Reloop’s new RP-8000 MK2: instrumental pitch control, Serato integration

Like the relaunched Technics 1200, the new Reloop decks sport digitally controlled motors. But Reloop have gone somewhere very different from Technics: platters that can be controlled at a full range of pitches, and even play scales. And the RP-8000 MK2 is a MIDI controller, too, for Serato and other software.

Oh yeah, and one other thing – Reloop as always is more affordable – a pair of RP-8000 MK2s costs the same as one SL-1200 MK7. (One deck is EUR600 / USD700 / GBP525).

And there’s a trend beyond these decks. Mechanical engineers rejoice – the age of the motor is here.

238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2

We’re seeing digitally controlled motors for haptic feedback, as on the new Native Instruments S4 DJ controllers. And we’re seeing digital control on motors providing greater reliability, more precision, and broader ranges of speed on conventional turntables.

So digitally controlled motors were what Technics was boasting earlier this week with their SL-1200 MK7, which they say borrows from Blu-Ray drive technology (Technics is a Panasonic brand).

Reloop have gone one step further on the RP-8000 MK2. “Platter Play” rotates the turntable platter at different speeds to produce different pitches – rapidly. You can use the colored pads on the turntable, or connect an external MIDI keyboard.

That gives the pads a new life, as something integral to the turntable instead of just a set of triggers for software. (I’m checking with Reloop to find out if the performance pads require Serato to work, but either way, they do actually impact the platter rotation – it’s a physical result.)

238668 Reloop RP-8000 MK2

Serato and Reloop have built a close relationship with turntablists; this lets them build the vinyl deck into a more versatile instrument. It’s still an analog/mechanical device, but with a greater range of playing options thanks to digital tech under the hook. Call it digital-kinetic-mechanical.

Also digital: the pitch fader Reloop. (Reloop call it “high-resolution.”) Set it to +- 8% (hello Technics-style pitch), or +/- 16% for a wider range (hello, Romanian techno, -16%), or an insane +/- 50%. That’s the actual platter speed we’re talking here. (Makes sense – platters on CDs and Blu-Ray spin far, far faster.)

With quartz lock on, the same mechanism will simply play your records more accurately at a steady pitch (0%).

The pitch fader and motor mechanism are both available on the RP-7000 MK2, for more traditional turntable operation The performance pad melodic control is on the 8000, the one intended for Serato users.

Serato integration

I expect some people want their controller and their deck separate – playing vinyl means bringing actual vinyl records, and playing digital means using a controller and computer, or for many people, just a USB stick and CDJs.

If you want that, you can grab the RP-7000 MK2 for just 500 bucks a deck, minus the controller features.

On the RP-8000 MK2, you get a deck that adds digital features you’ve seen on controllers and CDJs directly on the deck. As on the original RP-8000, Reloop are the first to offer Serato integration. And it’s implemented as MIDI, so you can work with third-party software as well. The market is obviously DVS users.

The original RP offered Cue, Loop, Sample and Slicer modes with triggers on the left-hand side. Plus you get a digital readout above the pitch fader.

On the MK2, the numeric display gives you even more feedback: pitch, BPM, deck assignment, scales and notes, elapsed/remaining time of current track, plus firmware settings.

New playback and platter control options on the Reloop RP-8000 MK2.

The pads have new performance modes, too: Cue, Sampler, Saved Loops, Pitch Play, Loop, Loop Roll, Slicer, and two user-assignable modes (for whatever functions you want).

Reloop have also upgraded the tone arm base for greater reliability and more adjustments.

And those performance modes look great – 22 scales and 34 notes, plus up to 9 user-defined scales.

For more integration, Reloop are also offering the Reloop Elite, a DVS-focused mixer with a bunch of I/O, displays that integrate with the software, and more RGB-colored performance triggers and other shortcuts.

https://www.reloop.com/reloop-elite

One of these things is not like the others: the new kit still requires a laptop to run Serato.

If I had any complaint, it’s this: when will Serato do their own standalone embedded hardware in place of the computer? I know many DJs are glad to bring a computer – and Reloop claims the controls on the deck eliminate the need for a standalone controller (plus they have that new mixer with still more Serato integration). But it seems still a bummer to have to buy and maintain a PC or Mac laptop as part of the deal. And if you’re laying out a couple grand on hardware, wouldn’t you be willing to buy an embedded solution that let you work without a computer? (Especially since Serato is an integrated environment, and would run on embedded machines. Why not stick an ARM board in there to run those displays and just read your music off USB?)

As for Reloop, they’re totally killing it with affordable turntables. If you just want some vinyl playback and basic DJing for your home or studio, in December they also unveiled the RP-2000 USB MK2. USB interface (for digitization or DVS control), direct drive control (so you can scratch on it), under 300 bucks.

https://www.reloop.com/

Previously in phonographs:

The Technics SL-1200 is back, and this time for DJs again

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Pioneer and Serato get two-laptop B2B DJing with dual USB audio

One way to keep laptops from disappearing from DJ setups: let more laptops come to the party. Pioneer’s new US$999 flagship controller for Serato does just that, with more connections and two independent USB audio interfaces.

