Stanton SC System 3 Review: The First Truly Portable DJ Controller?

Review Summary:

I have to say I absolutely love this system. It's not going to be right for everyone - it's too different for that - but it ticks my boxes. It's small and durable enough to genuinely be packed to take anywhere with you. It's a powered USB hub so it can work with your other equipment and a simple, small laptop. It actually feels easier to use and packs in more features than many full-sized controllers, and it's the most insanely flexible piece of DJ gear I've yet to test.

SC System 3
  • SC System 3
  • Rating: 4
  • From: Stanton
  • Price: $149
  • Reviewed by:
  • On November 24, 2010
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014
The SC System 3 combines 2 SCS3.d 'DaScratch' Midi decks and an SCS.3m Midi mixer.

The SC System 3 combines 2 SCS3.d 'DaScratch' Midi decks and an SCS.3m Midi mixer.

Review: Stanton SC System 3 DJ Controller

In a world of identikit 2-jogs-and-a-mixer-DJ control solutions, the Stanton SC System 3 (US$499 / £379 / €433) stands out from the crowd for so many reasons. Precisely because it dares to be different, it may be exactly the controller some DJs have been waiting for.

It's been around for a little while now, but as with many things that push the boundaries, my experience is that many people still haven't grasped fully what it is capable of and what makes it so different from other DJ controllers. So with that in mind, and having used one here at Digital DJ Tips both in our studio and to play out on over the last few weeks, we thought we'd give you a Stanton SC System 3 review to explore what this set-up could do for you and your DJing.

About the system

To start with, understand that when you buy the SC System 3, you're actually getting 3 units, not one. You're getting two SCS.3d deck control units, and one SCS.3m mixer unit. This system is nothing if not flexible and modular! They're all available separately, and indeed you may wish to go down that route once you understand what each part can do.

The units are well made, to a professional standard. They are high-impact, high-gloss thick plastic, with gun metal-coloured casing, good quality touch surfaces and buttons, and metal chassis inside. The backs are rubber-covered and come off to reveal USB sockets (multiple in the case of the SCS.3m) and storage for USB cables.

Unusually, the units dock together magnetically. There are no protruding knobs, buttons or sliders to break, bend or accidentally rip off, when you throw the units into a bag, for instance. They are super-durable.

No sound card, but stereo splitter provided
These are controllers, not interfaces, so you're going to need a sound card. That makes sense - they are not meant as a plug-and-play solution, rather to fit into your workflow however you see fit. If you're looking for this kind of flexibility, you'll already have (or be happy to purchase) a good external sound card.

Having said that, out of the box (and after after setting up - see next section) they are actually plug-and-play, as Stanton has provided a useful stereo splitter cable so you can plug your headphones and your speakers into one 1/8" output jack from your laptop. Nice, but mine didn't work well, with only the left-hand side of the headphones getting the signal. Hopefully that was a one-off problem with my splitter cable and not a whole batch.

Stanton SC System 3 review

Stanton SC System 3 - good for hotel rooms, flight lounges, beach bars...

3 choices for setting up
There are 3 basic ways of setting them up. First, you plug a USB into each and plug them into 3 spare USBs on your PC. My MacBook Pro only has 2 USBs, so over to option 2: You can wire the units together round the back, with one USB going off to your PC. This is good as you can pull them apart and position them where you want when DJing, and you can easily pack them away separately too.

At this stage, you're going to need to use the supplied mains cable to power the 3 units, as they won't all work off bus power. A shame, as would be good to not have that extra weight/inconvenience of a mains cable in something so portable, but there you go.

Finally, you can wire them the same way as above, but using internal sockets: There are clever little wire feeder holes to route the cables between the units, letting you get everything wired up as one, with just the single USB and power leads coming out of the back of the middle unit. This is best for neatness, but you then can't take them apart without taking the backs off and undoing the cables.

The advantage of this final method of set-up is that you now effectively have a powered USB hub with 2 USB sockets at your disposal, as you're not using the external USB sockets on the SCS.3m - great for adding keyboards or keypads, for instance. Another tick for flexibility - and now, that mains cable doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

You need to run a small utility called DaRouter on your PC or Mac in order for it to properly recognise the combination of hardware and software you're using. The system comes with Traktor LE, the light version of Traktor Pro, with the usual limitations (as with all of these OEM solutions) - see our article on LE vs full DJ software for more on what this means.

First impressions in use

So once we're up and running, with Traktor installed and configured and a sound card (or the splitter lead) all working well, we're looking at a serious compact DJ control set-up, lifted from greyness by flashing blue and red lights, and with the novelty of no moving parts.

