With the introduction of their TTM 54 Performance Mixer and its lower-priced sibling, the TTM 52, about two years ago, Rane made an impressive if somewhat late debut into the growing market for turntablist-style DJ mixers. While Rane's mixers were popular and quickly became the favorite of esteemed DJs like Kid Koala, a few turntablists thought that Rane was merely playing “catch-up” with the likes of Vestax and Stanton, who had made turntablist-oriented mixers for years. Indeed, the TTM 54 and TTM 52 were not overwhelmingly innovative, but they were well constructed and offered most of the features scratch DJs needed. Now Rane has taken a bold step ahead of the pack with their new TTM 56 Performance Mixer, setting new standards in quality and design and introducing several new features that are of particular interest to turntablists.
The TTM 56's design, appearance, and layout is similar to that of the TTM 54, so anyone familiar with that unit should feel instantly comfortable with the TTM 56. Upon closer inspection, I noticed many improvements over its predecessor. The TTM 56 has obviously been designed to address the needs of the turntablist market and to elevate scratch mixer design to the next level. The TTM 56 is the result of over two years of R&D. At a $999 list price, it may be somewhat expensive, but what you get for your money is a well-constructed mixer with great features. Its closest competitor is the similarly priced Vestax 07 Pro ISP model.
Fitting perfectly between a pair of turntables, the TTM 56 is 10 inches wide, 7.5 inches high, and 20 inches long. The mixer's case has a solid feel and is coated in a durable, textured black finish. Employing the now-common double-panel system, the smooth Lexan top surface can be removed to adjust the transform switch orientation (adjustable in 45 degree steps) and maintain or replace the faders.
THE INS AND OUTS
The TTM 56's well laid out rear panel features Rane's unusual telephone jack — style power supply connector, which is very difficult to unplug accidentally. Rane have also included an On/Off switch — a feature that was sorely lacking in previous TTM models.
The main inputs are standard RCA phono and line jacks with large phono ground terminals. Unfortunately, and most likely the result of a cost-saving measure, all the RCA jacks are of the cheaper chrome variety instead of the higher quality gold-plated RCA jacks found on the TTM 54.
A new feature on the TTM 56 is the auxiliary input and output. A great addition, this allows you to easily integrate the mixer with other audio equipment. For example, you could use the auxiliary input to add the output from a drum machine or keyboard and send its signal through the same output as your turntables. A level control for the auxiliary input is located on the mixers' top panel. The auxiliary output also makes it easy to record your set as you perform live, power a pair of DJ booth speakers, or hook up an additional mixer's inputs for multi-DJ performances.
Master outputs include a pair of high-current, balanced 1/4-inch TRS jacks and a pair of unbalanced RCA jacks. There is also a pair of 1/4-inch jacks for the effects loop send and return. While it is not a popular feature for scratch DJs, the TTM 56 also includes a 1/4-inch mic jack input with a separate mic effects loop available via an additional 1/4-inch jack.
A CUT ABOVE
The TTM 56's front panel features one the mixer's best features: separate, continuously adjustable contour dials for individual cut-in adjustment of the left and right side of the crossfader. With this great feature you can set the left side of the crossfader cut-in to be abrupt (great for crab-style scratches) and set the right side to the more traditional gradual fade. This level of control is awesome! You can truly customize the TTM 56 to meet your needs.
In addition to the contour adjustment, the front panel features a crossfader reverse button (aka hamster switch) that lets you reverse the direction of the crossfader control (as if you had hooked the left turntable up to the right channel and vice versa). This is a common but essential feature on a scratch mixer. The front panel also includes a “Mode” button and a 1/4-inch headphone jack, placed in a location that keeps the headphone cord clear of your hands. Like the TTM 54, the headphone amplifier is more than powerful enough to handle applications in a loud club setting.
The main faders and crossfader are thankfully clear of any obstructions — a priority for turntablists. Between the main faders is a 10-segment LED meter that has a 1-second peak hold. You can set the meter to display left and right channel, pre-fader signal levels (useful for setting the gain), or post-fader stereo “house” signal (useful for monitoring the mixer's output level).
The crossfader's cut-in is amazingly sharp when set to its most abrupt setting — the fader travel required to switch from completely off to full on is only 1 mm (rivaling that of the previous king of cut-in, the Stanton SK-2F). More importantly, this cut-in occurs after only 2 mm of travel from the crossfader's extreme — a significant improvement over the TTM 54. This outstanding performance is the result of Rane's new magnetic fader technology, which made its debut on this mixer.
Like the crossfader, each of the two main faders has an adjustable contour control, this time in the form of a small fader. The fader has sufficient resistance to prevent you from accidentally changing the setting, yet is easy to move with only one finger when you want to make adjustments. The proximity of the contour adjustment to the main fader is great. For example, you may want to quickly adjust the main fader contour during a performance to switch from a chirp scratch — easiest to perform with rapid cut-in — to a fading echo scratch, which can only be performed with a gradual fader setting. One quick flick of the contour fader, and you are there.
