American DJ is a key player in the DJ-equipment market. Also selling under the American Audio brand, the company is a lighting, controller and audio-product vendor. In recent years, it has shown an industry-leading dedication to the growing CD-based turntablist market. American DJ's first product was the Pro-Scratch1, a top-loading single-CD player with features that allowed close simulation of true scratching. With the release of the Digi-Pro, American DJ has unleashed a system that takes the CD-player-as-turntable to the next level and paves the way for increased popularity of CD-based scratching.
The Digi-Pro is a tray-loading dual-CD player that comes as two main parts: the remote unit and the player unit. Both pieces are rackmountable; however, the remote unit (where most of the controls are located) is also equipped with feet that allow it to sit horizontally.
Included in the package are the remote and player units, all of the necessary power and audio cables, a Scratch Box, a specially encoded vinyl control record and an instructional video that assists you in hooking up the Digi-Pro and learning its basic functions.
The video is hosted by Gerald “World Wide” Webb, the world's first digital turntablist, who consulted with American DJ on the Digi-Pro's design. The video also features DJ Skilz, who demonstrates the Digi-Pro's scratch capabilities. This is a helpful addition to the system, as it gives a brief but detailed rundown of the Digi-Pro's operations.
The main feature that makes this system unique is the Scratch Box, which accepts input from a standard vinyl turntable and acts as an interface between the turntable and the CD unit. It sends control signals to the CD player that allow you to perform scratch techniques on the turntable, which manipulates the CD as the audio source (when used in conjunction with the special vinyl record).
The Digi-Pro also includes some built-in effects, reverse-play capabilities, tempo lock, adjustable pitch control, multiple cue points, seamless looping and a bpm counter. The remote unit features two sets of controls, one for each of the CD players.
Additionally, the Digi-Pro includes standard CD player features such as 20-second antishock memory that ensures your CDs won't skip, analog and digital outputs, instant start and a 1-bit D/A converter with 8× oversampling. This piece of gear incorporates pretty much everything you could want in a DJ-oriented CD player.
If you have an American DJ mixer, you can also control the CD player via the company's proprietary Q Start control, which lets you start and pause the playback through manipulation of the mixer's crossfader.
WANNA HOOK UP?
The Digi-Pro is fairly complicated to hook up. It has at least eight cables that need to be connected correctly for the system to work. Thankfully, the included instructions and video clearly walk you through the steps involved.
The CD transport unit accepts the power cord that in turn powers the separate remote unit. The Scratch Box requires its own (included) power supply. Unlike the main unit's power cord, this power supply is a wall wart that, due to its width, ends up covering at least two electrical jacks on a power bar.
When setting up the Scratch Box, it is important to remember to connect the turntable's ground cables to the Scratch Box (as opposed to the mixer) and to hook the Scratch Box's ground cable back to the mixer. The CD transport's analog output connects to a line input on your mixer. Once everything is hooked up, you are ready to roll.
SCRATCH MY BOX, AND I'LL SCRATCH …
Eager to see how well the Digi-Pro's scratch feature would perform, I tried it first. To engage the scratch effect, press the Scratch button for the CD you wish to scratch. You must use the special control record for this to work, and your mixer channel must be flipped from phono to line input (providing you have both the Scratch Box phono output and the player unit's line outputs connected to the same mixer channel).
The record plays a continuous tone at 33 rpm on one side and at 45 rpm on the other. As you scratch the record, you vary the frequency and pitch of the tone. The Scratch Box converts those vinyl manipulations into control signals for the CD transport and essentially re-creates the scratch effect on the audio of the CD that is playing.
It works surprisingly well. Initially, I was skeptical about how the scratch effect would sound, but after playing with it for just a few minutes, I was impressed. The interpretation of the vinyl manipulations is exact, and the CD audio matches exactly what I would expect it to if I were scratching the sounds on a regular vinyl record.
With this system, you can perform any scratch on a CD that you can perform on a piece of vinyl. The system interprets it perfectly — even picking up the sound created by thumping or dragging your fingers on the platter (such as with a hydroplane scratch). You have to play with this to really understand how well it performs, but take it from a die-hard vinyl purist: It works.
My biggest criticism of the scratch feature is that occasionally it lags behind the actions you perform on the vinyl, almost as if there is a slight delay in the audio. It usually catches up and gets in sync after a few back and forth scratches, but that can be disconcerting and can throw off your rhythm. Also, sometimes the start point of the CD audio changes slightly, such that to bring the CD back to the beginning of the sound, you have to drag the record back slightly farther than before.
