Traktor Scratch v1.03/v1.1
Apple G4 Powerbook 1.67Ghz/1Gb RAM OS X 10.4.10
Apple MacBook Pro 2.33Ghz/2Gb RAM OS 10.4.9
Vinyl emulation is nothing new. All kinds of companies big and small have made systems with various levels of success. But one company has been doing it for a lot longer than most and that's Native instruments. Hooking up with Stanton way back at the beginning of time, NI were instrumental in bringing Stanton's Final Scratch product to the market. Several versions later and Final Scratch was a mature product aligned with NI's own Traktor software. But cracks began to appear in the Stanton/NI relationship and with the long term romance on the rocks, the whole partnership fell apart culminating in a very public and almost messy divorce.
So what to do now? Stanton had an extremely capable sound card but no software to run with it and NI had some established software but no hardware to run it on. Well Stanton have announced their Final Scratch Open project but it's how Native Instruments have dusted themselves off and got back on with business that we're concerned with.
It would have been a shame if NI had just walked away from Final Scratch and gone back to build Traktor and other software in their portfolio. But they didn't and after much R&D and market research, they're back in the DVS game. Building on the established Traktor brand, Traktor Scratch is aimed at the very top of the market, cramming in many features not seen before in a DVS system and coming with a high quality sound card (Audio8) and a whole new timecode vinyl and CDs as well.
About This Review
Yes - it has been a long time coming, but here's why. I'm not a DVS user as I have no real need for one, so tearing apart a system such as this without an in-depth knowledge of other systems means I'm starting at square one, which I feel is a great place to start. This is why you'll find almost nothing in the way of comparisons to other DVS systems in this review. I've beaten the crap out of Traktor Scratch and all my findings are on their own merits, rather than being held up against others on the market.
You'll also spot the epic length of the review. This is also testament to the amount of time I've spent with the product as well. Most of you will no doubt skip to the last sections to get the lowdown and then jump back and forth through the rest of my verbiage. That's fine, as long as you take the time to read how I back up my conclusions.
And finally, I wanted to be the first to have v1.1 reviewed. Yes elitist oneupmanship is alive and kicking in skratchworx.
DVS systems largely fall into 2 camps - software that utilises existing sound cards and timecode vinyl and those which offer the whole package. Traktor Scratch falls into the latter, coming with a brand spanking new high spec sound card called Audio8 DJ. Also addressing the nightmarish issue of cable management, NI have devised a somewhat nifty all in one cable solution, allowing you to link and unlink your setup with total ease. The timecode vinyl is all new - way more stable than the Final Scratch heritage and frankly better than any other on the market. Finally the software falls very much in line with the Traktor family, but adds in some important new features but it's the performance that really shines and that's ultimately what counts.
But NI also have an ace up their sleeve. Working closely with several mixer manufacturers (at the time of writing Korg and Mackie), the Traktor Scratch Certified program means that you only need the software and the timecodes to use Traktor Scratch with sound card equipped mixers such as the Mackie d.pro series and the Korg Zero4 and 8. This saves you a good bundle on the Audio8 card and means your mixer is also controlling much of the function of Traktor Scratch. It's early days yet but as more mixers (and there will be more) go down this route, expect more certified products.
So let's break Traktor Scratch down into its parts.
One thing a good DVS system needs is an interface. This take the timecode audio and passes it to your computer for the software to work its audio magic on your music collection. NI have opted to produce one of their own but instead of just being a simple closed system interface, the Audio8 DJ is a fully fledged sound card in its own right.
First off, the Audio8 DJ is a tank - a small tank though and is a rock solid lump of quality engineering. When you pick it up, you know that this is much more than just a DVS interface - it looks like Knightriders's audio interface with a cool black and silver scheme with red indicator for its many functions. Flipping it around in your hands, you'll find that it comes complete with just about every in and out you'll need in your DJ life. Hold on - here comes the geekery...
The Audio8 is a 24/96 device. This means it handles 24 bit audio with a sample rate of up to 96kHz. When you consider that CDs only use 44.1kHz with 16 bit samples, 24/96 does seem excessive. But as a sound card, capturing and playing audio at the highest possible quality can only be a good thing. Obviously, this does have an impact on computer performance but 16/44 is fine for most uses, especially if using lower quality MP3s or running a computer at the lower end of the scale. The Audio8 can however run at 16 or 24 bit plus 44.1, 48 or 96Khz. The 96kHz range also gives added advantages with the timecode as more information can be captured meaning accurate tracking and also greater sensitivity to extremes of fast or slow hand movement.
