Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2

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While it’s not the game-changer the Kontrol S4 was, the 2-channel Kontrol S2 delivers a formidable all-in-one Traktor Pro 2 package for budding digital DJs, as well as experienced controllerists. On one hand, it’s tempting to call the S2 the S4 Lite, and on the other hand, that’s not such a bad thing to be. Let’s check out this little brother and decide if it deserves a pat on the back or a vicious noogie.

Reviewed: Native Instruments Kontrol S2

Price: $669 (MSRP), $599 (common retail price)

Communication: MIDI over USB (AC or bus powered)  /  (Mac and Windows)

Available: Now in the web store

Ships with: Traktor Pro 2, loop and one-shot collection, international power adapters, USB 2.0 cable

Weight: 6 pounds (2.7 kg)

Dimensions: 17.2 x 11.5 x 1.7 inches (43.8 x 29.2 x 4.4 cm)

System Requirements: Windows XP (latest Service Pack, 32-bit), Windows Vista (latest Service Pack, 32-bit/64-bit) or Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32-bit/64-bit), Pentium 4 2.4GHz or Intel Core or AMD Athlon 64, 2 GB RAM, USB 2.0 port, 500 MB free disk space (minimum) / Mac OS X 10.6.8 or 10.7, Intel Core Duo, 2 GB RAM, USB 2.0 port, 500 MB free disk space (minimum)

THE GOOD:

Same great sound quality as the Kontrol S4 and other NI audio interfaces. Added independent gain control for the booth outputs. Includes full version of Traktor Pro 2. MIDI mode for controlling other MIDI gear. USB bus power option. Designed to squeeze the most out of the reduced number of controls.

THE BAD:
Still no EQ kill switches. No auxiliary line input or footswitch input. No MIDI I/O. Can’t switch from Group to Single effects modes with the hardware. Decks C and D are available only as Sample Decks. No hardware controls for the loop recorder or FX Units 3 & 4. No dedicated Filter knob. Limited control over the Sample Decks. No price break for licensed Traktor Pro users.

THE BOTTOM LINE:

Shaving inches, weight, and $300 off the Kontrol S4 also means a significant slash in the utility of the Kontrol S2. However, with two Track Decks, two Sample Decks, robust looping, killer effects, a high-quality 24/96 soundcard, and a full copy of Traktor Pro 2, the S2 could be the go-to choice for beginners, those switching to Traktor, or for those switching over from vinyl or DVS.

FUN SIZE


Last year, the Kontrol S4 made a splash in the DJ world as NI’s first four-deck controller. Its Traktor Pro S4 software set the groundwork for Traktor Pro 2′s Sample Decks and enhanced looping features. It broke ground, caused a lot of drooling, and made me personally switch to Traktor for good. Yet its burly size and $899 street price made some prospective buyers hit pause. It only weighed 7.5 pounds, but its 19.7 x 12.7 x 2-inch frame caused some problems for the backpack set.

Enter the Kontrol S2, a more standard-size 2-channel controller that still attempts to wield the extraordinary power of Traktor Pro 2. At 6 pounds, it does feel significantly lighter than the S4, and its 17.2 x 11.5-inch dimensions add up to 198 square inches of tabletop footprint, compared to the S4′s 250 square inches.

For that reduction, the S2 loses a whole lot more than just 2 channel strips. Gone also are the hardware Loop Recorder controls, dedicated filter knobs, a row of buttons and the display off of each deck’s sample/loop controls, and various other buttons, like toggles for Snap and Quantize modes. There are no Channel C and D audio inputs for incorporating DVS systems or MIDI I/O.

But I’ll stop focusing on the negative and point out the real advantages of the S2, mainly the legacy technology passed down from the S4: the same tight hardware/software integration—featuring NI’s NHL communication protocol for 30 times more data transfer than MIDI, a solid build quality, smart, efficient control layout, an excellent 24-bit/96kHz soundcard, and of course Traktor Pro 2 software, which the S4′s design helped inform.

JOG WHEELS AND CROSSFADER

It’s the same story here as on the S4—a story worth re-reading. The jog wheels’ top plates are touch-sensitive and switch-activated (like the CDJ jog wheels), giving you an accurate sense of timing. Their high-resolution gives you 1,000 points per revolution for excellent responsiveness. In short, these are small, but still nice scratching wheels—for a controller. If you live or die by scratching, you’re probably not making them your main instrument. You can also turn off scratching on the software preferences, if the thought of accidentally scratching a track during a show makes you wet yourself a little.

