One thing I’ve come to learn in my 50 years on this planet, it’s that things are cyclical. Sometimes it’s a natural evolution, but other times it’s sparked by a rebellion against the natural order of things. And for me, portablism represents both sides of this coin.
On one hand, dabbling in the lowest-of-the-low end of turntables for hardcore scratching is pure fun. And on the other hand, it’s a rebellion against the tyranny of enforced static scratching on decades-old expensive paradigms. And on a third hand, it’s a simple matter of finding some new directions for turntablism, itself a rebellion against the digital direction that scratching has propelled itself into.
But regardless of the reasons, the tools of the portablism trade are cheap plastic portable turntables. The now long discontinued Vestax Handytrax was the weapon of choice for the scene, but with Vestax’s demise, the used prices for these units on eBay spiralled to ridiculous levels. The Numark PT01 was another favourite for portablists, but that has been discontinued too. The updated PT01 USB is apparently still available, although certainly in cripplingly short supply in Europe at this moment, a situation that’s due to be fixed shortly I’m told.
Enter the PT01 Scratch, a portablist specific edition, that comes complete with a “scratch switch”, an intriguing alternative on the perennial issue of velcroing an external fader in a box to the chassis.
But can a switch offer the same experience as a fader? Let’s see.
If you’re reading this, it’s highly likely that you’re already a portablist, and know what the old PT01 is about, and probably only give a crap about this new fangled scratch switch right? But for the sake of completeness, let’s give a quick run down of what the PT01 Scratch is all about.
The PT01 Scratch is a portable turntable. Battery (6 x D type) or mains powered (included), this all plastic little box of scratch joy has had a rather cool black and red makeover (including a slip mat), but appears to be pretty much the same as the old model.
There are however two new features — the switch is something that I’ll cover a little later, but the other addition is a mini jack line in. This allows you to hook up an external input, most likely a phone so that you can run beats from a looper. There’s a volume control for the input too. It’s worth noting that this input plays through and is unaffected by the scratch switch.
Features wise, the PT01 Scratch has a built-in speaker, the quality of which is at best adequate even with the tone control. It’s fine for personal listening and scratching, but you’re not filling a room full of people with this. There are however headphone outputs and RCA line outs for hooking up to external sound sources. From a sound quality perspective, the supplied needle does an acceptable job of listening to vinyl through speakers or headphones, but nobody is buying one of these for audio fidelity.
On this point — with nothing plugged in, the audio comes through the built-in speaker. Plugging into speakers via line out kills the built-in speaker, and plugging in headphones kills headphones and line out. Headphone output takes priority and doesn’t technically allow for monitoring — something to consider when performing or recording performances.
Off the back of this, it goes without saying that while you can rip vinyl via the USB port using the free EZ Vinyl software, the quality of the needle does mean that the resulting file isn’t going to be of epic quality.
Rounding off the playing features are a 33/45/78 switch and 10% pitch control. The latter is nice to have if you fancy having a pair of these wrapped around a small mixer for some fun with 45s.
But when all is said and done, you get what you pay for. And I’d be quite happy to shell out around a ton to be able to play vinyl in the corner of my bedroom. But now to the reason why the PT01 Scratch exists at all.
ABOUT THAT SWITCH
I’m sure that some reading this won’t be here because they want to scratch on the bus. So the existence of this weird little switch will be puzzling, so please allow me to explain.
Scratch DJs have discovered the joys of scratching outside of their normal setups. But scratching requires a good crossfader, something that is usually added via products like the Frisk, Raiden, or the new Jesse Dean faders. This involves velcro and extra wires to insert the fader into the audio chain. The scratch switch however does this very neatly and offers a much tidier experience.
Taking it out of the chassis, you can see that it’s a simple slide switch. It’s a short and narrow plastic stem with more wobble than I would care for. It has a regular sized fader cap that pushes on to this short stem. It has the added benefit of having rotation adjustment, so hamster scratchers can reverse it, or just angle it for comfort.
Alarm bells are ringing for me at this point. Scratch DJs meter out an insane amount of abuse on faders. I’ve known DJs break 8mm metal stems with alarming regularity. And my own experiences with learning the transformer scratch on Radio Shack mixer line switches tells me that this switch probably isn’t going to last. So a regular supply of replacements is probably needed, or better still a 3rd party replacement of a much higher spec would be a great addition in my humble opinion.
Speaking of third parties, my inquisitiveness got the better of me. After wielding the worxdriver on the switch to adjust the rotation, I couldn’t help but wonder if a mini Innofader would fit. And it does — the green light comes on meaning that everything is OK, but sadly the signal coming from the PT01 Scratch is too hot and bleeds through. The curve control works, but audio is still coming through, albeit at a lower volume.
