Scratch Live Works But Serato Dj Wont
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Serato Audio Research, an audio software specialist out of New Zealand, already have the highly regarded Pitch 'n Time and Scratch Studio plug-ins under their belt. They turn their attention to the competitive dj market, in conjunction with Rane, to bring us Serato Scratch Live - a means of manipulating digital audio files on a PC or Mac by using control signal vinyl or cds. So where do Rane fit in? They provide the hardware interface and handle the distribution of the finished product. With two such highly respected companies in their fields, the expectations are naturally high. Can they create a meaningful collaboration and live up to their reputations? Or is it destined to crash and burn as the meeting of hardware and software often can? Scratch Live was originally released in April 2004 and was the obvious competitor to Stanton's Finalscratch system. However, more of these style of products have appeared since then and there are now a handful jostling for position. As we all know, more choice is good for the consumer, so Skratchworx welcomes every new entry to the market with open arms. Scratch Live, like Finalscratch, is hardware dependant - meaning you can not use the software with any old soundcard you have lying around. One reason for this is to ensure the software product can not be pirated, which is an unfortunate reality of software that runs natively on a PC or Mac. Another more positive outcome of having dedicated hardware means they should retain maximum control over communication with the software to ensure high levels of compatibility and reliability.
I think one of Scratch Live's strongest points is it's simplicity, there are no overwhelming amount of settings, and it is reasonably light in terms of features. As such, the main program window is clean and you could probably guess what all the controls and icons do. The whole program only really consists of two different screens - the setup screen which includes the calibration settings and the main program window. From here, certain areas can be made to appear temporarily via program buttons. The program must be run in a resolution of at least 1024x768, and overall the elements of the interface are fixed in position in relation to one another. At the top there are program reverse and master gain controls, and below these are the two virtual decks. When a track is first dragged onto one of the players - a track overview is built up, which gives the layout of the waveforms and frequency content. Scratch Live will attempt to do this as quickly as possible, but it takes up extra processing power. If resources are thin on the ground you can choose to have Serato to not build them automatically, so they only appear as the track is played. Once they have been built, they are saved into the actual audio file so will never have to be created from scratch again. Things getting stuffed into existing audio files makes me a bit nervous, and might confuse some other programs. For example, Sony Soundforge v8.0 throws up an error reading embedded information once files have been used in Serato, but happily ignores it. Hopefully it won't cause any real problems with other software or hardware, and you can always make your files read-only if you are more paranoid than me. The virtual deck shows the track name, artist, length and BPM tags - if available. Again, there are 3 modes available for each player; absolute, relative and internal. Depending what mode you are in, you will have some extra options appear on the player. Absolute is the true vinyl emulation mode, skips and all! The extra controls for relative mode include those for moving around the audio file, as needle dropping is not possible. Dragging around the white play marker works just as well though. Internal mode has a pitch slider and pitch bend buttons, and I suppose is a last resort if all else fails. Maybe there are some crazy folks out there who prefer this mode though! Both relative and internal mode also have a 'censor' button. This is the same feature as 'dump' on the Denon DN-S5000 - whereby audio is reversed whilst play position progresses as normal. Good as an effect in it's own right or for protecting the poor minds of children who could otherwise be bombarded with swear words. Each mode can also share 5 cue points, but they have quite a neat visual twist. Wherever you set a cue point, the stripe on the virtual deck points at 12 O'clock - and you can choose a colour for every marker. But what it also does is that within each revolution in either direction the stripe loses a fifth of it's colour - meaning you can visually see how close you are to your cue point. A very smart way to visually reference where samples are, though not quite as useful if your cue points are within 5 revolutions of each other. I think multiple colour changing stripes could be quite confusing though! Each virtual deck also has a gain control, and this software gain is saved with the file like the track overviews. Potentially it's a handy way of normalising track volumes by hand, but this is something I would already have done beforehand when preparing the files - and would instinctively use the gains on my mixer instead anyway. The final area of interest is that between the virtual decks. This has the main track overview, a larger zoomed in version, and a tempo and beat-matching display. I think the whole track overview is a bit small, it's a shame you can't resize it. It can be quite hard to really spot where track breakdowns or major changes occur. The tempo and beat-matching display give visual representations of transients and their spacing. The idea is that you can visually make sure they are aligned and then you should be in business. Not something I find immensely useful, but it seemed to corroborate what I was doing by ear. It's not too instrusive but would be nice to have the option to use the space for the whole track overview instead.
Scratch Live works via a virtual crate system, with files available in as many crates as you want. You can either drag directly from Windows Explorer or use the Import button to bring up an in-built file browser. You can then drag files or folders over to whatever crates you want. This works fine, but shows a full directory path from left to right - so if you need to navigate through a lot of folders you then need to scroll back and forth which feels a little clumsy at first. Scratch Live will also apparently automatically import iTunes libraries and playlists, though I have no idea how well this works as you are more likely to find me sticking a knife in my eye than using an iPod or iTunes. You can then choose from a list of tags to display in the track information display area, and adjust their column width and positioning to suit. You can also directly edit tags from within this area simply by double-clicking on the info you want to change. Clicking any of the column headings will sort that column numerically / alphabetically. You can use the browse option to filter your tracks by genre, BPM, Artist or Album, and is quick and easy way of finding tracks if your crates are deep. If you still can't find that rip of a rare funk 45 you desperately need then there is a search tool included. There is a 'review' tab that lists the tracks you have played and a 'prepare' tab which is a virtual "ready to play" section, so you can get the next few tracks you want queued up if you get a spare minute to yourself mid set. Good news for us true goobers is that Scratch Live now supports Ogg Vorbis as well as MP3, WAV and AIFF. There is also an option to display album art if you have included them in your MP3's. Alternatively you can now just tag all your MP3's with your favourite family photos and enjoy them whilst you mix and scratch!
Scratch Live makes something which isn't a trivial task seem easy. It works so well to the point of being transparent - a good idea perfectly executed. Part of the attraction of Scratch Live is that they have kept the software simple and have resisted the temptation to stuff the program full of extras and endless options. Personally, I hope the software doesn't start adding things like virtual mixers, samplers, MP3 encoding etc. At the moment it's core strength is the effortless way it integrates into a typical dj setup, with no headaches and practically no learning curve. Part of me is a little disappointed that the SL 1 box hasn't got another input for live set recording, though this might not be possible using the USB 1.1 protocol. Although I am not doubting the quality of the box, it does feel a little like a large hardware dongle at times. However, Serato have recently announced that v1.5 will include the ability to record straight into Scratch Live via the SL-1- meaning users will be able to capture audio directly. It is a step in the right direction, but some ASIO drivers would be very welcome - and overall it doesn't feel as useful or slick as the RME Digiscratch box. But, given the stability and quality of the software and hardware you definitely won't feel short-changed if you decide to splash the cash. Probably the first bit of review kit I've contemplated stealing (Sorry Mark!).
For the uninitiated (like yours truly), the whole idea of scratching an mp3 on a computer using what's essentially a joystick in the shape of an actual turntable is a little bit baffling. But A-Trak has decades of experience with this sort of thing, so once we were done asking him about what vinyl means to him, and why he doesn't use it in shows any more, we got him to take a step back and explain the basics of how Serato works. 2b1af7f3a8