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Rekordbox vs Serato – Which is the best DJ software for you?

As people virtually tuned in to live stream their favourite DJs in the days of isolation during the covid pandemic, a new generation of budding DJs was born. With the spotlight cast upon the DJ booths, the keen-eyed will have noticed that they all sported varying setups: Some had DJs playing faithfully on CDJs, others had turntables with laptops, and some had DJs mixing on controllers or all-in-one units. The one thing unifying each setup? The DJ software silently operating in the background will likely be Rekordbox or Serato.

rekordbox vs serato

The two leading DJ software currently dominating the market. Which is right for you?

Why choosing the right DJ software is essential

If you are on a journey to becoming a digital DJ or simply want to try something new, knowing exactly where to start might not be obvious. Choosing your DJ software is an excellent first step to take. As you grow in skill, you will rely on the DJ software and its features to establish a workflow deeply integrated with muscle memory. Once settled, changing over to another platform will require a labour of love. Unless you’re already using multiple platforms, that is. For example, you may use one to drop hip hop jams via DVS and another to play a residency at a club. Most DJs, however, will stick to just one.

dj using dj software on laptop

DJ Using A Laptop and DJ Software – Photo by Brian Balliet on Unsplash

Of the vast platter of DJ software to choose from, two giants stand neck-and-neck in their quest for digital DJ dominance: Serato and rekordbox.

Which to choose is hugely personal. Both are similar in function but will take you on wildly varying paths. Take the time to become acquainted with each, as it can be easy to make this decision as an afterthought owing to DJ software, on the whole, coming bundled in with hardware. Let the software dictate your hardware choice, not vice-versa, as the software you start on will impact how you DJ going forward.

Serato Vs rekordbox

First comparison: A cliche applies here. Choosing between Serato DJ and rekordbox is very similar to choosing between Windows and macOS. Both perform the same tasks but do them in different ways. One is universal in its approach, running on a magnitude of licensed, third-party hardware. One is proprietary, running exclusively on its parent company’s hardware, albeit a parent company that happens to be the global leader, producing some of the most desirable hardware available. That goes for Serato and rekordbox, too: Think of Serato as Windows and rekordbox as MacOS.

How does this translate to Serato DJ and rekordbox’s operation? Here we take a detailed look to help you decide between the two.


Serato DJ

Serato began in 1999 with Pitch ‘n Time, a software plugin created as a solution for changing the tempo of music without shifting its pitch. In 2004, Serato made a name for themselves among turntablists when they partnered with Rane to unveil Serato Scratch Live, the industry’s most advanced Digital Vinyl System (DVS), and laid the foundation for how DVS runs to this day! So good at what they did and do, Serato quickly stole the crown from the previous DJ software champion, Traktor by Native Instruments, which has since become a niche product. Serato DJ’s stability, clean, modern interface, and richness of features have won over and retained digital DJs far beyond the scope of their original hip hop DJ audience. An audience who took to Serato with open arms as a digital solution to carting around crates of vinyl!

Serato DJ Pro Interface

Serato DJ Pro Interface

Serato DJ features and streaming services

Serato is powerful and intuitive with second-to-none customer support, including a well-established user community and staff DJs on hand to quickly answer user queries. Serato DJ is optimised for storing and organising music libraries into ‘crates’ and playlists and analysing tracks for performance with meta-data. The meta-data includes BPM, key and waveform. Serato DJ’s beat-gridding is currently industry-leading with excellent detection of fluctuating beats in non-dance music and powerful manual correction flexibility. You can stream music into Serato via Beatport Streaming, Beatsource Streaming, Soundcloud Go+ and Tidal. But, as this feature is in its infancy, some limitations exist, such as not being able to mix and match locally stored tracks with streamed tracks when creating playlists or crates. 

showing beatsource in serato dj

How To Log Into Beatsource Inside Serato DJ

Serato’s user interface, hardware and system requirements

Serato’s primary function, however, is as a performance tool with plenty of flexibility to suit the needs of most DJs. Originating as DVS software, Serato DJ now also runs natively on licensed controllers but, as yet, has no stand-alone, all-in-one options. Its clean, high-resolution, dark aesthetic has been widely adopted, in one form or another, by most of the competition, including rekordbox! It runs on a 64-bit architecture, so it will have no issues scaling up in feature capability nor incur any burdensome music library-size management limitations in the foreseeable future.

ddj-rev7 serato dj

An example of a Serato DJ controller: the DDJ-REV7 made by Pioneer DJ

Running Serato DJ requires a reasonably modern computer (Windows 10 and up or MacOS 10.15 and up) with relatively decent specs. It needs a capable, mid-tier CPU with at least 4GB of RAM and around 2GB of local storage (not including music files!) Support for machines running older operating systems exists with older iterations of Serato DJ, which can easily be found and downloaded, but, understandably, may not enjoy the same stability for which Serato is famous.

Serato does not make hardware. They rely on third-party partnerships. These partnerships are a real asset to DJs as the choice of Serato-certified controllers, mixers and multi-players (including Pioneer DJ CDJs and XDJs) is enormous. All styles and budgets are catered for. Check out the list of compatible Serato equipment here.

Subscription service and additional features for Serato DJ

Speaking of budgets, Serato DJ comes in two clearly defined tiers: Serato DJ Lite, which is free of charge, and bundled with a lot of entry to mid-level controllers. It has access to most library preparation features and a nice amount of access to effects, cue banks and other performance goodies, but with enough limitations to tempt intermediate to professional users onto its paid service: Serato DJ Pro.

Did you know, if you wanted to try out Serato dJ Lite and learn how to DJ for free using your laptop we have a 5 part video tutorial series here.

serato dj lite

Serato DJ Lite Software

Serato DJ Pro’s upgrades include access to multiple waveform views, including the iconic vertical stack. DJs can also enjoy using all eight performance pads for hot cues, effects and samples; the ability to record sets within Serato is unlocked, as is access to slip mode, beat jump and 32 sample banks. But perhaps the most crucial feature of Serato’s Pro subscription is access to their industry-leading expansion packs. The expansion packs include studio-grade effects, Pitch ‘n Time DJ for world-class time stretching, and Flip for quick access to on-the-fly remixing tools. Serato DJ Pro is a subscription service paid monthly or yearly. The expansion packs are an additional monthly or yearly cost.

It’s worth noting that Serato DJ supports video jockeys with the Serato Video expansion, allowing VJs to add videos to sets with in-depth effects and transitions.


rekordbox

rekordbox started life in 2009 as Pioneer DJ’s music library preparation tool for DJs to analyse their files to export to USB flash drives, SD cards and external hard disk drives to play through Pioneer DJ’s multi-players. Therefore, it was, and still is, a necessary tool for most professional club and bar DJs because Pioneer DJ dominates the club and bar installation scene. However, the narrative of rekordbox shifted in 2015 when Pioneer DJ added Performance Mode and stepped cocksure into the DJ performance software sphere. Since then, Pioneer DJ has undoubtedly caught up to the competition concerning features and stability. They have easily kept pace with the DJ scene’s shifting demands and, in some regards, pushed the boundaries of what professional DJ software can do. The speed of rekordbox’s rise to status is owed, in no small part, to it being proprietary: rekordbox fits hand-in-glove with Pioneer DJ hardware. New features are rolled out at speed, and fixing bugs has proven to be a strength of rekordbox’s developers, who have a track record of patching issues within a few days!

rekordbox dj software

The Rekordbox DJ Software In Performance Mode

Features and streaming service of rekordbox

Owing to its music library preparation roots, music management in rekordbox is unrivalled. From the ability to embed tracks with searchable tags to having multiple playlist windows open at once, the flexibility and scope of features is a true marvel that helps speed workflow! Performing with rekordbox will leave little to be desired, too. It has plenty of powerful features with deep flexibility to tweak settings to make most DJs feel at home. It has a clean, dark, high-resolution interface with a logical layout. It runs on a 64-bit architecture, so it has plenty of scope to scale up in features. A lot is borrowed from Serato in terms of UI and features, but perhaps out of necessity: Pioneer DJ’s controllers, before rekordbox Performance Mode dropped, were all built to run with Serato DJ, resulting in their controller hardware design language heavily resembling Serato’s, perhaps initially to allow for backward compatibility between rekordbox and those older controllers.

rekordbox interface

A screenshot of Rekordbox’s interface in Performance Mode

rekordbox has built-in music streaming support for Beatsource Streaming, Beatport Streaming, Soundcloud Go+ and Tidal, and, unlike with Serato, will allow mixing and matching of playlist sources, meaning a playlist can have locally stored tracks sit alongside cloud-based ones; a real point of envy for the Serato community! 

Another exclusive, stand-out feature of rekordbox is that it allows automatic cloud back-up and remote access to your music library and its metadata via cloud library sync. Metadata including saved hot cues, loops and waveforms! The waveforms in rekordbox are industry-leading and packed with data. They have easily identifiable three-band EQ and sport AI-assisted vocal detection. Everything is viewable at a glance! Internal recording is also available in the free version of rekordbox so long as it is hardware-unlocked with a Pioneer DJ equipment purchase. 

rekordbox cloud library sync

Using rekordbox cloud library sync you can prepare your DJ sets on the go with the Rekordbox mobile app

Rekordbox hardware and system requirements

rekordbox only runs natively on Pioneer DJ equipment. Mixers, turntables and multi-players from other manufacturers can be used with rekordbox, but only in DVS mode via an interface and time-code. The system requirements for rekordbox’s Performance Mode are pretty strict. You must be running a relatively new operating system (Windows 10 and up or MacOS 10.15 and up), and if you want the AI features to work, this must be teamed with a new flagship CPU. You’ll need a minimum of 4GB RAM for music performance, doubling to 8GB RAM if you want to take advantage of rekordbox’s baked-in video output controls, plus 2GB of local storage (not including music files!)

