10 Great Tips For Learning To Scratch On DVS

The advent of digital DJ controllers and the limitless possibilities of turntablism are often at ends with each other as a result of controller hardware that makes old vinyl-style scratching unnecessarily difficult. But what about DJs looking to get into the controller market who also want to maintain the ability to scratch professionally?  Is it possible to migrate to a DVS and still perform your beloved routines? Read on for our collection of tips on how to succeed at scratching on DVS.

For many DJs used to the feel and possibilities of vinyl, DVS is a godsend. No more endless crates, wearing out of classic LPs, or needle skipping. Instead, keep your precious collection back at home, pack just a laptop and an audio interface and perform to exactly the same standard, if not better, with a reliability that stands even the most brutal road test.  DVS systems (especially on the software side of things) have advanced so much these past 10 years that what seemed impossible back in the early days of Final Scratch now is considered as a generic function.

A QUICK HISTORY OF DVS

A lot of DJs can still remember the introduction of the scratch function on early CDJ units. It was really cool to be able to burn your own sounds on CD-R’s and then scratch your sounds – but they sounded awful. Metallic, distorted, awkwardly time-stretched, and very slow response time on the platters. At the start of the 2000s, digital vinyl systems started to be introduced to the commercial market, first in the form of Stanton’s Final Scratch. We can’t talk about early Final Scratch without showing this segment that aired Tech TV in 1999 featuring DJTT friend DJ Mei Lwun (you might have spotted him most recently in this article about transitioning between DJs).

Final Scratch’s early versions ultimately proved to be too unreliable for most working DJs and the slow adoption (at the time) turned a lot of turntable traditionalists off – especially as CDJs continued to become the more attractive bit of digital gear to jump to. A partnership with Native Instruments kept the Final Scratch technology alive, eventually resulting in the creation of Traktor Scratch. But Serato + Rane’s Scratch Live system was what really brought DVS back to the foreground starting in 2004.

EARLY DVS SUCKED FOR SCRATCHING

Turntablists who have had issues with DVS in the past often cite poor performance – something that’s critical with, for example, the Chirp scratch. Until recently, this was considered one of the most notoriously annoying scratches for any DVS to handle, due to “sticker slip” – essentially, the playhead moving slightly different from where the actual record was. 9 out of 10 cycles, you might experience the playhead moving a bit forward, then backward or even only forward. Pure disaster, especially when trying to do fast chirps like the ones at 1:35 in the below Studio Scratches clip:

Drags had a similar issue on early DVS systems. If lucky, you would end up with just an mediocre-sounding time-stretched sound. If not, you would simply have no sound because the high threshold settings inside the DVS would not allow the system to catch that very low signal produced from that very slow record movement, i.e. the system would think that there is no record movement, so no sound should be played. Ouch!

TIPS FOR DVS SCRATCHING SUCCESS

Modern DVS platforms can offer so much more to any style of DJing. Open cue points on the fly, skipless performing, endless FX tweaking, continuous customizable battle tools. For many DJs coming from a vinyl background, it’s daunting to approach a DVS system, so to help you along the way, we’ve compiled some great tips:

• Don’t Use A Clunky Old Laptop: DVS scratching can stretch many older systems to its limits, therefore you need to be sure that your platform can handle it. The more powerful your system is, the better the latency your software handle, which meansa closer control emulation with less dropouts and glitches.

• Use Familiar Sounds: Digitize your favorite scratch tool, load it into your DVS, and use that for your scratch sessions. This way you will both make sure that your “Ahhhh” sound is correct and you will also be able to understand the differences from normal vinyl faster and adjust to them easier.

• Practice only on DVS: When you install your software, stick to it as much as you can, even for the shortest scratch practice sessions. Switching back to your beloved scratch tools will be very tempting, but the best thing for you is to accommodate yourself within the DVS ecosystem as fast as you can and the easiest way is through typical scratch sessions. The skills you build are interchangeable, but sticking with the same tools will allow you to become proficient that much faster.

• Use Only Time Code Vinyl In Good Condition: Unfortunately, the delicate nature of any DVS does not allow for much room in vinyl wear. Often this means that a time-coded vinyl will last about 1/3 of the life cycle of a typical scratch tool. Make sure that your vinyl is in good condition always. Clean it thoroughly before each session and always use the newest upgraded version from each company.

