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Looking at buying a new controller for your digital DJ setup? Or maybe even just a pair of CDJs?
Choosing the best software to organize your collection and gigging can be tough.
We compare 2 of the more popular DJ packages: Serato DJ vs RekordBox
Serato vs Rekordbox: A Buyer’s Guide
When faced with a collection of thousands of tracks, how do you find that essential tune in a hurry (or at least before the current song finishes)? Digital DJ platforms can either succeed or fail depending on their library management features.
So once you have found that tune, what does your controller and software combo let you do with it? Is Serato DJ more about the way you play music? Does the name RekordBox suggest it’s more about the music library management, i.e. a box for your records?
Let’s take a look.
Serato DJ or RekordBox: Which Is Better?
Serato DJ edges forward when it comes to the performance side of the software. However, RekordBox DJ may be catching up with new add ons constantly being released. Unless you really feel the need to leave your laptop at home, Serato DJ still offers the most features for DJs.
22 Standard FX
5 FX add on packs with a total of 42 additional FX
17 Standard FX
FX Pad control
Additional 9 FX with the RMX-1000 add on hardware unit/app
Smartphone or tablet apps
Extra features for performance
Pitch 'n' Play, Serato Flip
Sequencer, FX Pads
Dropbox (Cloud Music management`)
Serato Pitch 'n' Time
RekordBox DVS (Hardware unlock)
From $9.99 to $14.99
From $9.99 to $29.99
Which Systems Can Use Serato DJ or RekordBox?
Serato first appeared in the mid-2000s as Serato Scratch Live, a DVS DJ system using timecode vinyl or CDs. As one of the longest established DJ software systems, it is supported by almost every major manufacturer of professional DJ gear.
The notable exception is Native Instruments, who of course support their own Traktor software.
RekordBox software by comparison is like owning an app by Apple – Pioneer ties you into using their hardware. If you are happy living within the Pioneer ecosystem this shouldn’t be a problem. There are a lot worse brands out there to be stuck with.
However, just like Apple users, you will occasionally encounter situations where being limited to Pioneer will cause issues. Heaven forbid you should turn up at a venue where they have Stanton or Numark systems.
Features: A Side by Side Comparison
When talking about the sheer number of FX available in any DJ software, it’s hard to beat Serato DJ. With 22 base FX included in the standard DJ Pro license, you can add another 60+ customizable effects with the add on pack for just $39.
Powered by one of the industry-leading audio software creators, iZotope include everything from echos, delays, essential filters and even retro 8-bit audio effects.
Although falling behind Serato DJ for the number of onboard effects, RekordBox does benefit from hardware effects offered by Pioneer add on packs and extra hardware.
When used in conjunction with the Pioneer RMX-1000 unit you get professional effects like those found on the much more expensive mixers at the top end of the Pioneer range.
Out of the box, the performance DJ will certainly benefit most from the Serato set-up. If you are willing to spend the extra money on Pioneer hardware like the RMX-1000 you can also add some pretty cool performance effects to your set.
Some of the Pioneer controllers also offer the Pad FX feature where you can trigger the effects with large performance pads.
WINNER – Serato.
Serato DJ vs RekordBox for DVS
Anybody who has been DJing for the last couple of decades will always mention Serato as the go-to DVS software.
Originally released as Serato Scratch live over 17 years ago, Serato quickly became the Scratch DJ community’s preferred system. By comparison, Pioneer only came to the DVS scene about five years ago.
Those extra years of DVS experience add up to a much more stable environment when using time code vinyl or CDJs. Although Pioneer is quickly catching up, there’s still only one RekordBox compatible DVS interface compared to the four-plus of Serato DJ.
Years of tweaking and patching the software means Serato is less likely to crash, something which RekordBox has been known to suffer from.
WINNER – Serato DJ
Both Serato DJ and RekordBox offer advanced features for organizing your extensive music library. Each system allows for simple editing of the ID3 tags of your collection and a smart crate feature is like packing your own individual flight cases.
Keeping your music library well organized is an essential part of digital DJ life, especially with the thousands of tracks many of us now play out with.
Although very similar, this is where RekordBox shines, showing its origins were as a music software management tool before adding the DJ functionality. I particularly like the iPhone app which allows you to organize your music library on the go and then export it to your USB or even the Cloud (more on that in a minute).
RekordBox offers more tagging options and metadata tools than Serato, all with the ability to export that data to be used on pro-level club setups and Pioneer CDJs.
WINNER – Rekordbox
Streaming and Cloud Storage
Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 10 years you can’t fail to have noticed the emergence of digital music streaming services, many aimed at professional DJs.
Both Serato and RekordBox offer access to the leading services like Beatport, Tidal, and Soundcloud for unparalleled access to a world of music. Ideal for the aspiring wedding or mobile DJ, both systems can save a lot of time and cost when updating your collection – just make sure you have stable Wi-Fi connection when playing live.
Once again, Pioneer shows everyone who is the real ‘pioneer’ in the music management with their innovative cloud storage feature via Dropbox.
We have all had that embarrassing hard drive failure at one time or another. Imagine being able to turn up at a venue with your entire collection backed up to the Cloud.
You can upload all of your tracks complete with cue data, playlists and any smart crates you may have organized. Unfortunately, this again is reliant on a decent internet connection and uploading a large collection to the cloud can be tedious (though you only have to do it once).
At the time of writing, Serato doesn’t offer any cloud storage support but this could always change in the future.
