Something different! Crucial D takes a tour of the new Traktor Scratch.
One for all the professional DJs out there who are tired of lugging 40kg of vinyl to each gig.
Welcome to the newest contender in the world of DVS (digital vinyl systems). This package represents the latest in an interesting line of products over the last 6 or 7 years, some of which have almost fanatical devotion - and some of which are despised as the work of the devil himself. I will attempt to give you an impartial assessment of the TS system.
When you buy the full Traktor Scratch pack it arrives with the Audio 8 interface which is compact & secure looking. With 20 LED’s for important status information, it’s basically an 8-channel sound card with phono pre-amps built in to accept Ni’s proprietary time-code direct from the turntables. It’s got 8 RCA ins and outs, as well as an XLR Mic in, MIDI in and out, headphones out, USB 2.0, and a fat grounding post.
The pack also comes with 3 x time-code vinyls which are lightweight scratch vinyl (in the past FS2 came with the thicker non-turntablist friendly vinyl - you had to purchase the thin plates separately). Also in the pack are TS Software installer CD and two very nifty multi-core cables, which are designed to simplify the process of getting the gear up & running in a club DJ booth. The color-coded leads have a special 7-pin DIN connector halfway along which allows each end to be set up independently then joined in the middle to make the connection.
The Traktor Scratch GUI is simple, but not customizable. It is basically a cut-down 2-deck version of Traktor 3 designed specifically for turntablists and those who want a clutter-free, stripped down version of Traktor with DVS (Digital Vinyl System) control.
Some of the good features from Traktor 3 have carried over into Traktor Scratch, including the looping, beat jumping, independent key and tempo, effects, mix recording, playlist based “crates”, the browser (with track preview player), cue controls, hot cues, MIDI control, deck caching, and iTunes support.
The effects are output from separate outs (5 & 6) on the Audio 8 interface. They therefore need to be routed into a third FX channel on the mixer, which would be an issue if you only have a 2-channel mixer. The looping feature can be activated via mouse or keyboard hot-keys but is best controlled via MIDI as that is the most intuitive way to access the various parameters. I tested TS with the Evolution X-Session controller which had just enough buttons/dials to map the controls which were important for me, which were the 8 buttons on the FX panels, FX select for focused deck, loop on/off & loop size.
Traktor Scratch uses 2khz time-code. It's a higher frequency than other types of code resulting in more information capability within the signal. It therefore tracks better, resulting in a much more accurate ‘feel’ which is 99.9% identical to the feel you get with a normal vinyl record. Needle-drops are impressive, something that battle-DJ’s will appreciate. One very nice feature is that the key correction disables itself when the dj is scratching, thus avoiding the ‘watery’ sound artifact that used to happen in earlier systems.
There are no gain controls on the Audio 8, the software automatically calibrates to the level coming in. One amazing feature of this new time-code is it’s ability to function on just one channel, so if you have cartridges dropping either left or right channels all of a sudden it makes no difference to the trackability of the system.
The pitch range is now selectable up to 100%, and deck caching comes over from Traktor 3. A visual representation of the cached portion of the song shows up as a yellow bar at the top of the waveform. When you move to different cue points or beat jump within this section, there is no gap at all between the jumps – making beat jumps and hot cues as seamless as the looping already was. Being able to cache a variable amount into memory means that Traktor Scratch is kinder to machines with less RAM, and able to take full advantage of more if you have it.
In terms of the power required to run all of this, PC’s should be at least a 2 Ghz processor with lots of RAM. If you plan on using a Mac then best to use the Intel variety as these machines will handle a much higher processor load. Look at the minimum specs advertised on the NI website, then go higher. The last thing you want is any chance of your machine crapping out halfway through a show!
If you have a fast machine though, Traktor Scratch really delivers at the extremes of DJ manipulation. It will read timecode from a platter moving at 4% of its natural pitch, or at 350%. Spin-back & slow-downs are natural sounding, pretty much anything you throw at it will be interpreted correctly. As far as I can tell, this DVS system is the best one so far. Having just been released, only time will tell in the real-world environment. NI seem to be addressing a few perfomance-based issues on the fly, (particularly in regards to Mac PPC G4 Machines). The current version is TS 1.0.050, make sure you have updated to the latest iteration from the NI website for the best performance.
I have used every version of Final Scratch (beos & linux included) and every version of Traktor from Traktor ‘FS’ (versions 1.1, 1.5 & 2) and Traktor Dj Studio 2.5 & beyond. As the years progress so does the capabilities of this sort of system. I have tested Serato, and it works fine, but when you compare the feature set of Traktor software & it’s midi capability there really is no comparison. The 2 biggest issues for me with Serato is that it will not handle AAC files (.m4a) which is a file format that definitely sounds better on a club PA. It also has no MIDI capability, which precludes it from being used with the ever-increasing number of DJ controllers coming on to the market. All in all, the Traktor Scratch package represents a definite improvement on what had previously been in the marketplace and should be an excellent excuse (for those who have so far resisted) to enter the digital vinyl domain.