Traktor Kontrol S8 Review and Opinion
The Kontrol S8 is a whole new world of cutting, slicing, dropping, creating and layering that, without a doubt, opens up an endless array of potential”
When the Traktor Kontrol S8 was announced by Native Instruments and the first images leaked the new flagship controller caused quite a stir mainly for one reason; the controller has no jogwheels! Now as we all know the turntable platter which then became the CDJ jogwheel has been one of the essential tools used by DJs for many years. This along with a tempo slider and a mixing console for combining audio input from two separate sources forms the cornerstone of DJing.
But wait! There are no tempo sliders on the Kontrol S8 either! Native Instruments what have you done?
A Bit of History
So let’s recap. The Kontrol S8 has no jogwheels and no tempo sliders. It does have a mixer though. So this new DJing device from Native Instruments has done away with two of the three essential components that define many people’s perception of being a DJ!
When the DJ software called Traktor first arrived on the scene most of us did not take the app seriously. Sure it was fun, albeit tricky to overlay 2 tracks 100% correctly and the first controllers that appeared were not even mapped to the software properly! However when Native Instruments incorporated the timecode technology developed by the company N2IT (a company Richie Hawtin was involved with), which was the same architecture used by Stanton’s Final Scratch, Traktor Scratch Pro finally started to make inroads into the market as a viable competitor to the then dominant Serato Scratch which was the leading DVS system at the time.
Ironically you could now successfully interface your DJ app with existing DJ equipment – in other words the turntable or CDJ – the very tools that Native Instruments are now challenging with the advent of the Kontrol S8!
Traktor Kontrol X1 – the game-changer
In my opinion the Traktor Kontrol X1 has been the game changer that opened up NI’s vision to create a controller with no jogwheels.
The Kontrol X1 was originally introduced to compliment Traktor Scratch Pro by offering a super portable controller to use for browsing, hot cues and FX, thus making it unnecessary to touch the laptop. But Native Instruments also decided to include full transport features (Cue, Play, Cup) and the dreaded sync button so whilst many first bought the X1 to use in conjunction with a CDJ or turntable, it did not take long before DJs realised that in fact all you needed was an X1, a soundcard and Traktor Pro. In other words no more mixing from a CDJ or turntable! The proliferation of ‘X1 DJ’s’ must have made the guys at NI look up and think, ‘hmmm, here’s all these professional DJs using an X1 and essentially using a sync button to DJ, maybe it’s time to look beyond jogwheels…”
The rest we can now say is history which brings me to the real reason you’re reading this… to find out more about the Traktor Kontrol S8.
Like any inordinate piece of gear the Kontrol S8 looks pretty normal just sitting on a table. Its square edges, dull black finish and larger than usual size gives it a slightly ‘clunky’ look and since a lot of it is laid out in the traditional controller fashion, there’s nothing overly striking about it. Even the 8 pads are now nothing new since all the new all-in-one controllers have them and the flat screen does not have quite the same impactful look as the raised one on the Pioneer CDJ2000 or the new Numark NV perhaps.
When it is switched off that is!
Power the Kontrol S8 up and it lights up like a Xmas tree garnering a suitable amount of oohs and aahs. It really is impressive and if NI’s intention was to make it look something akin to a space ship control, they’ve got that part down!
Kontrol S8 – Features worth noting
I’m not going to run through every single feature and button on the Kontrol S8 suffice to say that it has all the pro functions one expects from a flagship device such as XLR master outs, booth out, an XF curve for your cross-fader and dual Mic inputs – which I would have put on the front of the unit instead of the back, by the way. But a very important feature to highlight is that the Kontrol S8 can function as a normal mixer with external devices – turntable or CDJ plugged in to any of the 4 channels and switching between an external device and internal mode requires a simple press of one button beneath the channel gain knob. This certainly adds to the device’s value for money and flexibility. All the backlit rubberised buttons feel nice as do the rubberised rotaries and the entire channel slider and crossfader panel can be easily unscrewed for maintenance and replacement. The short faders are adequate and as you can see from the images the overall layout is pretty standard so I cannot say I found myself wondering where to find a feature. It’s all pretty intuitive.
Kontrol S8 – The Screen Display
The biggest new feature on the Kontrol S8 is the high resolution colour display on each side of the device. The idea is to not have to look at the laptop screen in that all too familiar side stare you see from laptop DJs all the time. Now they’ll just be looking down instead. Native Instruments have really thought this through well and except for one or two features I feel are quite critical, the displays work fabulously. Basically with the aid of 4 small buttons either side of the screen plus a ‘Browse’ rotary, a couple of arrow buttons and a back button you get to manage your entire library quite effortlessly.
Using the familiar file tree structure one can toggle between all tracks, playlists, artists, releases, genre or label search with ease and I certainly found this way better than trying the same thing on the laptop screen with my X1. Using normal deck mode, you get the familiar waveform which can be magnified to move slower or faster and all the other info that NI thinks you want to see about a track such as Track Name, Artist name, BPM, total track time, time left and whether the track is synced (if not the % the BPM is increased or decreased displays). If you would like to know the key the track is in the bottom left side button next to the screen gives this to you in a pop up display when pressed and also serves as the option to change the key.
This is perhaps the only fault in a near perfectly thought out file browser and deck display – a) in file browsing mode you don’t see the key or key text field when browsing, nor can you sort by this criteria and b) when you enter key mode to either change the key or check the key it only gives you NI’s own key codes, e.g. 5d which is the key of E (I think). On a professional level I’d think a DJ would like to know the actual musical key, such as E, Em, A etc since as a producer you’re more likely to know what relative keys work together than be able to decode NI’s key codes. This does have an impact on those who mix in key and will require some sort of work around until NI hopefully adds it.
Other than that, the screen display is top notch and as you find out in this next section, gets even better when you use the remix decks.
If you want an all-in-one DJ controller to mix two beats then the Kontrol S8 is complete overkill.”Click on the PG 2 button below for the conclusion to the review