Click here for an MP3 demo of the Stanton C.314 by the author, Mike Hiratzka.
Digital music has truly taken over the DJ industry. Fewer and fewer DJs head to their local record stores to sift through the latest 12-inch promos; instead, they fire up computers and visit their favorite digital download sites. Now that MP3 CDs are a favored medium for DJs, it only makes sense for the playback technology to follow the trend, and the Stanton C.314 CD deck is sure to please any DJ looking for a full-featured player with MP3 capability.
Similar to the Pioneer CDJ-1000 series, the C.314 is designed for DJs who want to play CDs as though they were spinning vinyl on a turntable, with a large touch-sensitive jog wheel that allows you to cue, scratch and nudge the playback. You can also loop, sample and use the seven onboard effects to open a whole new creative palette that offers more flexibility and versatility than any other comparable unit on the market. If you've never used CD players as part of your DJing arsenal, this may be the perfect introduction to a new world of mixing.
ROUND AND ROUND
In Vinyl mode, the C.314's large, ergonomically textured jog wheel acts just like a record on a turntable. If you touch the top of the wheel, it stops playback as if you were stopping a record, allowing you to cue up the beginning of a track or scratch the CD with a feel surprisingly similar to that of vinyl. Of course, there's no substitute for the real thing, but with a little practice, you should be scratching or beat juggling just like you would on your favorite slice of wax.
DJs like me who don't scratch much can use the C.314 in a traditional CD mode, where rotating the platter will nudge the playback as though you were pushing or dragging a turntable. There is also a cool feature called Touch Rewind, which will return the playback to your cue point by touching the top of the platter. When it is activated, you can also press and hold down on the jog wheel to scratch or drop the CD into the mix as if you were in Vinyl mode.
The C.314 differs from most CD decks in that it uses a tray to load the CDs rather than a slot loader. That might present a bit of a hazard in a dark environment, so be careful when the tray is open. If you get distracted in the middle of a mix and leave it open, don't worry; the tray will close automatically after a minute to help prevent accidents. Another nice safety feature is that you can't eject the CD during playback; you must pause the CD before you can open the tray, which prevents accidentally ejecting the wrong CD while you're playing. Once you insert a CD, the C.314 defaults to Auto-Cue mode, which I prefer to having the CD immediately begin playing every time you select a new track. Once you have your track selected, you can use the pitch fader to match your tempo as if you are manipulating a turntable. There are four pitch modes to give you a wide range of mixing possibilities: ±8, 16, 25 and 100 percent. At the finest resolution (8 percent), the pitch fader moves in increments of ±0.1 percent, which is not as accurate as I prefer, especially for long beat-matched mixes. If the pitch should drift, however, you have a couple of choices on how you can adjust the tempo to lock in your mix again. There is a Pitch Bend button that raises or lowers the pitch for as long as you hold it, which would translate to anywhere from a quick nudge to a more dramatic push on a record, or dragging your finger alongside the spinning platter. If you prefer the tactile experience of using the jog wheel, you can use it to make your pitch adjustments as well.
In addition to the main Cue button, you can also store four cues in the Bank buttons. While playing a CD, press a Bank button, and the cue point will be stored at that moment in the track. The LED number on the button will flash red and then turn solid green, which indicates that a start cue has been stored. If you want to delete any or all of your cue points, press the Clear button, and while it is flashing red, press the appropriate Bank buttons, and then press Clear again to complete the process. If the CD is paused, you can begin playback with any of the Bank buttons; however, it will only keep playing for as long as you hold down the button. You can also use the Bank buttons to store and play back loops; set the start point for your loop by pressing the In button, and when you want the loop to end, press the Out button. Now press the Save button; it will begin flashing red, and then hit 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 then play them back in sequence with the Sampler function. Press the Sampler button located to the right of the Bank buttons, and then press 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. You can play back samples and sampled loops either in Sample or Loop mode; Sample plays the selected audio back once, while Loop continues playing until you press Sample again. Once you get the hang of using the different cues and loop functions, you'll be able to re-edit tracks on fly, which adds a whole new dimension to your mixing that isn't possible with a turntable.
The C.314 is one of the few CD players that includes onboard effects, of which there are seven: manual filter, auto filter, echo, phase, flanger, transform and pan. For added creative freedom, you can use as many as three effects at a time, the parameters of which are controlled using the FX Time Encoder and FX Ratio Encoder knobs located on either side of the LCD display. You can also put the C.314 in Outer Jog mode, which allows you to control the Ratio parameters by moving the outer ring of the jog wheel. For instance, if you want to do a filter sweep, press the Outer Jog button, and then press and hold the Filter button to engage the manual filter. Then you can sweep the frequency of the filter using the jog wheel. When you're using the other effects, the jog wheel controls the depth, feedback or level, depending on the effect. There are handy Time Division buttons to adjust the effects in musically pleasing increments that are synced to the tempo, or you can sweep the time parameters manually using the FX Time Encoder. In addition to the effects, you can also play back the CD, a loop or sample in reverse. For some additional flavor, try adjusting the Vinyl start and brake times to create turntable-like start and stop effects; it ranges from an immediate stop or start to a maximum of 10 seconds. Another wicked effect is to use Key Lock mode to play back audio at its original pitch regardless of tempo; with the pitch mode at its maximum of 100, slowly move the pitch fader down until the music becomes really time-stretched — it's a dramatic way to end a track. With so many options available, taking the time to play around with everything reveals myriad possibilities that will add a unique and exciting dimension to DJ sets.
MORE ON THE TABLE
One of nicest aspects of the C.314 is that it supports MP3 playback and allows you to scroll through folders if you want to group your music by, say, artist or style. I definitely recommend burning MP3s at 320 Kbps for the highest possible sound quality; at that rate, it will still reduce your file size by around a fourth, allowing you to transport a lot of music around on a really small amount of media. Compare that with carrying around a box of records to appreciate the benefits of MP3s.
There are even more features on the C.314, including a sleep mode that initiates if the player has been in pause or cue for 15 minutes; that shuts off the transport and laser and extends the life of the motor drive, laser and LCD screen. You can also connect this unit to any mixer equipped with fader start, so you can begin playback from your cue point just by moving the crossfader on your mixer, or relay playback between two units by linking their fader-start jacks. In this mode, when a track ends on one unit, the next track begins automatically, allowing you to keep the music playing if you need to step away or just need a break.
The C.314 packs a lot of punch at an affordable price. Stanton has designed this unit to provide a wide variety of creative alternatives to expand the horizons of your mixing, and it definitely delivers the goods. While it most likely won't replace the CDJ-1000 as the industry standard, the C.314 presents a welcome alternative to the everyday turntable.
For an audio demo of the Stanton C.314 by Mike Hiratzka, go toremixmag.com.
C.314 > $679
Pros: Solid construction. Extensive features, including effects. Excellent value.
Cons: Low resolution on pitch fader. CD tray rather than slot-loading.