Review & Video: Rane SL2 for Serato Scratch Live

Review Summary:

Ultimately, the SL2 does exactly what it says on the box - it offers a stable, low-latency DVS system, with no hidden costs (the software is the full version, all upgrades are free) - just as well, as it's not exactly cheap. It delivers great sound quality, letting you get on with either playing vinyl like you always have done, or slowly dip your toes into the waters of advanced digital DJing and start to enjoy all the bells and whistles that make digital more fun than straight analogue. The SL2 is a direct replacement for the SL1. It improves the spec (both PC and audio) and drops the microphone input. Apart from that, it's business as usual.

Rane SL2 for Serato Scratch Live
The Rane SL2 digital vinyl system comes with Serato Scratch Live, which is a full version and freely upgradable for life.

The Rane SL2 digital vinyl system comes with Serato Scratch Live, which is a full version and freely upgradable for life.

Review: Rane SL2 for Serato Scratch Live

A couple of weeks ago we reviewed the Rane Sixty-One mixer, a Serato Scratch Live-compatible standalone DJ mixer and audio interface designed to let you DJ using turntables and/or CDJs but manipulating audio via serato Scratch Live software and your laptop. But what if you already have decks and a mixer, and just want to move over to digital? That’s where the Rane SL2 comes in.

(By the way, Traktor’s digital vinyl audio interfaces now comes packaged in exactly the same way as Rane’s always have, ie packaged with control vinyl as a “complete system”, and we’ll be looking at a Traktor’s digital vinyl system in a week or so. As for a native Traktor mixer like the Rane Sixty-One? Well, I for one don’t think Native Instruments will leave it too long, and Pioneer already does. We’ll be covering them in due course…)

Finally before we begin, if you’re wondering about the fact that the Rane SL2 is over a year old and yet we’re reviewing it only now, there’s a reason for that. We’ve traditionally neglected to cover digital vinyl systems (DVS), which is something we’ve decided to put right. The clue is in the name after all: digital. So we’ve to play catch-up. We want to truly represent digital DJing in all of its flavours.

Unboxing and setting up

So, you have record decks (or CD players, but from now on, we’ll assume it’s record decks). And you have a mixer. Maybe you’ve had both for a long time. You have no wish to replace them with new gear. But you’d really like to go digital (after all, the advantages of digital aren’t just in the gear. How about music discovery? Software effects, loops and cues? Etc etc).

What you need, sir, is a digital vinyl system – an example of which is today’s review item, the Rane SL2. Plug this into your existing decks and mixer, hook up your laptop, install the supplied Serato Scratch Live software, and you’re ready to go. You need a little more than just the audio interface to crack it. So also in the box are two slabs of Scratch Live vinyl. These contain “control tones” (sometimes called “timecode”, but Serato insists its technology is different from what some people call timecode. Confusing? A bit maybe…). So when you’re DJing with such a system, you leave the same “records” on all the time, changing tunes on software. The control tones tell the software information about how you’re manipulating the music. (There are control CDs supplied, too, for CDJ users, but they work in the same way.)

Finally, you get the cables you need to set up, which are really very simple – two cables (should you need them) to plug your decks or CDJs into the Serato box, two from the SL2 box to your mixer, and a USB (a really nice, high-quality braided blue cable) to go from your computer to the SL2 box.

Features and operation

The SL2 is a direct replacement for Rane’s previous entry-level digital vinyl box, the SL1. It has a USB 2.0 port rather than 1.1, technically better sound (44.1 or 48kHz sampling rate, software switchable, 24-bit), and ASIO and Core drivers to allow the audio interface to be used with third party software as well as just a DJ interface.

Rane SL2

The unit itself is high quality metal in construction, and has just the one actual control, a small switch to choose between phono and line inputs.

There’s a small switch to select from two CD players or two record decks (you can’t combine the two), an earth pole for your turntables, a couple of power and status LEDs, and a 7.5V DC adaptor socket in case for some reason your PC can’t provide sufficient bus power. And that’s it.

The eagle-eyed reader with knowledge of the Rane SL1 may have noticed that the microphone input has gone, so it was obviously deemed an option not relevant for an entry level DVS controller, and I agree – most mixers have a mic socket anyway. The hardware is compact and smart in black painted metal, and there are four small adhesive-attachable rubber feet in the box for you to stick on the underside if you wish.

