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Stanton SA-5 Mixer - By Deft - Review Date: January 2005

Background & Main Interface

Stanton have a fairly long line of scratch orientated mixers under their belt, but if we are honest with ourselves, they are not a name many people probably associate with consistently high quality products or that inspire huge levels of consumer confidence. From what looks like a move by Stanton to counter this general negativity surrounding the quality of their products, the SA-5 has been badged with something called "Superior Sound Technology" (SST). Stanton themselves cite this as being a number of efforts made in design and quality assurance that should ensure 'superior audio quality and unprecedented value'. So is it a load of marketing and PR nonsense, or a genuine commitment by Stanton to make improvements in their design and quality control process?

The first way this SST manifests itself is that upon opening the box I was greeted by a signed test report showing that this particular SA-5 had passed a series of published specifications. A nice touch. Along with the power supply there was a small bag containing an extra set of slightly different shaped fader knobs and a small tube of Caig 100% MCL droplets. This is the recommended lubricant for the custom Penny & Giles faders, with full instructions regarding disassembly, cleaning and lubrication contained in the manual. A very thoughtful move from Stanton, and along with the spare fader knobs it is a really positive extra.
The top panel has that familiar look of most 2-channel scratch mixers, with the obvious difference being that there is not a rotary control in sight. It is all faders and switches with the surface having a nice balanced look to it. The area around the main faders is uncluttered and there are no secondary panels or sections to catch your fingers or nails on. There is also not a single screw on the whole top area. There are actually two panels to the top surface - joining at the horizontal SA-5 graphic, meaning you only have to remove the three main knobs in order to get access to the faders underneath (the faceplate is secured by two screws on either side of the mixer). Starting at the top there are the two channel gains, flanked by the session level control and master volume control. Between and just below these are the PGM, crossfader and channel fader reverse switches - so all angles are covered. Moving down there is the 3-band fader eq section with the OS2 lock to the left and the cueing section to the right - consisting of a cue pan fader, cue level control and a 3-way switch with PRE, POST & MASTER cueing selection. The bottom section has the OS2 phono/line switches, main faders, summed L+R 12-segment meters for each channel and the headphone mute switch.

The front of the mixer has 3-way curve switches for the main faders (marked FADE/MID/CUT) and also a rather nifty recessed section with horizontal connectors on either side for your headphones (1/8" on the left, 1/4" on the right). The rear of the mixer has all gold plated RCA connectors with the master output available on 1/4" jack (balanced +4dBu) and RCA connections (unbalanced -10dBV). There is a separate record RCA output (-10dBV) and rotary trim controls for the master output and phono inputs. There is another 1/4" headphone socket along with the 1/4" mic jack connector - with a small push-button that toggles the session input section between the session RCA input and the mic input. Finally, the external power supply connector is of a secure screw-in variety, which makes a welcome change from the tiny jacks that these power packs usually have.

In Use

The SA-5 feels remarkably comfortable, possibly due in part to the same fader model being used for the cross - and channel faders. It gives that similarity in physical response which is reassuring. I suspect the familiarity of the P&G faders also helps in this area. Also contributing to the experience are the recessed headphone jack and perfectly clear main area. These seemingly small design choices really do add a lot overall. The addition of the phono trim controls means you can actually set the gain faders at maximum, adding an extra full fader control to each channel if using traditional turntables. The trim controls are a bit fiddly, being cramped a touch by the grounding posts - so I tended to set them and leave them, ensuring I had enough room for manoeuvre in my gain controls to keep my signals peaking correctly. The mixer seems to have a lot of headroom, so those who aren't able to use a mixer correctly shouldn't run into any major distortion problems. The gains go right down to nothing and the channel meter signals are taken pre-fader, giving a good clear readout of signal strength. However the addition of the master trim control caused a bit of confusion in my mind as to what level was being passed through the master outputs, and with the meter not being switchable to display program output levels you can't really tell. It seemed to tally up with my Ecler Hak320 if the trim control was left pointing directly upwards.