One great feature about this system is, if you want to go back to playing a regular vinyl track, you simply put on the desired record and flip the mixer channel from line to phono. Voila! You are back to the standard analog turntable system, with no complicated reconfiguration of your equipment.
The other great feature on this CD player, though not unique to the Digi-Pro, is the inclusion of a seamless-looping control and multiple cue buttons. With seamless looping, you basically press a button to mark a start point and press a button to mark an end point, after which the unit will endlessly loop the marked section of audio. This is a great feature for creating an endless beat to scratch over.
With the Digi-Pro's capability to both play and control two CDs simultaneously, this feature is even more powerful, as you could use it to loop a beat on one of the CDs while scratching some samples on the other CD. The Bop feature enhances this further because you can use it to recall a previously programmed loop, even if you are at a different part of the CD.
In addition to the seamless looping are four user-configurable cue banks. Essentially, these remember a point on the CD and let you jump there instantly with the press of a button. The cue banks are programmable on the fly, allowing you to build live custom remixes of a track through the manipulation of various song parts. They also work like sample banks; you can create a samplerlike stutter effect by repeatedly hitting the Cue button.
All of these features make use of American DJ's digital signal-processing (DSP) technology. The brains of the system, the Digi-Pro's digital signal processor drives all of the included audio-manipulation features.
The Digi-Pro offers numerous ways to manipulate the pitch and tempo of the track being played. The first is with the control of the jog wheel. Spinning it clockwise or counterclockwise speeds up or slows down the track, depending on the speed with which you spin the jog wheel. Stop turning the wheel, and it returns to the currently set tempo. You can also quickly nudge the pitch up or down through the single-touch Pitch Bend buttons, which are helpful if you are trying to fix a running mix that is slightly out of sync.
As you might expect, the Digi-Pro also features the traditional pitch-fader-style sliding pitch adjustment. On the Digi-Pro, you can select three adjustment ranges: ±8 percent, ±12 percent or ±16 percent. One great addition to the pitch-control section is the tempo-lock feature. With tempo lock, you can lock in the key of the track you are adjusting and have the pitch fader affect only the tempo. That is achieved through the advanced DSP technology and allows wider manipulation of a track's tempo without an obvious change in the song's pitch. Gone are the chipmunklike lyrics of an overly sped-up track.
DISPLAY, CONTROLS AND CONSTRUCTION QUALITY
The Digi-Pro's control buttons have a solid feel; most have a rubbery texture that offers good tactile feedback to let you know when the button is pressed. The digital display, however, is busy and presents an overwhelming amount of information to the new user. Although it may take a little getting used to, it is actually well laid out once you become familiar with what the icons mean. The display is a bright-blue LCD that is visible in normal lighting conditions, as well as dark nightclub lighting.
One display feature I particularly like is the graphical progress bar, which represents the time remaining on the track being played. This highly visual feature lets you see when you are nearing the end of a track, flashing rapidly just before the track ends and allowing you to check the track's status with only a brief glance at the display.
Another attention-to-detail feature that I like is the recessed power button that is cleverly protected by a plastic hood so that it won't be pressed accidentally. Also, the CD-tray eject buttons will not eject a CD while it is playing. The Digi-Pro is well-constructed and looks like it can stand up to some abuse.
This is the first real DJ-style CD player that I have played with. As a vinyl DJ, my expectations were low, but the Digi-Pro blew me away. From its attention to detail and construction quality to the unique Scratch Box interface that allows traditional vinyl turntablists to directly translate their skills into the realm of digital turntablism, this is a great product with much potential. The list price for a Digi-Pro system is $1149.95, roughly the same as a pair of average-quality turntables. This product is not a cheap piece of equipment, but what you get for the money is a cutting-edge tool that lets scratch DJs who are interested in the CD medium take their skills to the next level. Even for vinyl purists, it is a huge step forward from the limited DJ-type CD players of yesteryear.
Although I don't see most die-hard vinyl scratch DJs throwing their record collections away in favor of systems like the Digi-Pro, it could be a nice enhancement to the traditional DJ setup or of great interest to those who have been waiting to truly scratch CDs.
Pros: Ability to scratch CD audio with a traditional turntable. Seamless looping. Multiple cue points.
Cons: Occasional drift in sync of CD audio and vinyl position. Price.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4