You might expect the monster, flagship controller for DJs to simply fade away – replaced by either standalone hardware at the higher-end, or more mobile devices on the go. But someone must be buying these things, because they keep showing up. Serato’s steady parade of performance features in DJ Pro offers good reason to be loyal to the software, while both Pioneer and Roland vie to give those users solid controllers.

In the case of the DDJ-SX3, this revision emphasizes getting more social – bring more humans in on your session, and connect their mics, instruments, and laptops more readily. And sure enough, with a $999 list in the USA, you do get a lot of functionality – standalone mixer and Serato control surface, both.

It’s also telling that Pioneer place the film about the new release in a studio situation, featuring Mr Woodnote and Mr Switch in the intro:

What’s interesting about the RX3 is in an otherwise incremental update, the new gear, shipping early in June, focuses on stuff that lets DJs relate to crowds and one another:

There’s dual USB support. There are actually two independent USB audio interfaces here — one for each USB port. That means changeovers between laptops are seamless, one laptop doubles for the other if one crashes or catches fire or gets stolen or has vodka spilled on it, and you can also seamlessly play B2B.

More mic. There are twin mic inputs on the rear of the controller, plus a third dedicated mic input on the front. So the front mic lets you talk over a four deck (or two laptop x two deck) setup without occupying a mixer channel, and also keep two mics

The SX2 had the two rear jacks; the SX3 has the three mic configuration. Pioneer and Serato have also added more processing options for the mic: level, EQ, low-cut filter, reverb, compressor, plus (with Serato connected) Serato’s own “color” effects.

So let me explain something. Sitting here in the middle of Berlin, a bunch of minimal/industrial techno DJs are welcome to get puzzled by what I just described. But that’s because you don’t do anything with microphones at your parties. Obviously people who do will find this very useful. (And, hey, techno heads, you could. I just watched Juan Atkins and Model 500 last night, and those guys use mics on every single song. Plus easy mic access could mean this DDJ works well in radio / podcast / streaming situations, too – without requiring an additional mixer.)

Lower latency jog wheels. One of the things I really liked about the new Roland controllers for Serato is their support of extreme low latency. That’s essential if you’re playing with sync turned off or even want to scratch with the wheels as some do.

Pioneer and Serato promise improved low latency performance. That’s a combination of a lot of factors. Pioneer wouldn’t confirm any solid numbers to CDM – those may not matter much, anyway, as what you really want is a test of real-world performance. But they did say the performance gains are “because of mechanical, software, driver and firmware improvements.” All of those elements do contribute to jog wheel latency, so I’m encouraged that they’ve addressed each step of the process. (And frankly, because Serato users are loyal to that DJ software, Serato should want both Roland and Pioneer gear to exhibit that performance.)

And the rest. Otherwise, the value proposition of the DDJ-SX3 is the same as the first DDJ-SX2.

You get a standalone DJ mixer with loads of I/O, combined with a controller with Serato DJ Pro features. The Serato side is all about those performance pads for hot cues, sampling and “Pitch Play”. Plus there’s Serato Flip (coupon included), and the option of upgrading to vinyl control features with Serato DVS. (I need to research where their video functionality fits on this controller.)

Pioneer and Serato also easily one-up Native Instruments by giving you both jog wheels and a touch strip for quick access. I think it’s all but certain we’ll soon see a refreshed TRAKTOR with similar functionality – touch strips are great, but just not all the time.

Where this fits in. Pioneer’s DJ controller line is now kind of dizzying, with a range of controllers for their own rekordbox software from compact to huge, and another line for Serato.

That includes what they call the flagship, the SZ2, which is even bigger. Confused yet?

But no mind. I think if you want Roland drum machine stuff built in, you’ll go with one of those controllers. If you want an all-in-one controller/mixer to use in the studio and then take with you, and you fancy the idea of other laptop artists playing, the SX3 is the one to beat.

The Roland options for Serato have those nice Roland drum machines and such built in, handy for producers. And the Serato options for their part efficiently target DJs doing edits, podcasts, and then transporting Serato practice from home/studio into the club directly.

The rekrodbox options are nice enough – the DDJ-1000 has big jog wheels with on-wheel displays, like a CDJ.

But to me, the big use case for DJs playing clubs on CDJs – which is now a whole lot of you – is going to be just finding something at home to practice on. rekordbox may play into it, but as organization tool for USB sticks before anything else.

So for the CDJ DJ, it still seems to me you’re likely to either beg and borrow time on actual CDJs, or buy used CDJs and a mixer, or consider all-in-one Pioneer offerings.

https://www.pioneerdj.com/en/product/all-in-one-system/

What I like about the all-in-one offerings is, you get standalone hardware that doesn’t require a computer, and still lets you practice on your rekordbox-ready USB sticks before you, like, trainwreck on some CDJs and empty the floor. More on that topic of practice gear soon. I would rather see DJs enter clubs prepared and comfortable than … not.

Here’s the thing: rekordbox and Serato now have a real corner on hardware choice. And Pioneer, by far, has every market segment covered, from entry-level mobile to high-end player to everything in the clubs. It’s kind of getting to be “which Pioneer stuff do I want?” – even for Serato users.

I could fault Pioneer for that, being the juggernaut they are. But then, it’s not just scale or the “industry standard” impact of the CDJ or market domination. If DJ makers want to compete, we’re going to need some new ideas.

