launch in one-shot, trigger, re-trigger or loop modes. You can load up the sampler by dragging and dropping audio from the desktop, right-clicking and loading them from a menu, or recording them from one of the decks. You select the deck and the length of a sample, and then record a sample from an active deck, or drag it from a paused deck, and the sample will start from the current playback position. Deckadance reads the tempo of a sample and can then sync it to the master tempo.

You can assign pads to MIDI controls and save sample sets as an .xml file to be reloaded later.

The sampler is a great addition, but still a bit basic compared to some other DJ software samplers. The level control and headphone cue button apply to the whole sampler, rather than each individual pad. If you load a sample from your hard drive, it doesn’t keep the file name; you have to rename it to know what it is. Also, the sampler routes straight to the master output; you can’t run it through any effects.

ISOLATOR EFFECTS

Deckadance 2's Effects Function Panel

From the FX section of the Function Panel, each deck can have up to 3 active effects from a list of 10: delay, flanger, phaser, highpass, lowpass, auto pan, transformer, bitcrusher, distortion, and reverb. These effects can be tied together through the Smart Knobs if you choose, and as a really cool bonus, you can choose to isolate the effects to any or all of the three EQ frequency bands: High, Mid, or Low. This may be a first for DJ software (let us know in the comments if not), but either way, it’s an especially nice treat for tweakers to play around with routing the effects to one, two, or all three frequency bands.

It’s no surprise with Image-Line’s pedigree of plug-ins coming from the Fruity Loops/FL Studio series that the Deckadance 2 effects all sound professional, holding their own in quality (although not variety) with Traktor’s vaunted effects.

EFFECTOR VST PLUG-IN

As mentioned above, the beta download we got did not include the Effector VST plug-in, although this bonus should be included in the commercial version, so we will include a quick run-down of the plug-in.

Image-Line's Effector VST plug-in, to be included with Deckadance 2

Effector includes 12 effects — many basics, as well as a ring modulator and vocal resonance effect — that can be used one at a time. To get more effects out of Effector on a single deck, you can load more than one instance of the plug-in from the VST Host section of the Function Panel.

A Kaoss-style x-y pad dominates Effector’s interface, and the effects’ tweakability hedges on X and Y parameters, as well as the modulation of the X and Y position.

In Deckadance 2, you can link Effector or any other VST effect to a controller by first assigning a VST control to one of the VST Host controls, and then MIDI-mapping that control to your hardware. 

DON’T STOP THE DANCE

While it’s still in beta, we can’t judge Deckadance 2 fully yet. We experienced some very glitchy playback — especially with three or more decks playing but sometimes even with one deck — that would be unacceptable in a commercial release, but which we have to presume Image-Line is working on. It may be safe to say that the biggest disappointment about Deckadance 2 is that it took so long to arrive. All’s well that end’s well, but in the many years since Deckadance first launched it has fallen off the radar somewhat to some digital DJs who otherwise may have jumped on a rapidly developing program like this. 

However, now Deckadance 2 can be yet another disruptive DJ software, such as MixVibes Cross, to give you interesting alternatives and to keep the top dogs on their toes. The new design looks very clean, and in my opinion, rather beautiful in its symmetry and vibrantly-colored waveforms. The Smart Knobs and Isolator Effects are innovative, and the Gross Beat and Effector plug-in add a ton of value. Besides all that, the customizable Smart Panels on the decks and the handy beat grid editing tools all chip in to contribute to Deckadance 2’s unique feel; it’s not a copy-cat product.

Our beta copy did not include the same preconfigured support for MIDI controllers that the commercial version has. And either way, the list of Image-Line’s preconfigured controllers for Deckadance could use a freshening up with some newer controllers. 

There is, however, a promising pairing on the way with Behringer’s upcoming CMD series of controllers. It was revealed at NAMM in January that the CMD products will include Deckadance LE 2 software; a limited version, but one that will hopefully come with a discounted upgrade path to the full Deckadance 2 Club Edition. The modular nature of the CMD controllers seems to fit with the spirit of Deckadance 2’s modular interface, and several of the button-and-pad-heavy Behringer units look perfectly suited to the Deckadance Gross Beat, Sampler, and 8 cue points per track, which can eat up hardware controls with a quickness. We’re looking forward to seeing how these two product lines match up.

Markkus Rovito is DJTT’s tech editor.

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  • zzz

    so will you do a follow up now that they have released the software? I am seriously thinking of giving up on traktor

  • Benjamin Goulart

    BPM detection is broken. It’s not even designed for key detection? And the sound seems weird compared to V1.9- DD. That and the inability to recognize four identical transport controllers at once (MIDI glitches) leaves me wondering why I’d bother with DD over VDJ, which does everything except VST. And I can Rewire Traktor to anything else that supports VST (like Ableton) and get my fix there if I need. VDJ 8 will bring full VST support, improved sound routing (split in digital domain, me thinks) and on and on. Plenty of other stuff IL seems to also be losing on DD 2 compared to V1. Four decks is nice, but it’s a bad, glitchy Traktor Pro 2 clone now. With the utter failure that is Serato DJ (totally f—ing garbage coding), InMusic has so much chance to take over this market after buying M-Audio & Torq 2. That DVS is done except for the crummy sound. Improve the sound process/DSP engine and Torq’s practically already superior. Full routing. VST. 4 Deck. Great layout. Geez.

  • benjaminwg

    NO TRACK ANALYSIS. DUAL WAVEFORM VIEW IS GONE. MULTIPLE CONTROLLERS OF THE SAME TYPE CANNOT BE RECOGNIZED. CAN’T FIND OUT HOW TO ENABLE OR DISABLE AUTOGAIN. SOUND IS WEIRD AND COMPRESSED. They improved the VST system, expanded to 4 decks, but seem to have broken most everything else. Even the waveforms look crunched and useless now. And they still don’t allow you to disable the BPM display. I don’t know why they’d touch their autogain design from v1. It was perfect. I even liked the ability to use the gain knobs to adjust the PFL cue levels in the headphones when it was on.

    I still think Torq 2 has the best potential. It just needs its sound improved.

  • Couldn’t get it to map 3 of my 4 transport controllers in the trial of v2.

  • Evan Moore

    Does this software work with Traktor Products?

    • MellonHead

      kinda. you can map midi, but none of your leds will light up.

  • Guest

    Does this software work with Traktor products?

  • Guest

    Does this software work with Traktor products? If so

  • Trekator! 😛

  • Louis OConnor
  • Did anyone else flip out over the low requirements for system specifications? I’m working with a MacBook Pro OSX 10.6.8 and just got left behind when Traktor decided to update, it was a System 10.7 required update. This program does more with less… oh, Also… Deckadance has a spectral analyzer for each deck AND vertical track display in the center area.

    • yeah im still running osx 10.5.8 so cant update traktor or ableton, noce to see the low specs with deckadence

  • Anonymous

    Does Deckadance 2 have Traktor-like fixed gridding or Serato-like flexi gridding?

  • Wow Itd be nice to voice my opinion if the download links actually worked!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • some good ideas……but a horrible program.

  • pixelbreak

    isolator FX FTW…This is something I would like to see in Traktor with the addition of VST plugins

  • Anonymous

    Deckadance 2 isolated effects demo…

    I’m hoping to have a better video up soon, but I have had difficulties getting my main controller mapped. In fact, the Behringer controller is the only one I have been able to map any way I want.

  • blah

    really no more room for another dj tool… the bases are covered with better tools… 64 bit.

    • I agree about the DJ software… but this isn’t just a DJ tool, it pushes boldly into Controllerism territory and also does some really nice re-thinks of how to handle DJing.

  • MellonHead

    i’ve been messing with this program for a week or two, vst plays very nicely with ableton. i’ve made a script for apc40 that halves the red box, freeing up a 4×5 matrix and 4 faders for deckadance and leaving the rest for ableton. stays right in sync as long as you start on a downbeat, take that trackleton! the only thing keeping me from doing more with it is the lack of mappable led feedback for anything but the limited range of controllers. lighting up the buttons in different colors is a must for me, as well as having feedback on which deck is playing via flashing green button.

    • MellonHead

      after further searching image line’s forums, it appears the main developer (l.s.d.) has been promising bi-directional midi mapping since 2010. on the other hand, the other forum mods only respond to requests for advanced mapping with “you can map any midi controller, please see instruction link here,” which brings one to an input-only mapping page. either only 1 member of the team understands the concept of and need for bi-directional communication, or they just don’t care. makes one wonder what exclusivity deals image line-has made with the hardware they do support. sigh.

      • Yeah, I miss bi-directional MIDI control, I know someone who could solve this problem. Leap (Loop but not losing time with the song) is a really nice function and while I really liked the “map-as-you-want attitude” of the program, I failed to get the jog function to work (even though the little arrows showed up white) for my Novation Twitch. Granted, this controller uses a touchstrip, but you would figure Image-Line would have thought about this kind of interface because other controllers use a touch strip for “needle search.” Anyway, the Twitch uses the touchstrip for loop pinching as well as jogging (Decadance is supposed to excel at doing two things at once). I would be very happy to buy this software if the touchstrip control would work for me. I’m also not very happy with having to use the propeller key as a shift function… it’s non-standard. Maybe I’ll assign the propeller key to my shift button if the program will allow me?

        • mellonhead

          i’ve been thinking of setting up osculator to light leds on the apc40, but am still a beginner at osc routing. maybe image-line will add support for the controller by the time i figure that one out. you know someone who can solve the problem?

          • I really hope they add bi-directional MIDI signaling. I do have a friend who works in this capacity but I can’t say anything as I don’t want to ruin his negotiations. Let’s hope he gets hired at Image-Line, because he already has solutions for these things.

          • dtdollarsign

            IL commented on a launchpad demonstration video that they would be adding light feedback in a future update 😀

    • I wonder if you can route all the Deckadace MIDI controls from Ableton? I know Ableton has MIDI sends and that might just be an interesting work-around. My problem is trying to get the Touchstrips on my Twitch to function properly and some kind of logic out of the File Tree navigation. Has anyone else run into “one file being highlighted, but completely different file ends up being loaded when you press the load deck button?”

