While digital DJ software has exploded over the past few years, unfortunately, the hardware world is always a large step behind the new technologies. Many of the mixers, MIDI-controllers and DJ interfaces are adaptations of existing equipment that are not designed specifically for digital DJs. There are few practical all-in-one solutions that incorporate all the current possibilities of the software world. Several companies have tried, but these attempts always seem to lack essential features. Fortunately, Rane and Serato have stepped up to the plate and built the interface for its very popular DJ software — Serato Scratch Live — directly into a world-class mixer. That alone would have been a great start, but Rane really took it to the next level by incorporating a dedicated control surface for the software right on the mixer. Add internal digital effects and a full copy of Serato Scratch Live, and this little unit packs one hell of a punch.
This may be a bit much to say about a mixer, but the TTM 57SL looks sexy. Its simple colors and sensible arrangement are synonymous with Rane's approach to its mixers and Serato's approach to Scratch and its other software: straightforward, reliable features.
As with the best basic mixers, everything is easy to connect. The grounding poles are particularly nice on the TTM series: two large, solid metal knobs for guaranteed good connections with no buzz. I can't tell you how many hours have been spent trying to get wires to fit under a terribly placed grounding pole. As you would expect on a high-end mixer, Rane provided an excellent set of balanced XLR main outputs. A good combination of ¼-inch booth outputs and stereo effects sends/returns and RCA I/O provide the connections for most DJ situations. I quickly connected my computer to the rear of the mixer via a built-in USB port. A very visible blue LED lit up to indicate that a connection had been made and recognized.
The TTM 57SL is obviously tailored toward users of Serato Scratch Live, but make no mistake, it's a fantastic stand-alone mixer as well. It's built on an excellent pedigree of 2-channel mixers that have been the workhorse of the hip-hop/turntablist community for years. The SL version leaves nothing behind; it just adds more. The most popular feature of these mixers is magnetic faders. All of the faders are advertised as having no travel noise or bleed at all — ever. They certainly are smooth as silk — almost a little too smooth. They may take getting used to if you are accustomed to the heavy throw of a Vestax fader or the comparably clunky operation of Pioneer's crossfader. Every fader has an adjustable contour curve and reverse switch, so you can set up the mixer exactly how you like to mix. The surface around the faders is especially smooth. A secondary removable plate has been placed under the faders. All of the screws are counter sunk, so the entire area is free of ridges, screws or knobs that can get in the way of quick fader moves or crab scratches.
Both channels are equipped with 3-band EQ. Each knob offers a full cut of low, mid and high frequencies with handy kill switches. The Kill switch activator light is my choice for the Cool But Superfluous Feature of the Year Award. When engaged, a very sinister looking skull lights up in red next to each frequency band. You gotta love a company with a sense of humor.
It's the small, sensible features that say a company actually cares about its market. For that reason, you will also love the ⅛-inch mini headphone outputs that come in addition to the standard ¼-inch headphone jack. DJs seem to always leave that headphone adapter everywhere but in the record bag. No more looking like a goober and asking to borrow the other DJ's headphones.
The sound on the TTM 57SL is clean and strong with lots of headroom. Clubs love the Rane mixers because they have a nice, soft limiter on each channel. No matter how hard you push the knobs, it's really hard to get this thing to distort the same way many other mixers do — even with the gain and EQ turned to the max.
A DOSE OF DSP
The TTM 57SL has an onboard digital effects processor for each channel. The mixer shipped with only two effects — echo and LFO — but Rane promises to have more available soon. That area was my only disappointment because the effects are difficult to figure out and use. Unless you have Serato Scratch Live connected to the mixer or the manual handy, it's difficult to use the effects. There is no marking of any kind on the mixer indicating which buttons do what. Rane would have done users a huge favor by shipping an optional overlay for the Effects section. That way, stand-alone users, or folks who don't have the manual handy, could quickly activate and use the effects, which themselves are not that compelling or usable in live scenarios. Ironically, I found some really interesting ways of using the echo and LFO for other purposes such as beat doubling. Ultimately, because Rane has chosen to make its effects digital and updatable via computer, you still stand to gain a lot. The effects are sure to increase in number and improve over time. Instead of buying a new mixer, a simple firmware update could net you a host of new toys.
