Quick! Name one good reason to use a computer running DJ software instead of just toting along some USB sticks to play on a CDJ! Well – one answer is, maybe your DJ set involves more than just mixing two decks. And with Ableton Link support, Serato is the first DJ software to open up to easy, peer-to-peer sync. It could change how you play.

Serato DJ 1.9.3. actually includes both Ableton Link support and the first steps toward finally implementing MIDI clock, too.

Let’s talk about Ableton Link first, though, as it’s the New Shiny.

Serato is one of three launch partners featuring Ableton’s new desktop SDK for Ableton Link, announced earlier this month. Link was something iOS users had ample access to, and Ableton Live users, and combinations thereof, but desktop support means still more possibilities.

Link doesn’t work like conventional sync solutions in that there isn’t a single “master” clock source that everything else “slaves” to – there’s no hierarchy. Instead, you have an arbitrary number of peers, any of which can move tempo for the others up and down. And Link works wirelessly – or even without a network, between different apps on the same device.

Actually, while Ableton Link’s creators like to refer to instrumental “jams” as the model, DJing is a good model, too. Until the advent of that infamous “sync” button, DJs never had a single timing source. You slowly move a deck or a drum machine in time with another.

I’ve been testing Serato’s Ableton Link implementation, and it’s a joy. In the place the usual “Sync” toggle would be on each deck, you instead see “Link.” Once enabled, that deck then can transmit tempo changes and receive them from other sources.

There are a number of nice use cases here.

  • You could Link Serato to Ableton Live. Let’s be honest – for all the advanced features in The Bridge, the ill-fated first Serato/Ableton collaboration – this is probably what 99% of you actually wanted to do with the two programs.
  • You could link two Serato DJs. Playing back to back, or making a smooth transition between DJs, is now possible on laptops.
  • You could link Serato to some iPad tools.
  • You could use a MIDI sequencer on an iPad, Link that to Serato, and then send MIDI clock to external gear. So imagine you’ve got Modstep running on an iPad, plugged via MIDI interface into, say, a Roland TB-03 or a MeeBlip. You can now jam over top DJ sets.

In short, it’s now much easier to do a “hybrid” live/DJ set on Serato than it is on any other tool. And sure, you could also match tempo by hand, but if the whole point of a hybrid set is busying yourself up with other stuff, why not take that load off your brain?

Cool as this is, a lot of gear is still in the world of MIDI, not Ableton Link. And if you’re just playing a 128 bpm solo techno set for four hours, old fashioned MIDI clock is just fine.

Serato has also quietly added MIDI clock output to 1.9.3. But curiously, they’ve locked its functionality exclusively to the new monster Roland DJ-808 hardware.

As a result, I was unable to test MIDI clock. I’ll have a look soon. There are some workarounds – you can connect to anything with Ableton Link support, and send MIDI from there. So I did try connecting to an instance of Live on the same machine and sending MIDI clock out of Live normally. That’s a bit of a pain, though, and MIDI clock messages aren’t exactly rocket science, so I hope this is a first step toward seeing MIDI throughout Serato.

1.9.3 brought other improvements, too, notably including a new MIDI mapping interface. I’ll look at that and explore the latest experience of using Serato in a coming review.

On the Mac, there’s also some updated support for El Capitan in the form of new drivers for the Rane interfaces. Sierra is not yet fully tested, but I’m hopeful that soon Sierra will be the way to go forward; I’d still be wary about DJing on El Capitan.

Check out the update here:


Update: just as this story published, it seems a public beta of Traktor containing Ableton Link support went live. More on that once I test it.