Pricing is SRP £969 in the UK / 1099 EUR in Europe, both including VAT.

Pioneer DDJ-SX3

Serato DJ Pro

https://serato.com/dj/pro

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Serato DJ gets more modern features, no longer requires hardware

Serato’s new software gets support for 64-bit and high-resolution displays – and now you can run it in “practice mode” without having to plug in a controller. Hello, prepping on airplanes.

And in very big news, Serato Lite (formerly Serato Intro) now runs without any license or any controller at all. So you can get going for free – and plug in entry-level controllers if you like.

Some software releases you can just meet with “ah, finally.” And that’s the case here. Serato’s newest update isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s good news both to current Serato users and to people who found limitations on past versions were an obstacle.

You will have to get used to some (slightly annoying) name changes. Serato Intro is now Serato Lite. Serato DJ is now, for no good reason at all, Serato DJ Pro.

But let’s forgive them the nomenclature, because whatever they want to call it, this is good news. Got a Serato DJ license? You get Serato DJ Pro for free. Plug in a controller? Works as it always did.

What’s new is, you can now use Serato DJ in 2-deck “Practice Mode” and go ahead and mix without hardware. That’s a good thing, too, as those supported hardware controllers tend not to always fit in bus and coach airplane seats or comfortable while you lie in bed or on the couch. Now, you can mess around with new tracks in Serato, as you should.

Practice mode, in the new Serato DJ Pro.

This also means you can give Serato a try and see if you like it without going out and buying hardware. So it’s likely to help bring new users into the fold.

Yes, I know virtually every other DJ tool on the planet already works this way. But that’s why it’s nice to finally see this come to Serato.

Serato DJ Pro gets some other modernization. 64-bit support brings better performance and stability. Think increased access to memory, plus fewer crashes as a result of out of memory issues. And there’s improved support for high resolution screens – so this will look better on your nice new display or MacBook Pro or other laptop.

There are other UI enhancements (pictured here), and – also a big “finally!” here – there’s better help and support built into the tool.

All of this is worth mentioning, because frankly lots of areas of Serato are really better than rivals, yet they’ve been held back by these limitations. I’m going to hang on to a Roland DJ-202 controller as I really like mixing and remixing in Serato, and those decks are so responsive as to make mixing fun. (Yes, even with “sync” mode off.)

You can download the new software now.

https://serato.com/dj/pro/downloads

Images of the new UI courtesy Serato.

Serato DJ Lite now looks like this – and also works without hardware.

In performance mode, with hardware attached, you get an expanded Serato DJ Lite interface.

Performance mode in Serato DJ Pro, now featuring an enhanced UI and high-res display support (such as Retina Display from Apple).

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Pioneer just hit a sweet spot with their new DJ mixer

There’s been a noticeable uncanny valley in the DJ mixer market. At one end, you’ve got a whole bunch of dirt-cheap DJ mixers – but quality is, let’s say, questionable. At the other, you’ve got some really beautiful high-end stuff, but that’s even getting progressively more boutique and expensive. (Though if I do win a lotto ticket I’m getting my own rotary, of course.)

And in between is … well, not much, frankly.

But that’s what makes the DJM-250K2 interesting – it’s got the high-end features you want, stripped of the stuff you probably don’t need, at a very aggressive price. (It’s US$349 in the USA or €349 including VAT in Europe.) That makes for a departure even for Pioneer, let alone the market.

The MK2 gives you basically what you liked best about the old DJM-250 — the price — and adds some high-end features.

djm250mk2mainpng

With an audio card built-in, this suddenly becomes a) a viable option for setting up a home DJ rig on the cheap, perhaps with turntables, and b) also possibly something to use in live/hybrid sets on the go, if you throw it in a road case. Pioneer’s own marketing and what I’m seeing in the DJ press assume this is for people to make their own digital vinyl setups, but I imagine that it could wind up being a versatile DJ or even live performance mixer for other setups, too. (Depending on what your live rig looks like, some people will prefer a DJ mixer to a line mixer. Or they would, now that there’s one that maybe doesn’t suck.)

So, here’s what this adds:

First, there’s a nicer crossfader, the Magvel crossfader borrowed from the flagship Pioneer DJM-900NX2.

Then, there’s the “Sound Color FX” filter, also from the 900NX2.

Plus, you get full-kill three-band isolator EQs, also from the high end of the range (so you can cut a band by turning all the way to the left).

And then there’s the main addition, a built-in sound card with USB. This is why I think this could be handy for live use – it means you get instant input and output and easy recording. But it’s also there to serve the Pioneer ecosystem, so you might use it with Rekordbox to play music directly from your computer (look out, Traktor and Serato), or to turn the whole rig into a digital vinyl (DVS) system. There’s even a full DVS license in there, which at full retail standalone costs almost as much as this entire mixer. We live in the software-hardware bundle age.

djm-250mk2-rear

So, this is pretty cool. You get a basic-but-premium mixer with XLR and phono/cinch I/O, for connecting decks or CDJs or turntables or whatever, plus computer connectivity, plus necessary Pioneer software, and eminently playable filters and EQs.