Rubberized, outer rims on the jog wheels have magnetic resistance and provide sensitive and precise tempo bending. You can also press Shift and use a jog wheel to quickly scroll forward and backward within a track.

The S2 crossfader feels exactly the same as on the S4—perfectly fine for most controllers, but again not made for battle DJs. Neither is it officially replaceable.

BROWSING TRACKS

The S2′s track browsing scheme is a bit scaled back, but should still keep your fingers off the computer. A single Browse push-encoder and Load A and B buttons do the trick. Turning the Browse encoder scrolls through tracks, and pushing it toggles the Browser Layout for a bigger look at your tracks. Shift + Browse encoder scrolls through playlists and folders on the left, and pushing opens those folders. The only big thing missing from the S4′s feature set is a way to quickly headphone-preview a track from the controller.

TWO TURNTABLES AND A MICROPHONE… AND SAMPLERS

For a while now, four-deck controllers have been the standard to keep up with the industry trends. We know a lot of you rockstars out there actually use 3-4 decks in your sets, and I’d like to say thank you for being awesome. More decks allow greater freedom and the potential for sicker sets (or worse trainwrecks). But to some extent, the four-deck trend is partially a way to keep the hardware and software iteration cycle chugging along and to justify replacing old models with the new during every specified fiscal quarter. When the market is fully saturated with four-deck controllers, something else will magically come along.

With the S2, NI engineered a rather elegant compromise: Track Decks for Decks A and B, and Sample Decks for Decks C and D. This solution gives you a large part of the functionality that many people want out of third and fourth decks, without the bloat of the extra channel strips. Don’t get me wrong, I’d much rather have the full channel strip control over the Sample Decks like you have with the S4, but the S2 still gives you hardware control over the sample’s volume, playback and effects. Their channel strips, including dedicated filter, are intact in the software, so you could parse them out to another controller if necessary.

Each Sample Deck has four sample slots for holding one-shots or loops of up to 32 beats. Decks C and D record from and sync to the tempo of Decks A and B respectively. You can load samples from the Track Collection (where sample from previous sessions are saved), create a loop and assign it to a Sample button, or create a new sample based on the current loop length by hitting an empty Sample button, either while the Track Deck is playing or stopped.

You switch to Sample mode by hitting the A or B buttons in the Samples section of the S2 mixer. That toggles the Cue/Samples section of each deck to control the creation and playback of samples. The lone Samples knob controls the overall volume of all 8 sample slots, which is kind of a drag, but you do still have individual sample volume controls in the software. You can assign Deck C and D to FX Units 1 & 2 using Shift + FX 1 or FX 2 buttons underneath the channel Gain encoders.

In the absence of the dedicated Filter knobs on the S4, you can control the filter of Decks A or B with Shift + Gain. That’s a less-than-ideal solution, because the Gain encoder is notched, resulting in filter sweeps of ±4 percent with every notch. The filter control for Decks C and D is software-only.

With the S4, you could switch the full deck controls to C or D, giving you the ability to scratch or tempo bend the samples with the jog wheels, but that’s not the case with the S2. Also, we’re still waiting for the ability to save and then reload groups of 2-8 samples with group names, which would be a powerful tool for live remixing. Pretty please, NI?

In case you were wondering, I was able to make Decks C and D into Track Decks in the software and load songs into them. However, the S2 does not output their audio.

Oh yeah, about that microphone. You can plug a condenser mic (no phantom power available) into the 1/4-inch microphone input on the back panel. There’s also a Mic Gain control in the back, and a Mic Engage button on the front for activating the mic channel, which routes directly to the main output. You can use the mic channel whether the S2 is connected to a computer or not.

CUE POINTS AND LOOPS

When not in Sample Mode, the Cue/Samples sections are dedicated to setting and playing Hotcues, NI’s catch-all term for cue points and live loops. You get eight of them per track, but only four hardware buttons. Their LEDs light up blue when there’s a cue point stored there, or green for loops, which can be bounced to open Sample slots. Like with the S4, we recommend using a good 16-button or pad grid like the Maschine or the MIDI Fighter with the S2 if you engage in spirited cue point juggling. The four cue buttons here aren’t particularly well spaced or constructed for being played like a percussion instrument.

