Traktor 2.6 Integration
Just like the Kontrol F1, The Kontrol Z2 doesn’t tout features so much as control for new features in Traktor. The additions in Traktor 2.6 compared to the ones introduced in 2.5 don’t have the POW factor of an entire new deck concept, but there are three very important ones: Flux mode, post fader effects routing, and the new Macro FX. None of them are specific to the Kontrol Z2, but without them it would be nowhere near the beast it is.
Macro FX are very similar to super knobs, as seen in Serato’s Scratch Live, in that they are single dial controls that do lots of things at once. It’s disappointing that there’s no way to manually create your own Macro FX (we do hear whispers of something along these lines in the future) but the 11 included all sound great. You don’t have to use Macro FX, of course, but they’re a great way of making sure that when you are using effects in the mix that they remain interesting whilst removing a bunch of knobs from the fascia of the mixer. I’m really happy to cosign this move away from complicated mappings for multi effects (which tend to either require external translator software to be really powerful anyway) and multiple knobs that do confusingly different things, as I think that it will hammer home to more DJs that a little goes a long way and neither mapping the living daylights out of a controller nor constantly tearing a track apart with eight effects does a DJ make. There’s perhaps a chicken and egg situation between this feature and the stripped back controls of the Kontrol Z2 that only NI can answer; are Macro FX a way to facilitate the streamlined nature of the Z2 or is the Z2 that bit more streamlined because of the new approach? In any case, if you do have a hankering for advanced FX control then a dedicated controller (Novation’s Nocturn, perhaps) will fit into the Z2 workflow perfectly.
Post fader effects routing doesn’t really take much explaining, but I’ve been waiting for them ever since Traktor started to really show that it was where it was at for in the box DJing all those years ago and until now the lack of them has been a real thorn in its side. They’re not specific to the Kontrol Z2, but it’s the way that the Z2 mixes purely internally when in Traktor mode that makes them feel so flawless.
Flux mode, akin to post fader and macro effects, isn’t so much NI pushing the envelope as implementing existing ideas from other corners of the DJ world. Pioneer’s slip mode is the obvious comparison as functionality is more or less the same; engaging Flux splits the playing track into two timelines, the original timeline pushing forward regardless whilst the Flux timeline is available to be manipulated freely, with things reverting to the original timeline when flux is disengaged. This finally brings things like loop roll to Traktor, and I may just have to look into retooling an old mapping I did that approximated Itch’s Slicer mode in Traktor as Flux more or less makes it totally possible. Just as with everything else I’ve mentioned in this section, Flux isn’t confined to Kontrol Z2 users but the benefit of foresight has allowed NI to create the ergonomics of the Z2 around all these new features which makes it feel slick as… hm. Slick as the Fonz’s Brylcreem’d quiff. There.
A final addition to Traktor 2.6 is something that all Native Instruments gear will benefit from, and it’s the ability to override factory mapped functions to allow NI defaults and your own tweaks to play in harmony. If, for instance, you’re not fussed about wet/dry levels of effects, always simply adjusting the effect directly, you could always remap those controls to effects three and four (it’s a shame that mic/aux level and tone are hardware only controls, as they tend to be my go-to knobs for a couple of extra mappings when it’s possible).
Without Traktor, the Z2’s still a good mixer. Its in the box mixing sounds good, its filter sounds good, and its inputs and outputs are all there should someone want to run a Rane Serato box or simply mix on vinyl/CD/external controller. I absolutely wouldn’t recommend purchasing a Z2 if you’ve no intention of running Traktor, but if you also use other gear, or perhaps are considering putting it in a venue where people bring other gear, it’s going to work out fine… with the possible exception of the lack of line fader controls and send/return audio loop. Of course, there are no built in effects either – but the primary use case of the Kontrol Z2 is the overwhelming focus of its design, with legacy use cases built around it.
I’m really interested to see what other manufacturers do in response to the Kontrol Z2. It’s not 100% clear whether the days of Traktor Scratch certification licencing are over, but what’s really interesting is how the Kontrol Z2’s main successes are in its unbelievably tight integration with Traktor, but perhaps the only thing that’s proprietary about the connection is the depth of colour feedback and scratch certification. The bottom line with the Kontrol Z2 is that if you use Traktor along with turntables, CDJs, or have retired them for a controller you’ve never quite been happy with the form factor of, you’ll be in 1:1 control heaven with the Z2 in the middle of your setup.
Build: Great. Some might be wary of the plastic pots, but there’s an undeniably professional quality to the Kontrol Z2… except the issue with the paint coming off the glossy section of the mixer, which doesn’t really affect anything other than aesthetics, but it’s still a bit naff.
Functionality: Assuming you use it with Traktor as obviously intended, the Kontrol Z2’s functionality is superb. Colour and numerical feedback and all the mixer control functions you need to relegate your laptop screen to a library browsing device and neglect your keyboard and mouse for good.
Value for Money: In an age where professional and even ‘prosumer’ level DJ gear is more expensive than it’s ever been, the Kontrol Z2 isn’t cheap, but considering it essentially bundles a Traktor Audio 6, a full copy of Traktor Scratch Pro including vinyl, and the bastard child of a Kontrol X1 and F1 into a capable two channel hardware mixer it’s pretty fantastic value. In a slightly different vein it gives any Pioneer CDJ compatible with the Advanced HID mode a new lease of life via the hugely extended feature set that the mode and the new Traktor features bring, conveniently (or cunningly?!) including a lot of shared functionality with the Nexus range of CDJs.
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