Monday, November 11, 2013
My thoughts on Reloop's newest turntable, the RP-8000 with MIDI functionality.
I am a bit pleased to see someone is taking charge of the turntable market. Sure Vestax, Stanton, and Numark were good competitors to Technics, and still are competing despite the discontinuation of the SL-1200, but I feel like the whole turntable market hasn't really innovated anything new.
Looking at how "standard equipment" evolved in the past 10 years, I saw the birth of the CDJ, that for a while, actually affected the sales of the Technics to the point that they came down in price as far as $399 when I worked at Guitar Center in 2006. The M5G's were $699 during this time as well, the price you can buy used ones for today. However, with DVS software like Serato and Traktor on the rise, I don't think the turntable, even though I am not a user myself, ever left the circle. It seems like it's more the choice by the open format, hoip hop, and showcase DJ's; while the EDM guys are on CDJ's or controllers.
Up until now, the only turntables designed for DJ use with midi functionality has been custom 1200's with built in dicers. I know Vestax developed a turntable that was an all out midi controller, but that was meant to be more of an instrument, that a DJ tool to trigger hot cues, loops and samples. What I like about this new RP-8000, is that it's the first turntable to take cues from the Technics, the innovations of Stanton, innovations from Numark, AND innovations from custom modified 1200's.
To explain, the aluminum finish, rectangular start/stop buttons, S tone arm, and overall look and feel (at least on photo) is made to make a Technics user feel comfortable and at home. Of course, like most newer turntables, they gave it a second start/stop button on the lower left corner. Since this is a Super OEM turntable, it's likely to be built in the same factory as some of Stanton models as well as other brands. In fact, it's using the exact same tone arm as a Stanton ST-150, which was Stanton's best S-arm turntable. The digital pitch read out is reminiscent of the Numark TTX's pitch control. If that wasn't Numark-like enough, they even included a feature that people didn't realize that the second generation of TTX's actually had; the torque strength adjustment. Many DJ's don't realize, that from all "pro" turntables, the 1200 actually had the weakest torque. Stanton, Vestax, and Numark all head a bigger stronger motor that Technics, which was why those turntables were always heavier. Some DJ's and turntablist found the strong motor a little too strong. Numark developed selectable torque strength, and Reloop seems to be the first manufacturer to follow that idea. And up until now, the only way to get midi trigger buttons on the top of your turntable was to either place in some dicers, or have them custom meshed into the body. It looks like Reloop answered that demand.
Now I have only seen this turntable in the DJBooth.com article, but a few things I could think to improve it would be, a vertical pitch fader including it's display; and a tonearm as advanced as Vestax's A.S.T.S. tonearms. Let's be real for a second, if you are using DVS software to DJ with, sound quality is not an issue from record to needle. What is more important is stability and gain from the timecode records. A straight arm would have been a better choice here, especially one like Vestax that canhave the turntable positioned up to a 45 degree angle. Maybe that would be overkill, but I don't think it would cost more to have the Stanton STR8 tonearm in place of the ST-type ones.
Now this is totally my own speculation, and I could totally be proven wrong depending how well Reloop markets these tables, but even if these decks are everything they promise to be in reality as they are on paper, I have a doubt in my mind that they will take off. I think one of the main reasons companies like Stanton, Numark, and Vestax never really put much effort in creating new products for the turntable market lately, is because turntable users, specifically Technics users, will always be loyal to Technics. Don't get me wrong, I give a lot of credit to Technics build quality with the SL-1200 but let's be honest, they weren't exactly a great DJ gear company. They just made a good turntable, that's it. Technics was known for two epic fails, their DJ CD player that was supposed to compete with the Pioneer CDJ's, and the mixer that went along with it. Despite companies making higher torque motors, digitally accurate pitch adjustment, turntable alternatives like the Pioneer CDJ and all the media players that followed it including motorized platter players like on the Numark CDX as well as newer Numarks and Denon decks and controllers; the Technics users, whether they scratched, juggled, or not, remained loyal to their Technics. A few moved over, but it seems like the common rider request for open format DJ's across America are still Technics SL-1200MK2's or higher. It doesn't matter if you give them more torque, less skipping, or make the turntable look and feel like a 1200, I think the loyalist are wired to choose the Technics. My speculation for that reason is simply because, there is no other DJ product in history, that lasted over 30 years, unchanged. Nobody can argue that the 1200 gained a lot of trust.
Working DJ's tend to be conservative, and want to make sure they have a product they can rely on and know they can get help with. Despite dealing with skipping when someone walks across a flimsy stage, or getting subharmonic feedback from the subwoofers to the needles, there's more people that can help you repair an SL-1200 than let's say, a Pioneer CDJ, or a Numark TTX. There's only two products I see that work in the DJ world, either a product that completely moves away from the classic turntable, like controllers and arguably the CDJ; or a product that preserves the 1200, like all DVS software and the accesories that go with it, like Novation Dicers. Anything that tries to mimic a turntable, doesn't seem to have a long shelf life. The Numark CDX was a pretty cool invention for the time but many of it's users reverted back to turntables when DVS software was on it's rise. Denon had many fumbled attempts which included the DN-S5000 and 3500 until they got something right. Turns out flanger and echo effects are as important as stability.
On a side note, what I don't understand is when DJ's, especially younger DJ's, use turntables, don't scratch, but insist on using turntables. Some admit it, some don't, but for the ones that do, they say they want to maintain a certain respectable image. For some it's the acceptance of older DJ's, for others, it's being an accepted image in a market you're trying to be a part of. My question has always been, if you're in a market trying to conform and preserve an image, how exactly do you expect to stand out? I understand if you're an older DJ, and turntables are something you are comfortable with. But the on going rhetoric of "I'm upgrading my controller to Technics". Technologically it's not even an upgrade. Now if you're studying or are capable of turntablism, I definitely respect that. But when I see other DJ's with booking power judging other DJ's and not booking them because they use a controller, I find that kind of silly. I mean, how about we judge them for how they sound, isn't that what matters? The value of any artist isn't about what he uses, more so how well he uses it. To what F** does it matter, what he's using, if he sounds just like you when he uses it? If the guy with the controller sounds like you, he doesn't have a problem; however, you might when he tries to take your job, possibly for less money (undercutters). So unless you an make yourself sound better on turntables, are just both guys who beatmatch and pick songs. There's nothing about having a controller that says a guy can't read a crowd or program his set, nor is there is anything about DJing on Technics that makes you more creative. There should have been a label on every Technics SL-1200 box that says, "talent not included". Anyways, I've rambled away from the subject, I think Reloop is on to something with this new deck of theirs, we'll see if the Technics users bite on this one.