One of the overriding sentiments upon setting eyes on the first images of the new Rane SEVENTY TWO was one of simply copying Pioneer DJ and lazily sticking an updated 909 screen into an S9. And you would be forgiven for thinking that too, because it does have those two features dominating the first impression. Indeed, a great many comments echoed this sentiment, with accusations of plagiarism and ripping off being levelled. “I expected more of Rane” said one disillusioned commenter.
So I feel it’s important at this point to take a look at the SEVENTY TWO’s feature heritage to see exactly where this has come from, if only to demonstrate that there’s very little that’s original these days, and simply improvements on existing features.
THE ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
Firstly, strictly from a mixer perspective, it’s important to give Vestax the due it so richly deserves in this timeline. The 2009 (yes it’s eight years old now) prototype PMC-05PRO IV was the father of this particular trend of putting MIDI controls into mixers. It showed two banks of just three buttons each, but the final release in 2010 had two banks of 2×3 buttons, plus big toggles and track loading controls too.
The Rane Sixty One and Sixty Two followed around 18 months later, and the DJM-S9 landing in August 2015, with the now familiar 2×4 button banks that people are focussing on. And I did see some very S9alike designs before Pioneer DJ unleashed the S9 too, but that’s a story for my memoirs.
But if you really want to know where this now standard 2×4 pad format really comes from, let’s go all the way back to 2011, and Novation’s only foray into full DJ units. The Novation Twitch is the true progenitor of the 2×4 pads idea in DJ gear, something that has made its way into every controller and now seemingly battle mixer worth a damn. That unit was so far ahead of its time that people just didn’t know what to make of it, and largely still don’t.
The reality is that this format of pads can be traced further back to the introduction of the original Akai Pro MPC60. This appeared in 1988 and featured the first showing of the now legendary MPC pads, a 4×4 layout that has been used many times over in all manner of different products. So it’s with no sense of irony that the pads in the SEVENTY TWO are also MPC pads provided by its sister company Akai Pro. So technically speaking, inMusic is simply reusing its own 31 year old technology.
Screens in mixers are nothing new. But the obvious influence of the DJM-909 is clear. It is however important to remember that the 909’s screen was little more than a monochrome push button simulator that gave access to the inner workings of the mixer. The screen on the SEVENTY TWO is more akin to a mobile phone screen displaying a small window into Serato DJ.
This isn’t new territory for Pioneer though. The DJM-2000 Nexus and SVM-1000 both have large and lovely touch screens. But apart from the location of the 909 screen, comparing it to the one in the SEVENTY TWO is apples and oranges. Pioneer DJ has just waited too long to put one in a scratch mixer, and will now obviously be accused of copying if they do. I won’t be writing a rehash of this piece though.
HOW IT REALLY WORKS
One thing that is important to remember is Serato’s role in the partnership. It is assumed that the hardware manufacturers just go off and design what they want and expect Serato to fit in with whatever crazy whims they may have come up with in hardware form. But the whole point of a partnership is working together to make a coherent end product, and Serato definitely has a leading hand in making sure that their brand is properly represented in hardware form.
Serato has a set number of features inside Serato DJ, and makes these available to partners for a price. Sometimes the feature could be new and exclusive, with usage eventually falling into everyone’s lap. But Serato is an active partner, often leading hardware design decisions and saying what can and can’t happen. After all, they have to juggle a number of partners (although fewer these days due to industry consolidation) and each has their own needs which must in turn fit in with Serato’s plans.
But to be quite clear — Serato does not sit back and wait for finished hardware so it can map it at the last minute. They are active from day one, has tight control, and may well be the instigators of some of the products or at least features that we have come to know and love.
SO WHO’S THE DADDY?
Apparently Rane and inMusic had independently come up with their own designs for the next generation of battle mixer before they got into bed together, and that those designs were incredibly aligned. They will have had influences from the past and brought those into the equation too, but you can clearly pick out the look, feel, and features of Rane, especially the Sixty Two, and their new stablemates from across inMusic’s brand portfolio.
It’s technically possible to look at anything made in the past five years or so and point to older products that clearly influenced the design, because more or less everything has been done before. Indeed I could argue that almost nothing is original these days. The SEVENTY TWO’s DNA is a mixture of Rane, Numark, Akai Pro, Pioneer DJ, Novation, Vestax, and Serato. And most DJ gear has been based in part or whole on previous products too.
These days however, these ideas are improved upon from the original and made more suitable and relevant for the needs of today’s DJs. It all comes down to execution, and this is what separates the brands and their products.
But where do you draw the line? According to Rane’s own research, the first mixer with a crossfader was the Citronic SMP101 in 1977 — should we therefore accuse the whole DJ industry of ripping off that mixer? Should we call out every DJ company for adding channel EQs after Formula Sound did it in 1980? Of course not — there comes a point where each new feature becomes a standard feature, and in the process gets improved upon.
It’s my contention that while there are two key similarities with the 909 (just the screen location) and the S9 (just the pads), these features are a long way from new and are now standards, and in the case of the SEVENTY TWO advanced upon with the Rane engineering stamp on it, most probably overseen by the watchful eye of Serato.
But regardless of any influences drawn upon in the design process, the SEVENTY TWO is undeniably a Rane mixer, and a bloody marvellous one too. That’s what you should be focussing on, and once you get to play with it, you really won’t give a crap where the inspirations have come from.