Recently Pioneer unveiled a new feature in its venerable car audio range. Called MixTrax, it does exactly what it says on the tin: mixes tracks while you drive. Considering how much creativity a car stereo normally offers, that’s pretty awesome, even if it is no Digweedian DJ artisan.
The iOS version does the same, except that by directly accessing your onboard iTunes library it’s more efficient and easier to use. The interface is dominated by album art, the controls plain and unobtrusive. You have a choice of six categories: Beat, Chill, Thump, Distortion, High, or Custom mode. These flavours sort your music primarily by tempo. Genre seems to be secondary concern, so if your library is eclectic you’ll end up with some really unexpected mixes. My favourite so far has been Tool into Thievery Corporation, which actually flowed pretty smoothly despite there being no rational reason that it should.
Normally, disparities like this are masked by the effects; the transitions are accompanied by big wet sweeps, phasers and filters. The effects are all rave, and the app really comes into its own when working with dance tracks. Feed it a varied diet and it’ll give you back a chaotic playlist with effects that seem haphazard and blatant. Give it a library of 126bpm minimal, though (and that’s where the Custom mixes come into it), and you’ll get a mix that, while clearly the output of an unmanned algorithm, is buoyant enough to work in the car, or at the gym, or any other time you want a more or less random selection of non-stop beats.
MixTrax draws information about the songs in your library from its database, which means you’ll need to spend a little time online to get started. The database contains about eight million songs – but a complementary desktop program will do the analysis on any unrecognised songs in your library and then upload the data to Pioneer, so eight million should soon grow to many more, and the database will remain as current as the tastes of its users.
More than a few things about the way MixTrax is designed give me the feeling that I’m using a port of the original car software, rather than an attempt at exploiting the strengths of the iOS architecture to make the smartest, most flexible package they could – and then adapting that to the less versatile car stereo platform. It will be interesting to see how closely the two versions mirror one another as they evolve in the years ahead.
While the sneaky little Automix button in DJ software is a bit of a bugbear – the mixing of musics is the soul of the DJ’s artistry, after all – a good, dedicated automixing machine is actually embarrassingly overdue, especially in vehicle and portable audio, and it’s good to see it come first from a company as invested in the DJ market as it is in car audio. The execution might be a bit simple at this early stage but the idea is solid and the direction now is obvious. Let’s jus hope that Pioneer is willing to keep working at it.