There are now very few DJs that don’t use any digital products at all in their performances. Yes, the DJing industry has certainly undergone a drastic change in recent years and now digital products dominate the market.
One name that has become synonymous with digital DJing is Traktor, Native Instruments’ powerful, industry leading DJing software. Naturally, with this success behind them, the Traktor family has grown to not just include their famous software and interface packages, but also to incorporate a number of dedicated controllers, designed to make interacting with the software as fast and as natural as possible and ultimately to help improve live performances. After all, who wants to watch a DJ staring at a computer screen for an entire set?!
The latest addition to the Traktor range is the S2, a 2.1 channel DJ system. Be aware that this ‘2.1’ tag does not mean what you think it might; it is not a label to represent its frequency output (as with a 5.1 surround sound system), but a specification meaning that it has too full decks and a sample player. The Traktor Kontrol S2 is the smaller sibling of the mighty Traktor Kontrol S4, which allows you to control up to four decks (as well as featuring a few additional hardware controls).
TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 – OUT OF THE BOX
Having used the Traktor Kontrol S4 before, the Kontrol S2 appeared very familiar as I took it out of the box. Yes, it was slightly smaller than the S4 (4.4 x 29.2 x 43.8 cm compared to the 5.2 x 32.2 x 50.2 cm dimensions of the S4) and slightly lighter (2.7kg) than the already lightweight and portable S4 (3.4kg), but aside from this and the apparent fewer number of controls, the S2 was very similar to its larger brother.
Feeling my way around the Traktor Kontol S2, these initial thoughts were further confirmed. The jog wheels felt the same, the buttons felt the same, the dials felt the same and ultimately, the unit as a whole felt the same! Surprise, surprise! But for those of you who aren’t familiar with the S4, what exactly is ‘the same’?
Firstly, the jog wheels and I’m going to start with my least favourite feature. Now, the jog wheels on Traktor S-Series controllers are not my favourite jog wheels in the whole world. Having reviewed the Numark NS6 last month, my standards have been raised. For me, the Numark NS6 has far superior jog wheels with a nicer feel and a more natural weight. By comparison, the Traktor S2 jog wheels feel a lot more feeble. Their biggest downfall is that they are plastic, compared to the metal wheels of the NS6. I’m especially not too keen on the way that the tops of the S2 wheels can be depressed a little (obviously to control pressure). This can make the jog wheels look as if they are a little unstable, although in reality, they actually sit in place very firmly, providing good, solid movement when called upon.
Ok, so the jog wheels aren’t my favourite, although I must stress that they are still very good – after all, this is a professional DJ controller! As I said, they are nice and sturdy, it’s just that plastic feel that makes them feel cheaper than they are. I guess it cuts down on the costs though, so it’s not all bad!
So, onto the buttons, which I felt were well designed. I think that the feel of the buttons had been really well thought out – the small buttons (e.g. effect engine on/off toggle, the cue buttons, etc.) had a nice punchy click to them so that you could feel when they had been activated. In contrast, the chunkier buttons (e.g. the ones used to trigger samples) had more of a pad-like feel to them, which is exactly what you would want with these types of buttons. If these buttons clicked every time you hit them that would be rather off-putting if you were trying to drum out a precise groove using one-shot samples.
Finally, the dials, which had a very sturdy professional rubber feel to them. These feature a nice click for controls that you would expect (e.g. the song browser dial) and a nice smooth response on other controls (e.g. EQ – apart from the handy central click of course).
TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 – THE SOFTWARE
Whilst I am going to assume that most of you are familiar with what Traktor software is, for those of you that have got on the digital DJing bandwagon a little later, I will give you a quick rundown – feel free to skip this entire section if you are already up to speed here.
Traktor Pro 2 is the industry leading digital DJ software. It is highly powerful, highly flexible and highly creative. It features 4 virtual decks (although the Traktor Kontrol S2 only features controls for 2 of them – get the Traktor S4 if you want the ultimate in control), accurate auto-beatmatching technology, colour-coded waveform views, easy-browse functions and a load more.
It allows you to browse any folders on your computer (including your iTunes library), load tracks into selected decks at will, create cue points in the song (which save automatically ready for your next mix-session), reverse portions of a track, add effects, etc, etc.
The auto-beat-matching feature of Traktor is also very good, although it works better for some styles of music than others. If you are mixing music with a clear, simple drum beat such as Hard House or Electro, then you should find that everything lines up perfectly straight away! However, if your songs have a more complex drum pattern, then you may find that Traktor doesn’t line everything up quite so neatly. For example, I tried auto-beatmatching some Drum and Bass tracks and on more than one occasion Traktor thought that they were running along at around 85 BPM, halving their actual tempo. Now, it only takes a press of a button to fix this, so it is no huge problem, but it is something that you should be aware of.. although having said that, if Traktor can't tempo sync a track properly, you will be hard-pushed to find a piece of software that can!
