: Gizmo • Date:
2006 • Price:
£475/$749 • Link: Rane
To say that I'm a tad late in the game in reviewing the almighty Rane TTM 56 is an significant understatement. When I had the epiphany that signalled my return to the scene after 14 years away from it, all my research pointed to the 56 being the mixer to buy. So I did - no blagging, no cheap deals - I paid the full £590 for it. And so it sat in the lab for the last close to 4 years getting very regular use and despite this, I still never thought to review it (or the TTXs I bought at the same time).
So this is another hole-plugging catchup review. But there is an advantage to doing this now though. As well as giving you the usual warts 'n all coverage of it, I can also build in a few extras as well such as the maintenance, mods and other such things that will make this review a solid resource.
The first thing that hits you is just how small it is in comparison to the rest of the scratch mixer market. Shelling out as much cash as I did, I expected a little "more" than I got. But it soon becomes abundantly clear that this little box has a whole lot going on.
The 56's image is definitely towards the darkside. Eschewing the slivers and golds of its peers, the 56 is all black and grey with a mild splash of colour supplied from the LEDs. And it's all about minimalism but remaining totally functional. The controls are simple, almost to the point of being spartan but they all work. The rotary controls are extremely plain - a simple straight hard rubberised barrel type with a simple white line indicator. I've heard comments about the perceived quality of the Rane being a bit poor but once you actually use one, you'll see that the lack of shiny knobs is a real plus.
One thing that always ruins the appearance of mixers is the worn faceplate. The fader area gets a proper battering in our quest to become D-Styles and generally makes our mixers look ready to retire within a short amount of time. Rane took a slightly different approach (as with most things) to this problem and gave the faceplate a Lexan layer. Lexan is a super hard plastic sheet, designed to keep the decals intact. In nearly 4 years of abuse, the fader area is slightly shinier that the rest of the plate but that's only apparent wear.
While talking of faceplates, if the darkside isn't your thing, you can buy rather more colourful alternatives - silver, red, blue, green and yellow to be exact coming in for around $50 directly from Rane. And you can even get a clear faceplate from Project Voidfill, but more of that later.
Logistically, scratch DJs need a compact mixer - something that reduces the amount of moving around and general hand gymnastics. And the 56 certainly achieves this with some class. Everything is very logically and clearly laid out when you look at the face. The design of the faceplate naturally breaks up the different sections of the mixer - but it's more than just a visual thing.
The fader area on a scratch mixer needs to be free from extraneous faders, buttons and knobs... so Rane saw fit to add a load of controls into this area. No... wait... it really works. Instead of having to fumble around on the front of the mixer for line fader curves and reverses, they're very discretely placed on top. The curve is a very neat recessed slider and the reverse is a small low profile push button. This leaves the front face for the crossfader controls.
Rounding up this section is the transform switch. It's nice and large and can be rotated under the plate to suit your style. And it's pop-free as well, but with the advent of sharp fader curves, largely redundant.
While I'm sure that some will harp on about keeping the entire bottom half of the mixer totally clear apart from faders,
these controls haven't caused me a single problem in all the time I've owned it. Quite why others haven't done this is beyond me as it's such a neat solution to a constant problem - fumbling around at the front of a mixer hoping to find the right curve control. Less is more people.
You've read it a million times before but I do need to still repeat this for some manufacturers - a scratch mixer is all about the faders. A crap fader with crap curves means crap and short lived scratching. Obviously Rane knew this so came up with their own solution - custom magnetic faders.
Being non-contact means nothing will wear out. Not strictly true as the fader body will eventually wear out on the polished steel rails. But we're talking not in the lifetime of you or your kids or their kids so don't stress. And being magnetic means that you can do the Coca Cola test if you're stupid enough. Yeah sure... pouring a can of Coke will still allow the fader to work but I'm not sure how the rest of the circuitry will handle being immersed in sticky liquid. So don't try that at home kids.
Being non-contact and magnetic also means that the faders aren't cursed with the bain of the scratch DJ's life - bleed. It simply isn't possible, but something like it is. Because of the construction, it is possible in extreme circumstances for the sensors at either end of the fader to move. This usually happens when cleaning or just through being rough when moving the 56 from place to place.
Not content with just using these in the crossfader, Rane thought it would be a good idea to put them in all faders seeing how scratch DJs are a bunch of heavy handed maniacs hell bent on breaking their mixers. However, non-contact magnetic faders throughout a scratch mixer is pretty hardcore and of course is reflected in the price.
But the 56 faders are an acquired taste. The first thing is the 45mm travel - it's way shorter than the accepted 54mm standard and it does take some getting used to - as does the feel. Non contact means no friction other than what happens between the rails and the fader body. And if you've been brought up on the squarer Vestax fader caps, the Rane might feel a little funny to you. I love the Rane cap and it's also the same profile as the Pro X Fade. The material is ummm... odd. It's not like a hard plastic yet it's not soft - I'd say almost lubricated to the touch once worn in, making crabs really easy.
The curves are a curious set as well. Both sides of the crossfader have a lag adjust - something not seen until recently on newer models in the market. The lag is tiny and is also adjustable (although not officially) by gently moving the magnetic sensors. The cut-in isn't as sharp as the newer batch of scratch mixers - indeed you can hear a 2 step cut-in if you move the fader really slowly. But in normal use, it's as sharp and crisp as you could want. In some ways this softness actually works in its favour. I've had a Pioneer 707 sat next to Numark CDX for a long time and combining the instant cut-in of the 707 with the digital sound of the CDX. it had a tendency to sound harsh. But putting the 56 in place made the CDX sound better - more natural. The line fader curves work much the same as the crossfader - sharp cut-in to fully linear. Some concern has been expressed about the lack of Vestax style line fader curves - sharp cut-in at the extremes of the fader and linear at the middle, but not having owned a Vestax mixer, it's never been a problem to me.
