Soda for iOS is the first DJ app that is whatever you want it to be – with fully customizable interfaces, powerful specs, AU plug-ins, and Ableton Link.

The need for something new

Let’s be honest: we’re not exactly at the high water mark for advanced DJ software. Even vinyl (not digital vinyl – like the stuff you hurt your back carrying) seems to be on a stronger upswing than DJ software. The Pioneer CDJ reigns supreme, to the extent that you can get laughed out of a club when you show up with a computer.

And software, instead of seeming innovative, is looking awfully rigid. You’re generally stuck with pre-fabbed interfaces and hardware mappings. Innovation seems to be slowing. And then there’s the laptop itself – requiring a separate audio interface, driver configuration, and physical space in the booth that often isn’t there.

Tablets running iOS and Windows could offer solace. But so far, iOS and Windows touch-based apps have focused on entry-level users, either to avoid cannibalizing high-end products (TRAKTOR, Rekordbox) or in an attempt to attract casual DJs. (The casual DJ market is lucrative – as a reader points out, Algoriddim have made millions on djay – but there seems to be little overlap with what people would use in clubs or what producers would use.)

Your way, right away?

A new DJ app called Soda goes a different direction – it’s built from the ground up to be a serious, flexible app, but on a mobile/touch platform. It comes from the developers of the Modstep sequencer/production tool and touchAble Ableton Live controller app (Berlin’s Zerodebug). And as a result, since those developers work… in my office – I’ve been watching it evolve from the very first sketch and have gotten some hands-on time with it. And much to my own surprise, it’s made me reconsider the value of touch DJ software at a time when I’d more or less written it off.

The basic idea of Soda: let the user tailor the DJ software to their needs, instead of the other way around.

First, how many decks do you want? You can choose from one to an absurd eight.
How do you want to mix? You choose: switch off sync and use pitch, or turn sync on and let everything be automatic. Time stretch to keep things locked to key, or use pitch to change speed. And when sync is on, you can even choose what quantization you want for tracks – just like launch quantization of clips in Ableton Live.

What should the screen look like? Vertical decks? Horizontal decks? Effects controls? Library? Instead of giving you a handful of pre-selected options, Soda ships with a complete interface editor, so you choose what you see and how, and every element on the screen can be moved and resized.

Do you want to focus on the screen and touch? There’s a color waveform display, which you can cue and zoom with your fingers.

Do you prefer MIDI controller hardware? Every single element on-screen can be MIDI mapped, opening up endless custom MIDI configurations.

Effects work more the way they do in traditional production tools. You get two send effects chains, with five internal effects (Delay, Reverb, Phaser, Flanger, EQ 3) and Audio Unit support (AUv3). And you can browse both the iTunes music library and new Files support on iOS 11.

Cue points and loop points are more powerful, too – you get 16 per deck and per track, you can name them, and cue points can be both cue points and work for loops.

From there, you have all the features you’d expect – recording, playlist management, key and BPM detection, compatibility with all iOS-compatible (Core Audio/Core MIDI) audio and MIDI devices, cueing, and split cable support (in case you don’t have an audio interface for separate cueing).

But let’s back up: this is generally more powerful than a lot of desktop DJ software available now. Certainly, it bests the deck and cue capabilities of leading tools Serato and TRAKTOR, and that’s before you get into the interface customization capabilities.

Here’s the key: endless customization of the UI, and modules for decks, effects, and more.

Promo video:

There’s also a video walkthrough from the beta:

Who’s this for?

I’m not suggesting iPads will unseat CDJs any time soon. But Soda doesn’t have to do that to be a radical new solution. I can see a number of use cases here:

On-the-go prep and mixing. For one, you’ve finally got an ideal mobile app for preparing music and practicing on the road. It’s also ideal for that situation where someone asks you for a DJ mix and… you’re not near decks. You get an interface that’s tremendously customizable, and the ability to differentiate that mix by adding effects and the like. Plus, while you can’t sync cue points this way, iTunes support means you can sync libraries with a desktop machine to bring into Rekordbox (for use with CDJs) or other DJ software (if you must).

Mobile computer replacement for DJing. Laptops are awkward in a booth, especially if the DJ software maker (cough) locks you into unwieldy, big controllers. But an iPad or Windows tablet is far easier. And you could pair Soda with some compact DJ controllers, like Faderfox.

Hybrid sets. Here, Soda really excels. The flexibility with decks and audio effect support make Soda a powerful DJ add-on. And Ableton Link support means you can wirelessly sync to live sets on a laptop running Ableton Live … or a laptop running Reason, or an iPad running Modstep, or whatever. There’s no MIDI clock support for running Soda alongside, say, an Elektron Octatrack, but developers say that should appear in an update soon.