For songs with a more complex drum pattern, I also found that on occasions Traktor didn’t place the beat grid over it quite as accurately as I would have liked – in my experiences, it was never hugely out, but every now and then the beat grid was wrong enough to make the mix sound a bit sloppy. However, technology still isn’t at a point where we can expect software to perfectly detect individual beats in any given complex song, so luckily you can easily alter the beat-grid for yourself and save it with the song, so that next time you come to do a mix it will synchronise perfectly for an ultra-smooth performance.
Apart from the useful auto-beatmatching feature of Traktor, there is a lot more that it can do. For example, it includes a number of high-quality DJ effects, sample decks for triggering one shot sounds, a colour coded waveform display (coloured depending on frequency content) and more. For more information on the Traktor Pro 2 software, click here!
TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 – AS A CONTROLLER
Used in partner with Traktor Pro software, the S2 controller really comes to life and it becomes obvious that this is a product for the professional DJ. Because the controller has been designed around the industry leading DJ software, everything just seems to make perfect sense. All the controls are positioned in logical places, and where appropriate, in places that mirror the layout of the software itself. This makes switching between looking at the computer screen and the hardware interface extremely comfortable and simple. Furthermore, if you have only ever used the Traktor software before (i.e. with no controller), you should find that the transition to incorporating the S2 into your set-up is very natural. Also, if you are going in the opposite direction, moving from a more traditional means of DJing to the Traktor S2 platform, the controller is laid out in a very familiar way… it has a mixer with channel faders, a cross fader and EQ, sandwiched between two decks. Like I said, this controller has been specifically designed for use with the Traktor software by a team of Native Instruments' professionals, so it all fits together perfectly…
I found that the responsiveness of all the Traktor S2 controls were very good. The jog wheels could be used to slow down, speed up, or scratch a loaded song with pinpoint accuracy and the visual waveform representation within the software moved in real-time with the movements of the jog wheel. In fact, if you wanted you could also use the waveform display to help you beatmatch (if you aren’t using the automatic sync function); just watch for the drum transients, nudge the jog wheel and adjust the pitch fader until those drum hits line up perfectly on every beat. The sharpness of how the hardware and software both responded to each other's controls went towards making this one highly integrated professional system.
Performing a mix on the Traktor Kontrol S2 all felt very natural. Coming from a predominantly vinyl background, I am still not at my most comfortable when mixing on digital systems, but I still felt at home due to the traditional layout of the mixer section of the controller. I was still able to balance my mixes in real-time using the 3-band EQ knobs of the S2 and I could perform quick chops and smooth transitions using the faders, etc. Plus, the Kontrol S2 also gave me level meters to help me find the perfect balance within my mix.
Something that differs on the Traktor Kontrol S2 compared to the S4 is the inclusion of a ‘Samples’ knob on the mixer. This unique feature essentially just controls the output levels of all the sample decks simultaneously, allowing you to find the perfect mix balance really easily. You can of course also adjust the levels of each sample slot individually as well, but you have to do this within the software itself.
The sample slot buttons were great fun to use. Honestly, I am really going to miss these when I return back to my Technics 1210 turntables! The sample decks allowed me to load in snippets of sound and then trigger then back as and when I wanted. I could record a sample of audio in real-time, or load in existing audio samples. I could then get really creative by triggering the samples back at specific times – I could create a live remix by chopping up a song into important parts and then playing them back in any order of my choice, or I could load in a drum loop or acapella and layer it over an existing track, or I could use the sample slots to trigger one shot samples (e.g. drum hits, stabs or shouts) over a mix to spice it up a bit! All brilliant stuff!
Of course, the Traktor Kontrol S2 also allows you to perform live looping and add effects in real-time. To create a loop simply use the Loop ‘In’ and Loop ‘Out’ buttons and then use the loop dials to refine the loop size and placement. For effects, you get a row of dials and buttons along the top of the S2 that can be used to control specific FX parameters, control the wet/dry effect mix and activate/deactivate the individual effect engines (1 or 2). Using the shift buttons with the effect buttons you can achieve even more, such as using the buttons to call up your favourite saved effects. It’s all very simple, although you will need to assign the specific effects to the individual engines within the software itself. You get a huge number to choose from within the software, including the usual selection of reverbs, flangers, delays, filters, etc, so you will have no problems with stamping your own personal touch on a mix.