Ease of Use
As you can see from the above, it’s almost a tie when you look at the features which come with each software. But which is easiest to use and has the simplest interface.
There’s no point in having a plethora of advanced features if the UI is too complex to use. Both Serato DJ and RekordBox have modern-looking, well laid out front end-user interfaces, especially when compared to the more complex, darker environments of Traktor.
Here are the two interfaces side by side – pretty similar, yes?
Although both Serato DJ and RekordBox DJ feature similar prominent dials (or playback decks) with the music library listed below, many find the RekordBox UI much sleeker and less cluttered.
For the beginner DJ, the interface of RekordBox will be much more intuitive, while Serato offers more flexibility for the more experienced folks.
As with any new software or system you buy, it can take time to get used to where all the new features live. If you are already familiar with any of the previous versions of Serato (Serato Itch, Serato Scratch Live, Serato DJ Intro) you shouldn’t have too many problems using the new features or the music management system.
There are also many tutorials available online for both Serato and RekordBox, official and unofficial.
Although both products offer extensive features in a similar interface, for sheer ease of use and a cleaner UI, RekordBox would be the system to recommend for those new to the world of digital DJing.
WINNER – RekordBox
The Cost of Serato DJ vs RekordBox (How Much Should You Pay?)
For the majority of DJs, the choice between Serato DJ or RekordBox will come down to the controller you buy.
Many low-end controllers will come with Serato DJ Lite included and can be upgraded for a monthly subscription cost or a one-off lifetime license.
The more advanced or high-end controllers like the Pioneer DDJ-SX3 will come with Serato DJ Pro included. Expansion packs are also available for features like Serato Video, FX, Pitch ‘n’ Play or Serato DVS.
Pioneer offer a free version of their RekordBox software too, although this is just the library management tool.
Most of the modern Pioneer controllers will hardware unlock many of the basic performance features of RekordBox DJ with different upgrade plans available only on subscription. These allow for access to expansion packs like DVS, RekordBox Video, and the Sequencer tool.
Serato DJ Pro
Upgrade to Pro/Core
Serato DJ Suite/RekordBox Professional
(All prices are pulled from the time of writing this article. Check here for the latest Serato DJ and RekordBox DJ plans.)
The move to a subscription cost originally angered many DJs, although free versions are now included with many controllers and RekordBox comes with almost every piece of Pioneer hardware.
This often makes the Pioneer entry-level controllers a much better value choice than some of their competitors. For the option to buy outright, including the many expansion packs, Serato just edges ahead in the cost and plans comparison.
Bundled for free with most Pioneer hardware. Entry-level controllers offer better value for the beginner.
Free Library management tool to export music libraries to USB and Pioneer CDJs
The simple interface is more intuitive for beginner DJs.
Cloud storage offers valuable backup of larger collections.
Limited to Pioneer Hardware.
RekordBox metadata is not compatible with Serato setups.
Too many updates and stability can be an issue. Older computers have also been known to struggle with the demands of RekordBox software.
No one-off license fee option means RekordBox will work out more expensive if djing for multiple years.
Are you new to the world of digital DJing and considering purchasing your first controller? Or perhaps you are an experienced DJ who is looking to shake up their set-up with some new hardware? Both Serato DJ and RekordBox DJ are valuable tools for any aspiring or established DJ.
Although very similar, for the performance-focused DJ, it’s hard to beat Serato DJ Pro. With the correct controller, you will have a proven stable DJ set up with world-class FX and mixing tools to add that extra wow to your performances.
If you have used Serato Scratch Live in the past or any of the other versions of Serato DJ you will be familiar with all the tools and a straightforward interface.
If library management is your key focus and you want the ability to rock up at gigs with a USB to plug into the CDJs or even use the Cloud to store your music library, RekordBox is the way forward.
It may not be as stable as Serato yet, but Pioneer is constantly innovating and it won’t be long until it catches up to Serato for stability and those extra performance tweaks.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you use both Serato and RekordBox with CDJs?
Yes! Although with Serato you may need to MIDI map the CDJ depending on which model you use. RekordBox is natively supported by all Pioneer CDJs and the library management tool can be used to prepare tracks, smart crates and playlists for use on a USB with any Pioneer set up.
Can Serato Read RekordBox?
Serato doesn’t natively support RekordBox metadata but you can find apps online to help you import your RekordBox collection into Serato. Serato playlists and collections are far easier to transfer into RekordBox as it will automatically update the meta tags to fit the RekordBox file system.
What Are The Benefits of Choosing a Paid Model Over The Free Versions?
You can download Serato DJ Lite from their website and it even has a practice mode that doesn’t require a controller to be plugged in. Ideal if you fancy giving Serato a trial, although you won’t get access to any playlists, cue points/pads or expansion packs. Basically, you will have to manually search your entire library every time you need to find a track, which can get very tedious very quickly.
Upgrading to Serato Pro, either by a monthly subscription or one-off lifetime license fee, will add the extra library management features, the ability to record your mixes and access to the many expansion packs including Serato Video, DVS and FX.
The completely free version of RekordBox only supports the music management tools of the software but you need a Pioneer controller needed to unlock the DJ performance suite.
Many of the Core plan features are supported when the hardware is unlocked but you won’t get access to the DVS capabilities or DJM effects. Upgrading to higher-level plans can add video, RMX FX, lyrics features and the highest tier will add that valuable Cloud storage feature.
Is a Controller Essential to Use Serato DJ or RekordBox DJ?
No, both Serato and RekordBox now have the ability to use your PC/Mac to control the performance features.