• Don’t Use Large Files:  WAV files don’t sound especially different from good encoded 320kbps MP3s. On the other hand, they eat up more memory and resources, so when using such large files, you are only stretching your system more, without any improvement in performance. Record a session and check if you like the quality of the scratched sounds. In most cases it’s the source of the sound that is bad, not its format.

• Make Sure Your System Is Properly Configured. For digital scratching, you need to make sure that all latency settings are down to the minimum that your computer can handle. Also, always calibrate your vinyl via the setup menu and manually set your threshold limit around the middle to catch slow vinyl movements. Adjust your needles properly (no angled headshells are required in DVS) but the arm weight, anti-skate, etc,  should all be the same as in a normal battle set.

• Stay Inspired: There’s plenty of other DJs that have gone this same route. Whether it’s watching routines from A-Trak or just going out to to watch DJs at local events, you need to regularly stay motivated. Check out the session in the video below by Mike Labo to start off your inspiration routine.

• Try All DVS Platforms Before Buying One:I’m currently using Serato Scratch Live, my DJ partner uses Traktor Scratch. We are both satisfied with our choices and both like each other’s too. See for yourself what fits you before buying one. Try some scratching on it, get to know the workflow, and decide where to settle.

• Re-introduce Patterns Slowly: Even if you’re already an advanced scratch DJ, don’t immediately attempt the complicated scratches like hydroplanes, boomerangs, and autobahns, or any other patterns that involve lots of record movement. Instead, first accustom yourself with the basics, like transformers or 1-click flares, and then start bringing in slowly the more advanced ones. This way you will give yourself enough time to adjust to the different response on the record movement.

• Continue Studying Vinyl Tutorials: The principals are essentially the same, regardless if it’s a normal scratch tool or a DVS. The crossfader movement remains intact, as does the record movement. Don’t get scared by all the options within a DVS, focus on the scratching part and you’ll see your horizons broaden quickly.

• Don’t Expect All Scratches To Be Easy On DVS: Unfortunately, some of your patterns might not be replicable on a DVS for various reasons. For example, some Uzis or Lazers (like the ones Q-Bert shows off in the below video) might be nearly impossible, especially the faderless ones, due to latency and record movement. Don’t get frustrated by that: instead, explore other patterns (or variations of the originals)  that will be possible with a little bit of patience.

A final personal note: I made the switch and I’ll never look back. Never before was I able to grow my skills as my setup could grow and vica versa. And all that thanks to DVS. So get in there, start scratching, and check out all the possibilities that the DVS age offers us!

Additionally, we’ve had some more tips from our Twitter followers worth including here:

 

  • smilk

    don’t use large sound files? play mp3’s? play loud through say a funktion one system you can definetly hear the difference

  • Zach Stone

    Really great article!

    Just another note about calibration. This is the most important things to do correctly in order to get the best response. A threshold setting that is too low (depending on the environment you are in) will introduce noise which the system will interpret as control tone and cause audio issues. If its set too high (depending on the environment you’re in) your scratches will be sluggish and late.

    As a Scratch Live user, I manually calibrate my threshold setting.

    To do this first play music as loud as you’re going to be playing it during your set.
    I usually put one of the virtual decks in INT mode so I can calibrate both decks at the same time.
    From there, put the needle on the record with the platter stopped, or, if you’re using cd players, press pause on the cd player with the control cd inside the player.

    Now drag the estimate slider for one of the scopes all the way up to -24.
    Take note of the number in the upper right corner of the scope view.
    That number should be stable as 0.0 or -0.0. It should not be fluctuating.
    From there, lower the estimate slider (to the left) until you start seeing that number fluctuate. This is the point where SSL is starting to pick up interference which you don’t want.
    Once you’ve reached that point drag the estimate slider to the right one notch or until that number stops fluctuating.
    That will be the perfect threshold setting depending on the environment you’re in.
    Calibration is to be done ANYTIME you move to a new location or make major changes in volume.

    If you simply put the threshold in the middle you will more than likely suffer from one of these two issues when playing in quieter environments (your bedroom) or really loud environments (the club).

  • Kutmaster TeeOh

    I’ve performed with Qbert and D-Styles. D-Styles had Serato and Qbert just records. I’ve also seen Q on Serato and traktor. There is nothing that can’t be done on a DVS. If you can’t do a scratch on it…..either practice more or your setup is off.

