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Rodec Scratchbox Mixer
Reviewer: Deft • Date: May 2006 • Price: £699 • Link: Scratchbox

Introduction

Rodec Scratchbox ReviewThe best things come to those who wait, and I had to pinch myself to check I wasn't dreaming when the long awaited Scratchbox arrived for me to peruse. Having only really been sighted at a few trade shows, the final production units are now shipping worldwide from their manufacturing point in Antwerp, Belgium. I have been informed that the first 300 units will come with a free Rodec soft carry case, which can house the mixer and power supply, plus some extra room for headphones and any other cables you might want to take with you. The carry case itself is really smart and comfy, even for midgets like me (though it's pretty much the size of my whole back!). If you don't grab one of the first 300, then you can still buy the carry case separately for an estimated £45 (TBC).

Rodec Scratchbox Bag 1Rodec Scratchbox Bag 2Rodec themselves are a brand known to me previously only by name and reputation, being renowned for high quality installation style mixers. For their first foray into the scratch mixer market, they enlisted the help of Skratchworx friend Lamont and fellow Belgian Grazzhoppa to help them with design feedback and testing. Some may question the need for another straight forward battle mixer, especially with the market marching onwards towards items such as the Rane TTM-57SL. Rodec have been quite clear in their design criteria from the outset, they wanted to create the highest quality scratch mixer available - and they wanted to get it 100% right, however long it took. So, has the wait been worthwhile? Before we get to that, lets see what the Scratchbox has to offer.

Main Interface + Inputs & Outputs

Rodec Scratchbox Full view

The top panel of the Scratchbox doesn't deviate from the standard layout of most 2-channel scratch mixers. The main fader area also being home to the channel cut switches, headphone cueing fader, plus another slightly mysterious fader on the left hand side. Well, I say mysterious, but it's quite obvious in actuality. The upper left side of the Scratchbox has a small strip for channel 3, which is switchable between a mic and line input, and has 2-band eq + gain control. It's quite unique in that it lets you assign it to the main mix (using the mini-fader) or to be partially routed to the signal flow for channel 1 or 2 (i.e. so you can use the panning, FX inserts, cut switches and main faders). It has a single LED to let you know when you are hitting 0dB, and a switch for routing the signal to the headphones. Overall, it gives you that little bit of extra control, and the ability to quickly move the signal over to be manipulated by the main faders and other main channel features is really useful.

Rodec Scratchbox Top View

Channels 1 & 2 have 3-band fader based eq, rated at +10dB/-21dB. The EQ sounds gorgeous, but some may be disappointed that the frequency centre points and widths have not been placed so that you can remove all audio when all three bands are set to full cut. Rodec purposefully chose to keep the eq this way to allow better precision and accuracy when in use.
 
Rodec Scratchbox Back Panel

The Scratchbox has two separate master outputs with level controls and a mono switch. Master 1 has both balanced (XLR) and unbalanced (RCA) outputs, and Master 2 has just unbalanced (RCA). There is a session/aux. input with level control, and a session/aux/record output set of RCAs too. There is also the option to add S/PDIF input and output stages to the Scratchbox, with an approximate end-user price of around £110 each. Obviously these were removed from the default configuration to keep costs down. Although expensive, at least the option is there if you require it.

Rodec Scratchbox FX InsertsThere are post-fader effects inserts for each main channel, which I think is definitely the best choice for a scratch mixer - other manufacturers please take note! There are push button insert switches to activate the loop, with a vertical wet/dry fader to control the balance between original and returned signal. There is a noticeable audio click when using the insert buttons though, which could be annoying if you need to keep switching which channel is routed to the effects loop. The connections on the back are combo send/return 1/4" jacks, more typically found on traditional studio mixer insert points. No big deal, but it might necessitate some people to get new cables and connectors for dj orientated effects units.

Scratch Controls

At this price point, we'd expect nothing but the most comprehensive fader control and configuration - and the Scratchbox delivers. There are full contour and reverse controls for each fader on the front panel, plus a program reverse switch at the top of the mixer.

Rodec Scratchbox Infinium FaderRodec Scratchbox TKO Fader

In it's default configuration, the Scratchbox ships with a digitally interfaced Infinium optical crossfader (http://www.infinium-tech.com) and analogue Tokyo Ko-on Denpa (TKD) 'Profaders' as the channel faders. However, if you open up the Scratchbox there are both analogue and digital fader connections for all three fader points. This means you can upgrade the mixer to all Infiniums at a later date (£59 each), or switch any of the faders into any position you wish. Again, the choice to use TKD Profaders was to bring the cost down slightly compared to using the Infinium for all three faders. Obviously, we don't really have a mixer to test for long enough to ascertain the approximate contact life-cycle, but Rodec themselves are very confident as to the quality of the Profader (they do come from the same company that manufactures the Pro X-Fade). The construction of the fader itself is very sturdy, and the feel is superb - very similar to the Infinium but slightly more weighted. The Profader replacement cost is £39.