Getting it up and running
Once you’re all plugged in you have to calibrate everything. This involves playing loud music and adjusting some software faders to ensure Serato can tell the difference between background noise and the control tone. It takes all of two minutes. And really, that’s you ready. the diagram below illustrates the way it all fits together.

What you’re really buying here is Serato Scratch Live software, along with a little box that gives your existing gear the means to control it. This isn’t a review of the software, but suffice to say that SSL is mature and performs excellently. Whether you want to “just play records” (in its Absolute mode, the software gets astonishingly close to that, even down to you “flipping” the control vinyl to play the next song…), or use vinyl to control your MP3s alongside more standard DJ software-style features (loops, cues, FX, sample and so on), SSL can be configured to suit.

Rane SL2

The Rane SL2 set-up diagram: It’s really nothing more than a box that goes between your decks and mixer that also attaches to your computer.

Incidentally, unlike ITCH, Serato’s closed architecture controller software (you buy a controller, it comes with ITCH, it does what it does, you can’t tweak anything), with the SL2 and Serato Scratch Live, you can add an additional Midi controller if you want, to control samples, effects, loops, cues – whatever you like. Also unlike ITCH, there’s an internal mode. Hit it, and you can take over control of the software using the keyboard. (Good to learn in case of technical mishaps.)

One of the attractions of this system (and the other Serato-compatible Rane hardware) is the fact that for an extra cost, you can buy Serato Video, a plugin that lets you DJ using MP4s, giving you the ability to scratch video just like vinyl. The SL2 is all the hardware you need for this (of course, you’ll need a laptop that can handle the extra processing necessary, and that has at least a VGA output to plug into a projector or screen).

Conclusion

The SL2 is a direct replacement for the SL1. It improves the spec (both PC and audio) and drops the microphone input. Apart from that, it’s business as usual.

The higher models – SL3 and SL4 – allow three and four external inputs respectively, and progeressively add more features like extra outputs (so you can have the sample decks from the software playing through a different mixer channel, for example) and an extra USB (so two DJs switch “live”, one plugging in and setting up ready to mix right into the last record of the previous DJ). But the underlying technology remains the same.

So unless you want these features, it’s not worth your while going for the higher packages. Conversely, you may look at the SL1 and say “what’s wrong with that?” Even though it’s not made any more, it is a perfectly capable device, it has a microphone input which the SL2 doesn’t, and despite having a lower spec, works perfectly well. It’s also very much available, and you can make a saving of over US$100 by going for the older interface.

Ultimately, the SL2 does exactly what it says on the box – it offers a stable, low-latency DVS system, with no hidden costs (the software is the full version, all upgrades are free) – just as well, as it’s not exactly cheap. It delivers great sound quality, letting you get on with either playing vinyl like you always have done, or slowly dip your toes into the waters of advanced digital DJing and start to enjoy all the bells and whistles that make digital more fun than straight analogue.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

Ultimately, the SL2 does exactly what it says on the box - it offers a stable, low-latency DVS system, with no hidden costs (the software is the full version, all upgrades are free) - just as well, as it's not exactly cheap. It delivers great sound quality, letting you get on with either playing vinyl like you always have done, or slowly dip your toes into the waters of advanced digital DJing and start to enjoy all the bells and whistles that make digital more fun than straight analogue. The SL2 is a direct replacement for the SL1. It improves the spec (both PC and audio) and drops the microphone input. Apart from that, it's business as usual.

Rane SL2 for Serato Scratch Live

Video Review

Do you use the Rane SL2? Do you DJ in a venue where people use them? Are you an analogue DJ looking to make the switch and considering such a device? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. DJ Forced Hand says:

    Remember that Serato Scratch Live has full functionality with Ableton Live via “the Bridge.” If you have analogue gear and you’re thinking about producing your stuff live, you’re ahead of all the people (including me) with Digital DJ Controllers.

    • The Bridge still leaves a lot to be desired. Good intentions but it really doesn’t cut it at this stage. Funtionality is still very limited. It looks as though Traktor 2.5 will be the winner here…but thats only speculation going off NI’s propaganda machine. We shall see.

  2. I’ve still got an SL-1 and am curious about something with the SL-2 & SL-3: can one play vinyl without the box being hooked up to the computer? The SL-1 has a separate “thru” line so that one can play a record without the box being hooked into the computer (as long as the box is plugged into external power). That is very handy when switching from one DJ/laptop to another. Does that work with the SL-2 & SL-3, which are dependent on the Serato software to dictate whether one plays from a digital or analogue source?