With fewer controls in the Cue/Samples section than the S4, the S2 makes judicious use of the Shift button. For instance, the Loop Move encoder moves the active loop or the track playhead forward or backward by the length of the current Loop size, or by 1-beat steps when Shift is held.

If you don’t need the Loop In and Out buttons for creating loops of irregular size on the fly, the S2 Control Options in the Preferences let you switch them to Auto Loop. After that the Loop In and Out buttons will create new 4-beat or 8-beat loops, respectively or halve or double the length of active loops, respectively.

EFFECTS

Traktor’s effects have established their own legend and could be the subject of their own review; NI even sells a bundle of 12 of them as a separate product. But since the S4 dropped, Traktor Pro 2 has added four new effects, bringing the total to 32. The new crop consists of Tape Delay, Ramp Delay, Bouncer and Auto Bouncer. The Bouncers give you a fun way to play with both controlled and uncontrolled re-pitchings and re-triggerings of segments of the incoming audio, and of course all of the effects sound great and offer tempo syncing.

With the S2, you only get hardware control over FX Units 1 and 2. You can activate all four FX Units in the Preferences, but you’ll only have software control over Units 3 and 4.

AUDIO INTERFACE

To my ears, the 24-bit/96-kHz audio interfaces of the Kontrol S2 and the Kontrol S4, which used the same components and technology as the well-regarded NI Audio 4 DJ, sound the same. What that means essentially is that you’re getting not just a usable sound card inside of a controller, but one that you’ll use happily. These soundcards hold their own against dedicated units that cost more than the S4 itself, only sacrificing the tiniest bit of warmth and definition under close scrutiny.

Connections include two main outputs: balanced 1/4-inch TRS (that can route to XLR inputs with the right cables) and unbalanced RCA for booth outputs. In answer to user feedback, NI included a separate Gain Level on the back panel for the RCA booth outputs.

The headphone section up front includes your 1/4-inch stereo headphone out, Cue Volume and Cue Mix knobs, both of which can push into the unit to stay out of the way.

The S2 also shares the same high output levels as the S4, which adds up to plenty of gain from both mains and the headphones.

USB BUS POWER VS. POWER ADAPTER

Just as with the S4, the S2 comes with an AC Adapter with a set of international plugs. AC power, however, is optional. You can run the S2 off of a fully powered USB 2.0 port. If you go that route, the LEDs dim down to what I consider a nearly unusable level, unless in darkness, and the headphone level drops slightly.

On the plus side, when I pulled the power cord out during use, the main audio output did not cut out at all, as it did for a couple of seconds with the S4. I could also hotplug the AC cord right back in with no disruption. This means the USB cable is your life line, and the robust USB port holds the cable stubbornly in place, much more strongly than your average printer.

INSIDE LOOK

Our very own “Army of me” made an excellent video showing a performance and look at the s2 in person!

DOWNSIZED: DO MORE WITH LESS?

If you’ve ever been “downsized” from a job, you may have heard the conveniently trite cliché that “this is a chance to explore new opportunities”. Well, just as that is an attempt to polish a turd, it would be misleading and incorrect to say that the scaled back controls and capabilities on the 2-channel Kontrol S2 free you up to unleash your mixing creativity to an even greater extent than on the 4-channel Kontrol S4. Yes, in the hands of a master, you may never know the difference (see video below). After all, a Picasso is a Picasso whether it’s a pencil sketch or an oil painting. A creative DJ has plenty to work with here. Any way you slice it, the heart of the operation is Traktor Pro 2; you just may need to touch the dreaded computer or use a supplementary controller to use everything the software offers.

Most likely, DJs aren’t going to choose between the S4 or the S2 anyway. The S2 steps in as an excellent choice for Traktor Pro 2 users for whom the S4 was just too big and bulky, too overwhelming, or too expensive. At $599 street, the S2 includes Traktor Pro 2 ($199 street on its own) and a high-quality audio interface ($99 street for the Traktor Audio 2), leaving about $300 on the price for just the controller. That’s a hands-down good buy if you don’t already own Traktor Pro. Unfortunately, there’s no discount on the price for licensed Traktor Pro or Pro 2 users.

In the year or so since the Kontrol S4′s launch, the number of new controllers that have vied for your attention seems almost laughable when you think about how controllers themselves were being laughed at just a few years ago. In this now-crowded space, a new controller that’s a scaled-back version of a better controller seems about as exciting as another club instituting a dress code.