Moving to the mode buttons - Rane decided to add some new twists to the standard scratch mixer feature set. On the crossfader, pressing the mode button on the front makes it cut between the channels in the centre. And because of the curve control, you can make this a slope or a hard cut - and independently on either side of the fader as well. And this curve is applied to the line faders as well, but for a pan effect. The more creative amongst you could I'm sure do some clever stuff but for the more conventional amongst you, I'm not so sure of its real usefulness. In fact, they have been removed from the new TTM57 so I'm guessing they've not been that popular.
Starting with EQ - as you might expect, the 56 comes complete with 3 band EQ complete with full kills and a relatively small (by today's standards) boost of 6dB. But the EQ is something special called Accelerated Slope™ EQ. There's a somewhat technical 7 page explanation of what exactly this means that will no doubt interest about approximately 1% of you out and actually make sense to even less. But all you really need to know is that is sounds nice. But
sound is such a subjective issue but I've never had or heard of any problems with the sound. Depending on your circumstances, the Rane's sound is good enough to use without EQ, giving you extra flexibility should you need it. And the EQ also has a channel toggle so that you can instantly switch it on or off to facilitate this.
Each channel also has a pan control - a small fader with a nice centre click action. The manual however states that for pan effects, use the channel mode control to save wear.
One word of advice from 4 years of use - you may experience some form of "crosstalk" - one channel seemingly appearing at a very low volume in the master output despite being turned off. I've found that this can be caused by having the mic or aux channel volume turned right up. If you don't use them, turn them down to zero. That's just my personal experience.
DJs are becoming less comfortable with the standard setup and now want to add extra boxes to enhance their setup. Other than simply playing extra devices through the aux channel, the FX or send and receive loop is now becoming a standard feature on all scratch mixers. The Rane 56 is no exception and has a fully featured loop, called FlexFX™. Simply put, you can send one or both channels through the effects loop via handy switches to turn the channel loop on or off. This loop thankfully is post-fader so your delays and echoes are perfectly useable. And there's a wet/dry fader as well to control the send to return ratio.
As with any other mixer, there's a mic channel complete with 2 band EQ and gain control. And if you so wish, you can attach a separate effects unit just for the mic. And it also has an overload LED should you happen to be shouting a little too loud at the audience. And right underneath that finishing off the inputs, there's an AUX in gain control.
Monitoring is a surprise free zone. A simple switch between cue and master plus a fader to switch between channel 1 and 2 is all you need and all that is provided. A word of warning - the headphone output is VERY VERY LOUD so just watch your eardrums when cueing. The metering works just as you'd expect with a handy switch to toggle between stereo master and mono channel levels.
You can also swap channels with the logically named Channel Reverse button. And wrapping up the top, we have master, aux out and headphone controls.
Round the Back
Considering the diminutive size of the 56, Rane have managed to squeeze quite a lot into the rear, but not without some compromises having to be made.
The master out features balanced jack and RCA unbalanced output. But unusually, there's no XLR outputs. Audio purists would normally turn their nose up at pro DJ products without XLR outputs but thankfully, this doesn't seem to have been a problem for anyone that I'm aware of.
To match the AUX in and out gains on the top, the back features AUX in and out RCAs. AUX out can be used for external recording or booth output but combined, you have full sessioning.
Obviously, there's RCA ins for Line and Phono with the transform switches doing the honours on the faceplate. It's worth mentioning that all the RCAs are gold plate, underlining the quality of the 56. Finishing off the rear is the mic section - jacks for a mic and an effects jack for an external mic effects unit.
One space saving compromise too many for me is the frankly awful power connector. Anyone who works in IT knows just how flimsy these RJ11 connectors are and is the real weak point of the entire 56. The clip does mean that it can't be pulled out easily. But I've broken one just in moving it around the skratchlab so who knows just how many have been broken by people out on the road every week. And replacements aren't cheap either.
At the time of writing, Skratchworx has been going for 3 years and I've owned the 56 for 4 years. For close to 5 years though, it's sat without peer right at the very top of the scratch mixer food chain. Rane took a long hard look at the turntablist scene and working with a few key people, created the near perfect scratch mixer. Each function feels like it's been thought about and everything feels very deliberate. If you were to make a list of essential mixer features, you'd see a whole page of ticked checkboxes. It's small, utterly solid with invincible faders and now coming in at a mid-range price. The only semi-warning I have is about the crossfader. Because of its comparatively short travel and unique feel, I'd suggest getting one in your hand before parting with your cash.
From my own personal 4 year road test, I keep coming back to the 56. I've had every make of mixer through the skratchlab, often with better faders, more features or having a killer feature, but the 56 seems to keep shining through. This is a testament to just how great the mixer is. Buy one and join the in-crowd.
Build Quality - 9/10
A small but perfectly formed lump of hardwearing hardware. Other than something falling on one, I've never heard of anything breaking, other than the power supply clips.
Sound Quality - 10/10
Despite the lack of XLRs, the sound quality is as good as it gets.
Features and implementation - 9/10
A few odd features in there such as the mode buttons and the short travel faders - and the line fader curves could have been just that bit better but otherwise second to none
Value for money - 10/10
2 years ago, this would have got a lower mark as it's price was in the realms of the richest DJs. But now it's mid-range pricing doesn't reflect the high quality of the package
• Build and sound quality
• Feature Set
• The damned power supply connector
• Line fader curves could have been improved
• ...but I'm just being picky really
The Bottom Line
The Rane TTM-56 has sat on top of the scratch mixer heap since its release and quite rightly so. It screams quality and has everything a scratch DJ needs to take on the world.