If you're looking to dip your toes into the waters of digital DJing, the M-Audio Torq Mixlab package ($129) is a smart way to go. The package gives you a scaled-down "LE" version of their Torq DJ software and a beefy USB hardware controller. Used together, the Mixlab package is an affordable and approachable entry point for the aspiring MP3 DJ.
Choices for the digital DJ
Off-the-shelf digital DJ packages come in two flavors: systems that retrofit an existing turntable DJ rig (Final Scratch, Serato, and Torq Conectiv); and systems that don't assume you'll be using a turntable to control your DJ set (Traktor, PCDJ, and Deckadance). The Torq Mixlab package falls into the latter category. It's also the most affordable system in the bunch and offers the advantage of easily scaling up to a turntable-based rig by purchasing M-Audio's Torq Conectiv package.
Compared to the competition, the Torq LE software is relatively thin on features. Torq LE is a slightly stripped-down version of the fully loaded Torq software that comes bundled with the pricier Torq Conectiv system ($300). Clearly M-Audio hopes that Mixlab users will eventually upgrade to the more full-featured Conectiv package. In the meantime, Mixlab users should be pleasantly surprised at how much control the Torq LE software affords them.
Torq LE looks and behaves much like a classic DJ setup, with a few tricks thrown in for fun. Users have two decks on the left and right of the screen, where they can drag songs from their music library. If you have an iTunes library on your hard drive, Torq will automatically locate it and create a navigation shortcut within the software. Multiple audio formats are supported, including MP3, AIFF, WAV, WMA, Apple Lossless, and AAC. Once you have your music loaded, you can launch the tracks, automatically sync their tempos, crossfade between them, apply EQ, create multiple loops within a song, and even record the whole mix as an uncompressed WAV file.
Beyond the basics, there were also some professional features on Torq LE that we were surprised to see. First and foremost, unlike novelty DJ systems like the Hercules Mobile DJ MP3, the Torq LE software allows users to easily custom-assign almost any parameter in the software to the included hardware controller (or any connected MIDI controller). This means that if you want to go crazy and have your hardware EQ knobs control your software's headphone volume, you're free to reassign them. Another pro feature that M-Audio left in their LE edition of Torq is the ability to customize the sharpness of the crossfader curve. By altering the curve shape, you can use the crossfader for quick cutting effects or supersmooth transitions. We were also pleased to see built-in effects such as high-pass/low-pass filtering, phaser, and strobe (an auto-cut effect), as well as multichannel audio output support.