I also have to wonder why the computer vendors don’t offer something similar. Even if you’re a Traktor die-hard, for instance, you could easily integrate this into your setup, and it isn’t expensive. So Pioneer continue to be really aggressively spreading through the market, and their size are allowing them to get price competitive in a way that’s going to be tough to match.

Now, I still think there’s room for mid-range (or say “high-end entry level”) DJ mixers, especially as to my knowledge no one makes a really good analog one — just do something like this with a good mix architecture, a nice crossfader, and some reasonable analog EQ and filters, minus the computer sound card business. But let’s see if anyone takes up that call.

Full details:
https://www.pioneerdj.com/en-us/product/mixer/djm-250mk2/black/overview/

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Turn a terrible toy turntable from a supermarket into a scratch deck

Well, this is probably the world’s cheapest DVS [digital vinyl system]. The reader here got the deck for £14; retail is just £29.99. Add a Raspberry Pi in place of the computer, a display and some adapters, and you have a full-functioning DJ system. For real.

Daniel James tells us the full story. My favorite advice – and I agree – don’t buy this record player. It really is that awful. But it does prove how open source tools can save obsolete gear from landfills – and says to me, too, that there’s really no reason digital vinyl systems still need to lean on conventional computer hardware.

Now – on with the adventures at Aldi. The necessary gear:

1. A terrible turntable (EnVivo USB Turntable in this case)
2. PiDeck. (See the official project page. That means a recent Raspberry Pi and SD card.
3. Control vinyl – Serato here.
4. Audio interface. Since the USB connection in this case was unusable, the author chose an audioinjector, crowd-funded hardware available now for about £20.

Daniel (of awesome 64studio Linux audio expertise fame) writes:

I was looking to find the worst deck in the world, and I think I found it. The EnVivo USB Turntable retails for £29.99 at Aldi, a supermarket. I paid £14 for mine brand-new and boxed, at auction. I wanted to find out for myself just how badly these plastic decks were built, as my neighbours have similar models, and the sound from the analogue line-out is sucktacular. Really, don’t bother if you intended to use this deck for its stated purpose of digitising your vinyl collection.

There are more expensive versions available under various brand names with deluxe leatherette cases or built-in speakers, but the deck inside looks the same. What would we reasonably expect at this price, given that it shipped all the way from China? Ed.: uh…. heh, well, that’s true of pretty much everything else, too, let’s say more to the point it’s some of the cheapest turntable hardware to ship from China.

Inside, there are very few components; these decks appear to be an experiment in just how cheap you can make something and still have people buy it. The straight tonearm has no bearing, it simply pivots
loosely in a plastic sleeve. There is no counterweight or anti-skating adjustment, just a spring underneath the deck pulling the stylus towards the record. The platter is undersized for a 12″, and so is the spindle. Records playing off-centre must add extra vintage charm, they figured.

A 12″ hip-hop tune would not play on the brand-new deck, as the kick drum hits bounced the stylus right out of the groove every other second. The analogue audio output lacked any meaningful bass, too. Then I tried a 12″ Serato CV02 timecode with the PiDeck, and things started to look up. With the control vinyl’s pilot tone containing little or no bass energy, the stylus tracked fine.

Then, I popped out the three rubber nipples from the platter which are all that serves as isolation from motor vibration, put tape around the spindle to make it regulation diameter, and dropped on a slipmat. With the control vinyl on the deck again, it started working as well as most turntables with little torque, but took scratches and backspins in its stride. The USB interface does not have enough headroom for backspins without distortion of the timecode, so I used the line-out RCA sockets instead. No pre-amp is required to hook up an audioinjector.net stereo card for the Raspberry Pi, and this far superior audio interface created by Matt Flax takes care of the output to the mixer.

The spring-loaded plastic tonearm will even work with the deck held at an angle, which previously I had only seen achieved with the straight tonearm Vestax decks. Maybe a 10″ Serato vinyl and slipmat would be a better fit. With a pitch control, these decks would have everything you need to get started DJing. How long they will last in use is anyone’s guess, and you are heavy-handed on the platter, you will probably burn out the tiny motor. The stylus is at least replaceable.

Next time you’re at the supermarket, please, do not buy one of these cruddy decks; the world has enough plastic trash already. However if you happen to own one, or found one in a dumpster: one, two, you know what to do!

Previously: PiDeck makes a USB stick into a free DJ player, with turntables

More: http://pideck.com/

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PiDeck makes a USB stick into a free DJ player, with turntables

There’s something counterintuitive about it, right? Plug a USB stick into a giant digital player alongside turntables. Or plug the turntables into a computer. What if the USB stick … was the actual player? In the age of rapid miniaturization, why hasn’t this happened yet?

Well, thanks to an open source project, it has happened (very nearly, anyway). It’s called PiDeck. And it radically reduces the amount of gear you need. You’ll still need an audio interface with phono input to connect the turntable, plus the (very small, very cheap) Raspberry Pi. But that’s just about it.

Connect your handheld computer into a turntable, add a control vinyl, and you’re ready to go. So your entire rig is only slightly larger than the size of two records and some gear the size of your two hands.

You have a rock-solid, Linux-based, ultra-portable rig, a minimum of fuss, essentially no space taken up in the booth – this all makes digital vinyl cool again.

