Traktor Kontrol S5 Review – All the STEMS action, but more compact
This Traktor Kontrol S5 review was done at Red Revenge on Durban Road, Bellville in Cape Town. It was at their grand opening a few weeks back and I convinced them to let me demonstrate the new Native Instruments STEMS Controllers to visitors on the day.
If you’re still not sure what the new STEMS file format is, read this…
Although I’d tested the Traktor Kontrol S8 and the Traktor Kontrol D2 before, both of which have been reviewed on this site, doing an off-the-cuff live demo and ultimately testing it for a Traktor Kontrol S5 review without having ever touched the unit before was an eye opener, mainly because it reminded me just how intuitive Native Instruments’ DJ controllers are.
Not just a smaller S8, not an S4 replacement
The first thing I made a note of for my Traktor Kontrol S5 review was to compare the S5 to the S8 and gauge what the tangible differences are. My knee-jerk reaction was also to assume that this new 4-channel controller is the likely replacement for the much loved Kontrol S4.
The Kontrol S5 is smaller than the S8… it’s actually more or less the same dimensions as the S4 so this is a big win in my opinion.
The Kontrol S8 is admittedly a beast of a machine but it is heavy and it is big. If you’re a mobile DJ and you are used to setting up and transporting PA for your gigs then the S8 is great, since it also moonlights as a very good mixer with a host of external inputs and Timecode capability.
But for DJs on the move the Traktor Kontrol S5 is a much more compact option.
It’s also not exactly an S4 replacement because I don’t believe at this stage NI have any plans to discontinue the S4. They’d be mad to; it’s still their best selling all-in-one DJ controller they’ve produced so far.
Also the S4 is still the perfect solution for DJs who simply want to blend 2 (or 4) tracks together without all the fancy new features that NI have come out with.
As you can see from the image above Traktor Kontrol S5 has fewer knobs and buttons than the S8. This makes complete sense since it is more compact and fitting all the same bells and whistles on a smaller surface would just be too cramped. But it is important to note that whilst it has fewer controls it does the exact same thing as its flagship big brother… more or less.
Just slightly differently…
They both sport the same high resolution screens and these really are superb. No more staring at laptop screen; these screens have all the info you need from library browsing, to waveform display (standard, remix decks or STEMS), FX and cue points etc so that now familiar side angled laptop DJ stare could be a thing of the past.
Mixer controls are identical and the standout feature here is the nice big filter knob per channel plus the fact that each has a filter on/off button. Killing (or activating) a filter quickly without having to move it back to the centre is a sure way to keep things lively for quick effecting.
The performance pads are identical on the S5 and S8 and both are used for Traktor’s brilliant features such as FREEZE (being able to trigger individual slices within that loop) and FLUX which allows one to jump between cue points, but still maintain the phrasing of a track.
But the pads take on more significance when it comes to using STEMS as the one thing the S5 doesn’t have is individual volume sliders for the four STEMS channels. At first I was perplexed by this but as usual NI have come up with clever ways to circumvent this by using the top and bottom row of pads to activate/deactivate an individual STEMS channel. It’s not quite as tactile as whipping a slider up and down but it works well enough and achieves the same result.
Both sport the Touchstrip which can be used to nudge your track into sync or if you’re using the actual sync button (recommended with the S5 and S8) to adjust the phrasing slightly since perfect on-beat matching does not always sounds the best, musically.
The Touchstrip can also be used for scrubbing through a track and even for scratching although the verdict is definitely out on this one. These two features are used in conjunction with the shift button and this is how you get the S5 gets to do most of what the S8 can do minus the extra knobs and buttons – by using the shift key.
It’s not always 100% ideal as it requires a bit more brain power and two hands but if you don’t know any other way i.e. you’ve never used an S8 or D2, you won’t really miss the extra buttons.
This Traktor Kontrol S5 review left me with mixed feelings about NI’s latest controller. But mostly all positive.
I love the compactness, the build quality is excellent, it obviously works seamlessly with Traktor Pro 2 and you get to really reap the rewards of all the features that this awesome DJ software has to offer.
As far as STEMS controllers with the awesome screens go, you have a choice between going large with the Kontrol S8 or modular with the Kontrol D2, both of which offer the same deck controls including separate volume sliders per STEM. Or you can choose somewhere in between with the Kontrol S5, minus the aforementioned channel sliders and some extra buttons.
Personally I prefer the control of STEMS and REMIX DECKS on the S8 or D2 to the S5 but other than this one thing, this latest DJ controller from Native Instruments is very well thought out. Some may actually prefer the straight forwardness of simply activating and deactivating a channel with a pad and the reality is, most will want the portability of the S5.
For owners of the S4 who are thinking about embracing REMIX DECKS and STEMS, the Kontrol S5 is a no-brainer and for any Laptop DJ that wants to do more than simply blend two tracks together, this all-in-one DJ controller should be taken into serious consideration.
- Great Build Quality
- Touch-sensitive knobs
- Seamless integration with Traktor Pro 2
- Excellent and very functional screens (no gimmicks)
- Similar size to S4 – portable enough for gigs
- No volume sliders per STEMS channel
This Traktor Kontrol S5 review was made possible by the SA distributors for Native Instruments, Tuerk Music Technologies and was done at Red Revenge in Cape Town.