Anyone who says that vinyl will never die is right. You don’t have to be a DJ to notice that the turntable is an icon of modern music culture — it has been elevated from its original intention as a lowly playback device to a musical instrument that is glorified by pop culture at large. Clearly, there’s something special about vinyl, but why do people hang on to this archaic 19th-century technology when modern tools like CD players and automatic computer software are everywhere?

Questions like these have been at the heart of arguments between vinyl purists and digital devotees for years. Fortunately, enterprising software engineers and savvy hardware companies have brought forth the best of both worlds with digital vinyl systems that allow DJs to control digital audio files with traditional analog vinyl.
One of the most common, and the current industry standard throughout the world is Rane — purveyor of some of the finest scratch DJ mixers available — and the high-end DSP coders at Serato, best known for its groundbreaking Pitch ‘n Time plug-in. Both manufacturers are leaders in their fields of expertise, and both continue that legacy by offering a digital vinyl system with rock-solid performance and unique tools aimed squarely at the turntablist market.

The Scratch Live hardware is a small, unassuming black box that’s slightly larger than a VHS cassette. The unit sports six pairs of RCA jacks for connecting to turntables and a mixer, a USB port to communicate with the host computer and a power jack for a wall-wart power supply. There’s also a ¼-inch input for connecting an external microphone. The hardware has an all-metal construction and, like all of Rane’s equipment, appears to be built to withstand the apocalypse. It’s large enough that it won’t be misplaced easily yet compact enough to fit conveniently in a record bag or a laptop carrier. The only glaring omission is the lack of a packaged power supply, a required accessory if you plan to play regular records through the unit without a laptop attached. Something I’ve managed to fix by visiting the local JayCar store with the power specifications.

Patching in the hardware isn’t all that difficult, but it does require a little cable jockeying and free access to the phono and line inputs on the DJ mixer. The unit plays audio from the computer through the mixer’s line inputs and acts as a pass-through for phono inputs, so if you need to throw some old-fashioned analog grooves into the mix, it’s as simple as switching from line to phono on your mixer.

One look at the vinyl that ships with Scratch Live, and it’s clear that Rane has spent a lot of time listening closely to what professional DJs want in a digital vinyl system. The Scratch Live records offer a wealth of information at a glance — thin, visible grooves mark each minute on the vinyl, and thicker grooves indicate five-minute marks. This feature is a serious help when needle-dropping to find a specific spot in a track.

One side of the vinyl is 15 minutes in length and the other is 10. The code on each record is identical (the grooves on the 10-minute side are simply further apart), so if one side becomes scratched or worn, you can flip it over and keep mixing. Because you’re not playing music from the records themselves, it doesn’t matter how worn the records become. As long as the system can still hear valid code from the coded vinyl, the music played from the Scratch Live system will sound as good as the day you recorded it.

The 10-minute side of the disc also has a special “vinyl select” area that allows you to choose songs without ever touching the laptop. Moving the record back and forth in this area skips forward and backward in the song browser. This very cool feature is great for DJs who would rather spend less time hunting and pecking on a laptop keyboard and more on the decks.

One of the primary reasons for switching from old-fashioned vinyl to a digital system like Scratch Live is the convenience of having thousands of records at your fingertips without the back-breaking work associated with carrying around an entire room’s worth of vinyl. There’s nothing quite like having the perfect record for the perfect moment, and Scratch Live gives you that power and flexibility

All of this tech wizardry is useless if the system does not perform like real vinyl. And Scratch Live simply steals the show when it comes to delivering flawless music with low latency. Cueing and scratching with Scratch Live is literally just like working with real vinyl. The system is so stable and responsive that it’s easy to completely forget that you’re working with MP3s streamed off of a computer and not analog music stamped on wax.

Scratch Live is a robust digital vinyl system that easily holds its own against competing products. The system’s unusual interface takes some getting used to, but many DJs will find the unique features — such as frequency-colored waveforms, beat-matching tools and marker points — well worth the effort. The hardware is built like a tank and leaves little to be desired, aside from a built-in power supply, and the sound and responsiveness of the system is second to none.

There really isn’t much to dislike about Scratch Live, I’ve been using it since the beginning of 2009, about 5 years or so after seeing it used in a nightclub I previously worked in, but it seems like the best solution for me, the mobile and nightclub DJ who simply doesn’t have the room in the car for all my vinyl or CDs. I have used most of the available forms to DJ that are available today – Vinyl, CDs, and computer software.

No matter what other DJs say to me who aren’t using it, you are really DJing. Even I get annoyed when you go to a party or nightclub and see the “DJ” using an auto-mixing piece of software on a computer or laptop. Serato does not do auto mix for you and what you see is what you get. If you were a mediocre DJ on real Vinyl and CDs then you will be exactly that with Serato. It is simply a simpler way of moving to the future without killing the art form known as the Disc Jockey.

If you’re looking for a solid, reliable digital vinyl system from a company with an intimate understanding of the turntablist’s needs, Scratch Live could be the one for you.

Daniel “BODZ” Bodington OUT!


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: