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Mixers - the lowdown from Deft

Straight to the comparison chart...

The mixer - the nerve centre of any dj setup, and in scratch dj terms, perhaps the key piece of equipment that has seen the most improvement over the last decade. Prices have come down and quality has gone up. Nowadays we are blessed with very high quality contact and non-contact style faders and an ever increasing range of mixer choices tailored specifically for scratch applications.

Having said this, the overall layout of the traditional scratch mixer has not changed greatly. The classic familiar design of the Vestax PMC Pro series has held firm and it still generally the format most scratch mixers follow. The design ethos of these mixers are that the faceplate and fader area should be clear, uncluttered and accessible. Hence, the generic scratch mixer usually has a large amount of space given over to the cross - and channel faders. This is usually combined with recessed screws on the faceplate or similar design features that remove any obstructions to movement or performance.

Although I consider all aspects of mixer design to be important, the foremost and first concern for the scratch dj will most likely be the main faders. Scratching obviously places a huge demand on the faders to be extremely durable, reliable and perhaps easily serviceable for routine maintenance.

The last few years have seen quite a lot of progress in fader design, with the introduction of Dj Focus's optical 'Focus Fader' to the Stanton sk- mixer line being the main catalyst for development of non-contact based faders eg. Rane's proprietary magnetic fader found in the TTM-56, Ecler's 'Eternal' magnetic fader found the Hak-360 and Vestax's 'Digital' fader found the Samurai series.

Hand in hand with this has been the proliferation of Penny & Giles faders into many mixer lines. Respected as being the highest quality contact dj style fader available, the P&G faders have been introduced as standard in many mixers such as the Stanton SA-5/8/12, Rane Empath & Denon X-1500. They are also available as optional upgrades to the Vestax PMC line and the Allen & Heath Xone02. Also soon to be introduced, the Pioneer DJM-707 and DJM-909 have non-contact based faders which also have tension adjustment functionality.

Believe it or not, there was also a time when fully curve adjustable crossfaders were a luxury item. As scratching has become more popular, manufacturers seemed to have wised up - regarding it to be an essential option. It is now seen as a standard feature for a scratch mixer, which normally takes the form of a rotary control that allows the crossfader profile to be adjusted from a long gentle blend style upto a very sharp instantaneous cut-in more suitable for modern scratch techniques. Some mixers also implement different crossfader profiles by having a 2- or 3-way switch that changes the profile from a dipped blend curve, to a dipless curve upto a quick cut-in scratch curve. Ecler also introduced a cut-in time + shape adjustment feature on their Hak 360 model, allowing the curve to be rounded or squared as well as allowing the actual initial fader cut-in point to be adjusted from 0mm upto 3mm.

Most scratch mixers also have some form of channel fader / upfader curve control which allow the profile of the channel fader to be altered from a long graceful volume adjustment to a more sharp cut-in resembling that of a crossfader. Some mixers also implement this as a 3-way switch, either recessed near to the channel fader or actually under the faceplate (eg. Vestax Pmc-05/06 Pro).

Other common features include reverse ('hamster') switches for the faders, which cause the fade profile to switch to the opposite direction. The term 'hamster' refers to dj crew The Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters (now Bullet Proof Space Travellers) who pioneered the technique of connecting decks to the opposite channels to give a reversal of the typical channel set-up. There are also overall 'Program Reverse' switches found on various scratch mixers which route the audio to the opposite channels (normally post-gain but pre-eq). This, combined with reverse switches on all faders allows maximum flexibility for personal fader set-up and assignment. Further to this, Rane introduced different fader 'modes' on their TTM-56 mixer, allowing the channel faders to operate as left/right pan faders for that channel and allowing the crossfader to have a centre cut-in effect. This trend for ever more customisable faders seems set to continue on the Pioneer DJM-909.

The final mixer feature that has seen some refinement specifically for the scratch dj is probably the phono/line or 'transform' switch. Originally people would use the phono/line input selector switch to cut the sound source in and out. This led to the use of ever more robust switches specifically for this purpose which were also rotatable to allow the user to choose in which direction the switch would move. Moving on from this came distinct separate 'transform' or cut-in switches which removed the problems associated with switching to another input source (as was the case in a normal phono/line switch). This has lead to cut switches which have less noise, clicking and popping when used.