Stanton SCS.3 System

What, no knobs, faders and buttons?

It doesn't invite beginners to start touching things, which is probably a good thing: Despite its size and its flashing lights, it doesn't look like a toy - it looks like you need to know what you're doing to make it work! Its appearance is of something new and interesting, not "novelty" or "toy-like", which is obviously a good thing.

And to a certain extent, you do need to know what you're doing to make it work - it is different enough to not be immediately obvious what to do next! That's not helped by the fact that the instruction book explains each unit as if they're not plugged together and mapped the way they actually are, so things don't work quite how it suggests.

However, with a little reading, experimenting, and good old trial and error, what becomes apparent is that the reason things aren't exactly as they seem is that this set-up is insanely flexible. Its difference is not just in its looks - it really does have some tricks up its sleeve.

The world of touch control
Before we look at the units individually, let's talk in general about the touch control. The best bit about this (apart from using it and after a while simply realising how damn cool it is) is multi-touch: You can put your finger on a control and touch another part of the control with another finger, and it jumps to there, snapping back to your first finger when you remove the second one.

This lets you cut and scratch ridiculously easily. It lets you stutter the crossfader, or drop bass on and out, for instance. And you can return to centre with the touch of one button. This kind of precise control actually encourages you to mess around more (not less, as you might expect with the removal of physical controls). More later on the touch control features.

The SCS.3d

This is the deck part of the unit, best compared to a CDJ. It can control 2 Traktor decks, so if you want to use an external mixer, you can run a 2-deck version of Traktor with one of these - a bit like the X1, but with more tactile deck control. Use 2 of these, and you can control 4 Traktor decks through an external mixer (a bit like Domas is doing with his 2 X1s in our recent interview).

You can control all the usual CDJ deck-type functions, but look at this list of extras - all controllable over 2 decks per unit, remember (by the way, you'll need Traktor Pro for 4-deck control):

  • Gain slider
  • Full FX control
  • Comprehensive loop control
  • Hot cue triggers (you'll need to get your hands dirty to configure these as they don't seem to be catered for out of the box)
  • Library scrubbing & loading of tracks

Stanton call the round control surfaces "StanTouch Control Areas". They are multi-use. You can stroke clockwise and anticlockwise for fast scrubbing, or vertically for finer control.

The SCS.3d control surface

The SCS.3d control surface offers what you'd expect with some novel extras, in a tiny footprint.

This is where the multiple cue triggers can be (up to 9 per unit). It is also where you'll scrub through your library, manipulate your FX - in short, it's truly a multi-use surface. It even shows you visually when a track is slipping out of time, letting you correct it with the sweep of a finger. In a generation getting used to iPad, Android and MacBook touch gestures, Stanton are on the game here.

It's worth pointing out that 4 of the controls actually aren't touch at all. Wisely maybe, Stanton has decided that having physical Play, Cue, Sync and Tap buttons is the best thing. Maybe having the whole thing as a touch surface would have been a leap too far. I don't think the sync button needs to be one of these traditional controls, but I suspect that as a whole these 4 buttons lend the system just enough of a traditional feel for it not to scare some people off entirely.

The SCS.3m

So we've already seen a deck that can control far more than the transport functions. Now let's look at a mixer that's got ideas above its rightful station too!

The SCS.3m can, on its own, control much of the functionality of 4 Traktor decks. Using the device on its own, you get BPM tap, sync toggle, play and cue buttons (where the kills are in the full system set-up), the balance controls from the full set-up becoming jog scratch/pitch benders. I haven't had time to try it, but I reckon it's pretty easy to rock 4 decks for an extended set on just this one single tiny unit, all through one spare channel on an external mixer and with a tiny footprint. But with the 2 SCS.3ds magnetised to its sides? Well you can already see the potential.

So, set up as a full system, there are individual kills plus an EQ reset for all channels, plus master-out, balance, cue level and cue balance "faders". LEDs let you see where controls are set, and there are proper VU meters for both channels at the bottom left and right of the unit. With clever use of shift-type functionality, you can coarsely scrub through tracks, cue tracks, nudge and pitch bend at ease.

Scratching is dead, long live scratching
One trick Stanton suggest (and which I have to share) is using the nice, long touch-sensitive crossfader to "drum" a track in, on the beat. You just put your finger at one end and "drum" the other 3 fingers on the crossfader, enacting bullet-fast volume changes. While you can't perform scratch techniques in the traditional ways, you can certainly appropriate new ways of doing them - and also do things you just can't do with physical faders. (Unless you happen to have 3 or 4 hands!)

Stanton SC System 3

Sat between its 2 decks, the diminutive SCS.3m does much more than just mix.

