For those of you who missed the fireworks, Native Instruments recently left its partner Stanton Magnetics (makers of Final Scratch) to pursue its own DJ strategy, which it unveiled at NAMM as (coincidentally named, I’m sure) Traktor Scratch. As with any breakup, that raised questions about support.

Here’s where the first bad news hits: the existing Final Scratch software is incompatible with Intel Macs. And that combined with other compatibility issues could mean the big losers here are Final Scratch customers, who are likely to be really unhappy when they learn the “solution” means buying new products, whether from NI, Stanton, or a third party.

Meanwhile, with NI dropping support for the software end of Final Scratch, Stanton is in the unenviable position of trying to keep their user base from leaving altogether.

Step one for Stanton: rename their existing hardware audio interface Final Scratch Open. What’s “open” about it? Well, it’s an audio interface, with ASIO (PC) and Core Audio drivers (Mac) that let you use it with any software you want — just like any other audio interface. Not exactly news, of course, and the only reason Stanton has to push hard to communicate this message is that they had previously focused on marketing an integrated solution, rather than an open, BYO software solution. The ScratchAmp could be a great audio interface, but you’ll still need a DJ app and control vinyl to complete the solution. Given that there are other DJ audio interfaces on the market, it’d be more fair to call this “Final Scratch Unbundled.”

Step two — here’s where things get ugly: blame Native Instruments for the compatibility problems. In a statement released this week and spread wide on the Web, Stanton said it was unable to patch NI’s software, because NI is responsible for software support and refused to create an update:

The ScratchAmp is and always has been fully compatible with all Mac technology, but an Intel compatible update for FS2 users on the software side was never developed, and all of Stanton’s requests for this software update have been denied by the developer … We would also like to stress the fact that we are open to offering compatibility to ALL developers, including N.I., and any others who may choose to stand behind the ScratchAmp and implement our code in their programs, present and future. We invite you to encourage your software company to make their developments ScratchAmp compatible!

See The Official Word from Stanton – again, plus discussion, from our favorite turntablist site, Skratchworx

Here’s the only problem: it’s not ScratchAmp’s capability as an audio interface that makes it appealing to Final Scratch users. The whole point is the ability to use the control vinyl. Let’s see how Native Instruments responds in a counter-announcement recently posted to their website:

Statement regarding Stanton Magnetics FinalScratch, February 23 [Native Instruments]

First, NI effectively claims they were already in “divorce proceedings” by the time Stanton asked for an Intel Mac version:

“Stanton Magnetics never requested the development of a Mac Intel-compatible version of the FinalScratch software within a reasonable timeframe before the partnership of the two companies ended. Native Instruments has completely fulfilled all development and support responsibilities towards Stanton Magnetics.”

This would seem to confirm that Stanton did ask for Intel Mac compatibility, and NI said no. That’s a pretty big admission, whether in a “reasonable timeframe” before the partnership ended, or not. NI then says the reasons were legal:

Native Instruments had originally planned to maintain FinalScratch compatibility in TRAKTOR 3 for an indefinite amount of time. Stanton Magnetics has however issued, and never retracted, a legal statement that has forced Native Instruments to remove FinalScratch timecode compatibility from the TRAKTOR platform. The announcement of the “FinalScratch Open” program in January 2007 has not relieved Native Instruments from this specific legal constraint.

Of course, this is the big irony of Stanton’s new “open” platform. All audio interfaces are “open”; the issue is the timecode for the vinyl control technology — there’s a reason the product name is Final Scratch and not Final Phono Connector. But, squabbling aside, what’s NI’s solution?

To provide a favorable alternative, Native Instruments will instead offer a special crossgrade that will allow FinalScratch owners to switch to the TRAKTOR SCRATCH system at greatly reduced costs, while even allowing them to keep their FinalScratch system.