Doing the digital magic inside the Audio8 are Cirrus-Logic AD-DA converters - a highly respected name in the audio industry. But what does this actually mean? Well the timecoded audio signal hits the Audio8 and via the converters is converted into a binary signal (AD = analog to digital) that is fed via USB into the Traktor Scratch software. This signal is processed to convert the timecode position into actual music and if spat back out again via USB to the Audio8, where the the converters work their DA magic and turn that digital noise into actual audio out to your mixer.
This leads me quite neatly to the inputs and outputs. The Audio8 is a USB 2 bus powered device. This means you can draw power from your computer's USB port to run it without need of a power supply. NI assume that you'll be running a modern high spec computer that will almost certainly have USB2 ports and thus didn't include a power supply or indeed any means of plugging one in. This is something you should bear in mind before shelling out on TS - there may be some extra cost involved to power it. Bearing in mind the fairly steep specs needed to run Traktor Scratch, I'd expect your computer to be more than capable. It does however mean one less power point to find in your bedroom or club.
A neat and welcome addition is the USB cable hook. On the initial teaser shots, this looked like some sort of periscope and even on release, it still wasn't entirely clear what it was for. But it's a very essential hook for securing your USB cable into the Audio8. You really don't want that cable pulling out mid set do you? Good call NI.
Boasting 8 inputs and 8 outputs (which is actually 4 stereo ins and outs). Channels A and B handle your main deck inputs and outputs plus there are 2 more multi-purpose channels. Channel C is used for XLR microphone input or line level RCA input. There's a selector to allow you to switch between the 2 as well as a mic level knob. Channel D is reserved for recording your mixer output directly back into Traktor Scratch. Channels C and D have a dual purpose though - they're also used for effects routing to your mixer, but more about that later.
The Audio8 also has MIDI in and out, opening up the whole complex and wonderful world of talking with external devices. Ideal usage is something like a full on controller like a Vestax VCI or a Behringer BCD or perhaps something smaller like a Faderfox to take away the reliance on your laptop for hitting buttons or fiddling with tiny on screen dials.
Lastly, there's a headphone socket. Generally speaking, this isn't of much use to your average Traktor Scratch user but seeing as the Audio8 is a sound card as well, this becomes a very useful addition.
Despite all the technological advances, we still want to feel 12 inches of round plastic under our fingers, thus the whole point of a DVS system is so that you can feel like a conventional analog DJ and have all the benefits that vinyl control brings - despite it being just as easy to mix digital files with other technologies. So the time coded vinyl is vitally important to the success of the system. Get it wrong and the system won't work properly.
The basics - timecode is a god awful noise pressed into the vinyl that feeds back the exact position of the needle on the vinyl (or location on the CD for that matter). The quality of the timecode really does have a massive impact on performance and quality.
The NI supplied picture shows the precision of their vinyl - deep clearly cut grooves mean a loud and clean signal. The 2kHz frequency means twice as much information being passed through to the software meaning excellent tracking. One complaint of other systems is the reduced performance when doing slow drags and also shifting cue points. In my testing, the Traktor Scratch vinyl performed faultlessly - never missing a beat, slipping a cue or breaking up at slow speeds.
In use, the DJ friendly 140g (not 120 as stated) vinyl is double sided, one side being 12 minutes, the other 17 with 2 tracks at the end for playlist navigation directly from your deck, rather than having to spend more time on your laptop - a big complaint for many people. But there's a bonus - the run-out groove is also locked so if you over run your audio, it just keeps playing allowing you to work out what to do next i.e. not panic, spill beer into your laptop and keep your set smooth running.
But it's not just about vinyl. An increasing number of mix DJs who invested in CD decks are also drawn to the capabilities that DVS systems have to offer. Even though CDs are relatively easy to carry, there's still the loading and unloading to deal with as well as a small window into the belly of the CD deck. Suddenly this makes DVS systems with CD control very attractive. So Traktor Scratch comes with a pair of timecode CDs as well.
The CD is broken into 3 zones:
Zone 1: This is the lead-in (the red ramp on the waveform display)
Zone 2: Playback - a full 27 minutes worth, so there are some advantages to the CD route
Zone 3: Browser control - just like the timecode vinyl
I own a Numark CDX and in use, the control CD worked as it's supposed to. It was rather more of a dumb controller as pitch control worked but looping and keylock didn't. Effects simply gave Traktor Scratch a nervous breakdown that it couldn't handle. But it did play my music and possibly felt even a little more responsive than the timecode vinyl. I'm told by NI that Pioneer CDJs can use looping so it'll be a matter of suck it and see i.e. trawl the NI forum and ask the right people the right questions before depending on the control CD to change your life.