Still, if the biggest fault of the S2 is that it’s not the S4, that makes it the second-best all-in-one controller for Traktor. How does that grab ya? Please let us know your thoughts, praises, criticisms, and what you’re wearing in the comments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Markkus Rovito is a journalist who’d rather be DJing, drumming, and singing, all of which he does as much as possible during work hours. The former Tech Editor for the defunct Remix Magazine has also written for Electronic Musician, Keyboard, Gearwire, Mac | Life, Maximum PC, and a bunch of stuff you can’t get on your iPad.

Additional Links:

Traktor Kontrol S2: Exclusive Look

Review: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4

Purchase the Kontrol S4 with a Complimentary DVD tutorial by Ean Golden

Written by Markkus Rovito on October 18th, 2011

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 Review

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 Review

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Time to exhale; the Traktor Kontrol S4 four-deck controller for Traktor Pro is here, and DJ Tech Tools has a full review. Native Instruments’ first all-in-one, 4-channel controller/soundcard for Traktor Pro comes with the specialized Traktor Pro S4 software, as well as some lofty expectations. Let’s find out where the S4 lives up to the hype, and where it may fall a bit short.

Reviewed: Native Instruments Kontrol S4

Price: $999 (MSRP), $899 (common retail price)

Communication: MIDI over USB (requires power supply)  /  (Mac and Windows)

Available: Now in the DJTT web store!

Ships with: Traktor Pro S4, loop collection, international power adapter, USB 2.0 cable

Weight: 7.5 pounds (3.4 kg)

Dimensions: 19.7 x 12.7 x 2 inches (50 x 32.2 x 5.2 cm)

Minimum System Specs: Windows XP (latest Service Pack, 32-bit) or Vista/7 (32-bit or 64-bit), Core2 or AMD X2, 2 GB RAM / Mac OS X 10.5 or higher, Intel Core Duo 1.66 GHz, 2 GB RAM

Recommended System Specs: Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32-bit or 64-bit), Core2 Duo / AMD X2 2.00 GHz or Core i5, 4 GB RAM / Mac OS X 10.6, Intel Core2 Duo 2.00 GHz or Core i5, 4 GB RAM

THE GOOD:
All-in-one 4-deck software/controller/audio interface system based on tried and true Native Instruments technology. Comes with Traktor Pro S4 with new Sample Decks and Loop Recorder. MIDI compatibility for other gear and software, but much higher resolution control between the hardware and Traktor Pro S4. Two analog inputs and excellent Audio 4 DJ-like sound quality.

THE BAD:
No price break yet for licensed Traktor Pro users. Operating on USB bus power alone is not recommended due to dim LEDs. Big-time cue point juggler and button mashing controllerists will probably still want a supplemental “grid” controller. No group saving of sample sets. Not compatible with DVS systems yet (NI says this is coming soon).

THE BOTTOM LINE:
Native Instruments has delivered on its promise to create an all-in-one 4-deck Traktor Pro system with admirable software/hardware integration, a nod to the burgeoning controllerist community, and a soundcard that’s actually worth using. By not trying to be all things to all DJs, they’ve designed a system that may not be exactly what you want, but is closer to it than anything else this year.

HARDWARE/SOFTWARE INTEGRATION

What made the Kontrol S4 so exciting is that it’s the first 4-deck controller built by Native Instruments for its popular Traktor Pro platform. In addition, the German company designed a new program built on the Traktor Pro engine called Traktor Pro S4, which specifically integrates with the Kontrol S4 for tight, smooth operation. Pro S4′s revamped GUI includes a greyscale aesthetic for improved visibility and a simplified master clock section. But the big news for the Pro S4 software are the two sample/loop decks that can stand in for the 3rd and 4th track decks, and the loop recorder that includes layered recording for live improvisation.

Both of those key additions have corresponding control sections on the Kontrol S4. Even though the Kontrol S4 can be a MIDI controller for other software, it uses NI’s NHL protocol to talk to the Pro S4 software, which allows 30 times more data transfer than MIDI. That translates to very responsive and smooth control that you’ll notice when operating faders or doing filter sweeps and effects tweaks.

