If you’ve been to a club, festival, pool party, or bar mitzvah in the past few years and taken a peek at the DJ booth, you’ve seen somebody using Traktor. The widely beloved app, made by the Berlin company Native Instruments, lets a performer seamlessly mix together tracks from their MP3 library to make a non-stop, fluidly changing DJ set. Traktor can be used with hardware controllers too—when plugged into a laptop, these keyboard-like interfaces give a DJ all the same knobs and faders found on an analog mixer. By twisting, bumping, and tapping those hardware controls, the DJ can add some additional nuance and give the proceedings a human touch that software can’t match.
The only hang-up with Traktor is that it’s almost four years old, and the rapid march of technological innovation—especially in touchsreen mobile apps—has led to similar tools that can out-match some of its key features.
Today, Native Instruments is announcing a new version of its mega-popular Traktor suite for digital DJs. Traktor Pro 3 will be available next month, on October 18, for $99. Users of Traktor Pro 2 will be able to upgrade to the new version for $49. Along with the updates to the interface, functions, and audio quality of Traktor, NI is releasing newly redesigned versions of its popular hardware controllers to use with the software. The portable Kontrol S2 ($299) is a user-friendly controller for beginners and iPad DJs, and the less portable but more robust Kontrol S4 ($899) is designed with all of the pro-level features top-tier DJs would need. Both new controllers will ship later this fall. There are no updates to the huge Kontrol S8 controller.
Today’s Traktor updates are just part of a giant refresh NI is making to its many hardware and software tools. The company is updating its music creation hardware; the Komplete Kontrol 88-key keyboard gets a refresh today, and NI is debuting new entry-level Maschine and Kontrol hardware controllers. Aside from Traktor, there are gobs of updates coming in the software realm, with the Komplete 12 suite of virtual musical instruments, the Massive X software synth, and the Kontact 6 sampling platform all arriving in the coming weeks and months. The company’s web services—Sounds.com, The Loop Loft, and Metapop—are also getting updates.
Something for everyone. But I am a DJ and a hardware geek, so I want to tell you about the DJ hardware.
The flagship of the Kontrol line, and the piece you’ll want to fondle immediately if you’re a digital mixmaster, is the larger Kontrol S4. The refresh adds some haptic feedback to the motorized jog wheels—those circular platters on the controller—to make them more closely mimic the feel of real turntables and to add some advanced touch controls. First, if you place your hand on one of the jog wheels when it’s spinning, you can feel a pleasant momentum and weight, and it really does feel as if you’re putting your hand on a moving turntable. You can nudge the wheels forward or apply a little friction to slow them down and do some old-school beat-matching. Squint just right and you’ll think you’re mixing vinyl singles instead of ephemeral MP3 files. It’s neat.
But of course the beauty of the digital world isn’t in the analog emulation, it’s in the expansion of capabilities that comes once you venture outside that domain. The wheels can be used to manually adjust a track’s beat grid. Better, you can spin a jog wheel to scroll through your track’s waveform on the S4’s display screen and set cue points—places where you want to start a song, fire a sample, or engage a loop. Once you set that cue point, it’s represented physically by a little haptic bump in the wheel’s rotation. The feature lets you zero in on a split-second of music with just your fingertips, freeing your eyes and ears to tackle other tasks.
All of this is powered by something NI is calling “Haptic Drive.” During a hands-on demo with the Traktor team last month, the company reps hinted at some new unannounced features that will be added to the S4 and S2 later. Since the Haptic Drive in the jog wheels is controlled by software, the system can be improved with incremental downloads.
The S4 has countless other features pros will love, like the ability to use outboard gear, plug in multiple mics, and to assign loops or custom audio effects to the various pads and knobs on the interface. You can find the long list of newness at the company’s website.
The redesign of the lower-priced Kontrol S2 (at only $299 compared to the S4’s $899, it’ll likely be the more attractive choice for beginners) doesn’t have all the fun haptic voodoo of its big brother. But it’s still a capable controller that’s going to be a great choice for DJs who travel a ton or perform in nonconventional venues like basements, rooftops, beaches, and of course their own bedrooms. The S2 fits in a backpack. It’s USB powered, so you can just plug it into a laptop and not worry about AC power in the DJ booth. And the jog wheels have a premium feel, just without the torque-drive response and haptic feedback of the S4.
Both controllers come with a full version of Traktor Pro 3. The S4 will ship first, in November. The less expensive S2 is slated for “fall” of this year. As long as NI’s release schedule doesn’t slip, you’ll be able to rock the company holiday party with the controller of your choice.