If you're unfamiliar with DVS systems, the real pain in the arse is the cabling. In a conventional setup, you plug your decks into your mixer... and that's it. With a DVS system however, you have to plug your decks into your DVS interface, which in turn runs via USB into your computer. That signal is fed back into your mixer via another set of RCAs. Now I don't know about you, but I already have enough generic red and black RCAs in my setup so I can imagine just how annoying it is for those who play out on a regular basis. NI clearly have thought about this problem of too many cables and making sure the right cable goes into the right port and have come up with their own solution.
Essentially heavy duty Y cables, these simplify the whole cabling input and output setup. In basic terms, the multicores come in 2 parts, connected with a seriously heavy duty XLR connector. On one end, you have the Audio8 inputs and outputs - all colour coded and labeled up to make connection a breeze.. At the other end is the deck, mixer and extra CD/TT RCAs. Output from the Audio8 is line level, but the multicores allow you to run straight from the phono output of the deck as well. A flick of the switch on your mixer and you're playing analog.
Oh wait - Y cables... don't they make for a weak signal? Ordinarily maybe but NI have designed the whole system so that in vinyl mode, the Audio8 Dj switches up resistance so that the phono signal isn't weakened. And when switching between line and phono, the signal diverts before even reaching the interface so it's a direct connection rather than up the cable, into the Audio8 DJ and back again. And it's all patent pending as it's mightily clever stuff.
So imagine you're going to play out and want to disconnect your Audio8 - easy peasy as you just disconnect the XLRs and your existing setup is intact and still essentially an analog setup. You've simply taken the interface out of the loop.
These cables are a brilliant idea, if a little bulky in normal use. I see them as a real innovation in these digital DJ times and very suited to club installations to enable quick changeovers between DJs with various interfaces. I've used them in the skratchlab to enable very quick changeover between interfaces simply because of the labeling on the RCAs. NI would do well to market these as a product in their own right.
For this idea to really work, every DJ and club needs to work with this technology. Instead of a gap between sets, these cables make it possible for the last DJ to switch to phono, play a lump of vinyl while their interface is being disconnected and the next DJs setup being plugged in. I hope NI promote this idea as it could be a real time saver and benefit for DJs and clubs alike.
Having already been in the DVS game for years, NI clearly have enough experience at knocking out this kind of thing. So building on the arguably solid foundation of Final Scratch, NI have got quite a head start in the coding stakes, already having a Mac and Windows base to build on.
Being part of the Traktor family, it's logical to expect that Traktor Scratch would look and feel like part of the family - and it does. It has basically the same custom interface guideline busting look and feel like all DVS systems do, complete with the same dark colour scheme as Traktor. One comment - is it just me, or would all the various DVS systems benefit from having the browsers as dark text on a light background? We don't run Word, Excel or any other list intensive with light text on dark so why should DVSs be any different? Some control over this aspect would be very welcome.
The interface is also scaleable. Whilst being designed to fit neatly in a 1024x768 screen, it cab be maximised to whatever your screen size is. The controls stay the same size, making the browser fill the rest of the space. And as a preference, the font can be changed depending on your drunken vision.
From a layout point of view, it follows the established DVS format of control bar at the top, deck controls in the middle and music browser at the bottom. So if you're looking to swap from another system, you won't have to relearn a new concept. The software is broken down into 4 distinct sections:
Header: Sitting like a fat menu bar across the top, this gives you basic system feedback as well as giving you access to preferences.
Detail: Cycling between 4 screens, this is the area where you control various aspect of Traktor Scratch such as effects, cue points and loops. You can also get direct visual feedback from the decks too.
Decks: Much like all other DVS systems, you get a waveform display running left to right with pitch, keylock and playing mode controls. I like the way the decks are coded blue for left and brown for right - just like wiring a plug (at least in the UK).
Browser: All your music is managed here including your Beatport purchases.
While you're using Traktor Scratch, you can also swap between optimised layouts:
• Performing: shows all parts of the interface.
• Playback: Removes the detail layout.
• Browsing: Shows only a cut down version of the decks but maximises the browser.
Got enough grunt?
I'm going to get this out of the way right now - DVS systems and their increasing specs and features need as much horsepower as you can give them. Some are less hungry but others disintegrate on an older machine. This is quite true of Traktor Scratch.
I run a G4 1.67Mhz Powerbook - a machine that only just creeps onto the very bottom of the spec requirements list. It's something that has annoyed many a Mac owner as in the whole scheme of things, it's not classed an old machine. But here's the thing - Traktor Scratch is very powerful, is feature laden and thus requires some real power to get the best from it. So rather than write software that bridges the gap, Traktor Scratch is unashamedly written for Intel processors and if you want the very best performance from it, you really need to run it accordingly.