Given that this is a review and not a modder’s thread, I have to stop at this point. But it does show that the bare bones of adding a fader is there, but it will take someone with more skills than me to make this work. I’m sure that a simple tweak to circuitry will do it, and the good people over at the Digital Vertigo community are neck deep in modding this and other gear already.
Now the innofader might power up, but fitting it is an entirely different matter. Modders might want to get busy with Dremmels and make the mini Innofader fit inside. But an easier option is to fit it in a box, which does rather negate the whole point of buying a PT01 Scratch in the first place.
All this being said, and to clarify things, you can still hook up the conventional fader-in-a-box units to the PT01 Scratch without a hitch.
Ultimately, the PT01 Scratch brings a solid base for modders to get busy with. And now that they’re freely available for sane prices, I fully expect to see new switches being made available, as well as all manner of third party mod kits.
A DEFINITE DISADVANTAGE
Sadly there is still an issue that the scratch switch can’t get around. I scratch with my left hand on the fader. This has its advantages on regular turntables as the tonearm is generally out of the way in regular of battle position. But on the PT01 Scratch left hand on the fader means right hand awkwardly angled over the tonearm to reach the vinyl. It’s not so bad if you’re standing above it, but standing in front of a desk or table for an extended period gets uncomfortable. And having to keep your arm raised over the tonearm when sitting with the PT01 doesn’t make scratching as easy as it does for lefties.
For balance, this doesn’t mean that you can’t scratch left-handed with the PT01 Scratch. It’s just slightly compromised, well for me anyway. I’m sure there will be many videos appearing of DJs having no problems at all in due course.
My own experience of portablism is limited to scratching 12″ battle wax for a Handytrax review many years ago. But I’ve always been looking for a portable (albeit digital) scratch experience. As time has passed, I’ve got more space and a larger collection of gear, thus my need to scratch on the go has diminished. That said, I’m still fascinated by portablism, even if I have no desire to become a portablist.
First thing — the PT01 Scratch is small enough and light enough to carry more or less anywhere. It will fit in a decent sized messenger bag including accessories. Batteries will add weight to this of course, especially if you take spares. 12 x D type batteries (one set loaded and one spare) isn’t an inconsiderable amount to lug around. On this subject, I (and seemingly the internet) have no idea on battery life. I could splash cash on the cheapest and equally the most expensive batteries and test them to exhaustion, but it’s largely irrelevant, because if you’re in the market for a PT01 Scratch, there’s no other real choice at retail other than the more or less identical PT01 USB.
Having covered off the left/right handed issue, it comes down to how well it scratches. There are some obvious differences such as belt drives vs direct (although torque isn’t an issue with the PT01 Scratch), and the vinyl weight difference (spinbacks are impossible). The cheap needle does a pretty good job of staying in the groove, but much of that depends on the vinyl itself. Power off scratching isn’t possible either, as the tonearm has to be moved to the vinyl to engage the platter.
All of this however is largely academic. I’m certainly not knocking the PT01’s performance, and simply list these details for information. The best way to show performance is to get a skilled scratcher in to have a bash. And that’s exactly what I did. Check out this video, courtesy of Emma Short-e from School of Scratch who just happened to be visiting the Worxlab.
Ultimately however, It’s a £109 turntable, so there will be compromises. But having pointed out a few talking points, it’s clear that the PT01 Scratch is a very solid performer. You get full portable performance with little more than adding batteries and vinyl.
From conversations with Numark, the PT01 Scratch is a concept with a brief that had minimal tooling changes stamped all over it. And that’s exactly what this is. It’s definitely a better looking unit that the non-Scratch variant, and the scratch switch does mean negligible tooling changes too, hence keeping the price down to a level where this is a comparative knee jerk fun purchase.
For portablists, this will be considered a step back if they’re used to using a Raiden fader or similar. While the switch works, the location is a compromise for those with their left hands on the fader, and the on/off nature can certain techniques difficult, and the actual distance to switching on is definitely not a patch on what dedicated faders offer.
All that being said, for a little over £100, the PT01 Scratch delivers a huge slice of fun. And if I were to use one word in place of this whole review, it would be that — FUN. You go into it not expecting earth shattering performance, thus your enjoyment is heightened when it begins to deliver more than you expect it to. And at the time of writing, it’s the only option for portablists to get going at a reasonable cost.
If I were Numark, I would absolutely push the PT01 Scratch hard as being the affordable gateway into learning scratching. It clearly demonstrates that you don’t need to max your credit card on an expensive setup to cut. Having witnessed Emma Short-e walk up to this unit and utterly nail complex scratches before taking her coat off, my old mantra of skills over gear is clear.
So if you’ve made it this far, thank you for your perseverance. And distilling all this down into a sentence — stop overthinking it and go grab one today.
The PT01 Scratch is the most fun I’ve had in DJing in a long time. It’s a no-brainer purchase for aspiring scratch DJs, and right now is probably the tool of choice for portablists everywhere. For now anyway.