Hit "FX" and all of a sudden you are controlling the FX and filters. The filter is pretty sensitive so you have to be careful not to complete kill the whole track, but when you get used to it you can't keep your hands - or should I say fingers - off of it.

With built-in firmware presets and Midi learn, you can set your 3 units up in a number of out-of-the-box permutations, or of course go the whole way and map it exactly how you want to fit into your workflow. Of course you're not tied to Traktor either, as it will happily work with all kinds of software.

Conclusion

I have to say I absolutely love this system. It's not going to be right for everyone - it's too different for that - but it ticks my boxes. For me, digital DJing is about pushing the boundaries - of ease of use, of size, of capability, even of what DJing actually is and where it can be done. This little system has something to say about all of these things, and then some.

  • It's small and durable enough to genuinely be packed to take anywhere with you - I think it will go on for years and years with no problems
  • It can be split so you can use the parts that most make sense for what you're trying to do
  • It's a powered USB hub so can work with your other equipment and a simple, small laptop
  • It actually feels easier to use and packs in more features than many full-sized controllers
  • It is the most insanely flexible piece of DJ gear I've yet to test

Best for intermediate to advanced DJs
That said, it's probably not right for beginners. It is too far removed from what you would "expect" DJing to be like. In my experience, most beginners want something as close to 2 decks and a mixer as their pennies can afford, and one day dream of graduating to "real" decks. Fair enough, everyone deserves the chance to try the traditional way of doing things.

No, it's the more experienced DJs who've "been there, done that" who are going to immediately light up on seeing what this system can do. They're the ones thinking of DJing in their headphones in airport waiting lounges, or playing impromptu sets in bars on holiday, or having all of this power to add on top of another DJ's set in a club, or having a full-strength DJ set-up in a tiny corner of their home, or simply having a truly portable second DJ system with 4 decks and FX.

Portable DJ system

With a MacBook or other small laptop and a pair of travel 'phones, you're good to go - and there's still room in your hand luggage for a change of clothes.

It's these DJs who'll realise that having 18 cue triggers available is actually ridiculous in something that does all the rest too. And it's them who'll see the thought that's gone into making what looks like just a small box with a few flashing lights on it, but what is in fact one of the most flexible, powerful and innovative DJ control surfaces that's on the market today.

Helping us to redefine what DJing is and where it happens
What we think of as "DJing" has been demystified, sometimes much to the chagrin of the "old skool". Traktor's beat-gridding, snapping and sync button did for all the mystery, and cheaper and cheaper hardware is breaking down the high barriers of entry too. This system simply shrinks it all down further, add in some new tools and a whack more power, and give more ability to integrate the whole DJing thing into a bigger workflow to boot.

Today's DJs are in bands, they sing, they produce, they recreate whole live sets with tiny laptop set-ups. What's more, they get the chance to do it out of the back of vans at festivals, on the beach, and in club second rooms where there's little more than a PA system and a strobe light. Kit like this just helps them to push it all a little bit further.

If Stanton could find a way to alleviate the need for external power, they'd have this just about perfect. Oh, and use a better printing company - my manual has fallen apart already with all the feature-flicking!

Product Summary

Review Summary:

I have to say I absolutely love this system. It's not going to be right for everyone - it's too different for that - but it ticks my boxes. It's small and durable enough to genuinely be packed to take anywhere with you. It's a powered USB hub so it can work with your other equipment and a simple, small laptop. It actually feels easier to use and packs in more features than many full-sized controllers, and it's the most insanely flexible piece of DJ gear I've yet to test.

SC System 3

  • SC System 3
  • Rating: 4
  • From: Stanton
  • Price: $149
  • Reviewed by:
  • On November 24, 2010
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014

Have you got or are you considering getting this system? Do you use it in a special or novel way? Or do you think you would miss "real" controls too much to switch to DJing like this? Let us know!

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Comments

  1. Hmm, so, hypotheticaly, if you got the package plus 2 more "decks" you could control 8 virtual decks (in software that supports it such as virtual DJ)?
    And what are the actual dimensions? they look pretty small, but the thing is almost always bigger than it looks in the picture.

  2. Mmmm may be... 4 decks would be quite enough for me though. Especially with a few handfuls of hot cues mapped to those two jog surfaces.

    Look at the DJ Midi Controllers Buyers Guide for dimensions etc.

  3. Sander Bongertman says:

    Nice review!

    About the issue where you heard sound from just one earcup of the headphones; A small stereo splitter splits up the signal into L and R which is why only one earcup actually gets a signal. It's not a soundcard which has 2 stereo outputs.