THE HARDWARE STORY

Much has been made about the Kontrol S4′s size, which at almost 20 inches wide and 13 inches deep, is significantly larger than the Vestax VCI-100, and is even bigger than the bulky M-Audio Xponent. Large DJ bags I have that accommodate those two controllers couldn’t fit the Kontrol S4, but Native Instruments does have a flight case/performance stand available for $189 MSRP, and you can bet that compatible bags and cases will be popping up (one DJTT reader suggests the Camelbak Motherlode).

Despite the unit’s size, it’s weight, at only 7.5 pounds, is good news for weary backs and shoulders. Hauling it around is an easy task, but that brings up questions of durability. If you’re familiar with NI’s Maschine, the Kontrol S4 brings a very similar build quality, with aluminum plating over the two decks and a plastic case. By no means does it feel flimsy, but neither is it built to absorb relentless poundings for decades on end like Technics 1200 turntables. The bottom line is that you’ll want to protect this investment well if you’re taking it to gigs.

Two decks on either side of the unit showcase identical control sets. An effects section sits above the jogwheel, and a highly responsive pitch fader flanks the loop/sample/cue/transport section.

The four-channel mixer section features 3-band EQ and a filter for each channel. Beautiful blue-and-orange LED meters show the pre-fader level for each channel. If you get clipping on the meter, adjust the level down using the channel’s Gain encoder, and at any time you can push the encoder to return to the original gain level. The filters and EQ sound warm and creamy, and the high-resolution action on them is great. However, I’m dismayed at the absence of EQ kill controls for each of the three bands.

Kontrol S4′s rubberized knobs and push-button endless rotary encoders feel solid and sturdy with a satisfying action, as do to 60 mm pitch and channel faders. Six rubber feet on the bottom secure the unit to a tabletop.

JOG WHEELS

Many people want to know how the Kontrol S4 jog wheels are for scratching. The short answer is that they are excellent for scratching… for controller jog wheels. Their tops plates are touch-sensitive and switch-activated (like the CDJ jog wheels), so scratching with them gives you an accurate sense of timing for releasing the “record.” Also, they are high-resolution wheels, with 1,000 points per revolution, and as a result, their responsiveness is excellent. Personally, I prefer larger wheels or scratching, and even without that caveat, these aren’t going to the be the vinyl-killing jog wheels for turntablists. While on the subject of scratching, I’ll mention that the Kontrol S4′s crossfader is one of the nicest I’ve felt on any non-Vestax DJ controller. However, it does not live up to high-end crossfaders on scratch mixers, and it is not officially replaceable.

The jog wheels’ rubberized, outer rims provide a nice grip for tempo bending, and their magnetic resistance aids in giving you very sensitive and precise tempo bending.

You can also press Shift and use a jog wheel to quickly scroll forward and backward on a deck’s track. It’s the fastest way to skip to a certain part of a track on the S4.

BROWSING TRACKS

Searching for and loading tracks requires only the Kontrol S4 — no mouse or keyboard. Pressing the Browse button set the software to Browse mode, then use the Loop Move encoders to scroll through the folders and playlists on the left or the Loop Size encoders to scroll through the favorite playlists at the top. Push the encoders to open folders. Once in the folder you want, use the jog wheels or the Browse encoder in the middle to scroll through tracks. Then hit the Load button for the deck you want to load to.

To preview a track in the headphone cue, browse to it and push the Browse encoder. That start the preview player, and you can use the Browse encoder to skip through the track as you listen. It’s also possible to copy any track, sample, or recorded loop from one deck for effect slot to another.

The browsing and loading process is simple and efficient — everything a digital DJ should want out of a hardware controller. I do however wish that Shift + Loop Move would scroll through folders at a higher speed, as my iTunes library has hundreds of folders in it.

FOUR DECKS & FX

Traktor Pro S4′s decks A and B are always set as Track Decks, whereas decks C and D can be each configured as a Track Deck, Sample Deck or Live Input to play audio from the two analog inputs. You can for instance have three Track Decks and one Sample Deck, or two Track Decks and two Live Inputs, etc.

Each of the four decks can be routed to FX1, FX2 or both, by activating the FX buttons under the Gain knobs on each mixer channel. The Mode button on each FX Unit toggles between Group mode (three effects at once) and Single effect mode (one effect with three editable parameters). In Single mode, Shift + FX On scrolls through the list of 28 effects to choose from, and in Group mode, Shift + FX buttons 1-3 selects from the list. Another wishlist item here: make effect selection faster by using Shift + the FX Units knobs.

