Vinyl vs Digital DJing

Vinlys were invented in 1880 as an audio solution for the masses. It became the replacement for the phonograh cylinders because the disc type vinyls were much cheaper to produce, maintain and store. In addition, stereo recording was introduced about 80 years later, bringing yet another new experience to listening to music. As time went on vinyls was taken over by audio cassettes, introduced in 1963, and the cassettes were then taken over by CDs in the early 90’s. Ten years later, we are seeing digital recording formats such as MP3, OGG Vorbis, iTunes and Windows Media challenging the CD format. With these rapid developments in audio recording and distribution, there still is a niche that prefers to stay with vinyls, they are the DJs. Cassettes and CDs did not have the same flexibilities as vinyls when it came to DJing, and the vinyls had to stay. After many years, we are seeing digital formats at their best challenging vinyls, trying to change what DJing used to be. We’ve had MP3s for a long time, but only now shall we see good applications and futuristic equipment coming into play.

MP3 vs Vinyl Records

Let’s compare vinyls and MP3s. MP3s do not have a physical form factor. The audio quality is better. MP3 releases are cheaper and they do not carry the overheads like shipping charges and storage. MP3s do not loose quality over time, they do not get damaged or scratched and they do not break. A lot of MP3s can be stored on a single hard drive that takes less space than a small CD player. As for vinyls. The sound quality is low, hisses, pops and crackles are common. They are big and are not relatively very portable. They get damaged, lost, broken, unusable and care should be taken in handling them. They are more expensive to produce, transport and store. Needless to say, MP3s are simply better.

Native InstrumentsTraktor 3

As for the availability of dance music, sometime back it would be nearly impossible to find a good underground dance track on MP3 format or even a CD. Even now CD releases are very few and almost all the records are released on vinyl. As the internet became common-place record stores created online outlets and these started to gain popularity. Many DJs started to do their music shopping online which was more convenient. As time went on, online record stores started experiment with MP3 releases, and as no surprise, they were a hit.

MP3 tracks are cheaper since the costs of storage and shipping are completely eliminated. DJs could write create a copy on a CD and use that to play on CD players while having the original MP3s stored as backups. DJs were also able to pack many MP3s on CDs and play them on MP3 compatible CD players - turns out that MP3s save a lot of trouble. The most popular stores are Beatport, EDM Digital and DJ Download. Almost all of the current hits are available on MP3 format from those stores.

Digital vs Records DJing

Lemur by Jazzmutant

An experienced DJ would argue that it is much easier to perform with vinyls than with CDs or software based setups. When beat matching with vinyl players DJs can use a more hands-on approach to perform, techniques such as nudging and scratching are distinct advantages. The art of DJing was invented upon the vinyls, and most of the time the whole mixing process is more interesting than the output. It takes skill and experience to perform a smooth session using vinyl players and that skill is everything respected in a DJ.

With digital system the software components in the system take care of managing track tempos, cueing, loops and digital effects. Digital systems also give the DJ more visual feedback such as on screen waveform displays with beats and envelop highlighting, beat indicators and so on. DJ systems help save a lot of valuable time that would otherwise be spent on managing the tracks.

Digital Setups

The simplest setup would be a complete software based DJ setup running on a PC with a decent sound card. Current CD players also support digital formats and their design has evolved to represent vinyl players. These players closed the gap between CD and digital formats. Any component within a software system can be replaced by hardware, like it is be possible to use an external mixer with the software players. It would also be possible to use any kind of MIDI controller to control the software players, and these controllers bridged the gap between vinlys and digital formats because it was also possible to use vinyl players to control software players.

Stanton’s Final Scratch is a small device that does exactly that. You hook up vinyl players or CD players and a computer running software like Native Instruments Traktor to it. The MP3s are played using Traktor, but the playback will be controlled using the real CD or vinyl players each loaded with a special time coded record.

Allen & Heath Xone:3D

Hercules DJ Console is basic to medium level USB based controller. It comes with a sound card, controllers for 2 decks, a mixer and special effects. As a professional solution, Allen & Heath has Xone:3D. It is a great controller having everything expected from the manufacture of the best audio mixers. As for the very high end, and for live performances, the touch screen based Lemur gives away the power to design custom controllers and interfaces. As for the future, Audiopad is yet to come. Ah such a great idea.


Posted January 31st, 2006 in category hardware, music, software.