  • SimpleSoundWaves

    Anybody still use Ms.pinky DVS from Cycling74′? Ms.PInky and M4L is awesome. http://createdigitalmusic.com/2009/10/vinyl-ableton-ms-pinky-and-max-for-live-working-now/

  • bartykutz

    “Don’t Use Large Files” this advice is plain wrong unless you have a really slow computer.

    • Markku Uttula

      True… I believe not a single application these days handles their internal buffers in anything other than the uncompressed format. Fast random access required by the applications using a compressed buffer is… hard – even in the best scenario imaginable (having a file with constant bitrate and consisting of frames that have a predefinable size, etc.)

      Therefore, no matter if the original file happens to be a 1MB MP3 or a 10MB WAV, in the end it doesn’t make a difference (aside from the speed at which the file is originally loaded from the hard drive into memory… which *usually* is not such a big deal) internally, they are both accessed as if they are 10MB WAVs anyway.

      • wallangalang

        I thought the amount of processing power needed was reduced when using larger files (wav’s, aiff’s, etc) becuase they’re uncompressed, unlike mp3’s which are compressed and the computer needs to uncompress them and then play them. Make any sense?

  • the man

    good tip could be to use real vinyl… lol

  • KIO

    ” On the other hand, they eat up more memory and resources, so when using such large files, you are only stretching your system more, without any improvement in performance.”

    I doubt this statement: mp3 is a coded file of music. A computer actually has to decode the file into wav which is an actual signal that can be send as a voltage to speakers to make sound. Surely since 90% of the information was thrown away when the mp3 was coded the wav after decoding is much smaller, but the CPU is still processing wav. Added to that it also needs to spend CPU power to the decoding of the files. So, as I said, I wonder what takes more CPU power? Big wav with 100% sound information and no decoding or small wav with decoding?

    • kebzer

      Maybe my statement about large files was a bit bold, but nevertheless this article is for the average user where clean and fast systems are not that much of a standard.

      Anyhow, I was reffering to the sounds used for scratching, not playback, so being extra precautious won’t harm anyone.

      • RBX

        perhaps suggest breaking scratch sentence into shorter pieces rather than entire 20 minute a side vinyl rips . Nonetheless WAV still uses less CPU. It’s a little like talking in your native tongue vs a foreign language, which takes less brainpower to translate and respond?

        • kebzer

          You can use cue points to seperate a tool, but still you could also rip individual parts if you use some of the loaded tools, or even combine in a DAW your favorite parts only. Good point indeed.

          As for wav vs mp3, your saying is correct but the way I experienced it with both Serato & Traktor was like trying to say too much in your native tongue while you could just use a small sentence in English, like trying to say a proverb. Anyway, this is getting far now, lol!

          • Kutmaster TeeOh

            Did you analyze the tracks 1st and give them time to load up?

      • KIO

        Let me say that I don’t scratch nor do I have a DVS system, so I cannot verify if doing trickery with digital files differs between file types. I just doubt if it is more difficult for a CPU to manipulate wav over mp3 accurately according to the movement of the control vinyl. Additionally, I’m also not sure what a software does to the coded mp3. Does it decode in real time and thus have to do two things at the same time (decode and manipulate the sound to emulate scratching)? Or does the software decode the mp3 to wav, store the wav in RAM and do all the manipulation on the file in RAM. Being an engineer I would make my software do option two.

      • Kutmaster TeeOh

        That makes no sense. Scratching is playback. Once the file is analyzed it is buffered really fast upon loading. Wav files sound better on DVS both with music and scratching. Being precautions is one thing, but what you are saying is incorrect.

    • RBX

      I would also have to agree that the statement is INCORRECT. I can remember reading in the serato manual and serato forums saying WAV files ALWAYS use LESS CPU power than MP3 because they do not require a codec to be decoded. A wav file may use more RAM and disk space but not more CPU power. If you install serato from the included CD it has a scratch sentence
      included which is in WAV format, not MP3. Why would they do this if you
      come off worse off CPU and latency wise? A an entire album in WAV format takes up no more than 700mb when done in standard CD format (16bit 44.1khz). If you do not have a spare 700mb RAM in your laptop is it definitely time for an upgrade.