It works with USB sticks (even after you yank them out):

And you can scratch:

Their recommended gear (touchscreens these days can be really compact, too)

  • A recent Raspberry Pi (only Pi 3 model B tested so far) and power supply. First generation Raspberry Pi’s are not supported, sorry
  • Touchscreen (single-touch is enough), or a HDMI monitor and keyboard
  • Stereo, full-duplex I2S or USB soundcard with a phono input stage, or line input and an external pre-amp, soundcard must be supported by ALSA
  • Micro SD card for the software, at least 2GB in size, and an adaptor to flash it with
  • Control vinyl, Serato CV02 pressing or later recommended
  • USB stick containing your favourite music. FLAC format is recommended (16-bit 44100Hz format tested)
  • Non-automatic record player that can hold speed, with a clean, sharp stylus. It helps scratching if the headshell and arm are adjusted correctly
  • Slipmat, made from felt or neoprene
  • Sheet of wax paper from the kitchen drawer, to go under the slipmat

Previously from this same crew (more just a fun proof of concept / weird way of DJing!):

This is how to DJ with a 7″ tablet and an NES controller

Check out the project site:

http://pideck.com

And you can download this now – for free.

https://github.com/pideck/pideck-distro/releases/

pideck-reverse-side

pideck-spinning

Developer Daniel James writes us with more details on what this whole thing is about:

Chris (in cc) and I have been working on the project in spare time for a couple of months, here on the Isle of Wight. Chris built the hardware prototype and did most of the work on the custom Debian distro.

The idea behind the PiDeck project is to combine the digital convenience of a USB stick with the hands-on usability of the classic turntable, in a way which is affordable and accessible. The parts cost (at retail) for each PiDeck device is currently about £150, not including a case or control vinyl. There is no soldering to do; the hardware screws and clips together.

I used to run DJ workshops for young people, and found that while the kids were really happy to get their hands on the decks, a lot of them were put off by having to use the laptop as well, especially the younger kids and the girls. The teenage boys would tend to crowd around the laptop and take over.

Then there’s the performance aspect of real turntables which some digital controllers lack, and the sneaking suspicion that the computer is really doing the mixing, or worse still, just running through a
playlist. PiDeck doesn’t have any mixing, sync or playlist features, so the DJ can take full credit (or blame) for the sound of the mix.

We’ve deliberately put no configurable options in the interface, and there are no personal files stored on the device. This helps ensure the PiDeck becomes part of the turntable and not unique, in the way that a laptop and its data is. This makes the PiDeck easier to share with other DJs, so that there should be no downtime between sets, and should make it easier for up-and-coming DJs to get a turn on the equipment. If a PiDeck breaks, it would be possible to swap it out for another PiDeck device and carry right on.

Although the DJ doesn’t have any settings to deal with, the software is open source and fully hackable, so we’re hoping that a community will emerge and do interesting things with the project. For example, multiple PiDeck devices could be networked together, or used to control some other system via the turntable.

Yeah – this could change a lot. It’s not just a nerdy proof of concept: it could make turntablism way more fun.

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Serato’s Ableton Link sync could change how you DJ

Quick! Name one good reason to use a computer running DJ software instead of just toting along some USB sticks to play on a CDJ! Well – one answer is, maybe your DJ set involves more than just mixing two decks. And with Ableton Link support, Serato is the first DJ software to open up to easy, peer-to-peer sync. It could change how you play.

Serato DJ 1.9.3. actually includes both Ableton Link support and the first steps toward finally implementing MIDI clock, too.

Let’s talk about Ableton Link first, though, as it’s the New Shiny.

Serato is one of three launch partners featuring Ableton’s new desktop SDK for Ableton Link, announced earlier this month. Link was something iOS users had ample access to, and Ableton Live users, and combinations thereof, but desktop support means still more possibilities.

Link doesn’t work like conventional sync solutions in that there isn’t a single “master” clock source that everything else “slaves” to – there’s no hierarchy. Instead, you have an arbitrary number of peers, any of which can move tempo for the others up and down. And Link works wirelessly – or even without a network, between different apps on the same device.

Actually, while Ableton Link’s creators like to refer to instrumental “jams” as the model, DJing is a good model, too. Until the advent of that infamous “sync” button, DJs never had a single timing source. You slowly move a deck or a drum machine in time with another.

I’ve been testing Serato’s Ableton Link implementation, and it’s a joy. In the place the usual “Sync” toggle would be on each deck, you instead see “Link.” Once enabled, that deck then can transmit tempo changes and receive them from other sources.

There are a number of nice use cases here.

  • You could Link Serato to Ableton Live. Let’s be honest – for all the advanced features in The Bridge, the ill-fated first Serato/Ableton collaboration – this is probably what 99% of you actually wanted to do with the two programs.
  • You could link two Serato DJs. Playing back to back, or making a smooth transition between DJs, is now possible on laptops.
  • You could link Serato to some iPad tools.
  • You could use a MIDI sequencer on an iPad, Link that to Serato, and then send MIDI clock to external gear. So imagine you’ve got Modstep running on an iPad, plugged via MIDI interface into, say, a Roland TB-03 or a MeeBlip. You can now jam over top DJ sets.

In short, it’s now much easier to do a “hybrid” live/DJ set on Serato than it is on any other tool. And sure, you could also match tempo by hand, but if the whole point of a hybrid set is busying yourself up with other stuff, why not take that load off your brain?

