A highly desirable Digital DJ Solution presented by Craig De Sousa
“This new age of dj’ing has been the inspiration to take my performances to the next level! No more frantic looking for a track in a cd wallet. All my sets are uniquely planned with the flexibility to move with the party.” – Craig De Sousa
Within the pages of this magazine we have reviewed many, many DJ controllers and I can personally attest to watching this burgeoning market grow and grow from the first rudimentary models that arrived on my desk several years back. It’s also fair to say that we’ve advocated the benefits of ‘going digital,’ a point of view I have championed since discovering this for myself.
Unfortunately amidst all the good reasons I can offer as to why digital DJ’ing kicks CDs into touch, it does also come with certain reservations. Sadly I have seen good DJs lose ‘their edge’ when crossing over to a controller-based platform simply because the sync button is just too hard to resist and once the art of beat-matching is no longer required, DJ’s run the risk of losing that human touch to their performance. Which is why I like the solution that renowned house DJ, Craig De Sousa has come up, simply called Music Box.
What Is It?
Music Box is basically a DJ solution comprising of four essential components to empower you with the tools to perform digitally from a laptop. These four items are a MacBook Pro, Serato Scratch Live, a Serato SL2 soundcard and an Akai LPD8 controller.
Here’s how it works; The Macbook hosts your DJ application – in this case Serato Scratch Live, your SL2 soundcard provides high quality 48 kHz, 24-bit multi-channel audio output as well as Serato NoiseMap™ Control Tone (more about this later) and your LPD8 ensures that you don’t have to touch the laptop keyboard whilst performing. But how does one cue up your tracks and where’s the jog-wheels and mixer I hear you ask? Well this is where Music Box differs from the now very familiar all-in-one controller + laptop configuration.
With this setup one uses the mixer and CD players in the DJ booth to perform. So all mixing, EQing and auditioning of tracks in your headphones are done on the mixer in the DJ box. Likewise the CDJs in the booth become your controllers for beat-mixing your tunes. Sound complicated? It isn’t. In fact once one gets one’s head around the concept of plugging the CD players into the SL2, it’s really dead simple.
I mentioned the Serato NoiseMap™ Control Tone feature earlier. This feature converts a turntable (some of you may have heard of these, heh-heh) or a CDJ into a controller to control the playback section of the Serato software. So once a track is loaded into a channel (A or B) the CDJ takes control of said track enabling you to use the jog-wheel and track search buttons to move the track back ‘n forth, the tempo slider will adjust the track’s IDM accordingly and the play and cue buttons will do exactly what they would if a CD was inserted. In fact your CDJ will perform exactly as if you were playing off a CD except the player is actually controlling the track on your laptop. So now your left and right CDJ in the DJ booth gets used just as if you were a CD DJ except the sound source is coming from your rad new MacBook. Likewise when it comes to mixing two tracks you’ll use the mixer in the booth as before.
But how you ask again? This is all handled by the Serato SL2 card. This baby not only handles two-channel output – you’ll plug the RCAs into the mixer where the CDJs were connected (or if the mixer has more than two channels simply select the two unused channels) and you’ll plug the CDJ into the SL2. That simple. This quick manoeuvre (and it’s a 2 minute operation, trust me) sets the mixer up and turns the CDJs into your controllers – it’s as simple as that.
By now you’ll be curious as to what the Akai LPD8 does. This nifty and ultra compact midi controller pad can be used for any additional functions in the software without needing to use the mouse or keyboard. I quite like the way Craig has his setup although I would probably add some different functions too. The one operation that I think will be universal is to browse your library of tunes via the pad and then of course load a track into a player channel. Then, since the LPD8 (LPD stands for Laptop Pad Controller by the way) has four programmable memory banks, eight backlit, velocity-sensitive drum pads and eight Q-Link knobs for controlling virtually any parameters in software, many other optional controls are at your fingertip. It’s really up to you.
The build quality of this unit is exceptional, the pads being particularly impressive and at less than 13 inches wide it fits in a laptop bag with the tiniest footprint. I would think most Serato users will end up using the LPD8 to control FX, looping and samples. The pads are really ideal for triggering samples whilst the rotaries feel great too.
Who should own one?
There are many ways to ‘go digital’ these days and the controller + laptop configuration seems to have stolen quite a bit of the limelight. However if you’re still a bit oldskool and can’t get your head around the idea of small little jog-wheels, shorter than average sliders and loads of buttons and knobs in a confined space then Music Box may just be for you. A setup like this is still the closest thing to CDJ Dj’ing since you will still be using the mixer and CDJs in the DJ booth.
What’s more you may be looking at your mixer and CDJs at home and be a little loath to discard those cherished babies. With Music Box you won’t be. You’ll be empowering them by taking them into the 21st Century. Of course if you don’t have anything set up at home then the controller/laptop option would obviously be more practical.
I am big fan of this type of setup. I do feel that this manner of digital DJ’ing sustains the essence of the craft and still seems to be the preferred configuration of many pro DJ’s, although admittedly many weird and wonderful methods are in use these days so I am by no means advocating it as the ‘only professional solution.’
Personally I always have a little private chuckle when I see DJ’s lugging big DJ flight boxes with their controller and laptop into the booth, trying to find space to set it up etc. Inevitably the DJ always has to place his or her gear to the side of the mixer and CDJs which means you don’t stand in the centre of the booth whilst playing. I still think people want to see a performance from the DJ and by ‘manning’ the decks and taking control of the focal point in the booth you get to do this. I also like the fact that by placing the LPD8 in front of the mixer, putting one’s MacBook on the side, you avoid the dreaded staring into the computer screen syndrome whilst playing. In fact most punters would be none the wiser as to which medium you are using since you’re still operating the CDJs and mixer.
But this is not just about controller/ laptop vs. Music Box. As mentioned earlier this choice may well be governed by your existing home setup. What I like about using the Scratch Live system is you get all the digital tools the software has to offer such as sample decks, FX and looping but you still get to DJ oldskool style. Whist DJ software is definitely tighter – when the beat is in it stays in – there’s no auto sync so you will still feel like you’re remaining true to the art form so CD DJ’s still unsure about the changeover should have a good look at Music Box especially if you don’t have a laptop yet.
Yes there are various components to pack in your bag – 3 to be precise (+ cables & headphones) – as opposed to just a CD wallet and ‘phones but you’ll get used to it and having all one’s music at your disposal for any gig, any time far outweighs these concerns in my opinion.
Music Box Bundle 1 –
R 16,499.00 Incl VAT
MacBook Pro 13-inch: 2.3GHz + Akai LPD8, USB Midi MPC Pad Controller + Serato SL2 Scratch Live Package
Music Box Bundle 2 –
R 21,599.00 Incl. VAT
MacBook Pro 15-inch: 2.0GHz + Akai LPD8, USB Midi MPC Pad Controller + Serato SL2 Scratch Live Package
For more info – Click Here