Some people will be disappointed - even deeply annoyed at this. But look at it this way - why write software for a platform that doesn't actually exist anymore? Why compromise software that runs just fine on current platforms just to keep legacy systems going? Had Traktor Scratch been released while there was still a Power PC ship equipped Mac in the lineup, I might understand it but there wasn't.
That said, NI are continually tweaking the app to make better use of G4s. Indeed in my testing, there have been a number of releases culminating with the v1.1 release, each one bringing just that little bit of extra performance from my now apparently elderly Mac. I can mix and scratch just fine with it for my needs, achieving 2.5ms latency at 44.1khz sample rate. It's not without the odd audio dropout and glitch but good enough for home or studio use. Turning up the latency to a less scratch friendly number improves quality dramatically though, so if you're more of a mixer than scratcher, older Macs will still get a look-in here. Above all, strip out your computer of all the chaff that might slow your computer down. NI provide a good list of optimisations in the manual as well as some in their forum.
If your livelihood depend on stable performance, run it on an Intel Mac. Pulling several strings, I organised a Macbook Pro so that I could get a feel of the full awesomeness of Traktor Scratch and in my many hours of testing, I had zero issues and had 1ms latency even at 96khz. If I'm honest, I'm not one for numbers - all I know is that I cranked up the dials and it felt perfect. And yes I did try Bootcamp with Vista and Traktor Scratch also performed perfectly. So you can pick your OS as well if you want.
Managing your music
So having dispensed with you record bag, what do you do now? It's all about successfully managing your digital collection and making it as accessible as dipping into your bag when you want. And it's clear that NI have spent some serious time in this area.
In the digital realm, preparing your music is vital. There are no sleeves or labels to look at so tagging up your files is pretty essential to get the best experience from Traktor Scratch. You can of course just use filenames but that pretty much closes off a world of features.
As you might expect from a company specialising in audio apps, NI have a wide selection of supported formats - MP3, WAV, AIFF, Audio-CD, FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, non-DRM WMA and AAC. And of course Traktor Scratch can read AND write ID3 tags - but you have to tell it to. Normally, ID3 tags are read from the file and stored in a collection file on your computer. These tags stay in the collection until the file is moved or deleted. So if you make changes to the tags, be sure top apply them to the file itself. And don't forget that not all files can store tags, specifically WAVs and AIFFs. They will stay tagged in Traktor Scratch but not in the file itself. It's highly likely that in this day and age, your files will most likely be tagged up. But if you need to, you can do it all in Traktor Scratch.
Getting your music into Traktor Scratch can be as simple as dragging and dropping your music into the browser but this can also be automated. In preferences, you can define music folders which are watched and can automatically update your track collection on the fly. You can also get Traktor Scratch to read that tags and create audio stripe files in the background as well.
Stripes are important - without them you have no waveforms to look at while you're playing, but they can take a dogs age to create, especially when working with a heap of new music. To get the stripes and an approximate BPM value as well, you must analyse the tracks. Setting Traktor Scratch to create the stripes in the background on import saves a lot of time later and gives you instant access to the waveform on loading the track.
In a nutshell, Traktor Scratch keeps your music - no matter where it is - in a "collection". Essentially it's a linear list of all the files you use in Traktor Scratch. You can of course keep your files structured in any hierarchy you wish on your devices and these can be navigated to via the "Explorer" folder in the browser list. But Traktor Scratch offers a neat alternative by way of playlists. Of course, this is nothing new but really helps organise your music in a much more flexible way i.e. one file in multiple playlists. If you use iTunes, you can also use any playlists you've defined in there as well.
Playlists are also useful for scheduling parts of your set. You can for instance have small playlists made up of particular music or maybe scratch sounds and drop these predefined playlists into your main current playlist. Basically, using the current playlist, you can create a set on the fly by dropping tracks at the top or bottom of the current playlist and of course organise them any way you wish once they're on the list. And using Airplane mode, this can all be done offline from your DJ setup as well.
Unless you have an encyclopedic memory, knowing where all you music is can be tough so Traktor Scratch comes with a tag based search where you can scour through all your music looking for music by any one of 18 different tags. Search results are shown in a separate list in the browser and the last ones are remembered while you do your other Traktor Scratch work.
The actual track list has a net trick when looking for similar music. The magnifying glass allows you to filter down your current playlist by artist, release (i.e. album), label, BPM, comments and genre. This especially handy for when you want to locate tracks with similar BPM - assuming that you've analysed your collection, the rough BPM is displayed and clicking on the magnifying glass filters out the BPM range to +/- 2.5bpm.