Rodec Scratchbox Infinium Fader

The Infinium itself looks quite delicate in isolation - mainly because the circuitry is so visible. It feels really good in use though, with solid action and very little lateral movement. It is smooth and extremely loose, though you can increase the physical resistance somewhat with a small screw-in magnet by the fader stem. The physical fader cut-in point can be shortened on the Infinium too, via some screws on the fader housing edge. The default screw position gives an audio lag distance of only 1mm or so when in use, so quite why anyone would need to shave any space from that is beyond me. It does mean you can't really increase the lag space, but again - I'm not sure anyone would do that in reality either. Obviously you could make the audio cut-in itself happen over a slightly longer distance with the curve control, if 1mm is a bit too close for comfort. Some means of electronic control might have been useful.

Rodec themselves are very keen to point out that the Infinium used in the Scratchbox is not an off-the-shelf version. When initially testing the standard Infinium, they found it had some shortcomings in terms of time lag - so requested a custom model made which would give better performance. They have also spent a long time getting the fader curve software control just right. Their hard work has definitely paid off. I don't have a standard Infinium to test with, but I can confirm that the custom one cuts beautifully.

Rodec Scratchbox CurvesThe audio coming in and out is clean, clear, and doesn't sound digitally stepped at all. They have got the interfacing spot on, no decay or popping problems and a totally analogue sound to the fading. Even the fader knobs feel great, and it all added up to the impression that my scratching sounded cleaner and better than usual (i.e. I now sound like I am stuck in 1995 rather than 1992). It was also instantly a pleasure to scratch on, whereas you can sometimes need adjustment time when changing mixers. This could always just be a coincidence, but I feel like Rodec have judged it just right. Also, the channel fader curves are perfect - so many get this wrong still. You can have a crossfader like cut-in at EITHER end of the travel, with gradual fades inbetween. Well done Rodec.

Rodec Scratchbox Cut positionsThe other interesting feature for scratching are the 3 position cut switches (fully rotatable). These have 3 different settings, depending on how you connect them internally. Basically, the switches themselves have 2 fixed positions, plus a spring loaded 3rd position. In 'momentary' mode, the springed position cuts the audio out, with the other two switch positions leaving the audio intact. The 'latching' mode means the top fixed position cuts the audio out, with the other positions leaving the audio alone (so like a traditional transform switch). The final 'double speed' mode combines these. So the centre fixed position keeps the audio, and the positions at either end cut the audio out. So you get a really quick flickering of the audio, like that on some of the older Stanton SK- line. The switches themselves feel solid, and the audio switching is totally popless - 100%, which can sometimes be a problem. The option to alter how the switches operate is commendable, but relegating the choice to underneath the faceplate is a bit annoying. The switches themselves are directly above the channel faders, but thankfully just far enough away that they weren't an obstruction to fader operation.

Build & Sound Quality

The build quality and overall construction on the unit feels top notch. All the controls feel solid and reassuring, right down to the headphone sockets. The scratch plate where the main faders are presumably has protective covering, as I failed to scratch the graphics off (yes, I did try!). The headphone and main outputs sound immaculate, it's certainly a mixer to be proud of. There is masses of headroom and everything feels effortless, even when cranking all the eq and gains up to max.

Final Thoughts

Rodec Scratchbox Logo 2After using the Scratchbox for a week or so, I love it. I'm glad Rodec took the time to get it right, because it certainly shows. The attention to detail and obvious pride they have taken in the construction is apparent. The price point and fairly minimal feature set may put some off, and I expect some may feel the battle mixer market has moved on a little during the long development time. However, if you know the Scratchbox has everything you need, I don't think you will find much better.

Ratings

Build Quality - 10/10
Sturdy casing, controls and an all round excellent finish.

Sound Quality - 10/10
Outstanding noise-free sound output with great channel eq.

Features and implementation - 8/10
Rodec have done their homework, and expanded slightly on the traditional 2-channel battle mixer format. External control for the cut switch options would have been useful.

Value for money - 8/10
Although at the top end of it's typical market price range, it still manages to live up to it's hefty tag.

Pros:
• Great build & sound quality
• Smart assignable 3rd channel
• Perfect fader contouring and implementation
• Can add S/PDIF options at later date

Cons
• Comparatively hefty price tag
• Associated cost to upgrade channel faders
• Slight click in audio signal path when inserting effects loop

The Bottom Line

Sometimes in life, if you want the best, you have to pay for it. A serious mixer for those serious about their equipment.

Thanks to Lamont and Steve Van Hoof at Rodec for their prompt replies to questions about the Scratchbox



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