  • type_omega

    im very much liking the look of the center part of the GUI being able to quick tab through all the parameters including transports, FX, and vertical wave forms is a genius idea.if they work out all the bugs they might just draw a crowd. Traktor better step up there game.

  • I’ve been using Deckadance 2 Beta for about 2 weeks and I’ll agree that it’s not ready to be relied on, it has some features that are really called for, especially the VST plug-ins, ReLooper (which is a weird fusion of effects to loops at specific time slices), automation (you want automated scratching, you got it), and ease of incorporating other controllers (this includes drum machines, and keyboards). I am really looking forward to the full release and I’m curious how they’re going to work FL Studio into this mix (because it’s business, that’s why).

    • Geez, egg on my face for missing the system requirements. They weren’t in the beta documentation that we had, so I dropped the ball a bit there. I will update the post to include them. Props again!

      • antifmradio

        Looks like they are already done with BETA and have released the full 2.0 as of this morning http://bit.ly/Ys37Oh

    • blah

      VSTs and 3rd party plugins also supply latency and may require delay compensation.

    • whomprat

      ipad ! YES traktor on ipad is so awesome! whomp whomp whomp

    • Louis OConnor

      Please chek out my podcast and tell me if you enjoy it 🙂

  • I think this is a stepping stone for pushing the live performance. The VST feature can really bring digital instrument into live sets. Can’t wait for the release of this

  • KIO

    Two questions:

    1) ITCH/SDJ count the first downbeat of the first bar as 1, not as 0. Therefore I have to count my phrases in the table of n*16+1, which sucks. If they would start counting the first downbeat as 0 then phrase two starts at downbeat 16, phrase 3 at downbeat 32, which would make a LOT more sense. Does Deckadance start counting at 1 or are these guys smart and start counting at 0?

    2) ITCH/SDJ don’t show cover art for any other file than mp3. MediaMonkey though simply shows the cover art for every track no matter which file format since it links to the location of the cover art file and does not look only to embedded cover at pictures (FLAC does not embed cover art) What about Deckadance?

    • Good questions, KIO. Answers:

      1) Sorry, it starts the count at 1, not 0.

      2) More bad news for you here, I’m afraid. It’s showing cover art for MP3 and M4A, where the art is embedded, but not for FLAC.

    • Dan White

      Interesting perspective you have on counting beats. Most musicians count with one on the first beat – one and two and three and four.

    • no one counts 0 as a beat. That would mean that a 4 bar measure would be beat 0-3??!?!?! I dont think so.

      I have been playing drums / percussion for over 15 years…..NO ONE starts a beat on 0. again……NO ONE USES ZERO AS A BEAT.

      Sight? Seen!

    • KIO

      Rant alert:

      Surely if I count beats for beatmatching, I count 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4, like anyone else. However, at the start of beat 1, 0 bar of the song have played, at beat two, still only one quarter of a bar has played. A full bar has only played after four whole beats have finished. So since ITCH/SDJ number bars, not beats, to me it makes no sense to start at 1 instead of 0.

      If I measure the length of an object and would take the reasoning mentioned above my tape measure would start at 1. Then after travelling ten millimetres along my tape measure it would indicate that I have measure 2 cm, when in fact I have only measured 1 cm. For that reason tape measures and anything else that measures start at 0, not at 1.

      This is entirely analogous to counting bars. First I need to measure four beats before I have one bar, therefore DJ softwares should indicate the first down beat marker as 0, making each phrase start at easily recognisable numbers like 16, 32, 80, 144, 160 and n*16 instead of 1, 17, 33, 81, 145, 161 and n*16+1. This error of DJ software annoys me even more if a track opens with a full 16 bar phrase without any beat at all. Then I choose to set the first downbeat marker at the first beat of the second phrase, making the song start at bar -16. Then the negative bars go from -1 directly to 1 without going through zero, which makes no sense at all.

      In the end I really wonder why software engineers decided to start counting at 1 and, worse, even omit zero. You’d think that software engineers would love 0 just as much as they love 1, wouldn’t you?

      End rant

      KIO

  • LOL. Gross Beat is match older then “automation tool that BentoSan released over a year ago” ))

    • David De Garie-Lamanque

      true. also this curve automation function was present from version 5 or 6 of FL Studio in some of the plug-ins

    • Dan White

      Indeed. I simply was suggesting that it was familiar to our core readers because of this tool – I’ve adjusted wording to make it sound less like anyone did anything nefarious 😀

  • Rudi-J

    “…However, now Deckadance 2 can be yet another disruptive DJ software, such as MixVibes Cross, to give you interesting alternatives and to keep the top dogs on their toes….”

    –> Let’s hope so. This looks really cool and comprehensive. Still waiting for those kind of innovatiions to appear inTraktor…

    • I’d like to clarify something in the article. If you sign-up (this is what they mean by register, not have a previous version of the software), you can download the Beta for free.

      • Thanks Ronald! We were under the impression that you had to be a previous owner, so thanks again for looking into it.

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