NI have also gone a step further and integrated a Beatport browser and store into Traktor Scratch. Beatport is like iTunes but for DJs where you can find club choons and breaks that you wouldn't normally find elsewhere. It's nice that you can buy music in this way, and Traktor Scratch integration gives you some extra options that you don't get in the Beatport site. Traktor Scratch offers a download manager as well as multiple downloads but the really clever part is that you can preview online and mix it into your current set in your ears - I guess like building a set live. I figure it's handy for when someone requests a track that you don't have and can buy it and drop it in on the fly. Not sure I'd want to do that but if you want to mix by the seat of your pants, you can.
Traktor Scratch does however track your purchases separately so you can boast that you do have at least some legal music on your laptop.
Playing your music
Having prepared your files, imported them and sorted them neatly into playlists, it's time to give your music a spin. Being the organised digital DJ that you are, you'll have all your playlist neatly sorted into order and ready to rock from your current playlist. Or if you're like me, you'll be frantically scrambling around manually locating tracks and dragging them into the decks.
Giving you a very visual representation of your decks is the scratch panel. This serves 3 purposes - to assign decks to channels, to show you calibration and also for what's called sticker mode.
Calibration is easy - select a deck for the channel, drop the needle on and Traktor Scratch will do the rest. It automatically knows which side is which from the time code and tells you on screen. You can also see how good the signal is from the shape of the circular waveform. Bad needles or dirty control vinyls will make for an unstable waveform. Considering that a solid control signal is required, think about your needles and their condition if you want to get the very best performance you can.
There are 4 playback modes - internal (using software only), absolute (needle position corresponds to the position in the track) and relative (skipless mode - needle position ignored, best for scratching) and airplane mode (computer only - no sound card).
This is where sticker mode comes in. Traktor Scratch comes complete with stickers that you position in relation to the white dots in the scratch panel. The easiest way to do this is simply moving the needle to the very start of the timecode, just after the run in and put your sticker on at the top of the label to match the dot on screen. But you can also sort of simulate conventional stickering as you would on normal vinyl by switching to relative mode and putting your needle down in line with a sticker. You can of course use as many stickers as you want - NI supply 28 dots and 20 line stickers so you shouldn't run out in a hurry.
So once you've got your music lined up, dropped then into the decks, it's time to play. But believe me, the preparation is well worth it as the screen you're looking at is now full of useful information that makes your DJ life a whole lot easier.
Looking at the track list, you'll see a few icons:
- Which deck the track is loaded into
- Mimicking pulling tracks and resting them at an angle in your record bag, this shows that the track hasn't been played yet
- The track has been played
- This track is next in the playlist
- Ooops, this track is missing
Loading a track is a simple drag and drop or ctrl/right clicking the track and loading from the dropdown. But the most effective and reliable is a keyboard shortcut - on the Mac it's ctrl-left and ctrl-right respectively. This last method is certainly a lot more reliable - dragging and dropping seems a little hit and miss to me whereas using the keyboard works every time.
A little about Airplane mode. You can still work without the Audio8 DJ and it's especially useful for doing much of the necessary prep work with your music while for example being en route to your gig on an airplane - hence the name. Output come from your laptop so you'll be able to work with your headphones and not annoy anyone. You'll be able to prep those playlists ahead of time.
There's also another less official but nonetheless valuable mode. While people seem to crave having 4 or more decks in their DVS setup, with a little knowledge, you can operate Traktor Scratch from just one turntable. This is handy for those strapped for space or if perhaps a deck or needle breaks mid set. Check the "single turntable mode" section in the manual - it's more like a hack but it works just the same.
It goes without saying that you can adjust pitch from your turntable up to whatever range it allows, but at the same time you can also adjust it within Traktor Scratch, allowing you an even greater range of adjustment - something that is especially useful for Technics owners in this age of 50% pitch shifts on other decks.
There are 4 presets - 8, 35, 50 and 100% shifts, and all sound great - no real artefacting, but it's always best to do it on the turntable. And it's also really easy to get confused when trying combinations of internal and on deck pitch shifts. Keep an eye on where the pitch is actually being changed. Like all other controls, a double click return the pitch to zero.
Going hand with pitch shift is keylock. Pressing the "key" button beneath the onscreen pitch engages it and it's actually of a very high quality. Like all other keylocks, there's a maximum useable range before it ventures into the realm of effects but +/-25% is OK - plenty of range really.
Finally, we have key shift. Some tracks might sound great on their own, but when put together it can be an audio carcrash, due to the different keys used in the songs. So with key shifting, you can beat match but also shift the key of the song slightly to sound more pleasing to the ear. You do get a ridiculous Barry White to Chipmunk range, but usually just a slight shift will do the trick.