Cool as this is, a lot of gear is still in the world of MIDI, not Ableton Link. And if you’re just playing a 128 bpm solo techno set for four hours, old fashioned MIDI clock is just fine.

Serato has also quietly added MIDI clock output to 1.9.3. But curiously, they’ve locked its functionality exclusively to the new monster Roland DJ-808 hardware.

As a result, I was unable to test MIDI clock. I’ll have a look soon. There are some workarounds – you can connect to anything with Ableton Link support, and send MIDI from there. So I did try connecting to an instance of Live on the same machine and sending MIDI clock out of Live normally. That’s a bit of a pain, though, and MIDI clock messages aren’t exactly rocket science, so I hope this is a first step toward seeing MIDI throughout Serato.

1.9.3 brought other improvements, too, notably including a new MIDI mapping interface. I’ll look at that and explore the latest experience of using Serato in a coming review.

On the Mac, there’s also some updated support for El Capitan in the form of new drivers for the Rane interfaces. Sierra is not yet fully tested, but I’m hopeful that soon Sierra will be the way to go forward; I’d still be wary about DJing on El Capitan.

Check out the update here:

https://serato.com/dj/downloads

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Pioneer really want to sell you a turntable, with $350 PLX-500

Pioneer clearly seek to own DJing – and they’ve now got a pretty solid play for every piece of that landscape. The latest piece: a direct drive turntable with USB connection, ready to play, scratch, or work with control vinyl (and Pioneer’s increasingly ubiquitous Rekordbox software). Price: US$350 – affordable enough to appeal to even casual DJs as a set of two.

Vinyl is fast looking less like specialist equipment or niche fad, and more like the last man standing in music sales and an essential part of DJing. So it fits that, even in the home, a turntable is suited both for DJing and playback. And that’s what the PLX-500 promises: it’s advertised as ready to scratch (thanks to direct drive operation) and is even compatible for cueing or scratching digital via Rekordbox and optional control vinyl.

The pricing is aggressive, relative to the other Pioneer decks: suggested retail US$349 or €349 / £269 in Europe.

Intro video:

This is the second turntable from Pioneer. So, that positions the PLX-500 as the “home” model, with the PLX-1000 street at about twice as much. That mirrors the way Pioneer has differentiated its digital players, with the XDJ series a the “home” model and the CDJ nexus for “pros.”

How do you decide which to buy? Well, the 500 is a plug-and-play solution for home users. So you’ve got built in preamps (so line in and line out are built in), built-in USB interface (mainly with an eye toward letting you digitize your vinyl collection), and a lower cost.

The “pro”-focused 1000 assumes that you’ll want to use your own turntable amp and interface – so that’s not so much diminished value as it is a nod to more serious users. You can detach input and output more easily on the 1000, essential for use in the booth and studio and whatnot.

But most crucially, the 1000 has what Pioneer tells CDM is a “durable platter designed for professional DJ-ing.” That’s really everything, because the whole selling point of the PLX-1000 is its unparalleled stability. In fact, I’ve heard nothing but rave reviews from DJs using the PLX-1000 everywhere it’s been installed. The verdict: it’s better even than the legendary Technics SL-1200 that had been the gold standard. And just in case you weren’t already seeing enough Pioneer logos in clubs, I’ve noticed the PLX-1000 has increasingly been supplanting Technics decks, especially as they’re retired.

So while I don’t yet know what the platter mechanism is on the PLX-500, it’s clear that’s the main thing you’re buying when you invest in a PLX-1000. On the other hand, home use is generally far less treacherous than a club install.

Ironically, of course, you can get a pair of PLX-500 turntables before you’ve even gotten to the cost of a single XDJ digital player. Tables have turned, so to speak.

PLX-500_black_prm_top_low_0705

More details:

Signal path inherited from the PLX-1000. Pioneer says the 500 should borrow some of the great sound quality of the 1000: “The shortest possible audio routing from the stylus to the outputs reduces distortion, and the phono and line outputs mean you can connect directly to your sound system or powered speakers to enjoy warm sound.” (It’s funny to refer to something as new as the 1000 in this way, but – I’ve already heard a lot of mileage on the 1000’s. Well done, Pioneer.)

PLX-500_black_rear_low_0705

USB for recording. Digitize with the free Pioneer Rekordbox app – which will even detect silences and slice up tracks into different files for you, ready to tag. (Hmm, how long before even the tagging is automated, I wonder?) And of course, this also solves the problem of DJs just dabbling in vinyl – because they can just add their favorite records to their collection easily, with the hardware already on the decks and the software to which they’re accustomed.

PLX-500_setcut_DJM-750_low_0705

Scratching/mixing-ready. High-torque, direct drive – so yes, scratch turntablists can use this. (Will be curious just how it compares to the 1000s here, particularly). And Pioneer also offers a complete solution here – the “rekordbox dvs Plus Pack” which works with Pioneer’s JDM mixer and RB-VS1-K Control Vinyl. That makes the whole bundle a real rival to products like Native Instruments’ Traktor Scratch. (I’ll have to find out if it’ll be compatible with Traktor, too.)