The PGM reverse works post-trim but pre-gain, so to conserve signal levels you need to have your gains at the same position. Switching post-gain like on the Hak320/360 seems to make more sense to me but with the phono trim controls you can set your gain faders at the top of their travel for a correctly peaking signal. So this may be a better option if you are likely to be using the PGM reverse a lot. The cross and channel fader reverse switches behave as you would hope, with LEDs on the front panel showing when they are active. The EQ section has a +9dB boost available for each band and performs a total kill when all set to minimum (i.e. no audible signal). I'd have to say I prefer the sound and placement of the eq on something like the PMC-007 or Hak320/360, but any dj eq is something you need to become accustomed to and then use accordingly rather than to get overly subjective about.

Anyone who has used the OS2 optical phono/line switches before will know how loose they are, and I don't doubt many will have accidentally knocked them. So Stanton have come up trumps with the OS2 lock switch. When activated this locks whatever input is currently selected to avoid any embarrassing moments. If the lock is on when powering up, the mixer defaults to the phono inputs. The switches do have a slight clicking noise associated with them, regardless of the "noise-free" use claimed in the manual.

The cueing section of the mixer has a couple of rather neat features. The pre-fader cue with cue pan control and the master cue (pre-master level) are the traditional options, but there is a rather cool post-fader cue option. It took me a day or so to realise this didn't just remove the session signal from the master cue! In this mode the cue pan control is disabled but the cue signal is affected by crossfader movement but still works pre-fader with respect to the channel faders. So if you want to rehearse some scratches in your headphones you can just drop the relevant channel fader to stop the sound reaching the master output and practice away. Very smart for a live situation. Maybe not quite as obvious as the rehearsal switches on the PMC-007 but very welcome nonetheless. There is also the headphone mute switch by the channel meters (with LED confirmation of activation) which I found very handy when slipping my headphones off to check the output through my speakers. My only slight criticism of the cueing section is that the cue level control gets loud very quickly so is a bit hard to set at lower levels.

Fader Control

Stanton have opted for 3-way curve control for the main faders and have covered the main bases pretty well. With respect to the line faders the FADE option gives a nice even response for echoes and suchlike, or if you want to use them for mixing. The MID option actually has the signal come in very gradually until the last third or so of the travel, making it a good choice for something like upfader drumming where you may want the sound fairly sharp but not too switch-like. Or again, for chopping audio in and out for mixing. The CUT option has a crossfader like cut at the bottom of the travel.

The crossfader is where there is a slightly unhappy compromise to be had. On first use, the crossfader CUT mode didn't feel quite right. The cut-in lag is very small, within a couple of mm - but the curve really isn't as steep as you might expect. It takes a further few mm to get upto near maximum level and this can give certain scratches a quieter sound and an uneven feel, especially if you are used to a sharper curve. It's not performance wrecking but it is noticeable. The MID curve is a nice standard curve for mixing and the FADE option is the only one that gives an audible dip at the centre position.

It doesn't end there though. If you take the crossfader out and have a look, there is a small extra piece of circuitry and connector screwed to the base. At the default position, this extra circuitry is connected. Being the inquisitive type I bypassed this extra circuitry and connected the fader directly, in the same way the upfaders are. This made the CUT setting really nice and sharp and noticeably improved. I confirmed this visually by running a 1Khz test-tone through the mixer whilst checking output levels in Soundforge.

Great! But......

Now the MID and FADE options are really steep and not much use at all to be honest. My Skratchworx colleague Fingerlickin' B informs me this extra circuitry is just a resistor, and there is no harm in bypassing it. But it means you are left with the compromise of having a really tight cut and losing the other settings or retaining all 3 settings at the expense of the CUT option. Tough call. Personally, I have opted to have the best CUT setting - as I would probably expect most people who buy this mixer to do.


Well it seems the SST badge really does live up to it's name. The SA-5 feels solid and sounds great. The headphone output is clean and I haven't had any noise or quality issues from any aspect of the mixer so far. It has three superb P&G faders and some really well thought out design features and touches, which seem to point towards Stanton being very well in tune with the needs of the scratch dj. It is a shame that it is slightly overshadowed by the need to bypass the MID & FADE settings to get a satisfactory CUT mode. It is still great value overall and should be near the top of your list if you are looking for a straight forward quality 2-channel battle mixer which won't break the bank.

Rating - 8.5/10


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