The success of these features - much like most of Traktor Scratch - is how much processing power you have. Thankfully in preferences, you can pick between 3 modes - non adaptive , PSOLA and Phase Vocoder. Each works well but Phase Vocoder sounds sweet and smooth. If you want to use the best setting, you'll have to make a trade off on older machines in terms of latency.
Despite the name, Traktor Scratch isn't aimed entirely at the turntablist scene - there's even more in here for DJ whose preference is to mix. One such feature is beatgrids.
While analysing your music is a great idea and gives you an overall BPM and it's best guess at beat markers, a beatgrid will make looping and blending a perfect experience. Essentially based on the analysed BPM, define the first beat in the track and setting that as a gridmarker cue type, the track is overlaid with a 4/4 beat grid, regardless of any other previously analysed beats. Depending on the source however, the grid can drift off sometimes - in which case you'll need to adjust the grid further into the track or simply adjust the grid for the entire track. You can even adjust individual grid points as well.
One of the benefits of this technology becomes apparent with the Phase Meter. Essentially it looks at the 2 tracks that are playing and displays how far out of phase it feels the tracks are. If the tracks are perfectly on beat, the bar stays on the middle. If it isn't, the meter displays accordingly and the crowd starts calling you Dave Doublebeats.
Being as old school as I am, I still prefer to use my ear rather than trust software, even though it does do a great job on the whole, especially for regular 4/4 dance beats. It's certainly complex and not for the more impatient of you out there, but for those who want to make their mixing experience as smooth as possible, check out the Beatgrid function.
Gone are the days of stickers on vinyl, marking the important parts of a track. In the digital age it's all about cue points, and Traktor Scratch has a whole lot of cue point action going on.
Like every package in the digital arena, there is a live floating cue point. When you stop the track, that becomes the live cue point, making it really easy to jump back to that point in a track at any time. And if you want to set that cue point mid-play, just hit the "Set" button in the Cue panel. Just remember to go back and name it if necessary. Cue points can also be deleted by deselecting "Lock". No real surprises here.
But it's the multiple cue points that make this interesting. Each track can store 10 individual cue points, each of which can be named rather than just generically being called 1, 2 etc. Setting them is easy - The real fun starts with assigning hot keys, either on your keyboard or via a MIDI control surface. Suddenly you can easily hop and jump around the cue points making live remixes on the fly. Obviously, this only works in internal or relative modes.
Of course, for the slightly less adventurous, you can simply navigate between the cue points via the Cue box. You get full access to all your cue points and can hop backwards and forwards at the click of a mouse or button.
So now you're successfully spinning your music but there's some more cool tools to make your Traktor Scratch experience even better. Alongside the various playmodes, there's also looping.
Having analysed the tracks, a beatgrid should have been made. On the waveform, you should see a vertical line on every beat. This will allow for perfect beat looping at the press of a button. Right clicking on the Loop button brings up a sub menu of beats, allowing you customise the length of the loop on the fly.
Complimenting this is Beatjump. On the second page, you'll find the box that enables you to instantly jump forward or backwards a pre-defined number of beats. There are 3 presets, but right clicking on them drops down a selection of beat jumps, from 1/128 to 32 beats - the same as looping.
Finishing off this somewhat cool functionality is the duplicate deck. With the click of the mouse, you can get instant doubles of your playing track, complete with loops intact. So now you've got the ability to chop and juggle your music without touching the vinyl at all. Obviously, for the more adventurous amongst you, touching the vinyl and pressing the buttons makes things a tad more interesting for the crowd.
Traktor Scratch is very flexible with effects. These operate as inserts i.e. internal effects or the signal can be routed out through the Audio8 to either your mixer or directly to an effects unit. With v1.1, all effects can be used as inserts rather than routing out, unless there are effects that you need from an external source. The big difference between them is pre and post fader. If used as inserts (pre fader), closing the fader also shuts off the effect. If routed out to your mixer (assuming your mixer has an FX loop) then you'll get proper post fader effects.
These are the effects that come as standard with Traktor Scratch:
• F:92 LP - Low pass filter
• F:92 BP - Band pass filter
• F:92 HP - High pass filter
Some are self explanatory but a quick word about the F:92 effects. Allen and Heath xone:92 is renowned for the quality of the filters and these effects in Traktor Scratch were developed in partnership with A&H and are as close as you can get to replicating the analog feel in the digital realm.
The Beatmasher however is something a little different. Sampling in a full bar of music, you then have full control over how that bar is mixed in with the audio. It's the bar that is playing when you turn the effect on that is used, not the current bar that is playing so don't expect it to acts like a looper - it's much more of an instant remix tool.
Engaging the effects is simple - next to each deck is the effects panel. Just click the "On" button and you're off. The effects can be selected from the dropdown at the top of the panel and each has a very complete set of controls.