Live sets and sampling. Of course, who says this is really even a “DJ app” in the conventional sense? With all that loop and name-able cue support, eight decks, and effects, you could use Soda with stems or backing tracks for your live set, or think of the “decks” as samplers. It could be an ideal production tool on iOS.

The iPad should be a great platform for this app, particularly with the rich app and effect ecosystem there. But if you prefer Windows, Soda won’t necessarily be wedded to iOS forever. The core software is developed in C, and is largely platform agnostic, with Windows support planned (and already privately tested). As Microsoft improves Surface and other partners deliver tablets and hybrids, that could be a strong option. It’s doubly encouraging not to be locked to one vendor, given Apple’s recent shaky OS quality and frequent updates.

Stay tuned – I’ll do a full hands-on / review soon. I’m also very interested in custom controller support, so we’ll talk about that soon – and possibly enlist some of the CDM community, if you’re interested.

For now, the app is a measly US$9.99 – for an app that (at least in some categories) objectively bests alternatives costing many times that.

Developer site:
http://www.soda.world/

  • Jason C

    I’m someone who loves vinyl…i have 1000s of records..I did my last DJ gig on a Surface Pro 2 tablet using the open source dj software Mixxx.. it went off very well. Mixxx is great.. Traktor is also great. I hope the market can open up to more developers doing things like Soda. People have so many bizarrely rigid definitions of DJing. And for people that use software they dont even get to a fraction of the potential that those software platforms can do for their performances.

    The ubiquity of CDJs kinda puts my off..but I get it from some perspectives.

  • R__W

    Seems weird to say DJ software is on a downswing but not mention Algorddim Djay which has earned the developer 80 million dollars…

    • That’s a fair point … but you’d be hard pressed to find club DJs using the software. djay “Pro” is a nice tool, and even competent at mixing, but it’s missing some features versus Soda:

      You have fixed layouts, four decks, no naming for cues, no Ableton Link, more restrictive MIDI mapping (i.e., not a dedicated MIDI editor)

      That said, I don’t think that’s the reason Djay hasn’t caught on among a wider number of DJs touring/clubbing … I think the CDJ and vinyl are the reason for that.

      And yes, djay is definitely a powerful tool – and already supports Windows.

    • PausAkid

      My biggest gripe with DJAY”PRO” is the sound quality. If you actually use the EQ knobs there’s nasty zipper crackles. I reported this easily reproducable bug 11 months ago that they have yet to address.

      https://c.getsatisfaction.com/algoriddim/topics/zipper-noise-on-high-eq

      So those 80 million dollars went to… Marketing? Seems like…

  • I’m particularly curious about library syncing to be able to do track prep for my Traktor library.

  • Todd Keebs

    I love the idea and touchAble is a great program, so I have faith in the developers. However: is it possible to connect a 4 channel audio interface, a MIDI controller and power to an iPad these days? If so, this seems like a viable option. If not…. would be a hard-sell IMO.

    • Will

      Yes it’s possible. CCK3 adds charging and you can pretty much use whatever class compliant USB interface you want. I’m not sure if Soda supports multiple outs but I’d be surprised if it didn’t (and it would surely be on user shortlists).

  • Will

    “Hey Soda, string these 16 loop files I’ve selected into a single track with cue points for me, would you? Let’s do that a few more times. Oh my! Aren’t you the little live loop mashing/mangling dream.”

    • Mark Kunoff

      What?! Nice!!! How?!

      • Will

        Sorry, Mark. That was just wishful thinking (out loud)!

  • Sleepydog

    It seems like this is going to be a great program/app 🙂

  • dirty owl

    oh well, another dj app without pitch bend. why even bother?

    • Christian Blomert

      It does have pitch bend. you can decide on a per deck basis if you want to use manual or automatic sync.

  • nem0nic

    After purchasing Soda, I’m kind of surprised that there are so many problems with the UI. Inconsistent font sizes and control labels that are too tiny to read even on an iPad Pro, unclear workflow for things like track loading and effect selection, etc. The built-in effects are pretty bad, which puts the user in the position of needing to also buy AU effects. I’ve been using Emulator for years to mock up hardware, so I’m used to building this style of interface. But I think this product (at least right now) suffers from a very common problem – trying to do something cool instead of digging down to the MVP and making sure that’s bullet-proof.

    All that said, this is software that can easily change. And I’m sure these developers will make changes to improve the user experience.

