Since this week has become Unplanned Unofficial Vinyl Week, I might as well keep going. Vinyl with printed timecode is just one path. Here are two examples (one recent, one upcoming) of products that have found other means of connecting digital sound to the turntable. If a product like Traktor Scratch or Serato Scratch Live represent the maturation of the integrated vinyl + hardware + software solution, these two tools virtualize the turntable experience in other ways. And they demonstrate just how much control technology can change in music, turntable or no.

The Numark X2, above, as pointed out by beatfix in comments, is a hybrid of two approaches. It’s a conventional turntable (meaning you can actually hook it up to an amp and hear something, which isn’t the case with timecode-encoded vinyl). But it also uses the turntable to manipulate an MP3 CD. Now, obviously, Numark has missed the obvious next step: why not transmit control data to a computer instead of a CD? The X2, with a street well below US$1000, isn’t new; it’s been around a couple of years. But I’m still waiting for the concept to be applied to a computer output. (Anyone?)



In the opposite direction, the Stanton Control System, unveiled at NAMM in January and due to ship in June, does away with the turntable. The deck, the SCS.1d, simulates the feel of a turntable with a high-torque motorized platter and even a motorized pitch fader. Personally, I love this — and think it could be a sign of other, non-DJ controllers with tactile feedback. (You heard it here first. Uh … but I do expect that to take a while, as tactile control design is hard.)

But the turntable has some control features of its own: trigger pads, LCD scribble strips, encoders, transport controls, and preset triggers and navigation keys. They look a little odd, honestly, on a faux turntable, but it does save some space and gear.

The SCS.1m on left is a traditional mixer control surface with LCD "scribble strips" (reminds me a bit of the Novation keyboards) and endless encoders with a light-up ring (as we’ve been seeing various places.) The mixer controller is also a FireWire audio interface with mic and phono ins and dedicated headphone out, plus a footswitch input. That might win the hearts of some Ableton Live users who aren’t necessarily DJs.

This answers what Stanton has been doing post-FinalScratch. With that system defunct, what the Control System does is get you into whatever software you happen to choose. It works with Traktor Studio (the non-Scratch version of Traktor), Ableton Live, Deckadance, and MixVibes.

Cost: US$1499 for the deck, $999 for the mixer. And you can see the problem — a real turntable might be cheaper. But then, given what DJs make… hey, even a few VJ gigs might make it worth it if you really wanted it.

Part of why I find all of this interesting, even without being in the market for such a device myself, is what it says about controllers. The DJ market ought to be fairly predictable at this point, theoretically. And yet here are two examples of products that suggest that even conventional DJing, with a pre-defined set of basic techniques and hardware, can become unpredictable with the addition of a computer. As people struggle to define what a controller might look like for a laptop artist or musician using software like Ableton Live, I think the possibilities become even more wide open.

But then, that’s the fun of it.

I just want to see more high-torque motors in stuff.

  • nkem

    I believe it was denon to provide the first spinning platter/vinyl to control cds w/ the DN-s5000 and DN-s3500.

    Personally, what I'm most interested in knowing is where things are going or what system to get onto right now… I haven't jumped in to the digital music control system yet. I've used live for years, but it's too much of a production just to play songs dj style (i don't want to _have_ to quantize everything). I hate playing cds… and then I have regular vinyl.

    Any suggestions? I've played with Serato and like it, but I question if long-term these guys are going to be around. NI also feels quite good…

    any thoughts?

  • tobamai

    I think the real problem in getting a Numark X2 to send data straight to a computer as well as in getting more SCS.1d type controllers is lack of a standard. Midi works fine for the encoders, knobs, buttons, and drum pads… but even 14-bit midi doesn't provide nearly enough precise to be useful for scratching and fine speed adjustment.

    It's the same problem the market has seen with timecoded vinyl: there is no standard, so company has put out their own records in hopes of "winning the market". If there was a standard timecode format, DVS's could focus on features and functionality instead of implementing their own DVS suite as a solution.