You do have to pay for rekordbox for this use case, though – $/€139 plus a rekordbox dvs license key ($/€129) – or a €9.90/month subscription. (To be frank, Serato and Native Instruments are lucky Pioneer aren’t giving this away, too.)

The whole thing weighs under 11kg and comes with everything you need. There’s a USB and phono/RCA jacks. And you get a bunch of accessories in the box: slip mat, dust cover with jacket stand (cute), adapter for EP record, balance weight, headshell (with cartridge), shell weight, power cord, USB cord, audio conversion cord (Stereo pin plug (female) to stereo mini plug(male)) – all in there.

More:

http://www.pioneerdj.com/en/product/turntable/

All in all, I think this is a pretty powerful offering. With just one product, Pioneer are answering a lot of different users’ needs – from digitizing those records you just collected to being able to DJ with them to an inexpensive turntable that you can scratch on.

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These Tools Plus Live 9.2 Could Change How You DJ and Play Live

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Ableton Live can be a fantastic tool for playing live, for improvisation, and for studio work. But while some people put together very effective DJ sets, it doesn’t always stack up to other software out there in terms of satisfying certain significant DJ techniques.

And that’s too bad. Because if your DJ aspirations include lots of creative juggling of beats, Ableton Live would seem perfect.

The DJ Collection from Isotonik Studios – the advanced Max for Live hackers who have been releasing a dizzying array of tools for customizing how Live works – provides some of the tools advanced DJs crave.

And by “DJing,” we really mean sophisticated beat juggling, slicing, and looping techniques – so quite relevant to anyone using improvisation and rhythm heavily, whether or not in a DJ set per se.

All of this gets really interesting as of Live 9.2. In fact, it was Isotonik who tipped me off to the fact that the Live 9.2 API had changed in some interesting ways. Now, it may not be clear to you why you should care about some arcane under-the-hood API calls having to do with how clips are triggered. And frankly, you don’t have to care. But because Max for Live developers were able to see daylight through these newly-poked holes, they were able to go spelunking in some new tunnels, as it were.

And what you will care about, some of you, is what you can do.

Isotonik Studios DJ Collection – DJ Hot Cue Universal MIDI from Isotonik Studios on Vimeo.

The DJ Collection bundles together all of these handy tricks into a single software add-on. If you use AKAI APC40 mkII or Ableton Push (or, soon, Novation’s Launchpad and Launchpad Pro), there are integrated solutions that immediately map this to hardware. If you prefer something else, there’s a generic universal MIDI variant, too, that you can use with anything (like that custom arcade-button-joystick affair in plywood you built).

Here’s what you can do, in brief (there’s a lot more detail on the official site).

Hot cues. Create and then play back hot cues on a single clip – rather than having to make a bunch of different clips just to have different cues. Then, see where those cues are via LED feedback on controllers.

Slicing. Credit to Serato: Novation Twitch has a beautiful, pre-mapped slicing effect. But if you’ve been jealous, now the Isotonik boys have brought it to Ableton. Take some sound, divide it into eight slices, then trigger them, with full quantization. (Push even works with eight tracks at once.)

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Loop on the fly. Independent of the loop on the clip itself, you can at last loop on the fly – halve them, double them, move them, and set them to lengths as short as a 1/32nd note.

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The upshot of all of this: you can at last slice up and cue clips freely in ways that weren’t possible before on a single clip. Sure, there are other ways of doing this – and if you’re comfortable with one of those ways, you can comfortably move right along here, nothing to see.

Likewise, by definition, a lot of this stuff is already easy in tools like Serato and Traktor – Serato, in particular, being good at the slicing workflows. So, from that perspective, it should (rightfully) justify your choice of DJ tool.

But at the same time, I think it is an impressive demonstration of what some subtle changes to Live’s API make possible. And for Live mavens, it’s fantastic news.

And combined with other tools only available in Live, this powerful set of tools – complete with all the documentation and sample files you need to get rolling – could be invaluable. At the price of a nice lunch in London, it’s a steal.

Isotonik DJ Collection [Isotonik Studios]

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Jazzy Jeff, Shiftee Show Us Turntable as a Musical Instrument

Serato and Native Instruments may have a fierce rivalry when it comes to tools. But at the end of the day, the leading DJ vendors exist for one reason: they’re there to support musicians.

And I do mean musicians. Watching new routines from Jazzy Jeff and Shiftee, you really see the turntable emerge as a virtuoso musical instrument.

They’re released as promotions for Serato (Jeff) and Native Instruments (Shiftee). And the tools are important: they’re there to allow these players to make use of their skills, to do more than just select tracks like a jukebox.

But this really is about engineering supporting the human body, supporting physical gestures. I think they also tell us something about who DJs can be in the age of digital DJ technology.

Jazzy Jeff is Philadelphia’s Jeffrey Allen Towne, here covering a Run DMC classic that has me tingling with nostalgia as a tail-end gen Xer. Now could be a perfect moment in his career – a time when young people are rediscovering hip hop DJ roots, and perhaps not so hung up on the DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince association. (Well, or maybe those young people will have additional associations; I’m sure The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air lives on on Netflix and so on.)

jazzyjeff

What’s great about Jeff is that he draws that connection from the early days of hip hop and rap to modern turntablist technique. And he does so in a way that seamlessly melds tools – the perfect person to show of a digital vinyl control system, in other words.