THE SOFT MACHINE
Scratch Live boasts a number of killer performance features that, on its own, would require a keyboard or mouse. The long-time negative stigma of computer-based performance has been that the performer seems more focused on the computer than the crowd. Effective, playable hardware controls are the surest way to escape that stigma, and the TTM 57SL takes a giant leap in that direction. The control surface packs a lot of flexibility into a tiny surface. Six assignable buttons, two joysticks and two rotary knobs sit in the center of the mixer right where you want them. The six buttons are each programmable to control any feature in Serato, but with the addition of a group button, they also select six different groups of controls, essentially controlling 36 functions inside Scratch Live with the buttons alone. The joysticks are my favorite, as each one is a very responsive 4-way controller. Assign rhythmically related functions to the up-down and left-right, and you are guaranteed hours of fun. Each knob is an endless encoder and a push button. They make a fantastic replacement for the mouse for scrolling through your music collection. Assign the push button of each knob to load a track into the left or right decks, and you will almost never need to touch your computer at all.
The mixer comes with all six buttons preassigned and grouped together in a logical way. With a little memorization or quick glance at the screen, it's not hard to remember which buttons do what. There is a really nice interface built into the latest version of Scratch Live that clearly shows which functions are currently assigned to what controllers. Inside this interface you can quickly reassign a controller to just about any of the functions inside of the program. One of the best control features of the TTM 57SL is the footswitch input. It doesn't ship with a footswitch, but you can find a 3-button switch for around $50. Each of those three switches can be assigned to set loop and cue points for great on-the-fly creativity. Last but certainly not least, the responsiveness of the control section is excellent. All the controls are very playable, with no noticeable delay.
The TTM 57SL is also a powerful low-latency soundcard with some great routing options. Not only do you have two stereo digital outputs from the computer, but you also can record six different outputs from the mixer directly into the computer via USB. Everything from the master bus to individual channels can be recorded directly back into Scratch Live as a single stereo pair. For example, you could be playing two tracks in Scratch Live from the mixer, and at the same time stream the master output back into the computer to record the mix. For you mix-show DJs playing with CDs or records, the mixer offers a really cool feature as a stand-alone audio card. You can send both channel A and channel B back into a computer separately prefader. A superadvanced mixtape setup might have you recording the mix on a separate machine off the mixer and also recording each channel directly into a DAW from the TTM 57SL for editing and fading in the studio.
Overall, there is very little I didn't like about the TTM 57SL. It might leave some house DJs and large clubs wishing for a third or fourth channel and more surface area, but in the end it excels as a versatile 2-channel mixer. The price tag is admittedly quite high, but when you consider that the TTM 57SL with a computer replaces a full DJ setup, it's not unreasonable.
My only concern about the mixer is how practical it really is in the end for DJs that play live. Once you start using this thing, you will love it and find it hard to give up. Large amounts of your set may end up relying on its effects and other features. So does that mean you take your own mixer to every gig? We all get enough flak from clubs just trying to plug in wires, let alone swapping out mixers. World-famous DJs have gear riders, but what about the rest of us? Will the TTM 57SL end up being a really expensive toy for bedroom DJs and top performers? Only time will tell, but one thing is for sure: It's a great product that hopefully will inspire other manufacturers to push the envelope further.
TTM 57SL > $1,599
Pros: Well-built mixer appears ready to take a beating and keep repeating. Updatable internal digital effects. Dedicated control surface interfaces nicely with software. Built-in Serato Scratch Live interface. Includes Serato Scratch Live software, two pieces of control vinyl and two control CDs.
Cons: Price point may leave some aspiring DJs behind. No overlay or function listing on the mixer for stand-alone use of the effects section.
Mac: G4/800 MHz; 512 MB RAM; OS 10.3 or later
PC: Pentium III/500 MHz; 512 MB RAM; Windows XP with SP 2