If you activate four FX Units in Preferences, FX Units 1-4 will be assigned to decks A-D respectively, and that cannot be changed. Other than that, using four deck can be fun, but there is seemingly a quirk in the software where a sample Deck C or D that was pulled from Deck A or B will still be assigned to the FX for Deck A and B rather than their own FX Unit.

For those unfamiliar with Traktor, I’ll just say briefly that the effects on offer draw from NI’s extensive effects expertise. They all sound great and many of them are remarkably expressive, especially when you dig into them in Single mode. From basic delay and reverb to live remixing effects like Beat Slicer and Beat Masher or the beautifully mutating Flanger Pulse and Reverse Grain, there’s enough here to keep you engrossed for hours of practice. With two FX Units in Group mode, you can have up to six tempo-synced effects on a single source… if you dare.

CUE POINTS AND LOOPS

Setting cue points in Traktor Pro S4 is as easy as hitting the Kontrol S4 1-4 Hotcue buttons as a track plays. If you have the Snap button engaged on the hardware, Pro S4 will automatically set the cue point at the nearest beat marker. Shift + Hotcue buttons will delete cue points.

Many of us can’t or don’t want to live with a measly four cue point triggers, so you have the option in Preferences to set the Samples buttons to be Hotcues 5-8. However, what would be even better is to be able to cycle through the function of the Samples buttons on the fly somehow, without have to open Preferences.

The small display and first row of controls beneath the jog wheel control your loops. The Loop size encoder sets the length of a loop (1/32, 1/16, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 or 32 beats). Pushing Loop Size then sets a loop of that length automatically. Use the encoder to lengthen or shorten the loop on the fly, and then exit the loop by pushing Loop Move.

You can set loops manually with the Loop In and Out buttons and fine tune the in/out points if needed by holding down the Loop In/Out buttons and using the jog wheel.

Once a loop is set, the Loop Move encoder moves it forward or backward in the track according to the displayed loop length. You can store an active loop to an empty Hotcue slot by pressing a Hotcue button. Loop Hotcue light up green, while cue point Hotcues light up blue.

SAMPLE DECKS AND LOOP RECORDER


Traktor Pro S4′s Sample Decks have four sample slots each for holding one-shots or loops of up to 32 beats long. Sample Decks C and D recording from and sync to the tempo of Track Decks A and B respectively. You can fill the sample slots by either loading them from your Track Collection, creating a loop and assigning it to a Sample button, or creating a sample based on the current loop length by hitting an empty Sample button, either while the Track Deck is playing or stopped.

Once you have samples in slots, press the Sample buttons once to trigger playback and again to stop. For more control over the samples, switch to Deck C or D. Then the Hotcue buttons become re-trigger buttons for each sample, and the jog wheel applies to them for sample scratching or tempo bending. Also, the Loop Move encoder becomes a sample volume knob, while Loop Size become a sample filter. All the while, you still have full mixer channel control over the Sample Deck and FX options as well.

The Loop Recorder can record from either the Main Output of Traktor Pro S4, the output of any deck with the Cue button activated, or from the Aux input, which is likely to be a microphone plugged into Channel D of the Kontrol S4. In the S4′s Loop Recorder section, press the Size button to scroll through recorded loop sizes of 4, 8, 16, or 32 beats (synced to the master tempo). Press Rec and record your loop. When finished, your recording will play back, and you can adjust the Dry/Wet knob to mix the loop with the rest of the audio. At this point, you can hit Undo to scrap the recording, record again to overdub a layer, or bounce the recording to an empty sample slot.

If all the sample slots are full, you can clear them out by pressing Shift + Sample button. Don’t worry, all your samples are saved automatically to your collection in the All Samples favorite folder. One area NI could improve on in a software update is to make it possible to save and then reload groups of 2-8 samples with group names, so a DJ could really exploit the ability of the Sample Decks to be the foundation of a completely original set.

AUDIO INTERFACE

A built-in 2-in, 2-out audio interface within the Kontrol S4 makes use of the same components and technology as the well-regarded NI Audio 4 DJ interface. You get the same or at least practically identical audio quality in the S4 as in the Audio 4 DJ all the way up to 24-bit/96 kHz resolution.

Connections include two main outputs: balanced 1/4-inch (that can route to XLR inputs with the right cables) and unbalanced RCA. There is no booth output with a separate volume knob, but both main outputs can be used simultaneously and routed to separate speakers.

