double CD player
Double turntables are the DJ stock-in-trade. Can the CD format take the dance floor by storm?
Determined to upstage Technics' tried and trusted decks, Vestax unleash their latest CD-based offering. But is it a format suited to a club environment? Ian Masterson melts some plastic.
Go on, say it. You know you want to. Compact disc? Fine for the home hi-fi. Great for sampling. But as the medium of a DJ? Give me a break. The language of club music is cut into the grooves of 12" vinyl - always has been, always will... well, let's consider the alternatives.
However much we love the sound and vibe of vinyl, record company accountants are demanding formats that actually make serious money. Which is why you're now likely to find a whole host of remixes on a multiplicity of CD singles - both commercial and limited edition. Very often, you'll even get mixes that never make it to vinyl. So you need something to play them on. You need to be able to spin CDs and cut and fade between them just as you would a pair of 12" vinyl discs. Which means you need two CD players. Or maybe even a Vestax CD-33...
Mixing with vinyl is a very physical thing; it's all to do with the positioning of needles and hand-spinning of decks. As you might imagine, trying to recreate those effects with the servo-controlled transport of a CD player presents some significant difficulties and must have had Vestax scratching their heads in the R&D department.
What they came up with, the CD-33, actually comprises two separate boxes: the twin CD transports and the controller system. The two are linked by a supplied umbilical cable, the length of which is generous enough to allow the positioning of the controller box up to about two metres from the transports - so you could have the control section at hand level, and the main gubbins tucked to one side. The remote controller takes its power from the internal mains PSU in the transport section, via the umbilical.
The transports themselves seem fairly robust, but whether the CD drawer units can survive the frenetic activity of the DJ booth must be open to question. Vestax have done their best to protect the mechanism from abuse, but to my mind the drawers are still candidates for being broken off if things get too rough. Of course, you could say that about record deck arms as well...
Incidentally, though you've probably already realised, it's worth pointing out that the machine doesn't actually offer any mixing facilities, so you'll still need a traditional Dj mixer to handle the stereo outputs from the transports (which are on phonos).
Each of the transports has an identical set of controls on the CD-33, with certain common keys for programming the track memory. Most of the functions are pretty obvious; for example, the pitch slider alters the pitch of the track being played - just like varispeed on a normal deck. A rather nifty joystick is provided as well; this increases the pitch temporarily when held down, and decreases it when pushed up (pitch can be increased +/- 8%, or by +/- 4% when in Fine mode).
Waggle it from side to side when the disc is playing and you can search quickly for an approximate start point; waggle it when the disc is in Pause mode and you can zoom in on a particular point down to a resolution of 1 frame. (CDs contain a timecode that is accurate to 75 frames per second, so this is ridiculously precise). When you think about it, what you're doing here is really the CD equivalent of spinning a record back and forward to find a start beat.
The display on the CD-33 is one of its strongest points, offering as it does the track number and the time elapsed/time remaining figures and also a nifty 'countdown' bargraph which shows you how much track time has elapsed in percentage terms. These indicators also play an important role in programming the CD-33, which is accomplished through a selection of buttons in the middle of the front panel.
Basically, in Program mode you can set up tracks to play in a preset order just like a normal hi-fi CD player. In fact, you can store up to nine combinations ('files') of up to 10 selections each time. I'm not sure how handy this would be in DJ terms, but it's nice to know you have the option!
Mixing music on the CD-33 is definitely something you have to get used to. Obviously, there is an added degree of button pressing and general tweaking which record decks don't need, but perseverance yields some interesting results. In practice, the controls on the CD-33 are reasonably easy to use; however, I found the programming and track select buttons a little too cramped together, and a little too 'black' to be visible in the general murkiness of a club. Giving these a more positive touch response might help too, but you do get used to them with time.
By selecting Monitor while the disc is paused, you can use the joystick to skip through the CD to find exactly the right point in your track to mix from. Again, this does take some getting used to, but it's actually a clever way of tackling the whole DJ/CD problem. Once you've found the point, you can store it as a 'cue', disable the monitor circuit, and cut to it as required. After some practise, I found myself becoming very comfortable with the system and actually enjoying it.
That said, I do feel it's let down by the CD drawers which are simply too slow. Changing discs at high speed just isn't viable, I'm afraid, and though this is clearly a problem of the CD format rather than the CD-33 itself, I can see it proving a real obstacle for some DJs who rely on speed to create an impact.
All in all, I'm not sure I'll be trading in my slipmats just yet. But that isn't to say that a CD-33 wouldn't complement a DJ's rig admirably - it would. A pair of SL1200s and one of these beasties would make for an incredibly versatile setup which would give DJs access to the maximum number of new releases. It's also quite possible that the CD-33 will open up a whole new way of working. After all, no one envisaged record decks being (ab)used in the way they currently are.
All it needs is for a handful of the more adventurous DJs to develop new ways of mixing using the CD-33 and Vestax could have a product of major significance on their hands.
|Ease of use||Simple enough - providing you read the manual|
|Originality||A daring new product|
|Value for money||Difficult to assess; depends on what you get out of it|
|Star Quality||If the right people get behind it...|
|Price||£1263.75 inc. VAT|
|More from||Vestax Europe Ltd, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Masterson
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