Mix up digital tunes

With effects, samples, and transitions that rival vinyl turntablisms, Virtual DJ lets anyone produce polished MP3 mixes. Beat-match, scratch, and mix your MP3 files at will.

Digital deejaying has skyrocketed in popularity over the past five years and it's no wonder why. Compared to a full vinyl setup with all the hardware and physical media it requires, an MP3-based mixing station is extremely simple and cheap. There's even free software to get you started, and one of the most popular programs available is Virtual DJ.

Virtual DJ is often packaged with USB-based hardware mixing consoles from the likes of Hercules and Numark, and, in fact, if you really want to delve into the full array of features, such devices are going to be a necessity--and they'll require a $99 license fee to upgrade to the Pro version of the software. That said, you can download the app for free by itself and make very basic mixes and playlists.

While the program isn't specifically geared at newbies, it is intuitive enough for a musically inclined individual to use right off the bat. Once installed, Virtual DJ automatically populates a folder tree in the bottom left corner where you can easily access your music collection. The bottom middle serves as a tabbed, multifunction area where you can browse tracks, sample music bites, add effects, and make recordings.

The top of the window is dominated by two digital turntables, which are distinguished by color: blue on the left and red on the right. Each one has the ability to cue, loop, adjust pitch, scratch, and shift (among other features). In the middle is the mixing console, where you can adjust the gain and master volume, as well as transition between the two tracks. Once the songs have been dragged and dropped into the console, a bar along the top displays the sound waves of each to help with visual mixing. There's also a video input option that lets you create montages to the music.

The stylish interface and high number of features score points, but learning how to use the program is a hit-or-miss proposition. To be perfectly honest, using it without mixing hardware (that is, just a mouse and keyboard) is a challenge, and not one we enjoyed, so we recommend hooking up a compatible USB controller. Also worth a look: the thorough online user guide.

Virtual DJ is free, fully featured, and well-laid-out. It's a useful option both for aspiring mixers and newbies.

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