There’s just one problem. Watching Jazzy Jeff “DJ” is to DJing for a lot of us as listening to a Horowitz performance is for someone who keeps a piano unplayed in the living room. We’ve got the furniture, but we haven’t got the chops – it’s almost like we’re not even involved in the same activity.

Don’t get discouraged, though. Because listening to Jeff I think can be inspiring for anyone working on DJing and live PA.

In particular, in a follow up interview with Serato, Jeff talks about melding the producer and DJ in him. Making a DJ set sound like it was produced in a studio, he says, is: “putting that production brain and that DJ brain together.”

He also has encouraging things to say about DJ culture and the art of DJing. He talks about the importance of “becoming more well-rounded DJs – not only play selection, but your technical skills … your showmanship. To me those are all the things that will end up making a great party.”

And whether or not you’re a great scratch turntablist, Jeff has some words that should encourage you to branch out a little on song selection. Asked about the influence of iPods, he reaches a surprising conclusion about “shuffle mode”:

“I started to realize that people started becoming a lot more accepting of you playing a wider range of music at different times of the night… you can just throw something left-field… because everyone is used to iPods.”

And just saying tech should be “invisible” doesn’t mean it’s less important. It means it’s actually more important:

“The end goal is for the gear to be transparent and … it to be about the way that you deliver the music. … And that’s why I think sometimes the gear doesn’t get enough credit.”

I’ll let Jeff close with these words from Jeff’s SoundCloud. These are important, because I’m sure people can feel now like they are obligated to follow rules, too:

I came up in the Music (Business) where there were rules and guidelines to the way things were done. It never made sense to me. I felt like you can own your own studio,make your own records and put them out how & when you want and even shoot your own videos. I’m soooo happy to finally be in that place now. I hope you enjoy the music i’m putting out now as much as i’m enjoying making it. Welcome to my Independence!!

Uh, that’s one of the best SoundCloud blurbs ever.

And then there’s Shiftee

I’ve been (unintentionally) putting off publishing this story, and then along come Native Instruments with a new S8 video. But here, you’ll be hard pressed to keep your eyes on the S8, because DJ Shiftee is dazzling.

It’s perfect putting Shiftee in this category. He’s a short Amtrak trip up the eastern seaboard, a native New Yorker. But he’s also the younger generation, literally born as Jeff was coming up in the world.

Native Instruments is a company founded by techno-heads in a techno capital, but just as a piano can play classical and jazz, there’s really nothing about Remix Decks or big mixer control surfaces that says anything about genre. I have to rely on the press department for track IDs:

Alt-J – Left Hand Free (Lido Remix)
Low Pros – Who Wanna Play (Feat. Que)
DJ Shiftee – Uh Yo And Also Yo

These are, I’m told, some seriously hot tracks as far as what people are listening to. I only know they’re seriously hot tracks to my ears.

Shiftee is a master turntablist and turntablist educator, too – he’s on the front lines of making sure this tradition stays alive.

Let’s close by talking gear, though, this being CDM.

Jeff vs. Serato

What I like about Jeff’s setup is that it’s versatile but rigorously minimal.

The Pioneer DDJ-SP1 is actually a really cool controller for Serato, one that ought to give Traktor fans some envy. You get four-deck control on pads with a bunch of performance modes – Hot Cue, Roll, Sampler, Slicer, Auto Loop, Hot Loop and Manual Loop. That makes for something that nicely recalls the MPC and dedicated loop hardware, not just the usual DJ business.

pioneer-ddj-sp1-top_960x540

And it’s all nice and small. You get all this mileage without giving up a bunch of space.

The mixer is a Serato classic – the Rane Sixty-Two. But I should note that today you also can choose the Allen & Heath xone:43C, a digital version (complete with sound card) of the analog-geared xone:43 we saw last week. More on that later.

http://serato.com/artists/dj-jazzyjeff

Shiftee vs. NI

Not so much to say about the NI side of things. It’s an S8, the flagship controller. The bigger story here is how Shiftee is using it – especially since you can now get the same per-deck functions in a smaller D2 (and use another mixer for that bit).

He’s using it as a mixer for DVS control, fully exploiting the all-in-one capabilities of the unit.

He’s using Remix Decks.

He’s using Freeze Mode.

In fact, the latter two really show a digital approach with visual feedback – not just “playing” the turntables, but the software instrument, too.

Then again, there’s more in common between Shiftee’s and Jeff’s approach fundamentally than different: this is really about playing with your hands, and making something new.

By the way, don’t miss Shiftee’s routine for Dubspot, the training academy / platform, with Maschine in the mix. This is real live performance stuff – more live than a lot of “live” sets, giving DJ some real meaning:

Schooled

So, tomorrow morning, we’ll have a bunch of new DJ gear. But I think this is at the heart of how the handful of master DJs make them into instruments.

A lot of us do occasional mixing, perhaps focusing our performance virtuosity on live PA sets, improvised electronic forms, acoustic instruments, electric instruments, the lot. But I’m glad that whatever happens with the evolution of DJing, it’s still allowing traditional DJ practice to evolve.

For someone, DJing is still about blowing recorded music on turntables wide open.

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