Although restricted with hardware choice, rekordbox has one corner of the market untouched by Serato: standalone functionality. It is possible to have Pioneer DJ equipment that runs rekordbox’s Performance Mode on board, so there’s no need for a laptop or computer, only to analyse tracks in advance. You can even record to a USB flash drive on all their standalone units meaning the computer is not needed for performance! Initially intended for home and studio use, these all-in-one units have been wildly popular for Pioneer DJ. They can now be found installed in respectable bars and small clubs in place of the typical lower-tier CDJ/ DJM combos of old.

xdj rx3

Here is one of Pioneer DJ’s most popular all in one unit’s: The Pioneer DJ XDJ-RX3

Subscription service and additional features of rekordbox

rekordbox comes with various subscription packages: Free; Core; Creative, and Professional. The free and core packages are very similar apart from the unlocking of DVS functionality with the Core package. Likewise, Creative and Professional are very similar, with most features of rekordbox unlocked in the Creative plan and all features unlocked with the Professional plan. It’s worth noting that a Creative or Professional plan is required for lyric detection and a Professional plan for automatic cloud library backup. 

rekordbox also hosts a comprehensive ability to add video and on-screen lyrics to your sets alongside the ability to control a light show, baked-in to its software.


rekordbox vs Serato – Head to head

Pitting Serato DJ against rekordbox reveals that their similarities far outweigh their differences. The head-to-head will therefore concentrate on the standout differences.

A bespoke solution, that’s Serato DJ! With its fantastic expansion packs, DJs can tweak their plans to meet their requirements and leave out what’s not needed. The choice of hardware is unrivalled, and learning to DJ is made easy with Serato DJ Lite. There’s also an established Serato community alongside technical support staff DJs to answer queries. Not to mention many online resources, like our Serato DJ courses. These all lead to Serato DJ being an incredible all-rounder with the scope to grow with you, from being a beginner to a professional DJ playing anywhere from bars to festivals. Serato DJ is the industry standard for beat-gridding and noise-mapping with a well-established user base of DVS DJs who swear by its accuracy and stability.

ddj-flx6

There are a few DJ controllers made by Pioneer DJ that work with both Serato DJ and Rekordbox, such as the DDJ-FLX6

One-stop-shop sums up rekordbox! It works seamlessly with Pioneer DJ’s hardware, is richly featured and will comfortably guide any DJ on their journey to the booths of the world’s clubs. It has always been on the bleeding edge of technological advancements. It has several exclusive features such as an automatic music library, metadata cloud backup service, and three-band EQ waveforms with A.I-powered vocal detection. Beginners can rest assured that Pioneer DJ’s entry-level controllers are clean, simple and intuitive and progression through their equipment lineup is logical and well defined. As with Serato, plenty exists in the way of resources for progressing in skill with their equipment, including our comprehensive rekordbox courses


Conclusion

Serato DJ and rekordbox have both evolved to be top of their game. They have well-defined audiences who want different things from their DJ software, so one taking over the other is not a cause for concern at this point: Neither will likely be disappearing anytime soon. 

Serato DJ should come to mind if you like the thought of using DVS or want to learn to chop and scratch with the industry’s leading accurate and stable platform. Rest assured, Serato boasts a vast DJ community who swear by it. Even if it’s just that you would like to try out what a wide range of manufacturers has to offer rather than being locked into a single company, and you want the peace of mind of having a stable, professional platform to work from, Serato DJ will be the perfect marriage for you.

If you are gung-ho for playing the clubs, want the convenience and reassurance of high-tech features, such as remote playlist editing and automatic cloud back-ups, and love the Pioneer DJ hardware design language, you will integrate with rekordbox just as seamlessly as rekordbox integrates with Pioneer DJ hardware. 

You may end up using both for differing occasions and grow to love each’s quirks and strengths. After all, many seasoned DJs have found themselves enjoying the fruits of both companies’ labours and have better-sounding sets across the board because of it. 

Now that you’ve learned the differences between the two leading DJ software check out our Best Beginner DJ Controllers article here to help you make your purchasing decision that much easier.


Learn To DJ Rekordbox or Serato

If you have purchased some DJ equipment that runs either Rekordbox or Serato then rest assured we have you covered with our comprehensive beginner DJ courses for both software setups. Check out the details of each course by clicking the icons below.

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