    • Yes it definitely can. Instead of a separate set of hardware “Thru” connections, you can set Thru mode right in the software, right beside the Abs/Rel/Int setting (which I believe is only visible if you have a supported card connected). Once you’re in Thru mode on the software you can shut down SSL and the SL2/3/4 box will remain in a “Thru” state until after you disconnect and reconnect a new DJ. Just remember to have your power supply plugged in!

      • That’s good to know! I’ll be testing that out very soon. Many thanks.

      • radikarl says:

        if you buy the optional powersupply and connect that, the SL2 starts up in THRU mode for both decks, even without a laptop connected.
        When you then plug in the laptop via USB it stays in THRU mode until you untick that in software (because the software has to assume you might be playing classic vinyl at the moment you connect the box).
        but when you don’t use the power supply, there is no way of letting the vinyl play trough except for plugging it into your computer to supply it with power via USB, and set it to trough mode in your control panel or the software.
        so a power supply is well worth adding.
        SL3 and SL4 come with a power supply straight out of the box. (and a nice bag)

  3. Serato I LOVE YOU, but if you don’t pick up the pace soon, traktor is gunna straight run you over.. and i don’t want to switch over.

    • Many would argue that Traktor is already better and has been for a while. Its already been proven that the Traktor timecode tracks better with very slow movement. Traktors effects and looping options are superior. For ease of use and simplicity in just getting mixing, Serato wins. Performance, stability and latency are more or less negligle between the brands. For the record I own both systems, and would be just as happy to use either if I’m just doing standard mixing. I am 1 of 2 Traktor users where I live, Serato dominates by far, so to avoid hassle I usually use Serato when playing out.

  4. thedjprestige says:

    Traktor needs video capability

  5. Compared to Traktor Serato has one big advantage (the only one in my opionion). It is the compatibility with itunes. You can manage ur music in itunes and when ur done with that just turn on the software and ur ready to play. Whilst in Traktor u must copy everything into the Traktor playlists, if u want the cover art id3 tags etc.

  6. DJ Jdub says:

    Hey great article. I just have one thing id like to point out that might be a little misleading. The SL2 sounds better then the SL1. The audio10 from NI also sounds better then the SL1. The SL1 sounds “tinney” to me, esp in the highs, and the bass isnt nearly as punchy as it is on the audio 10…

    having listened to a direct comparison between the audio10 and SL1 (both of which I own) I havent used the SL1 once since…even if im djing hip hop, which i find to be way easier in serato, i still prefer to use the audio10 because of sound quality.

    the SL2 on the other hand sounds sooooo goooood

  7. ive been using tracktor and NI sounds good but i would like to use sl2 i think it will do de work

  8. Each system works alongside a website to get new tracks (Beatport for Traktor, Whitelabel for Serato) but for Serato users, tracks are free, as they register.
    Serato wins here, once more.

    • I like Serato and Traktor and would like to own both of them. Each system has advantages and drawbacks. What matters is the ease of use, so the learning curve doesn’t get too high, to show real mixing skills. Capabilities are limitless so let’s step forward!!!!

  9. Both Serato and Traktor work with a website to get new tracks (respectively Whitelabel and Beatport) but they are free for Serato users, after their registration.
    In addiction, they receive e-mails when new Serato updates and promo releases are available. Serato wins here.

  10. Hello,
    The a10 uses the same components as the a8, so the soundquality won’t make a difference. The same parts are in the other audio 6 for example.Personally i find the systems pretty expensive for what they do. I live in holland, where dvs is created and you can’t buy just the software and the vinyl, even if my denon scratch certified(the only land in the wholeeee world)so only for that i prefer serato.
    But what i ask myself is…how large is the infuence of the needle you choose. You don’t find a lot about that on inet ans i think it’s quite important:which needle is better for scratch quality etc…
    traktor can sample as much as they want, but if the needle ain’t sending out a clear signal with enough dB or just volts you’ll allways get a lesser quality sound. And most dj’s prefer serato….
    there has to be a reason . I still haven’t found a mixer or cdj or anything which sounded better than my asus xonar essence stx card in my desktop. de traktor audio 2 and the komplete audio 6 are nice, until you hear that card….a little disappointing…
    greetz richard

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