When set to the sharpest setting, the cut-in on the main faders is as sharp as the crossfader, with only 2 mm of travel required from the fader's edge for the signal to be full strength. This is the sharpest main fader cut-in I have encountered on any mixer on the market.
The TTM 56's most revolutionary feature is Rane's proprietary noncontact magnetic fader technology. In recent years, scratch mixer manufacturers have introduced many new fader technologies to address turntablists' needs and withstand the abuses of scratching. Most of these mixers feature some form of optical-based technology. Stanton's popular Focus Fader employs an optical fader that is truly non-contact and features an immediate cut-in. Unfortunately, the negative aspect of optical faders is that smoke, dirt, and moisture can adversely affect their performance because they rely on an obstruction-free optical environment.
Rane seem to have one-upped the optical crowd with their magnetic-based technology. Not only is the fader noncontact and static free, it can better withstand the abuse of the harsh environments in which most DJ mixers are used.
Rane's magnetic faders use a position-sensing technology that interprets the strength of the magnetic signal based on the proximity of the fader to the magnetic sensors at either extreme of the fader's movement. Rane couples this with what they call a “curve-translation module that converts your hand motion into precise audio level control.”
Just how well can the fader withstand abuse? On Rane's Web site (www.rane.com), you can view a video of the crossfader being used while submersed in a bowl of cola! The website also boasts a clip of the fader hooked up to a sewing machine that is testing the fader's longevity. Rane reports that the fader has withstood 13 million strokes and shows absolutely no wear or degradation.
Each fader rides on a pair of slider rails that are smooth and offer little resistance. Despite this, they are not as friction free as Stanton's Focus Fader, which can be moved even by tipping the mixer housing from side to side.
The fader knobs have a comfortable feel. Molded out of black plastic, they are solid and thick with a nicely rounded top that is easy to grip. The knobs fit very tightly onto the fader stem and do not come loose easily.
IN THE MODE
Other innovative features on the TTM 56 include the new “Mode” settings. Both the main faders and the crossfader have two modes. When set to Mode 1, the faders perform as you would expect on a traditional mixer. Mode 2 performs differently for the main faders and cross fader. For the two main faders, Mode 2 lets you create a left/right pan effect that you can adjust with the contour control. At the contour control's sharpest setting, the fader will perform an abrupt pan from left to right occurring at the middle of the fader's range of movement. Crabbing the fader at the correct point results in a scratch effect that alternates from the left to right speaker. While this may not be an “everyday” setting on your mixer, it is a feature that opens up creative new scratch techniques.
With the crossfader in Mode 2, the direction of the fade is the reverse of what you would expect. With the fader at the centermost point, both channels are off. Move the fader slightly off center and either channel 1 or channel 2 cuts back in, based on the direction of movement. The rapidity of the cut-in is adjustable via the contour adjustment settings. This is an especially useful option that beat jugglers in particular should really enjoy.
My first impression of these modes was that they were gimmicky, but as I experimented with the mixer I began to uncover many ways to use them. To fully grasp the creative possibilities, you really need to get your hands on this mixer and experiment.
EFFECTS LOOP AND EQ
The Rane also features a post-fader effects loop (called FlexFX). While the TTM 54 also included an effects loop, it was only post fader if you applied it to both channels, which hindered its usability. Rane have fixed this with the TTM 56 by making the FlexFX always operate post fader and allowing you to selectively apply it to either channel. They have also wisely included a Wet/Dry control that lets you set the amount of effect applied to the signal directly from the mixer. I had great fun experimenting with the FlexFX loop and a digital delay/reverb guitar pedal, the best results coming from the use of the effect on scratched samples with no effects applied to the beat over which I was scratching.
Each audio channel features separate bass, mid, and treble controls — great for adjusting two records to sound good together. You can turn off the EQ's effect with the flick of a switch, allowing you to set specific EQ levels and then turn them off and on in an instant. The range of adjustment for each setting is from full kill (off) to +6 dB boost. Each channel also features a pan control in the form of a mini crossfader that is easily adjustable as part of your scratch performance and a great improvement over the previous TTM models.
I enjoyed this mixer so much that it was difficult to come up with many criticisms. The main aspect I didn't like was the amount of movement required to engage cut off using the Phono/Line switches (labeled “Transform” on this mixer). However, the design of these switches is an improvement over the sharp-edged metal switches found on the first version of the TTM 54.
The TTM 56 is also very expensive. While you certainly get your money's worth in terms of features and performance, the reality is that its high cost will price it out of the market for many budget-conscious turntablists who could benefit from its host of new features.
Regardless of its cost, the TTM 56 is a scratch DJ's dream. Building on the standards set by the already solid TTM 54, Rane's TTM 56 hits a home run with the bases loaded. I highly recommend it to any DJ with a serious interest in turntablism.
TTM 56 Performance Mixer
PROS: Awesome magnetic faders. Rapid fader cut-in. Innovative new Mode feature. Solid construction.
CONS: Transform switch travel. Price.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 4.5