At the beginning of the year, Stanton turned heads with its introduction of what it called System 1, a two-piece set for digital DJing comprising the SCS.1m mixer and SCS.1d deck. While we've seen production models of those used in exhibition performances, we're still eagerly awaiting the release of those units. However, Stanton still managed to make a splash at the end of '08 by releasing its System 3, which leapfrogged ahead of System 1 (and presumably some as-yet-unknown System 2) and grabbed a place in our DJ rig and in our hearts.
This System 3 specifically is the SCS.3d DaScratch, a multitouch-sensitive USB controller designed for DJ software but viable for any MIDI-controllable software. What we have here is a rare combination of a smart concept, brilliant design and cutting-edge technology; specifically, Stanton's proprietary StanTouch technology.
DaScratch measures about 5-by-8.5-by-1.5 inches, small enough to stash in all but the most crowded of gig bags. Despite its size, however, DaScratch could suffice as the only controller in a DJ rig, thanks to its five control modes: FX, EQ, Loop, Trig(ger) and Vinyl. Each mode launches the center section of DaScratch into a discrete configuration of up to 13 assignable controls. In addition, the unit supports two virtual decks; the Deck button toggles between them so you have two sets of controls with five modes each. (For non-DJs, the Deck button could be useful for controlling two different programs with DaScratch, as it switches MIDI channels from channel 8 to channel 9.)
The global controls — four buttons across the bottom and two touch sliders at the top — operate on each deck but don't change according to mode. The slider for channel gain level responds to the absolute position of your finger — meaning that the level will jump to any spot you put your finger on the slider — while the Pitch slider works incrementally, so you can have fine control over the pitch and you won't have sudden jumps in the pitch value. Four depressable buttons (the only moving parts on DaScratch) are intended for play/pause, jumping to a cue point, initiating beat-syncing and tap-tempo.
Two more ingenious traits indicate Stanton's attention to detail. First, the bottom panel of DaScratch, which includes four rubber feet for the tabletop, unscrews and detaches to reveal the USB port inside. You plug in the cable and re-attach the bottom panel, which secures the USB cable in position so you don't have any accidental detachments. When you're finished, the cable coils up nice and easy inside the unit for storage. Also, if you want to add more DaScratch units to your setup, the sides are magnetic and detented, so two or more DaScratches can essentially snap together magnetically to create a larger surface.
If you merely attach DaScratch to a computer by itself, you could use it as a MIDI controller, but the mode buttons won't work, and you won't be able to use different presets. For full functionality, you must use DaScratch with DaRouter, a free software utility based on Bome MIDI Translator (www.bome.com). It's easy to do. First, plug-in DaScratch and then lauch DaRouter. The software lets you choose from available presets that set up DaScratch as either a single-deck (best if you have two units) or a dual-deck (best with a single DaScratch) interface. At press time, Stanton had supplied comprehensive presets for Native Instruments Traktor and Serato Scratch Live, as well as generic presets for using DaScratch with other software. Once you launch your software, open the program's preferences and select DaRouter (not DaScratch, which is also an option) as your MIDI controller, and you're set to go.
DaScratch's multitouch-responsiveness could make or break it, so I'm glad to say that I couldn't be much more satisfied in that department. All of its touch-sensitive areas respond to the slightest touch with no detectable latency. Similar to an iPhone, DaScratch uses capacitance to detect touch, meaning it draws on the electric charge from your fingers or other body parts (use your imagination). In other words, a pencil eraser, gloved finger, etc., won't trigger DaScratch. You can use as many fingers as you like at once, and you can use two fingers on one control at a time. For example, one finger could keep an EQ setting low while the other finger taps the EQ up, like a transformer switch on a DJ mixer.
For each of DaScratch's five modes, the center section — a circular touch-sensitve area and four surrounding buttons — changes its functionality. Specifically, the circular area works with three methods of control. Both FX and EQ modes use the Slider method, in which the circle becomes three variable, faderlike controls, obviously oriented to effect the standard 3-band EQ amounts. Loop and Trig modes use the Button method, in which the circle works as a group of triggering buttons — as many as nine buttons depending on the preset used. This method works well for triggering cue points and setting loops. Finally, Vinyl mode uses the Circle control method. Here you have a circular slider around the circumference of the circle that can emulate a turntable for manipulating a song in your DJ software. The center of the circular acts as a slider than can be used to, for example, “scratch” digital audio.
For all of the controls in all the modes, DaScratch uses an ample amount of LED feedback in blue, red and purple to show you what you're doing. Like any other musical tool, using DaScratch takes some getting used to, but all in all, the LED feedback makes it a pretty comfortable experience and is perfect for low-lit DJ booths.
Given the great design and excellent responsiveness of the multitouch-sensitive surface, DaScratch holds enormous potential as a controller. However, the full potential is really only unleashed when you have a decent control preset to work with. Luckily, Traktor and Serato Scratch are the two most popular DJ programs, so if you use one of those, you're covered. If you don't, you can still open a generic preset and set up DaScratch to do your bidding using your software's MIDI Learn functions. DaRouter will remember your settings the next time you load up that particular generic preset.
However, there are a couple of caveats using the generic presets. Besides simply having to do the work of setting up your own control map from scratch, which isn't that bad if customization means anything to you, it's difficult to derive the same sort of control you get over Traktor or Serato using a generic preset. For example, I couldn't get DaScratch to emulate a deck platter in Vinyl mode when using M-Audio Torq, or to get a smooth crossfader motion out of Vinyl mode's center slider in Torq.
Some of the abilities of the Traktor and Serato presets are frankly awesome, such as one of the buttons in Vinyl mode that toggles between Serato's Browse, Import, Review and Prepare functions. However, such buttons in the generic presets are confined to sending simple note-on/off messages. Also, there's no discernible way yet to create and save multiple presets from a generic preset, at least not without some nerd-level hackery (of which we are truly jealous).
That being said, there's really nothing holding DaScratch back that a few extra factory presets and maybe a software update couldn't handle. Stanton promises to add more app-specific presets soon; judging from the feedback from the forums, those will be for Ableton Live and Torq. Even if you're not using software with a dedicated preset, DaScratch is still a fantastic, portable and affordable secondary controller for handling all of the functions your primary controller can't, as well as wowing your audience with its pretty looks. After this, I can't wait to see what Stanton does next.
SCS.3D DASCRATCH > $299
Pros: Multitouch control with excellent no-latency response. Five modes and two virtual decks give you tons of controls in a small space. Application-specific presets are intelligent and tremendously powerful. Reasonable price.
Cons: Functionality is not quite as deep without app-specific presets. Limited ability to save presets.