In fact, on this subject, one of the differences between the S4 and the Traktor S2 is that the S2 does not include any dedicated filter knobs, which I have to say, are extremely fun to play with on the S4! However, you can still achieve quick filter sweeps with the S2 by turning the gain knob on a specific channel whilst holding down the ‘Shift’ key. In fact, you can even invert this functionality by configuring the Gain dials to default as filter controls if you want – you will need to do this within the software itself. The dual functionality of the Gain knobs is possible because they are endless rotary encoders, which means that they do not have a fixed start and end point. Because they do not ever have a fixed position, they can hold data from multiple parameters at once (i.e. gain and filter). Lovely stuff!
The final control feature that I am going to briefly talk about are the Pitch faders. Like most of the controls on the Traktor Kontrol S2, these faders are plastic, although they still feel of a good quality and feel like they could withstand life on the road with a professional DJ.
The actual resistance of the faders themselves was alright, although definitely nothing up to the feel of the pitch faders on my Technics decks! To make small, detailed movements with the pitch fader, I found that I had to grasp the fader quite firmly between my thumb and finger to get a really smooth response. If I attempted to adjust it with a very loose grip, it moved with small millimetre jumps due to the fader's resistance. This is something that would no doubt annoy me if I was attempting a slick vinyl mix, where smooth, finite movements are essential, but for digital mixing, where most people will no doubt just be hitting the ‘Sync’ button to beatmatch two songs, I really doubt that this minor niggle will be a turn-off for anyone!
TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 – CONNECTIONS
On the front of the Traktor Kontrol S2 you get a ¼” headphone jack, a headphone volume dial, a cue mix dial (for adjusting the mix in your headphones between the cue’d track(s) and the main output) and a ‘Mic Engage’ button, which when activated, allows you to use a connected microphone.
On the back of the Traktor Kontrol S2 you get a ¼” jack for connecting a dynamic microphone, a mic gain dial (I would have preferred this to have been located on the front of the unit for easier access, but I guess that space was an issue), then comes the ‘Output’ section. The output section contains an extremely handy switch that allows you to toggle the output level control between controlling the main output (2 balanced ¼” jacks), or the Booth output (2 RCA outputs). Although both of these outputs will pass out the same signals, it is very handy to have as you can set up one set of speakers near to your ears in the DJ booth, and another pair pumping out a louder signal, facing out towards the crowd.
Finally, the Traktor Kontrol S2 gives you a USB connection (for hooking it up to your computer), a power connection, a power switch and a lock slot, so that you can tie it down and protect your possessions from any scumbag thieves!
TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 – CONCLUSION
In my opinion, this is a really top product! If you are a Traktor user and you require a hardware controller to get more hands-on with the software, then my advice would definitely be to get either the Traktor Kontrol S2 or the S4. Because these controllers were made by Native Instruments, they have deeper and more advanced integration with the software than any controller made by any other company. Everything just works seamlessly together and seems to make perfect sense, even though (as I have mentioned) there are a few things that I think other controllers do better.
If you have decided that you definitely want one of these controllers, then you will probably be trying to decide whether you need the extended functionality of the S4, or if the S2 will suffice. So, for me, these are the main factors that separate the two units:
The main deciding factor that will define which unit you get will be how many decks you want to control. Basically, if you want to control more than 2 decks with the hardware, you will have to get the S4. If you only need to control 2 decks at once, then you will probably want to get the S2, mainly due to the fact that it costs considerably less than the S4. However, this may not always be the case… aside from the fact that the S4 gives you the added flexibility just in case you decide that you want to get more creative with your mixes, it does also give you more detailed control options.
For starters the S4 gives you separate Gain and Filter knobs, which can make controlling your mixes a little smoother. Secondly, and in my opinion a little more importantly, the Traktor Kontrol S4 separates the Sample and Cue point features - the S2 combines them. What I mean by this is that the Kontrol S4 gives you separate buttons for controlling the playback of the sample decks and for creating and triggering cue points and loops. However, due to its smaller size, the S2 combines both these features into one button (although you get four of these buttons per deck), which is used to control loops and cue points unless a ‘Samples On’ button is activated for that particular deck in the mixer section, in which case these buttons will control the sample decks. It’s still a simple process, but if you are in the middle of a hectic mix that involves lots of quick button pressing and creative skill, you may find this extra step is a bit of a burden and it may limit what you can do. However, I imagine that if you are getting this technical with your mixes, you will probably also be the sort of person that will want to incorporate all four decks of Traktor into your sets at some point, so I imagine that the S4 will be your natural choice anyway.
The final major difference between the Traktor Kontrol S2 and the Traktor S4 is that the S2 does not have an integrated audio interface with inputs. The Kontrol S4 features inputs for external audio devices (e.g. turntables, CD decks, an iPod, etc.) This can be extremely handy if your laptop decides to go kaput in the middle of a performance and you need a back-up plan to keep the music going!
So, those are my thoughts on the subject and I hope that it has helped you make your decision. Feel free to leave comments if you have any questions!
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