    • Christian Blomert

      Hey nem0nic,

      the inconsistent font sizes mostly come down to the interface being modular and customizable – the fonts will adapt to the maximum possible size without clipping.. but that leads to them being differently sized depending on context and view size.
      It’s a tradeoff we took to make sure they dont clip but are still completely resizable.

      If you have a control that is unreadable: you may also change the maximum font size of many objects in the editor (Long tap on the control in question, up / down the fontsize in the context menu)

      The effects are definitely quite basic and will be improved upon in future updates. Updates to the current ones as well as new effects we are planning 🙂

      Anything else that you find weird, unclear or simply cumbersome – please let us know – we’ve spent way too many years with the app to still notice some of these issues.. so most of the time a heads up is all it needs 🙂

      Cheers for your feedback and for giving it a spin!

      • nem0nic

        Thanks for the reply, Christian. I have a couple of your apps, including the venerable Touchable, so I know you guys will get it dialed in. I’ll play with it more and send you some info.

        Regarding the pitch bend versus sync issue, this is something I’m wrestling with right now with another product. The solution we landed on was to allow pitch bend to effect the alignment of the song while keeping the tempo. This allows the user to correct for beat grid alignment without throwing the whole mix out of whack. It’s nice because it not only allows you to track a song with some swing, but it also allows for deliberate mis-alignment to create flange to short juggles.

        • Christian Blomert

          Thank you! looking forward to what you will find 🙂

          That’s pretty much the solution we came up with as well – dragging the waveform with a single finger will nudge the deck, but keep the actual tempo – the further you drag, the more the track is moved – if you move your finger back to the starting position, the track is aligned exactly as before, too. Very useful for loading unprepared tracks on the fly!
          Our pitch-speed control however is mutually exclusive to sync – use either and the other will be deactivated until switched.

          • Joseph Guisti

            This is where i’m getting stuck with this app. Is there full documentation?

            I’d be down to learn whatever nudging or prepping skills are necessary as long as I can count on it to play unprepared tracks and/or tracks that aren’t on a tight beat grid so I can also DJ music that was recorded before beat grids were the norm.

            Also, from a UI perspective, I tried to create a little customized deck situation that allowed for pitch changes, but when you drag pitch sliders into the deck area, everything is on top of everything else and it’s really hard to move things around and delete what’s unnecessary without deleting the wrong thing, or having things “smart” resize. It feels like juggling an oily fish a little bit.

            I only leave all this commentary because i’m on board with the mission of the app. It seems like it will be a great tool a few point releases from now.

  • Someone remembers “The One”…???…people look for what others use, at least the big public, simple solutions, without much configuration and that is compatible with most hardware…

    http://one.dj/

    • PausAkid

      Looks cool, but are all tools that allow for timeline dj arrangement doomed? I guess mixmeister is still limping along 😂

  • Mark Kunoff

    As long as it is stable for live use, I’m defo going to try playing some sets with this!

  • Mark Kunoff

    oh my, playing around with this has been so fluid and so fun! The interface on an iPad Pro is delicious! Great job!!

  • policarpo

    Hrmmm the audio keeps blowing out for me and going silent whenever i mess with anything in the FX area.

    Also how do you save with this thing? Not a good look for a release if you can’t even hear or save what you are mixing 🙄

  • JuanFran

    Nowadays I prefer to use DJ PLAYER because it has timecode vinyl and cd control. Sometimes I use it and simetimes not, but the function is threre. It could be an impruvement in a near future on this app.

    • Cimon Smid

      Dj Player looks quite cool but the subscription prices really put me off in general. How is your experience with the program?

  • Cimon Smid

    Interesting concept! It says “you could use Soda with stems” in the article, does this mean this software supports the stem format? And does it run on iphone too? That would make extremly great for ultra portable hybrid setups!

  • PausAkid

    I’ve been looking for effects in with software that are as good as the efx500/1000. Love being able to select what EQ bands the effects apply to. Still doesn’t look possible here but props for the modularity and customization that is available

  • Polite Society

    Interested in giving this a shot. The problem with iPad though is lack of content management if you aren’t integrated into the whole itunes universe. How well does it work with files stored on usb storage, if at all? As someone that uses traktor and rekordbox, i don’t really fancy having to maintain a 3rd list of songs if I can avoid it.

  • Beargrip

    Does this allow for a platter to be midi mapped? Or have similar functionality as a midi mapped platter as i didn’t see a platter in the video.
    And can you route outputs to something like Aum and apply third party effects to seperate outputs?