I use Traktor to DJ, and I always want to make sure I’m getting the best raw sound quality possible. (That’s why friends don’t let friends use pitch lock.) So, here’s my test for your ears. I was very careful to eliminate any technological bias. For example, no audio interfaces were involved whatsoever. How can that be, you ask? All the audio was routed and recorded virtually through the operating system using “Audio Hijack“, one of my favorite bits of software. Uncompressed 48Khz WAV files were used 100% of the time, including in the video below. If you can’t hear the audio, try a different browser.

Song: “All Day” by Drunken Masters & Tropkillaz

1) Does Traktor “color” the sound output in any way?

There are some pretty heated discussions where folks claim that certain version of Traktor simply sound worse than others, or that Traktor’s raw output doesn’t sound as good as some other software (e.g. Serato, Rekordbox, or even iTunes).

My conclusion after this test: no, Traktor doesn’t significantly color the sound.  It does make the volume somewhat quieter but you compensate for this at the club by just simply  turning up the volume. (In this test, I ‘normalized’ all three files to make it a fair listening test.) I suspect that Traktor does you a favor by lowering its sound output somewhat to allow you to layer tracks without as much risk of clipping.

2) Do 4-track STEMs sound as good as their regular old stereo counterparts?

I love the idea of being able to selectively mute the drums, bass, etc. But I have big doubts about the STEMS format: Is it safe to assume that summing up the four individual stereo components of a song sounds just as good as playing the regular stereo mix? I had big doubts about this.

My conclusion after this test: STEMS will often sound inferior compared to their regular stereo counterparts. If you don’t believe me, jump to 3’33” in the video above, and listen to that looped segment. The STEM rendition is anemic, flat, loses all character and punch. I do recognize that STEM creation is an art in and of itself, and that different artists will be differently capable of making nice-sounding STEMs. However I don’t have any confidence that most of the artists selling STEMs are putting much effort into them since the sales are presumably so low. As for myself, I will no longer be purchasing STEMs since the stereo versions probably sound much better. It’s just not worth the added mixing flexibility.