: Deft • Date:
2006 • Price:
£999/$1499 • Link: Rane
DJ mixers have certainly moved on quickly over the last few years. Onboard DSP processing is more common than ever, MIDI functionality appears here and there - even Firewire expansion cards exist so that the mixer can take on the duties of a soundcard too. Rane have an envious history of quality professional audio equipment, including a range of dj mixers that cover the most popular formats. The TTM 56 still remains the industry benchmark for the 2-channel scratch mixer, though nowadays it has plenty of strong and equally desirable competition. The next logical step for Rane and their software partner Serato, was to integrate their two flagship djing products a bit more closely. Two became one, and the TTM 57SL was born. This is not just a simple rehousing job to incorporate the Serato Scratch Live SL 1 interface into the Rane TTM 56, but an evolution of both products to allow maximum flexibility, control, and even a couple of onboard effects processors.
The convenience and neatness of the TTM 57SL is a double-edged sword, and may not suit individuals who would rather have the ability to take the original SL 1 interface and combine it with any mixer of their choosing. The obvious benefit of the TTM 57SL additional software controls and effects processing make this decision a lot harder than if Rane simply had combined interfaces. Needless to say, the original Scratch Live package including the SL 1 is still available, fully supported and will benefit from the usual software updates as time progresses. There are some software options which are now specific to the TTM 57SL, but these only appear when the program 'sees' that a TTM 57SL is connected.
Hardware + Software Basics
The TTM 57SL is broadly similar in form and number of mixing buses to the TTM 56. It's physically only very slightly bigger, and is still two PGM channels plus a MIC and AUX input. The contour and reverse controls are still available for all three main faders, but gone are the mode settings. The upfaders still don't cut sharp at each end, but this is merely a firmware change away, so hopefully will be implemented at some point in the future. There is no wet / dry control for the FlexFX external effects loop, and the pan faders have become rotaries.
Things have been moved around to incorporate the central Scratch Live hardware controls, but the whole look is very familiar. The other notable additions are the EQs kill switches (complete with rather silly skull & crossbones graphics), and a footswitch jack on the front of the unit.
As well as 2 analog inputs for EACH channel (all phono / line switchable), there are two digital inputs (D1 & D2) which are available for use on either PGM channel. These act as feeds FROM your PC or Mac, which can be from the Scratch Live software or when the unit is operating as a standalone soundcard (available when connected to your computer but not running the Scratch Live software). The drivers for the soundcard operation are standard Windows ones, and are as basic as possible - not allowing multi-client or low latency use. This is a real disappointment, and something I hope Serato fix quickly. It will happily serve as a basic non-simultaneous recording / playback interface, but that's about it so far. In an ideal world, the TTM 57SL would have some solid ASIO drivers and perhaps even a small software application to control the routing (and even make use of the effects processors). This would allow it to serve as a much more useful production tool than is currently possible.
So how does the control vinyl use work? Very neatly indeed. You simply select which inputs will be used with control signals within the Scratch Live software, and these are automatically routed with no extra hassle. The mixer back lights the inputs you have currently selected for control signal use - and you then just simply select D1 or D2 sources to receive the outputted audio from Scratch Live. The actual installation of the required drivers and software is a breeze, and as usual - the included manual is excellent, though perhaps a bit vague in places with respect to some of the TTM 57SL specific features.
Interestingly, Rane have opted to use DSP for every part of the signal path from the input stages onwards - even the gain controls. The Flex FX loop obviously necessitates a D/A-A/D step, but otherwise it's a fully fledged digital mixer. It makes practical sense to design it this way, and gives the TTM 57SL a lot of potential in terms of future firmware development. The mixer certainly performs perfectly, and I'm not going to go down the route of arguing analog vs. digital design benefits. I haven't got a TTM 56 to compare side by side, but the DSP based TTM 57SL feels and sounds great - as people have come to expect from Rane. The TTM 57SL has an inbuilt limiter to avoid people driving it into digital clipping, but sensible use combined with the sensible design should mean this shouldn't happen in routine use, even to those who aren't careful with their levels. The main level meters are switchable from PGM to MASTER, and show both RMS and Peak levels simultaneously - which is really handy for matching up perceived 'loudness' as well as making sure you are a decent way from clipping.
The EQ section can remove all audio when set to kill, and is very functional. The kill switches can be set to momentary or latching via the Scratch Live software interface - and then saved to the mixer firmware. The switches work OK, but you notice inconsistency in their action when using the momentary mode depending on where exactly you depress them.
The core running of the software hasn't changed too much since we reviewed the SL 1 package which was running v1.4 at the time. The main addition has been that looping is now possible, along with the ability to set the waveforms horizontally. The latest version, v1.6.1, was primarily to add support for the TTM 57SL, along with the usual helping of bug fixes. One of the major benefits of the TTM 57SL is that you can record directly into the Scratch Live software from six possible places in the signal path: MAIN MIX, AUX BUS (sum of MIC, AUX and Flex-FX Return) or PGM 1/2 Pre/Post-Fader. This makes mixtape recording a breeze, or sampling of any audio to manipulate instantly with control records. It remains to be seen whether Serato can weave any magic and squeeze enough out of the USB1.1 protocol to allow control vinyl usage and TWO discreet stereo recording feeds simultaneously.