I could write reams about effects and how they work but you can get all that from the manual. I will say this - they work exactly as you might expect and sound amazing too. They're an extremely welcome addition to the tools available for normal playback. And I'd expect that NI will no doubt bring out more effects as time goes on as well.
MIDI and Hot Keys
Barely a days goes by when you don't read about MIDI somethingorother hitting the DJ scene. It's hot - so hot in fact that it looks to take over the DJ scene, despite being ancient technology. And Traktor Scratch embraces MIDI in much the same way as Traktor does.
Making Traktor Scratch work with MIDI devices is simple. Install drivers that come with your device if necessary and plug it in. It should appear in the MIDI and Hot Key prefs where you cam load in MIDI control files, or teach it to learn particular controls and add them to functions in Traktor Scratch.
But this isn't just for MIDI either. You can assign functions to keys on your computer as well. Obviously this isn't going to work so well for smooth controls like faders but for triggering cues for example, the keyboard is perfect. Just try not to get too carried away as you punch a hole in your expensive laptop while rocking a crowd.
To me though, MIDI use in Traktor Scratch isn't going to be the same as Traktor - it's going to be rather more of a shortcut use than controlling the whole package by say a Vestax VCI-100. Something like M-Audio's Trigger Finger would be great to trigger Cue points or control effects. Indeed at MusikMesse, NI had a Faderfox triggering key controls rather than having to keep playing with your laptop.
MIDI is complex and like the effects, I could write a whole review on how each and every device works but seeing as I'm lacking MIDI devices here, it's kind of hard to tell you how well it all works. But take it for granted that the success Traktor has with MIDI will be reproduced in Traktor Scratch.
As well as playing your files and working all kinds of audio magic, Traktor Scratch can also record your sets back into your computer. You could of course simply do this from the back of your mixer into some audio device or other, but Traktor Scratch saves the master output directly to a file on your computer. All you need to do is hook up IN 5/6 on the Audio8 to you mixer, set the preferences to the right channel and you're recording. You'll need to set the gain to get clear recordings.
Traktor Scratch is a little more clever than just recording. If you hit the "Cut" button mid session, it breaks the recording up into individual tracks, stopping the existing WAV file and making a new one. Recordings can also be broken up into file size based segments if for example you wanted to back up your session to CD. Hitting "Delete" removes the last recorded track.
These tracks appear in the browser under "Audio Recordings" and gives you full access to them at any time. Using "Edit", you can also add attributes to the track like you can with any other in your browser.
Having put all this preparation into tagging your files, making playlists and adding beatgrids to all your music, it makes sense to ensure that all this is backup up safe and sound. And if you left all the default paths intact, it's a simple matter of backing up the Traktor3 folder on your HD. This obviously doesn't back up all your music as well - just the Traktor specific settings.
But NI have gone out of their way to ensure that everything is backed up safe and sound. As well as your own settings, there's also a complete set of defaults as well for you to revert back to. Your collections are also saved into a totally separate Backups folders - the last 10 changes are saved.
For ultimate safety, do a backup of your Traktor3 folder on a regular basis.
Now with Traktor 3
Like Final Scratch before it, Traktor Studio aimed to give you extra toys and still allow vinyl control. Now with v1.1, the soon to be released Traktor 3.3 gives you a whole world of extra goodies for you to play with. Obviously, not being out in the wild, I've not been able to play with this new stuff but NI reliably tell me it will include:
• Four playback decks, any two of which can be controlled via control vinyls or CDs simultaneously
• A full-featured internal software mixer with various analog-modelling based filters and EQs
• Non-destructive mix recording with overdubbing functionality
• Advanced looping features (up to 10 persistent, storable loop points per track)
• Optional automatic beat-matching
• Real-time Internet broadcasting of mixes via the Icecast protocol
• Customisable user interface
That's quite a lot more functionality and as a Traktor Scratch owner, you can get Traktor 3.3 for the price of €99/$119 - a small price to pay for the extra software tools.
Blah blah blah... but how good is it?
This is almost certainly the only section some of you will read so I'll try to keep it as clear and concise as possible.
The first thing that strikes me is quality - the whole package oozes German efficiency from the spec and features of the Audio8, the solid feel and usefulness of the cables down to the the timecode and the features expertly packed into the software. And of course coming from the Traktor family, I was immediately familiar with the controls - always a plus.
Setting up was pretty easy, largely down to the labels on the cables, and getting the software running was pretty simple, although the software registration is a bit of a pain. I just want to plug in and go, although I do understand the need for NI to protect their investment.
