GET CREATIVE >The Stanton C.304 DJ CD player includes an impressive array of onboard effects, including Filter, Phase, Echo, Flanger and more. These effects can also be used together for even more control.
DJ CD players have been an essential element of the modern DJ rig for years now, and in many instances, they have replaced acetates as the primary medium for DJs to present the hottest tunes. The ability to finish a song and play it at a club that same night is an invaluable tool for any producer or DJ — and a CD wallet is certainly lighter than a box full of records. As the technology has improved in recent years, DJs have been able to incorporate more tricks and twists into their sets, and through the inclusion of some unique features, the Stanton C.304 tabletop CD player stands at the ready for DJs looking to add some serious spice to their music.
NO SLOTS HERE
When I opened the box, I was immediately impressed by the look of the C.304. It is a full-size model (almost as big as a turntable turned sideways) with a large jog wheel, a silver face with black accents and a nice-size LCD display. I plugged it in with the supplied AC cable, hooked up the analog RCA output to my mixer, powered it up, and the C.304 lit up like a Christmas tree. The LCD is blue with easy-to-read black letters, and most of the buttons are backlit, making it almost effortless to operate the C.304 in a dark environment, which should appeal to any club DJ. The buttons all have a nice feel to them, the pitch fader is smooth and solid, and the jog wheel is slightly textured for ease of use.
When I first tried to load up a CD, I noticed that the C.304 does not use a slot-loading design; rather, it has a tray that opens and closes using the Eject button. I generally prefer the former, as it presents less of a hazard in the DJ booth when I'm playing; although it is not a major problem, you do have to be careful when the tray is open — the tray will close automatically after one minute. You must pause the CD to eject it, which prevents any accidents if you should try to eject the wrong CD player, which I have done on occasion while mixing back and forth between two players.
The C.304 has an auto-cue function, which is absolutely imperative for any club application. However, the implementation of the auto cue is slightly different from those on other CD players I have used in the past. When you insert a CD, the C.304 automatically stops at the beginning of the first track and sets your cue point there. You can then return to that cue point at any time by pressing the Cue button again. If you want to play a track other than the first one on the CD, you can use the track buttons to select which track you want to play; if you want to change to another while playing, the auto cue will engage on the second selection. Furthermore, if you have the unit in pause mode, it will also create a new cue point whenever you select a new track.
The pitch control has an adjustable pitch range, with four different modes to select from: ±8, 16, 25 and 100 percent. At the highest resolution (8 percent), the pitch fader moves in increments of ±0.1 percent, which is not quite as small as I prefer but definitely manageable for most applications. Be prepared to baby-sit your mixes if you like to ride them out for a really long time. I really like that a Pitch Bend button is included so you can make slight adjustments in the pitch quickly and easily without having to touch the jog wheel or pitch fader. You can lock the pitch fader, though it will only lock at zero pitch, which is indicated by a red light next to the fader. The unit also features a Key Lock button, which maintains the pitch of the music at its original state no matter what tempo you are playing at. Nevertheless, I did notice some strange acoustical artifacts, including some slight stuttering and beat flams, when pitching a track more than 1 or 2 percent up or down. This is a problem that I have noticed with pretty much every CD player I have ever used that has this feature.
The jog wheel is designed for DJs who want to play and scratch CDs just as though they were playing vinyl on a turntable. A Vinyl mode imitates the tactile experience of manipulating a record, though you have to be careful how you use the jog wheel in this mode. If you tap or press down on the jog wheel while playing, the CD playback will stop for however long you hold it down. This is fine if you are scratching, but an accidental tap of the jog wheel while playing could be problematic. Admittedly, I'm not much of a scratch DJ, so I prefer using the player in standard mode, in which the jog wheel simply moves the pitch up or down rather than completely stops play or reverses it. Making pitch adjustments as though you were pushing or dragging a turntable platter can be a little tricky, as the jog wheel is kind of heavy and can easily overspin. It took awhile to get used to the feel of the jog wheel, but with some practice, this does not present much of an issue. The Touch Rewind feature is a cool addition that allows you to return the track to the cue point by pressing on the top of the jog wheel in standard play mode, then scratch and throw the track into the mix just as though you were playing a record.
BANK ON IT
Besides using the main Cue button, you can also store cues with the four bank buttons. While playing a CD, you simply press a bank button (numbered 1 through 4), and the cue point will store at that exact time. The LED number on the button will flash red and then turn solid green, which indicates that a cue has been stored. If the CD is paused, you can begin playback from any of the cue points; however, it will only keep playing for as long as you hold down the button. If you tap a bank button while playing back a CD normally, the track will continue on from that cue point. If you want to delete a cue point, press the Clear button, and while it is flashing red, press the bank button you want to clear. Then, press Clear again to complete the process.
You can also use the bank buttons to store and play back loops. First, you set the start point for your loop by pressing the In button and then the Out button when you want the loop to end. If you want to save the loop, press the Save button, and it will begin flashing red; then, press any available bank button, and your loop will be stored there. It will continue looping until you press the Out button, which flashes red when playing back a stored loop. Once you have stored your loops, you can play them back in sequence with the Sampler function. Press the Sampler button located to the right of the bank buttons, then the Record button in the Sampler Sequencer in the upper-left portion of the player. You can then record a sequence of as many as 12 cues that you can then play back by pressing the Play button in the Sampler Sequencer section. There are two modes for playback: One Shot will play back the sequence once, and Loop mode will continue to play the sequence over and over until you press the Sampler button to get out of Sampler mode. It took a bit of practice getting the loops to time up exactly right so that the playback was smooth, but that was definitely a result of user error rather than any fault of the machine.
The C.304 is the first CD player that I have en-countered with onboard effects, which really sets it apart from competitors. The unit has six different effects to choose from: Filter, Phase, Echo, Flanger, Pan and Trans(form). You can use them individually or stacked together — a max of three at once — though only certain effects can be used in unison. Filter and Phase, Echo and Flanger, and Pan and Transform are linked together, so only one of each linked pair can operate at any given time.
Once you initiate an effect, you have several controls at your disposal to adjust the effect parameters. There are the time-division indicators, located directly below the LCD display, which can be moved up or down using the Plus (+) and Minus (-) buttons. The time increments are stepped in musically appealing divisions, including quarter note, half note and one measure. These increments adjust the modulation length of the time-based effects, such as the sweep of the Flanger, Phaser, Filter and Pan, as well as the length of delays on the Echo and the steps on the Transform function, which operates as a sort of stutter or gating effect. You can also use the Time knob to fine-tune these parameters, though any adjustments you make will immediately return to the default value when you stop rotating the knob, unless you have engaged the Hold button located below the effects section. Also present is a Ratio knob that controls certain parameters of the effects, and its function changes depending on the effect selected. For instance, if you have the Flanger selected, the Ratio knob controls the amount of effect introduced, similar to an effects wet/dry control that you may have seen on other machines.
The C.304 is one of the most full-featured CD decks I have encountered in my experience as a professional DJ. If you are an experienced DJ looking to get a little bit more out of your CD player, this might be just what you're looking for, and I definitely recommend it for the up-and-coming DJ looking for an inexpensive deck that has a lot to offer to his or her setup. You really get a lot for your money with this unit, and with its solid construction, it will continue to add a versatile dimension to your DJing for years to come.
C.304 > $679
Pros: Excellent construction. Built-in effects. Pitch Bend buttons. Great value.
Cons: Low resolution on pitch control. Jog wheel a bit heavy. CD tray.