  • Esgrove

    For scratch live users what matters most is the threshold-setting that controls how “quiet” signals are interpret as part of the control signal with everything below taken as noise and ignored. For best scratching performance and vinyl response, especially when spinning the vinyl slowly, it should be set all the way to the left to the most “sensitive” setting (-72 dB if i remember correctly). In any case by default everybody should use it like this and only increase the threshold when needed in case of noise and vibrations (bass feedback…) It’s really easy to see the effect of this setting by turning off the turntable mid song with both extremes of the slider 😉

    The article itself didn’t really tell anything that wasn’t kinda self-evident. The “don’t use large files” is total bullshit ( apart from using a laptop from 1999). There are two main hardware aspects that relate to the performance of audiofiles: processing power and disc read-speed and bandwidth for moving the bits. Wave and aiff files are pure audio represented digitally (see “pcm” aka pulse code modulation in wikipedia), you can just send it to the d/a converter like that and get music without any decoding/processing needed so it takes very little processing power to play these files. Mp3 and other lossy and/or compressed formats on the other hand are coded via a complex algorythm and needs to be decoded by the processor before it can be played back as audio. So these files take more processing power compared to simple wave and aiff. However as these files are much bigger, it’s true in a theoretical sense that they demand more bandwidth and faster read speeds from the system – as the article rightly argues. However even the lowest spec modern pc has no problem coping with these requirements. So in fact wavs and aiffs tax the system less, especially if read from a ssd (when you are trying to read 50 wav files at the same time from a hdd then you might start getting problems as in daw software -> solution: store some of the files to ram which is much faster)

  • eazy

    Most important in my book, turn off key lock when scratching

    • kebzer

      Good one! Forgot to mention it. Key lock can get really annoying!

  • monst

    10 great tips for learning to scratch on DVS?

    Where? What?

    All i see is tips for setting up.

  • I really love the performance of the Traktor DVS system, I’m able to pull off fast ass lazers/tazers/scribbles with no problem. I’m very much picky about my DVS systems and with a nice powerful PC and those latency settings dropped nice and low, I honestly feel no difference between my traktor control vinyl and my pure vinyl.

  • DJ Tisdale

    There is an incorrect word use that you should be alerted to.

    EARLY DVS SUCKED FOR SCRATCHING

    “Turntablists who have had issues with DVS in the past often site poor performance”

    The word “site” should be “cite” as in citation.

    • Dan White

      I’ve located the site of the word that you’ve cited and adjusted it accordingly. Thanks!

      • DJ Tisdale

        No problem! Thanks for putting out such great articles.

  • Can’t stress the latency factor enough. Too many times have I been to a friends place only to go for a scratch and find it waaaaaay off. They’re like “yeah I don’t like scratching with dvs, its all laggy.” Jack the latency down for them and they’re like ‘holy s**t’

  • Aaron

    Hi, I know this posted may be a little unrelated to the blog post but I was just wondering (as a beginner DJ), when you use a DVS system with something like Traktor Scratch Pro, do you still have access to the on-board effects on a mixer? For example, a DJM-750 has built in effects…can you still use these effects or do you have to use the one in Traktor?

    • O

      you can still use the effects on your traditional mixer as your audio interface is sending the audio from the different decks into the different channels of the mixer just the same as if you were using records or cdj’s etc.. You could add a midi controller such as the X1 to this set up so you could control effects in traktor / browsing / cue points / sync and so on while using the traditional hardware mixer as a mixer..

    • kebzer

      Your DVS and its internal FX will add to your mixer’s effects. Like using normal turntables/CDJ’s, you will still control everything via your mixer. With the addition of a DVS you also get extra FX, controlled via the software with an external controller like the X1/VFX or with just your keyboard/mouse.

  • Dan White

    Just a note here of something interesting that I found while doing some editing on this one – did you guys know that the RZA claims to have been one of the “inventors” of Final Scratch technology? Watch this YouTube interview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TXsYXMqw4Zc

    • bidders

      in ‘V’ estor, not inventor. investor

    • 031999

      RZA was like the Will I Am of the early 2000s, he overhyped himself a little too much and blew alot of hot air.

    • kebzer

      This went viral a few years ago but never got past the point of this interview. I have great love for RZA but this is just hilarious!

      PS I haven’t seen any real refference yet, but I pretty sure that DVS was born from the SMPTE protocol.

    • Mark

      Trouble is, his credibility is dented by sounding like one of those crazy guys you find propping up a bar when everyone else has gone home. Try these:

      http://www.bauerindustries.com/projects/?p=229
      http://who-invented-digital-vinyl.co.uk/

  • Dj Drizzle

    im no 1