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Stanton C.324 CD Deck
Reviewer: Gizmo • Date: July 2008 • Price: $399/€449/£365 • Link: Stanton

Introduction

Stanton c.324 review

It’s an undeniable fact that like Technics before it, Pioneer dominates the CD player market. Indeed, just like Hoover and Sellotape, the brand name has transcended into generic use to describe CD decks in general, much to the delight of Pioneer, but to the annoyance of the DJ community.

But funnily enough, other CD decks do exist. Denon have had very capable decks for years, and so have Stanton. The C.304 and C.314 have been around for a little while now (somehow escaping the skratchworx reviews blender) but it’s the newbie C.324 that we’ve got in for dissection. Essentially it’s the bigger and better sibling - the one who ate all their greens.

First Impressions

Stanton c.324 cd deck review

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the new Stanton styling seems to be a real love/hate affair. Looks wise it’s a few steps away from the norm - extremely geometric with a mix of straight lines and curves, rather than being an uninspiring black box with knobs. The overall dark monochrome colour scheme is interspersed with blobs of light, but dominated by the bright blue LCD display. In bright conditions, this works well, but where light is lacking, the brightness of the screen begins to overwhelm, leaving the controls hard to see. Once you’re familiar with the unit though, this shouldn’t be an issue.

Stanton c.324 CD Deck review

Quality wise it’s not a lightweight flimsy box but is almost entirely plastic, except for some trim on the platter. The main body appears to be sprayed in a metallic gunmetal colour, that may have the potential to wear off the sharp edges through prolonged use. That said, I’m only saying this based on a small scratch that’s appeared on the side, exposing the bare Grey plastic underneath.

Stanton c.324 cd deck review

The buttons are solid rubber with a metallic finish. There’s a certain amount of movement in the buttons, but this is backed up with a reassuring audible click that might be annoying to some, but for me means a pressed rather than missed button.

The Platter

Stanton c.324 review

Regardless of the bells and whistles that surround it, buying decisions are often made entirely on the feel of the platter. So much of the DJing experience is entirely about feel so it has to be juuust right or it’s a total non-starter. What Stanton seem to be doing here is giving all users the functionality of a regular jogwheel, but for more demanding hands-on DJ, there’s also a good level of scratchability as well.

Stanton c.324 review

Without unleashing the skratchdriver (reserved for mixers), I have no idea how this works or what it’s made from. The platter is rubberised on the edge and has a Lexan feel platter. Essentially it works like any other touch sensitive jog wheel - the whole wheel works as a pith shifting control, but when vinyl mode is engaged, the top face becomes a touch sensitive scratch wheel. Just to be clear for the noobs - touch sensitive responds to the slightest touch, bringing audio to an instant stop. Some other models on the market have pressure sensitive wheels that require a small degree of downward movement to engage the vinyl emulation modes.

The C.324 jog wheel works pretty well in giving users a vinyl like feel. Firstly, it feel heavy - I’m not sure the wheel itself is heavy, but rather some sort of resistance is applied to stop it being a free wheeling nightmare. This resistance however still leaves the wheel very smooth even when pushed down too hard and grounded against the body. To illustrate the resistance, summoning all my scratch strength, I can only get the wheel to spin back 3 times.

Stanton c.324 vinyl emulation review

The clever bit comes in the vinyl emulation. When you touch the platter, the audio stops dead as you would expect. But when you release, there’s a small spin up just like real vinyl. Imagine using the ubiquitous “aaaah” scratch sound - patting the static platter would give you the same sound as vinyl i.e. “wahwahwah”. But If the wheel is moving even just a little, there’s no spin up and the audio plays instantly making scratching way more natural. As far as spinbacks and pushes go, there seems to be an speed at which this becomes possible otherwise when you let go the audio returns to normal speed. Rounding up the vinyl emulation, you also have full control over the start and brake speed from instant all the way up to an insane seemingly eternal 10 seconds.