  4. Christian P. says:

    I'm just your casual user who DJs at his room when bored. But I had a chance to play with these at the school's DJ club. I must say that they're great to use. The only thing I'll complain about is that the touch sensors are too sensitive and I've done my share of mixing and they usually go awry when its sensitivity kicks in. >.<
    Oh, it's one of the very first controllers I've used ever since I tried DJing hands-on. Great controller
    Even if I'm just a beginner, this controller is just as nice as it could be.

  5. Phil Morse says:

    To Sander I know what you're saying but this lead is meant to split the one stereo signal into 2 pseudo-stereo outputs (ie effectively 4 mono outputs) and indeed does so for the master out which is successfully split into 2 mono feeds, one each for the left and right RCAs - it's just a manufacturing defect that means the pseudo-stereo out from the right channel didn't work properly.

    We did the tests and uses a substitute to make sure we hadn't made a mistake with the audio settings! :)

  6. One idea might be to get just the mixer, and use more conventional single deck controllers.

  7. I'm debating between these and the Denon DN MC-6000. Need a 4 decks controller, but I don't want to spend $1000 (Canadian) for the S4. Apparantly the MC-6000 will available in mid-December, but I did see a launch party on their site for next week.

    I'm assuming you can plug CDs or IPODs to this mixer, and the computer fails the whole system goes down? (Unlike the S4, XONE DX and MC-6000 which are also analogue.

    What cables come with this unit, if I do get it from here it's being sold seperately by component, not as the system. Want to make sure I wont be missing anything.

    Thanks!

    • Phil Morse says:

      It's a Midi controller, there's no sound card at all. You'd need a sound card separately. If the computer fails it most certainly will go down, and because there's no sound card you can't plug anything into it bar other USB devices and your computer. It simply has USB ins/outs and a power cable.

  8. I was thinking about buying just the mixer and the new denon DN-SC2000.Will it work with traktor pro if i just plug them seperatly into my computer(usb) with no external sound card?

  9. What if i don't want to use headphones and use my computer's sound card?

  10. Phil Morse says:

    Then in theory you'll be fine. You'll need two USBs spare and you'll need to do some setting up as is always the case with custom systems, but in theory you should be able to get both controllers working with Traktor Pro.

  11. Thanks man,you've been really helpfull.

  12. Almost all my questions are answered :) Thank you very much :)

    I am planning to buy a beginner/intermediate DJ equipment. I am absolutely new to DJing world and i had no idea about what to get just a day ago. and now i have narrowed down my options after 9 hours of online research....wish i found your website at the beginning. Would have saved a heap of time mate. Gotta say your website is the best one i browsed after i decided that i wanna go for digital DJing as my budget is very limited and whatever i spent has to take me to at least till intermediate level before i invest again.

    I have some queries.

    1> I am torn apart between Denon DN-MC6000 and Stanton SCS3.
    Denon DN-MC6000 looks like something that fulfills my requirement of going intermediate from a beginner with 4 virtual decks and enough learning options. It has a standard Digital-DJing interface.
    But the price is $799 which is bit out of my budget.
    On the other hand Stanton SCS3 is $499. The technology may not be standard but as i am new, it shouldn’t be a problem for me(You don't recommend it for beginners and that got me a little worried though :P). It saves me at least $140 after buying a sound card separately.
    I perform as an anchor for live shows and a DJ unit can really take me to the next level. I am not sure if i can use a microphone for voice overs with Stanton SCS3. Can i? Would i be needing some extra cable/equipment for that?
    I am from india. This equipment are not available here(yet). I got a cousin bro visiting US and i gotta make the decision real quick (read 2 days:P) if i want an equipment(Thats one of the reason i want a gear which will take me to the intermediate level before i get someone who can buy it from me).
    A real quick reply to my post will be really appreciated :)
    Thanks for great reviews on every possible DigitalDJ equipment on the market!! Keep up the great work \m/CHEERS\m/
    -smoky

  13. Does the system come with filters out-of-the-box? I'd be willing to postpone the 4-deck capability if I know those are available. And for future reference, is it safe to assume that features you mention in your reviews are available with the packaged software?

    • Yes, the features mentioned come with the packaged software, including filters. The software is LE though, you will want to upgrade to Pro at some point - LE software should always be seen as "starter" software.

  14. Thanks Phil, very helpful info.

  15. Ah I really cant decide what to buy next. I want to upgrade from my Mixtrack Pro which I have enjoyed but feel is quite limiting and I don't like the sound quality.

    I really want 4 decks,(well 3 is probably all I need) but I am on a budget. This whole product just looks so cool and interesting. I could probably just about afford to buy the whole thing with an external soundcard and traktor pro but I think the Mrs may not be happy with me spending so much in one go.

