Customer Review

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Worth the long wait., January 26, 2011
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This review is from: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 (Electronics)
Native Instruments has been making incremental improvements to their Traktor DJ software, every year or so, ever since Traktor was first introduced in 2000. The software has grown to be a very full-featured dj performance suite and rightly holds a duopoly at the top of the market with Serato.

In 2009 NI began shipping branded hardware tailored to their Traktor software. There were (and are) other companies out there making hardware perfectly usable with Traktor, but NI did do a good job of leveraging their deep knowledge of their own software and their market to deliver devices that integrated with Traktor very tightly. The various flavors of audio interface boxes were excellent. Their first "control surface" unit (the Kontrol X1) was a nifty little box of knobs that was wonderfully matched to the software (it oughta!) and opened up the options for live-performance even more. The Kontrol X1 was strongly geared to djs who spin modern, quantized, "Pro Tools"-era music (trance, techno, pop, most hip-hop, etc.). For those styles, it is a fantastic helper box.

The Kontrol X1 is also a great add-on for folks using Traktor Scratch and it's time-coded control vinyl records on traditional turntables, adding the same direct tactile access to the software looping and effects capabilities that it added for software-only djs.

Where the Kontrol X1 and non-Scratch Traktor software didn't always hit on all cylinders was with djs who spin older or modern non-quantized or analog recorded/edited music, like 70's disco, live band music, or "world" music. Music with tempos that speed up and down randomly just doesn't play well with tools that expect a rigid "beat-grid" structure and trying to work with music like that with just increment-up/down buttons can be nightmarish.

I always knew I wanted more and had a secret dream that NI would take a cue from some of the other manufacturers, the legacy "dj cd players", and the long legacy of vinyl equipment to make an integrated "box" that did it all and did it in a "hands on" way. It took a few years, but NI pretty much read my mind.

The new Kontrol S4 is a great bit of kit. It essentially combines two Kontrol X1 units, a 4-channel dj mixer, an Audio4 DJ sound unit, and dj CD-player style jog wheels and pitch sliders into a combined unit. It's roughly the size of a full-feature dj mixer and fits in where that would live in a typical setup.

The one thing I had always wanted was direct, tactile control of digital music playback and the Kontrol S4 delivers that, in truckloads. The jog wheels have great sensitivity (on par with any I've tried, if not better). They're not vinyl, but they are perfectly acceptable for scratching and other manipulations and do provide a really good "I'm in there" feeling and *instant* access to deck playback, etc., which was the "gimme" for me. The pitch sliders (along with the sliders in the mixer section) have smooth travel with a nice bit of resistance to prevent unwanted movement. The deck control and sample deck triggering buttons are not the "gel" feel that some folks might want, but I think will last longer with the solid plastic NI used. The feel on them is certainly fine, just not to all tastes.

The audio in/out hardware is essentially the same guts as the Audio4 DJ, which has been reviewed elsewhere. Bottom-line on that is that it's great, for 90% of the people out there. There's almost certainly a sub-set that would prefer the tone from different hardware, but that is always the case with pro gear. I personally like the shade the NI boxes have, with a solid bottom end and defined but not overly crisp highs.

Having gigged extensively with a setup of laptop, Kontrol X1, Audio8 DJ, and dj-mixer, the value of having an integrated box can't be overstated for me. The laptop, Kontrol S4, one USB-cable, and a power cord is all I need now. Less boxes and cables, with a net increase in options and capabilities. Yes, I'll take it.

Kontrol S4 ships with a "tweaked" version of Traktor Pro, optimized to work with it and adding features like the sample decks, loop recorder, etc., that aren't available in other versions (yet). It has some cosmetic changes to the look and feel, but nothing too jarring. I honestly didn't even notice the change in color-scheme, etc., until it was pointed out by someone else. The software is fine (it's the already excellent Traktor Pro, with some new toys) - this thing is all about the hardware. Traktor wasn't broke, so thankfully NI didn't try to "fix" it.

The only caveat I have with the Kontrol S4 is in build and construction. Nothing major, just quibbles.

My unit arrived with one of the jog wheel top-plates popped loose. This gave me pause when I was unpacking it. It coming loose may very well be a "feature" to protect the magnetic brake inside the jog wheel. However, the "plate" was pretty easy to align to it's mating support tabs and pop back in. It's stayed in place ever since and since I don't throw my S4 around like a shipping company, I'm assuming it will stay there.

The S4 is a tabletop unit. It has some metal, but the main portions of the case are plastic. This saves a lot of weight (appreciated for gigging) but also means it's not built like a tank like a classic "Tech 12" turntable. The movable parts seem every bit as durable as any other "dj mixer". However, the outer case just isn't going to survive getting banged around a whole lot.

NI is advertising a matching hard flight case, which I would highly recommend to improve the S4's longevity. It needs to be treated like any other mixer and I have no doubt that if treated properly it will keep chugging for years to come.

Final thoughts - It's obvious I'm thrilled with this thing. Before, I often felt like I was mixing with boxing gloves on my hands and now they've been taken off. I've only scratched the surface of the S4's capabilities and I'm looking forward to lots of productive gigs with it.
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4.2 out of 5 stars (54 customer reviews)
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