Two audio input sections on the back panel both include stereo RCA inputs with a line/phono switch and grounding. The second input, Channel D, also includes a 1/4-inch microphone input for condenser mics (no phantom power available) with a gain knob for setting mic level on the back and a Mic Vol knob on the front to set the mic level to the master output. Channel D also has a USB/Thru switch for its audio input. When set to USB, the Channel input gets routed through Pro S4′s internal mixer, but when the switch is set to Thru, the Channel D audio input goes straight to the Kontrol S4 master output. That can helpful if your software or computer crashes, and you have an analog deck, iPod or second mixer set up on the Thru channel for quick back-up.

SOUND QUALITY

I A/B tested the Kontrol S4 against a TC Electronic StudioKonnekt 48 FireWire interface playing the same songs out of the same speakers. Most people, including myself, would consider the StudioKonnekt to be a higher-end interface than NI’s line, but the difference in audio quality was negligible. I felt that the StudioKonnekt pumped out a slightly more defined, warm and round sound, but one could hardly tell the difference. Overall, I’m very pleased with the sound quality of the Kontrol S4.

Its soundcard sends plenty of signal as well. There’s nothing to worry about as far as having a loud enough sound from the S4, either from the main outs or the headphone cue. If you’re using the S4 with only USB bus power, the headphone level dips slightly, but even then it shouldn’t be a problem.

USB BUS POWER VS. POWER ADAPTER

You can run the Kontrol S4 on USB bus power (from a fully powered USB 2.0 bus) with some limitations. In addition to small dip in headphone level, the bigger problem with USB bus power is that the LEDs become extremely dim — so much so that I don’t recommend doing it in daylight or bright light. Even in near darkness the LEDs look very dim when using USB bus power.

Kontrol S4’s LEDs on USB bus power. The difference is even more stark in person.

I prefer running the Kontrol S4 with a power adapter, but when I pulled the power adapter plug out to see what happened during a session, the audio cut out entirely for a second or two before the USB bus power kicked in and the set resumed. Hotplugging the power cord back in did nothing to disrupt the music.

SUMMARY

What I appreciate the most about the Kontrol S4 is that it may be the best example yet from a major DJ gear company of embracing what controllerism is really about: creative freedom, improvisation and using the capabilities of modern technology not just to mimic the older paradigm of DJing, but also to continue to redefine what a DJ does or can do.  The quick-and-easy looping capabilities, Sample Decks, loop recorder and the interconnectedness that keeps it all in sync and flowing really open up a world of creative possibilities that many DJs still have yet to experience. It makes a lot of sense given that Ean Golden designed the hardware and several of the new software features.

It isn’t perfect of course. Traktor Pro S4 is at version 1.0.1 at the time of this review. I’ve pointed out some things I’d like to see, and I’m sure every early S4 user will have his or her own wishlist as well. One other big hole is a complete solution for creating custom user mappings. Right now there is some customization available, but only on top of the default Kontrol S4 mapping.

While the Kontrol S4 certainly feels more like a musical instrument than the average DJ controller, I still recommend a good supplemental controller for all the enthusiastic cue point jugglers and hardcore button mashers. The button grids at the bottom of the Kontrol S4 decks work really well for basic DJ transport needs and cue point jumps, but the switches are too stiff to be comfortably played in a very rigorous manner. For that style of DJing you’re still going to want a supplemental performance controller like the Midi-Fighter that has direct FX presets and high-performance buttons.

All told, I’m very impressed with Kontrol S4 and hope NI gets going on implementing some user suggestions soon. At around $900 street price, I could see it as a value for someone who’s absolutely sure they will use it extensively, but who also doesn’t already own Traktor Pro. Unfortunately, there’s no price break for licensed Traktor Pro users, even though a large chunk of the value of the purchase has to be the Pro S4 software.

For beginners, the Kontrol S4 + a laptop might seem like a steep investment, considering the system requirements call for a recent, robust machine. Then again, many people already have nice laptops to begin with, and there’s plenty of DJ gear out there breaking the 4-digit barrier. The comprehensive manual does attempt to cater to beginners as well, trying to make Traktor Pro less intimidating to the newbies.

The Kontrol S4 has something to offer digital DJs of all experience levels. The tight integration between hardware and software, super-responsive controls, excellent audio quality and innovative performance and live remixing features in a single package take some of the mystery and hassle out of setting up a DJ system and replace it with a helluva lot of fun.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Makkus Rovito was the tech editor for Remix magazine and has written hundreds of technology reviews over the past 10 years. He is also a regular DJ around San Francisco who up until now, has been using the Torq Xponent system.