    I was thinking to begin with could I genuinely get away with mixing just using the scs.3m part of the controller and buy the others at a later date? Could I even run it in tandem with a remapped Mixtrack Pro? I really like the jog wheels to scroll through tunes!

    Another cheap solution I have been thinking about is buying a BCR2000 and a soundcard and mapping it to Traktor? Doe anyone advise for or against this?

    Being on a budget is so frustrating, over anything I want that extra deck though to lay down samples to make my mixes more interesting.

    Thanks for any advice :)

    • Phil Morse says:

      This product is all about mapping and you could get away with just the SCS3.M to start with, I don't see why you couldn't continue to use it with the MTP either.

      Don't go for the Behringer, it's hopelessly outdated and you'll regret it.

      • Thanks for the swift response Phil, I am really leaning towards this set up! Maybe I should just go for it :)

        It's great to have someone experienced talk about the BCR2000 too, I did have my reservations and can discard that option now!

        One last question, is the SCS.3 set up fine for mixing techno/minimal style music? All the vids on youtube seem to be Rap/Hip Hop!

  16. hey phil

    im a current scs3 user for over a year now and i must say i strongly like the system. but here and there i face some minor issues that has me leaning else where, such as one of the 4 cue triggers around my "jog wheel" crapping out randomly from time to time and having to deal with audio only on the left side of my headphones is frustrating.

    due to my hard word i'm about to leave the days of dj-ing small bars and pool halls for a medium size club and was wondering should i simply upgrade to a traktor audio 10 or the new traktor kontrol S2

    quick back ground on my style
    mostly rap/hip hop
    scratching and cue triggering is very important
    cueing samples easily is something i would like to have (i've mapped number keys on my laptop to do this currently)
    beat joggling

    • The Audio 10 is a sound card and the S2 is a controller, so not sure why you're comparing those two. The S2 would definitely fit the bill for you though.

      • in the soon to be lager cub they will be providing a better sound system and i thought i would benefit from a sound card that can handle as such (using a quarter inch out instead of the rca i currently use in combination with the splitter that came with the scs3)

        so thats why i brought up the audio 10 plus its a cheaper upgrade

        the S2 is more expense but includes the soon to be needed sound card and would cut down on the stuff i would have to carry... granted i would have to give up using my scs3 though

        so i was wondering what would u do

      • Phil Morse says:

        You'll definitely want a sound card - that splitter cable is only a temporary solution. Audio 2 will do fine though - you don't need balanced outputs as you'll only be going into their mixer and RCAs are fine for that. You could add an Audio 2 to your SCS3 and that'd be great for clubs.

      • i need a mic input as well thats why i said the audio 10

  17. I've just ordered this, and I've got a Maya 44 soundcard. I found (via some smart kid on youtube) a pretty novel solution to the Maya 44's problem of not having a separate headphone output - all channels go through its headphone out, which is very annoying.

    I bought a female 3.5mm stereo socket to 2x RCA cable for about 2 English pounds, so I should be able to route the master through one set of outs, and the headphones through the other. It could be a cheaper alternative to a more expensive NI product.

  18. Dj kass says:

    I need a controller with a headphone cue to listen to one deck on my headphones while the other deck is playing on the speakers, does the splitter to that for me?

  19. Over Christmas I got this from my aunt, its wonderful! I have my first gig in February and I am so excited to use it! Virtual DJ LE works amazing with the system really mapped out well. This review made me want to get it.

  20. I've had nothing but trouble with this piece of gear. It may be that it's just that the DaRouter program is poorly written, but I've had so many random results that I'm ready to throw in the towel with System 3.

    Sometimes Deck B controls Deck A onscreen. Sometimes one or more of the devices go undetected by DaRouter. Sometimes rebooting the program or my machine fixes it. Sometimes it doesn't. Other times, everything works fine. I have found no rhyme or reason for the inconsistencies. The same issues crop up on both my desktop iMac and my Macbook Pro.

    The touch-sensitive stuff is fun, but has some drawbacks. If your fingertips are calloused from guitar playing, some touches may not immediately register. If your hands are very warm, some touches may trigger without actual contact.

    I purchased this before the Virtual DJ add-on was available so I've been using it with Traktor Pro. It may be that the integration with that program is much better. Currently downloading.

    The long and the short of it is: this piece of gear is unreliable, and I would certainly *not* want to count on it at a gig. If you're looking for a toy to use alongside a real controller, this may fit the bill. but it is certainly not a pro piece of equipment.

    Fairly warned be thee, says I. I regret my purchase.

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