Hands-On Review:Control the digital universe with genuine vinyl discs
I'd heard rumors of a vinyl controller for digital audio, but thought it was just wishful thinking-another example of people dwelling too much on their gear and not enough on their skills. But Stanton's new system changed my tune. Final Scratch combines the feel and total control of real vinyl with the convenience of digital sound files. I was amazed at how well it works.
Simple and brilliant
The basic concept is easy to grasp. Vinyl discs are cut bearing digital information regarding placement in and movement through a sound file. A special interface-the Scratch Amp-transmits this signal to the computer on which the file is stored and sends the return audio signal to your mixer. Pick up the needle and drop it elsewhere on the disc, the info now being transmitted tells the computer exactly where to resume play. Change speeds, cut, scratch, move backwards, do a motor stop-the sound is identical to what you'd hear if the song were actually recorded on the vinyl disc.
One of the most appealing aspects of Final Scratch is that it runs through your existing turntables and mixer. The feeling was so natural I could forget that these weren't normal vinyl discs. The only thing that took getting used to was changing tracks by mouse click instead of changing discs. Since I've been cueing up MP3s in my home studio and at raves for years, this wasn't much of an adjustment. I simply plugged the line outs from the turntables into the Scratch Amp and plugged that into my laptop's USB port. I ran the phono outs from the turntables into the Scratch Amp as well, so I could play straight vinyl as well as Final Scratch cuts. Then I ran the phono outs from the Scratch Amp into the mixer. That was it for hardware.
The software was also straightforward. Stanton wisely decided that Windows is not a stable enough platform for live performance digital media, so they wrote Final Scratch to run on Linux-a standalone PC version of UNIX, the universally accepted and consummately stable operating system used on most mainframe computers. But don't worry, Linux will run parallel with Windows on your PC, and Stanton has even included an easy-loading copy of Linux with the software. You just boot up in Linux when you want to run Final Scratch. The install creates a partition on your disk to avoid complications, but you can access any files anywhere on your computer with Linux and you can remove the partition if you want.
The top of the main window in the software is divided into left and right channels and shows graphic waveform displays of what's "playing on" either turntable. This is a very handy feature that lets you visually anticipate what the music is about to do. Below that is an intuitive file menu system that lets you point and click on the next track to be played. The audio pool can manage up to 1500 tracks at once. MP3, CD, .WAV, and AIFF files can all be included, but you'll want to avoid very slow effects on MP3s recorded at less than 128kbps, as they'll get pretty digital sounding.
What's the point?
The most obvious advantage to Final Scratch is not having to lug around a huge crate full of vinyl. I long ago gave up trying to carry enough discs to make it through a whole rave on vinyl alone. But with Final Scratch I can hold more music than I could play in a week, right in my laptop.
Now you don't have to spend time and money cutting acetates of your favorite tracks. The encoded high-quality vinyl discs play 15 minutes per side and control any track you cue. With normal daily use they're designed to hold up for about 6 months before they need to be replaced, and they only cost about the same amount as a normal 12". So that's just two records you buy every 6 months. Then there's wear and tear on your normal vinyl. Records you use a lot get noisy and flat quickly. But with Final Scratch only the encoded disc wears out, your music stays pristine as the day you recorded it.
There are some not-so-obvious benefits as well. For example, zero feedback. Since the signal coming out of the turntables is just digital data, there's no subwoofer feedback. You could set the tables right on top of your subwoofer without ill effect. Another very slick advantage is that you can premix several short tracks into one file, thus enabling you to do five or six mixes inside of a minute, since you don't have to be switching vinyl in the middle. And of course you're spared the time of having to dig through your record crates looking for the good stuff. You can get to it in seconds with your mouse.
Since it doesn't hog your sound card, you can do a Final Scratch session and run your mixer outs into your computer for digital recording. Just a little reflection will reveal a world of creative possibilities when you're freed from the traditional vinyl medium.
I'll throw in with grandmixers like Kevin Saunderson, Jim Masters, Christopher Lawrence, Richie Hawton, Jon Acquaviva, and Chris Cowie, all of whom acknowledge that Final Scratch has single-handedly changed the DJ's art forever . . . and for the better.
Musician's Friend can hook you up with the best deal you'll find anywhere on the most important invention for vinyl-spinning DJs since the turntable.
Features and Specs: