I have been using all three in a pc environment and have come to many conclusions about each, which will hopefully be helpful to others reading this.
I have a MCX8000 which I have been using for less than a year. In the beginning I used engine prime on my PC to prepare tracks and just used the built in engine on the MCX8000 with great success, but soon outgrew the limitations. Then I moved to Serato since it comes with it, and now have tried Virtual DJ.
Here are my takeaways from a PC prospective: Engine Prime is quite good, it’s fast and responsive, has a decent layout and is pretty easy to understand for beginners. The downside is that it lacks many of the advanced features and plugins/expansions of the others. But I still end up using Engine Prime first every time for one killer feature missing in all the others, and that’s the track preview in the track lists specifically for creating playlists. In the beginning I would play songs on the fly picking what I felt was appropriate but often this leads to clumsy transitions and just poor track compatibility. Using the waveform on the left of the track you can needledrop the preview of a song right where the buildup/drop/breakdowns appear and quickly preview other songs for compatibility. It’s the most efficient, accurate and effortless way to create good playlists, and working from a pre-selected playlist is the best way to create professional sounding mixes. Playlists export/import into Serato and VDJ super easy so switching between is effortless. I have not found a way to use a laptop running Engine or Engine Prime, connected to the MCX8000 either, and certainly not as connected as Serato or VDJ, no record function and lack of all the other expansions and plugins offered in the others relegates Engine Prime to playlist generation at this time.
My Serato experience is with Windows, and it’s clearly not optimized for windows, various instability issues and crashing frustrated me to no end on an modern i5-1035g4 laptop. I ended up using a 10+ year old laptop with usb2 ports for stability i5-560m. This was stable but clunky slow, the waveforms were not fluid (they wern’t that fluid on the i5-1035g4 either), cpu usage was at about 35-40% on the 560m with 2 tracks playing. Serato offers stacked waveforms which is a huge improvement vs the multi screen displays on the MCX8000 (that’s why the dual displays were abandoned on the Prime series controllers). Lots of extra settings and features (not free) are available and very useful, the thing I liked the most was the phrase markers on the beatgrids every 16 beats, this is missing from the Engine Prime and VDJ. Beatgrids are easy to understand and adjust. Performance and stability ultimately drove me away from Serato.
Virtual DJ was the last controller software I tried and for a PC user it feels like what controller software is supposed to be like. What feels like hundreds of skins available for display lets you find an interface that has just what you need, and not what you don’t. The granularity and variety of configuration options in VDJ are literally 10x what Serato has, and most of the features are included (example-no need to buy a pitch 'n time plug in like serato). Waveform animations are smoother and more responsive on my ancient 560m than Serato is with the 1035g4. CPU usage playing 2 tracks with VDJ is < 20% or nearly half of what Serato uses, all while providing a more fluid experience. VDJ isn’t perfect, the vast options in the option menu can be daunting to beginners (there are so many options they have a search function for them), I actually see this as an upside. The only things missing for me is the track preview that Engine has and the lack of a phrase marker on the beatgrid like serato has. However I found in one of the popular skins there’s a phrase counter that gives you a small wheel (which is also a button) that will show a number indicator of the beat, clicking on the phrase wheel will first sync to the bar and the second click will lock to the phrase, it’s also mapable to buttons on the controller. The beat grid markers to me appear more off than Engine or Serato, but if I let the sync do it’s thing it gets it right, and it smooths the adjustment even on needle drops. The automatic functions of VDJ can make me look like a much better DJ than I actually am.
There are certainly cost considerations, and Engine is free, Serato is free in my instance but the plugins add up, VDJ varies in price depending on license and equipment, so depending on what you are using cost can be prohibitive.
In a nutshell, Engine Prime is the solid basic package with excellent playlist generation tools, that’s stable and usable. It’s still version 1 so I hope it will grow into a more complete package as it evolves.
Serato is the IOS of controller software, it’s a walled garden, that feels like a sloppy port on windows, but has good industry support and a familiar interface that’s easy for beginners. Probably a great choice for a mac.
VDJ is the Windows of DJ software, much more optimized for windows, with much more options, and customization.