There’s an interesting feature - touch rewind. Engaging this enables you to jump to the last cue point just by touching the platter. This “cheat juggling” feature can be used for conventional beat work. And there’s a reverse button as well, should you really feel the need to do that.

I did feel that the wheel felt heavy and faster scratch techniques like scribbles proved difficult. And occasionally, I detected some latency when I had my hand on the platter and scratched. It became noticeable when chirping as this needs good hand to fader co-ordination. Usually releasing and picking up again cleared it up.

Stanton c324 review

In the manual, Stanton use phrases such as “just like vinyl” and “like a turntable”. Sorry, but that’s just PR waffle. For a touch sensitive jogwheel, it’s pretty hot and gives as good a performance as you could expect from such a thing. Yes it can be made to do some frankly wierd things if you spin it fast in all We’re not talking turntablist levels of performance here - if that’s your bag then look elsewhere - but for the more adventurous DJ looking to bust some serious scratches in there, this shouldn’t let you down. Try before you buy though.

The Display

Stanton c324 review

Hitting you right in the face is the incredibly bright (perhaps a little too bright) LCD display. At 55mm square, it aims to pack a lot into a small space, thus some sacrifices have been made. Dominating the display is the jog wheel indicator, which gives you active feedback of the arbitrary pseudo vinyl marker. To be honest, I never looked at this once - it’s just too vague to be of use, but then again I don’t depend on displays on any units for that type of thing. Some of you may find it useful, but I found it to be a waste of space. I don’t need the display to tell me what direction the platter is going thanks.

Some of the space has been taken up with things that already light up anyway - effects and loops for example, but it’s nice to have a secondary indicator I guess. Pitch and key lock as well have their own blue buttons but it’s also mirrored on the display as well.

Stanton c324 review

The important stuff is in the lower half of the screen - track number, BPM display and time, as well as a scrolling line of CD TEXT or file names (no ID3 tags here people). Time can also be toggled to display elapsed, remaining and total disk remaining as well. There’s also a set of bars that shows the time remaining as well.

To be honest, the screen could be so much better. It’s badly laid out making the info hard to read, and much of the space is filled with info that doesn’t need to be there. The lack of waveform makes this a non-starter for a lot of people as well. Personally I’d have made the display take up perhaps one third of the top space and moved the controls to the other side. I guess it’s a matter of getting used to it really. I did, but it could have been better.

Formats, Navigation and Sound

stanton c.324 review mp3

MP3 technology initially put audio quality in the toilet. Thankfully due to the rampaging nature of progress, quality has radically improved as has the technology supporting it. There was a time when MP3 was a no-go zone for DJs but that isn’t the case anymore. The C.324 offers excellent playback of conventional and MP3 audio. Speeding up and slowing down still kept excellent fidelity, even on the slowest of drags. It does however depend on the source quality, so don’t blame the C.324 if you try 128kps MP3s encoded 10 years ago.

STanton c.324 review

I tested uncompressed audio as well as MP3 and data CDs and experienced no problems at all. Folders are supported and easily navigable via the “browse” and “folder” butons. The C.324 is intelligent enough to skip empty folders, which can be a blessing or a curse. If for example, you have your music sorted in genre or artist folders, the root folder is ignored and only the folders with music in are shown. So unless you know all your music intimately, finding tracks might be harder than you’d like. You could cheat and add a single track into each root folder to make it show up though so there is a workaround.

To get around the audio, you have backwards and forwards seek buttons. These can be used to step one frame at a time in pause mode or to skip through at speed, especially if spinning the jog wheel. There are also search buttons for jumping one track at a time.

Stanton c.324 review pitch

Pitch control is much like all others in this product sector. Coming with a smooth pitch slider with a zero click and LED to match, the C.324 offers a switchable pitch range between +/-8, 16, 25 and 100%, but unlike others offers that range on all formats rather than crippling MP3s to a lower range. One thing to note - the pitch resolution is a somewhat puny 0.1% (senses a huge disturbance in the force centred around Deft) apart from in 100% which has 1% steps. Putting it against a regular analog turntable, I had no issues mixing at all. I’m not exactly a trance jockey and come from a time before drum machines so I’m more than able to lock grooves from real drummers, thus I laugh in the face of digital pitches. A nice addition is that when you move the pitch, the displayed BPM changes as well, allowing you to have greater control when you mix.

One last thing - key lock. Nothing special to report here, other than having a usable range of around 20%. But -100% key lock is a lot of fun and an effect all on its own. Speaking of which...

Effects

Stanton c.324 review effects

Becoming a standard on CD decks these days, the C.324 has a handful of actually useful ones to play with. You get auto and manual filter, echo, pan, phase, flanger and transformer, and rather nicely you can use almost any 3 at one time (for example echo and flanger can’t), without loss in audio quality (other than the mess you make with the effects anyway). And each is linked to the BPM or can be overridden with the controls. The effects have adjustable parameters depending on the effect being used, but are generically known as the FX time and FX ratio. For example with echo, you get to control the rate as well as the wet/dry.

As previously mentioned, these are tied in to the BPM which is automagically calculated on the fly. Based on my own experiences and different music tested, the C.324 has a quick stab as guessing the BPM, but after maybe 10 seconds gets it just right. You can however tap in the BPM if it just can’t get it’s head around your convoluted 3/4 beats.

Stanton c324 review

Getting the BPM right is crucial to get the best from the effects. While you can control the effects manually, it’s much easier to let the C.324 do it for you. when you start using the time division buttons for example, you can quickly get creative with the effects. And for a bit more freestyling, pressing the “outer jog” button lets you tweak the fx ratio with the jog wheel.

Usually when I look at effects on CD decks, I curse the manufacturer for the waste of time prefader effects, but removing my scratch hat for a moment and simply messing with the C.324 for a while has opened my eyes a little. I’m sure the pros would spit on such things, but for DJ Joe Public, there’s a lot of fun to be had with these. And being able to use a combination of effects is very cool indeed.

Sampling and Looping

Stanton c.324 review

This is where I start to get excited. I have an unnatural love for hot starts - that ability to chop up a track on the fly, be it jumping from loop to loop or simply deconstructing a beat and remaking it button-thumping MPC style is too cool for words. And the C.324 doesn’t disappoint at all in this respect.

Stanton c.324 review

Looping is very straightforward: hit the in button to start the loop and out to define the end point. You can also adjust the end point with the jogwheel and fine tune it numerically on the display. Where the loops gets interesting is with the time division buttons. When you make your loop, it assumes a 4 beat loop i.e. 1/1. But with the division control, and assuming that the BPM has been correctly detected, you can extend it to 4/1 or decrease it to 1/4. I find myself quite unhappy with the way this works - firstly 1/4 isn’t anywhere near enough for most DJs. They want to be able to crunch the beat down to 16ths and 32nds. And stepping up or down the scale would have been so much better with buttons for each step so you could immediately jump to 1/4 if you wanted. It’s great to have loops and they work well, but a little more thought would have made them truly great.

One interesting feature is the ability to save loops to the pads - define a loop, hit “save” and then a pad and the loop is stored. But more on this later.

Where Stanton have pulled a rabbit out of their hat is with sampling. Like I said, hot cues are a hoot and I’m one happy bunny when pad thumping. The C.324 allow 4 cue points to be used at one time, either as immediate starts if play is engaged, or as stutters if it isn’t. You can also save the current cue point to any of the 4 buttons as well with the “save” button. Pads can easily be erased as well, freeing you to use them for the next part of your set.

Stanton c.324 sampler

Where it gets really interesting is when using the “sampler” button. Normally, when you hit a pad, it jumps straight to that point and plays right away. With the sampler button engaged, it simply plays the sample over the top of whatever is playing. This includes the existing loop as well, so provided you’ve got the loop just right, you can start beat juggling with one button. And when you add in that you can still engage vinyl mode, you can get pretty crazy on the remix front.