From a performance point of view, I was lucky enough to contrast between my own G4 Powerbook and the fastest MacBook Pro. Using the factory fresh MacBook Pro, I experience hours of glitch free performance - with effects, keylock and recording at the same time. It didn't fall over once or give me even the slightest cause for concern. On the G4 however, you'll need to make some allowances to get the best performance, as well as keeping your computer lean and clean.
Scratching - the benchmark for any DVS system - is a joy. It's loud, clear and lacks any digital artifacts - even when pressing the stop button and letting it run down to nothing. And on a fast system, 1ms* is achievable and makes even chirps (the benchmark scratch test) nearly perfect. I checked for cue drift and found none - scribbling on the beginning of a snare drum showed no movement at all. Overall, Traktor Scratch is in my experience the highest quality DVS system for scratching around.
* Since publishing this review, many have complained that 1ms isn't achievable on any system, let alone Traktor Scratch. Like I've stated elsewhere, I'm not one for numbers and perhaps 1ms is misleading (take note other manufacturers as well) but what I do know is that with a fast machine and the internal latency setting of 1ms (the fastest setting possible), Traktor Scratch performed brilliantly - as good as I could expect from a DVS system running through a sound card. In reality, the current thinking is that on a good day, latency is around 8-10ms. But let's not get too tied up with numbers - it's about feel.
The sheer depth of the software can be overwhelming but once you've read the manual and got your head around the loops, effects, mixing tools and how they work, you'll realise that this is a supremely powerful package. And if you add MIDI devices, you appreciate the shortcuts that allow you to DJ rather than move the mouse.
Using your music is cool as well, provided you put the time and effort in to correctly tag your files, analyse the tracks to make stripes and even make beatgrids. You can just plug in ana go, but doing the preparation will make your experience a lot more enjoyable. Note to NI - I'd like to see smart folders, rather than filtering out existing playlists. I want to make a playlist and make it contain music based on tags.
I have one gripe - and this applies to most DVS systems - I wish I could customise the interface a little more. Changing the colour of wave forms and font size is all well and good, but I want full control over window positions, waveform orientation, colour schemes etc. I want to to make the decision about how my software looks rather than be stuck with NI's shades of Brown scheme. Although this could effect performance I guess as hard coding the graphics is probably more efficient, but you see my point.
The key to all this is the performance of your computer. If you run a lower spec machine like a G4, there will always be a tradeoff. I can get 2.5ms latency and just scratch, but then the software tends to run into issues. If I turn up the latency, I get more stable performance but scratching becomes trickier. The moral is that if you want the very best solid and reliable performance, you need to run a very fast and clean computer.
When Stanton and NI parted ways, the future of Final Scratch was uncertain. But what NI have done is to take the foundation of their key software, build upon the functionality and added a high quality lump of their own hardware - and called it Traktor Scratch.
The direction of Traktor Scratch is clear - like all NI products, it's all about audio and providing the best solutions and quality. It's not about squeezing every possible pointless bell and whistle possible into the package, but more about providing a huge arsenal of pro audio tools, as witnessed by the forthcoming Traktor 3.3 integration. Suddenly you'll have even more established pro features in your DVS system, which receives upgrades on a regular basis independently of Traktor Scratch - a nice constant cycle of high end audio magic while the core of Traktor Scratch gets further honed into a seriously solid product.
While all DVS systems do essentially the same thing at heart, it's the additional features and future path that you need to look at carefully. NI have software with an established pedigree running on their own multi-purpose hardware with a road map that is ashamedly pro audio. Other DVS systems want you to use video as well, but if you only plan to play audio, why muddy your decision with the lure of moving pictures? You don't really need video slowing things down - you just think you do.
So some tough decisions for potential buyers. You need raw processor power to get the best from Traktor Scratch, but right now it's the highest quality pro DVS system around.
Build Quality - 10/10
Traktor Scratch is to DVS systems like Audi is to cars. The bar has been raised.
Sound Quality - 9.5/10
Traktor Scratch delivers crisp audio, quality effects and excellent pitch and key lock - if you've got the power.
Features & Implementation - 9/10
Like Traktor, it's chocca full of stuff, all well implemented and working intuitively. But the interface might not be to everyone's taste.
Value For Money - 9.5/10
A fully featured high spec sound card, high quality cables and a professional cross platform software package with a solid support system, for the same price as the competition. But you might need a computer upgrade to get the best.
• Audio8 DJ sound card
• Multicore cables
• Pure quality sound
• Needs serious power to get the best
• Interface is a bit dull
The Bottom Line
Traktor Scratch is outstanding. If you've got the grunt to run it, taken the time to read the manual and even invested in a MIDI controller, you've got the highest quality DVS system on the market.
Thanks to Native Instruments for Traktor Scratch and their never ending patience.