Finally I got to try out Native Instruments’ new Traktor Kontrol S4. It’s been a long time coming simply because as the stock landed so it has sold out. What really excited me and indeed many, many people worldwide who have rushed out and bought the product is the next generation Traktor software that comes with the unit. This and the perception that Native Instruments have the edge over all other manufacturers as many may reason as logical, that the guys who produce the software should also produce the ideal controller to operate it. So let’s have a closer look at both the Traktor S4 Controller and of course the Traktor S4 Software.
Unpacking the Traktor Kontrol S4
Unpacking the Kontrol S4, my first impression was one of ‘wow it’s quite large,’ but considering the fact that it houses several extra functions not found on any other controllers of this nature, it’s not all that surprising.
Don’t get me wrong… the width of the unit is very much in line with others, it just happen to be a little broader but only by probably 5 % or so. Build quality seems pretty sturdy. I won’t say it’s the toughest built controller I’ve come across but nonetheless it is weighty (but not heavy), and is made from a combination of brushed metal and high grade plastic. It’s austere in a very German way and whilst clearly a solid overall build, the shiny plastic surface on the mixer section does look like it could get scratched quite easy.
A Closer look…
On the back of the unit you will find all the usual suspects; a couple of spare sets of RCA stereo inputs (phono and line), a mic input (jack only), TRS and RCA outputs, a MIDI pass through, and a footswitch jack which I’m sure someone somewhere will be getting excited about.
The front of the unit houses the headphone jack, volume, cue and mic volume controls. These knobs are really nifty as they are sunken into the unit but simply by pressing them they pop out for use. Most of you will find the top of the controller at first glance looks the same as any other all-in-one device of this nature but there are some key differences. The most notable is the positioning of the jog-wheels. Whereas most companies place the jog-wheels near the bottom of the unit with just the transport buttons (Play, cue, cup, sync) underneath these, the S4 houses the platters three-quarter way up the controller with a whole bunch of buttons beneath. This is actually the first thing most DJ’s I showed the unit to noticed and seemed to dislike, but on closer inspection it actually makes complete sense as this section not only hosts the aforementioned buttons it’s also the complete loop, hot cue and sample trigger section.
So everything to do with triggering a track is found here. Also thanks to the accurate tempo syncing of Traktor one really has to adopt a new approach to DJing. It’s not about beat-mixing any more. Any DJ should actually be able to match two beats… it’s about looping, re-looping, beat mashups, re-triggering and overlaying of multiple tracks and samples. That’s the new age of DJing. Not simply playing one track until the last minute, then mixing the next one and so on. That’s oldskool bro!
I dig the jog-wheels by the way. It’s not until you’re plugged in and running that you appreciate how well they are calibrated. What’s also nifty is that should you wish to nudge a track into sync the outer rim is ideal for this (just like the good old turntable) but if you want to scratch or track seek, simply press down slightly on the top of the platter. Above each platter you will find the FX section, understandably laid out exactly like Traktor with rotaries for dry/wet, and three FX units along with on/off buttons. The four channel mixer section hosts master and gain controls at the top with 3 band EQ and then a prominent filter button. The volume sliders are short but adequate and each has VU meters as does the master out at the top, albeit pretty short ones too. The browser rotary is smack bang in the middle top half of the mixer. A great new feature though is the Loop recorder section, but more about that when we look at the actual S4 software.
The S4 is amply lit up with all kinds of nifty and helpful lights and indicators to keep you informed as you play. For example when you push a volume slider up, the ‘on air’ light for that deck comes on to tell you you’re live on that channel. Likewise the loop size rotary displays the size in beats that you’re currently set to. NI have endeavored to give the user as much info on the deck as possible to negate staring at the laptop screen too much and this does go a long way towards ease of use. It does not take long to get used to all the controls although some buttons are still a little cramped. Overall though everything feels really good and deliberate with the right amount of resistance or notching according the function of said knob or button.
Traktor S4 Software
The Traktor S4 software which is only available with the Kontrol S4 at the moment is what really sets this package apart. Fortunately Traktor Pro 2 is due for release soon and then all these amazing new features will be available to all Traktor users who upgrade. The program has four individual sample decks per track deck which can be used to pull samples from your track in real time while you’re playing them. This is where the dedicated record section on the mixer that I spoke about earlier becomes so handy. Basically you can record, play and change the size of a sample in real time while the track is playing out.
Once you’re happy with the sample it can be moved to any one of the four sample slot’s by simply pressing that slots play button at which point you can trigger the loops with that same play button. The hot cue buttons, when in sample mode, i.e. decks c or d are active act as great single shot triggers within the sample. Since the four sample slots on each side are assigned to channels c & d respectively, you have full control over them in terms of volume, filter, EQ and of course the full bank of FX at your disposal. But let’s say you’re running all four samples on one side at once. You have an extra volume and filter envelope to balance these within each bank. This all works fantastically well and it took all of about 5 minutes for me to figure it out and start having fun.
Library browsing is really simple and intuitive with only one minor oversight and that’s being able to scroll down at double time. Some sort of PG down, PG Up feature would have been handy. You also have the option of using Traktor S4 software in standard mode or in regular four deck mode.
At first glance the S4 software may not seem that much different to Traktor Pro. I must admit I did think it was just a slightly craftier way of re-packaging the four deck concept until I discovered the loop recording on the fly and the simple assigning of these to the sample slots. This opens up such vast potential and when combined with looping, hot-cueing and the awesome FX of Traktor… well as the cliché goes, the sky is indeed the limit.
What you get with the Kontrol S4 and its respective software is a complete package ready to mix, remix and perform straight out of the box without any clever re-mapping or midi assignments required to get your groove on. No wonder it’s selling like hotcakes.
Price: R 9,995.00 incl. VAT
Supplier: Tuerk Music Technologies
Tel: (011) 792 8402
Written By : Dave Mac