The original sample is unaffected by active pitch control, but you can tweak the pitch and level of each sample while playing live. It’s a little awkward as you have to keep the pad pressed, press the sampler button and then tweak with the rotary pitch and level buttons. So you could beat match 2 different loops if you wanted or simple overlay parts of the same track. The samples are subject to whatever effects you have playing at the time, and when pressing one button it cuts off another.

Stanton c.324 review

But wait... there’s more. Not content with pushing the whole cueing and looping feature to the max, they have to to take it one step further and nudge the C.324 into sequencer territory. Assuming you have cues and loops stored on the pads, you can make your own step or realtime sequences depending on your needs. Up to 32 points can be stored and organised in a true step mode (plays loops one after another) or in realtime (records how you press them). There’s a couple of pages devoted to this in the manual but it’s really not as complex as it seems.

Now it would be real shame if these cue points were lost when you powered off, so thankfully the C.324 has internal memory where you can save cues and loops for 500 CDs. This is also true for saving unit presets like always having vinyl mode engaged, a pitch range set or an effect switched on - particularly annoying until I discovered this feature.

Ins and Outs

stanton c.324 review

Technically speaking, the CD drive is an input so it seems logical to report about it in this section. The big news here is that the C.324 abandons the oh so last decade trayloading CD drives and gives you a much sleeker slot loading device instead. Less moving parts means more reliability as well as a more protected mechanism to boot. Load times are respectable, averaging 10 seconds from insert to ready.

Stanton c.324 review

Not much to report round the back - of course there’s line out, but Stanton have added a S/PDIF digital out as well. Does anybody actually use that? There’s also a mini jack to allow for 2 units to relay play as well as enabling fader start for suitably equipped mixers. That is all - move along.

Summary

When the C.324 arrived on my door step, I had real worries that my previous experiences with the first generation of the deck would see me having a hard time being positive about the new C.324. When I discovered the previous C.series at MusikMesse, my 5 minutes of playing on the stand had me walking away never to return. Thankfully lessons have been learned and the C.324 is a pleasure to use.

Those looking for vinyl like feel may well be disappointed. The platter is good - better than the Numark iCDX but not in the leagues of the Pioneer CDJs, Denons and nowhere near the Numark CDX. The rest of the feature set however is top notch, and the sampling and looping really does make the other decks look weak. It’s hard to get into, but when you do the power of the C.324 becomes apparent. And when you throw in the creative options of the effects, you have a serious piece of work in your hands.

If you frequent particular forums, you can help but have come across a small handful of vocal opponents of the previous (or indeed any) Stanton offerings, and quite rightly so if it is all to be believed. But my experience of the the C.324 has been great - nothing has broken or worked out side of my expectations. Indeed, bar a few glitches the C.324 has performed quite a long way beyond what I had expected. Time will tell if it withstands the regular abuse that DJs meter out on their gear.

Overall, if you're after a scratchable CD deck, but can't afford the Denon or Pioneer offerings, the C.324 will prove to be a very viable alterantive, often beating the competition in some areas of use.

Ratings

Build Quality
For the price, it's about right. Feels good - controls are solid enough and the platter is smooth.

Sound Quality
This is becoming academic these days, but even with 3 effects running and bashing sample pads to death, it holds up without artefacts.

Features & Implementation
All bases are covered here and then some. The platter offers good sub-turntablist scratch performance, but the loops and sample go above and beyond the norm.

Value For Money
The C.324 comes in for quite a bit less than the competition but offers a more traditional set of features rather than squeezing in heaps of nextlevelness.

I Like...
• The price
• The platter performance
• The sampling and looping

But not so keen on...
• The woefully inadequate time division
• The small display - too much waste

If this is your kind of thing, you might want to check out...
Cortex HDTT5000
Pioneer CDJ-400
Numark iCDX
Vestax CDX-05
Denon DN-S1200

The Bottom Line

Once you get to learn all that it has to offer, the C.324 is one hell of a creative ball of fun.

Gallery

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