  • i'd go with Serato. i recommend it because it integrates with the basic DJ setup. i can also make the argument that if you go to the majority of clubs in LA, Vegas, Chicago, Miami, NYC (where the real money is being made by glam dj's) Serato technology is already there…all you do is bring your laptop, needles, slipmats, and control vinyl, and plug in.

  • nkem

    How is this different from NI or m-audio for example? Don't they also integrate with a basic dj setup?

  • fudduf

    it isn't, and most clubs i play at don't have any systems pre-installed. unfortunately we won't really know where all this is headed long-term until a few more years on the battlefield.

  • i find it funny that all of the sudden vinyl is all over the place, like its the new thing.

    whats up with that?

    "digital vinyling" if you wish, has been going on for a long time now, all of the sudden everyone is producing atleast one product that incorporates a vinyl platter and some knobs and/or buttons, like its a brand new technology that everybody wants and needs.

    interesting that.

    i blame the blogs for hyping it.

    except cdm ofcourse ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Despite being a long-time vinyl DJ, I agree that vinyl doesn't make much practical sense as a means of mixing digital music. But, there are compelling reasons why it persists.

    The physical technique of scratching and pitching records on a turntable is an art form that has evolved over decades, and there is no digital control system that has captured people's imagination yet in the same way.

    Partly this is because vinyl jocks had no choice but to work with turntables, whereas digital DJs have a nearly infinite number of options of how to manipulate their music. There's no universal standard that everyone is trying to expand and perfect.

    For all of us old-schoolers, there's a genuine reluctance to abandon the skills we developed over time. Plus, there is a style to mixing on a turntable that is subtly but inescapably unique, and that style has rocked many a party over the years, so there's an institutional memory of good times. I defy anyone to watch the movie "Scratch" and then say that turntablism isn't an art worth preserving. Better yet, show me a DJ who mixes digital tracks in a manner that's one-eighth as entertaining as Q-bert.

    Personally, I'm still waiting for a physical mixing technique that works with digital music, and takes the performing experience to a new level. Knobs, faders, and buttons are efficient and effective, but they don't sing to me the same way that a well-executed backspin does.

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  • Sizzurp Sippa

    I am just wondering about something:

    Once you get to the point of investing in a certain amount of specialized controllers, laptops, etc., and the new skills to use them, how much harder is it to just perform your own tracks live?

    There was something very simply an elegant about two turntables and a mixer… and they were always cheaper than music gear back in the day… but now with dirt cheap laptops, midi controllers, grooveboxes, etc., if you aren't going to keep it old school with the vinyl, why not go 100% out and create your own tracks?

    I defy anyone to watch the movie “Scratchâ€ย and then say that turntablism isn’t an art worth preserving.

    Turntablism is most definitely an art worth preserving, in the same way playing jazz saxophone is an art worth preserving.

    At one time though, turntables were the cheapest and easiest way for some young kid to go out and rock music… since records and turntables were the ubiquitous technology of their day. Turntablism was all about underground youth culture and enpowerment… they didn't fetishize the turntables, they were simply the best and cheapest technology available at the time.

    But nowadays, laptops and mp3s are the ubiquitous technology among youth. Turntablists are more and more like virtuoso jazz musicians, very talented and still making great sounds, but no longer relevant in that rebellious underground youth-culture sort of way.

    Turntablism has become the realm of respectable adults. Q-Bert is 40 years old, and people are doing tasteful documentaries like Scratch.

  • Damon

    "Personally, I love this"

    Agreed, I have never yet caught the DJ bug, but this kind of thing makes me want to consider how such a thing could be used in the context of music production. Personally, I am wondering if such a turn table could be the ultimate automation improvisational tool. Maybe this is something everyone already does, but I have not been aware of this.




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  • coolout

    As a working DJ, the problem for me isn't controllers…it's the fact that laptops are the most fragile part of the chain.

    I've spent way too much time worrying about the safety and security of my laptop and external hard drive at gigs.

    What i'd like to see is a hardware media player that reads timecode.

  • Midi out is the key (sysex is 10 bits resolution or OSC). I'm trying to do it from a regular turntable and I have some ideas.

    Anybody would help me?