Software Mixer Controls
As well as the two built in effects processors, the TTM 57SL's power lies in it's controls for direct manipulation of the Scratch Live software. This revolves around a set of 6 programmable switches, a pair of rotary encoders and joysticks, plus a further two switches for selecting a group and deck. So, what are groups, and how does it all fit together?
There are 6 groups, 2 of which are 'custom' - the other 4 are defaulted to control playback, cue / looping, recording & effects. All the controls are fixed for the effects group since you may want to use these when not running the software, but all the other groups allow you to change the function of every single control to a pre-defined list of up to 40 commands, depending on the physical control type. It doesn't get much more flexible than this, but will inevitably take a while to settle on your main favourite functions. The mapping is stored within the software, so that another TTM 57SL user could just switch their own laptop in and have all their usual settings ready. The joystick and endless rotary encoders both have push button functionality too, with the joysticks doubling as traditional transform switches too (all 8 directions of audio cut possible in any combination).
It goes without saying that the TTM 57SL is intrinsically linked to the Scratch Live software, so the lack of visual reference on the mixer itself for the software controls is unavoidable, and is a consequence of having maximum flexibility. People won't use this mixer casually, so the extra time needed to become a 'power user' will be time well spent - but does mean there is a level of complexity and a learning curve that you perhaps wouldn't expect from a dj mixer. As you become more confident, it becomes more rewarding - and I expect there will be no turning back for those who have already used Scratch Live extensively.
The TTM 57SL ships with two onboard effects; Echo and an LFO Filter. Apparently more are planned, but only two will be available at any one time. They can be assigned freely to four possible insert points: PGM 1, PGM 2, AUX BUS or MAIN MIX. An insert point can only have one effect applied to it at a time, but both effects can be used simultaneously on different points. Pre- or post-fader operation is selected automatically depending on the effect type (don't worry, the echo is post-fader!).
The Echo works as you would expect, with mix and feedback controls. The timing is linked to the BPM of the track, but is not done automatically. You can tap it in using the push button rotary encoder, but it doesn't have any software inertia so will hop around all over the place if you don't have perfect rhythm. Thankfully you can simply link the BPM to that stored in your audio files tag field. Hopefully Serato will include automatic BPM detection and syncing in the future. The LFO filter has low- , band- and high-pass filters available with adjustable cut-off frequency and resonance control. The actual sound of the filters is really good, right down to the restrained modelled resonance. You can set the LFO sweep rate and modulation depth (the former again linkable to BPM). Both effects share similar joystick control over quickly switching to half, double or quadruple the currently linked tempo - which is a really clever feature. The other joystick can be used to change the wet/dry balance gradually or to chop between fully wet or fully dry, so you can punch the effect in and out really easily.
The effects control is decent, and having a full set of options for each effect is laudable - but there is something very sterile and uninspirational about the whole set-up. I think the use of endless rotary encoders and joysticks has been to the detriment of the hands-on 'tweakability' of the effects, and they really aren't as instantly fun to use as a lot of other dj mixers. The compromise has been made, and is probably the right one in the long run - as the overall power you have is greater than you will find on other mixers. Again, the target end-user is someone who will have to become fluent in the use of the mixer and software, so they will get more out of it eventually. The effects and processing reside within the TTM 57SL, so you can happily use the effects when not running Scratch Live, but I personally struggled to remember the exact functions of all the controls without the visual reinforcement the software gives.
The Scratch Live software still remains a closed system, and it's inability to support MIDI control or protocols such as Rewire has always been a voiced criticism, and made it difficult to integrate with more production orientated software. Development has felt slow paced at times, and there are some high priority feature requests which have been in the pipeline a long time and apply equally to the SL 1 and TTM 57SL, such as ASIO / Core Audio drivers and real-time time-stretching / pitch-shifting functionality. However, users have been rewarded with a fantastically stable piece of software, where bug fixing takes priority over feature additions.
The fully DSP based TTM 57SL also opens up massive potential for software that really knows what you are doing with the hardware at all times, it should certainly be one to watch over it's product life-cycle. But, we don't rate equipment according to potential, we score according to what is in front of us. Anyone considering the TTM 57SL should base their decision on the strength of what is available now, as you never know how long it'll be before that killer feature you really need appears.
Build Quality - 9/10
It's a Rane... but loses a point for the uneven button response.
Sound Quality - 10/10
No digital vs. analog arguments here.
Features and implementation - 9/10
The mixer hardware control panel really is unique, and the functionality and flexibility is outstanding.
Value for money - 9/10
It's a big outlay, but don't forget you get the high quality software too.
The Bottom Line
The TTM 57SL certainly lives up to the high expectations, and offers features you simply won't get anywhere else.
Many thanks to Rane for the loan of the unit.