Written by Markkus Rivito on November 1st, 2010

Additional Links:

Purchase the Kontrol S4 with a Complimentary DVD tutorial by Ean Golden

Traktor Kontrol S4 – (The Backstory on its design)

Native Instruments Audio 4 DJ

Native Instruments introduced AUDIO 4 DJ, a USB 2.0 audio interface specifically designed for TRAKTOR and other DJ software.

Based on the AUDIO 8 DJ interface that is also at the heart of Native Instruments’ TRAKTOR SCRATCH DJ system, the AUDIO 4 DJ offers a 4-in/4-out configuration with the same audio quality, but with a smaller footprint and a more affordable price.

Two stereo inputs with software-switchable phono preamps allow DJs to connect turntables, CD decks and music production gear for various live performance and recording purposes. Two stereo outputs provide the necessary connectivity for routing two decks into an external DJ mixer, or outputting a separate master and cue signal when mixing in software. All audio connections are in RCA format for straightforward interfacing with DJ equipment.

AUDIO 4 DJ is equipped with studio-quality 24bit/96 kHz audio converters from Cirrus Logic that provide crystal-clear treble and rich bass response, and features special high-gain output stages that deliver a powerful +10dBu signal with additional headroom. Low-latency operation down to less than 4ms enables the high degree of precision and responsiveness that professional DJ performances rely on. AUDIO 4 DJ also features a ground point for turntables and an adjustable headphone output, as well as signal level LEDs for all inputs and outputs. The interface is completely bus-powered, making a cumbersome AC adapter unnecessary.

AUDIO 4 DJ comes as a full-featured DJ system due to the inclusion of TRAKTOR LE, a compact version of Native Instruments’ TRAKTOR software that offers two decks with high-quality time-stretching, an integrated mixer, performance effects, loop and cueing functions, and a powerful track database. All owners of AUDIO 4 DJ can also take advantage of a discounted upgrade to the full-featured TRAKTOR PRO software at any time.

AUDIO 4 DJ is available now for purchase in the NI Online Shop for a suggested retail price of $249 / €229 .

This entry was posted in Audio InterfacesUser Reviews and tagged , by synthhead. Bookmark thepermalink.

Native Instruments Audio 2 DJ Interface Review

Native Instruments Audio 2 DJ Interface

The Native Instruments Audio 2 DJ is the entry-level, 2-input/2-output Professional USB 2.0 audio interface which provides top-notch sound quality. The Audio 2 DJ works exactly how DJ’s want providing them with an excellent solution for playing tracks directly from the computer. The Audio 2 DJ interface includes the same internals as the flagship Audio 8 DJ device also offered by NI; meaning anyone who purchases this system will get the same High-end Cirrus Logic converters, low-latency drivers (virtually no digital delay), high output levels and a very wide frequency response making this an excellent device for converting your laptop into the ultimate club system.
The Audio 2 DJ connects to the computer via the USB cable and has two ¼” output channels that can be hooked up to a mixer or used as master and headphone outputs. The Audio 2 DJ also requires the use of a DJ software such as Traktor Pro to manage the music library. The Audio 2 DJ unit comes with the Demo version of Traktor Pro to get you started. The Audio 2 DJ has lit Channel and Output indicators which allow the DJ to see what is playing at a glance…even in a dark club or party situation.
In conclusion, the Audio 2 DJ interface works exactly as advertised. While playing with the unit, I was able to produce very high sound quality with a very low digital to analog delay. If you are a digital only DJ that doesn’t require timecode control or audio recording; then this is definitely the interface for you. The price point is Excellent at only $99.99 brand new. You simply won’t find another DJ interface device with this type of functionality for less. The only gripe I have with this unit is the lack of timecoded functionality. This device would be better if we could also use our physical “decks” with it similar to Serato Scratch Live solution. If you require more outputs, Native Instruments has you covered with the Audio 4 DJ for four outputs and the Audio 8 DJ for eight outputs. On the front of the box; Native Instruments suggests that the Audio 2 DJ is PRACTICAL, PROFESSIONAL, AND PORTABLE, and after my time with the device all three of these statements have proven to be true!

Info: http://www.djbooth.net