There’s the rub. Current customers will have to wait for Traktor Scratch, the new NI product, to ship, and then pay for an upgrade. (For the record, street price on the crossgrade is US$395, versus $595 street for a fresh copy. Could be worth it, but that’s still a chunk of change.) Or you could wait for Stanton to come up with their own solution, though that seems unlikely, since Stanton by their own admission are a hardware company, not a software company.

Based on the two statements, it seems the two companies are both telling the truth — mostly at least. NI was the software side, Stanton the hardware side. The problem is, software support is a non-issue as long as Stanton controls the timecode technology.

In the meantime, there’s nothing stopping you from plugging Final Scratch into other software that does support Stanton’s vinyl control scheme, like DJDecks, and the upcoming Deckadance; the latter even runs as a plug-in inside other applications. (Important caveat: DJDecks’ Final Scratch compatibility is officially unsupported, though it works. Deckadance promises support for Serato, Final Scratch, and Ms. Pinky out of the box. In current beta builds, only Ms. Pinky support is currently functioning.)

Why is vinyl compatibility a legal problem for NI but not for other developers? As near as I can figure, the reason is the order of events: NI dumps Stanton. Stanton says “fine, then you can’t use our vinyl.” It’s difficult to tell, though, what actually happened between the two companies, only that both now seem to want to punish the other and win over the other’s lucrative customer base.

As CDM’s DJ editor Wallace observes, it’s hard not to see this as a divorce in which the real losers are the kids — the customers. NI and Stanton may be in equal parts responsible for the closed nature of the technology they developed, but it seems that in effect, they’ve made an excellent argument for solutions that give you a choice. Imagine if soft synths only worked with one brand of MIDI controller. Why shouldn’t you be able to mix and match vinyl control, audio interface, and DJ app? And if NI won’t support Final Scratch, why not support another existing technology in Traktor, like the excellent Ms. Pinky? (Or, at long last, plug-ins — especially since NI are themselves one of the biggest plug-in developers.) No matter how good Traktor is, it’s hard not to see open, flexible solutions as more appealing — particularly after this fallout.

If Stanton and NI are so keen for customers, their best strategy may be to put the customers first. It’d be terrific to see their products really be “open” — not just in name, but by supporting more different setups and playing nicer with complementary vendors. It’s not my opinion that matters; it’s the customer base. And both companies are now likely to lose customers and trust: Stanton because they have no workable solution, and NI because they give the appearance of forcing their customers to buy something new by breaking something they already own.

Updated: Native Instruments has responded officially with their side of the story. They argue that the request for an Intel Mac in fact came so late that there was no way to respond, and they’re now focused on their new system:

Internally, we have been working on Traktor 3.3 since January, which has a completely new timecode decoder tailor-made for the Traktor Scratch high-resolution timecode, with all the corresponding changes to how the timecode section is integrated into the GUI etc. Introducing additional FinalScratch timecode compatibility at this point is therefore not about flipping a single bit in the code, it would basically mean rewriting the whole timecode part of Traktor 3.3, just to accommodate a timecode format that we are probably still not allowed to use from a legal perspective, that belongs to a product that we are no longer affiliated with, and which we consider to be inferior to what we have designed in the meantime.

While everybody here can understand the disappointment of some FinalScratch users, and we really try to accommodate them as best as we can, implementing FS timecode decoding into the current build of Traktor is just not feasible for us.

Of course, this makes it all the more disappointing that Stanton seems to have fumbled figuring out their own backup plan for their customers. And while Native makes a strong argument for developing their own combined hardware/software solution, they do face other competition. We hope to test NI’s upcoming product alongside Ms. Pinky, Stanton, and Serato options, and the various software choices, and see just which hardware/software combination is best.

Those of you out there who do have Final Scratch 2, we’re curious to hear your plans.

Final Scratch Open
The Official Word from Stanton – again [Skratchworx]
Statement regarding Stanton Magnetics FinalScratch, February 23 [Native Instruments]