Native Instruments planted its flag in the iOS market with the launch of Traktor DJ. Hitting the iOS scene and doing things in its own unique way, NI has had something missing from their setup. A cable is one thing, but Traktor DJ needed a matching interface to compliment this otherwise compact and capable setup. The revised Audio 10 is complete overkill in this department, so it was just a matter of time before the already diminutive Audio 2 DJ got put in a hot wash, shrunk down, and given a vital injection of Apple’s iOS7 goodness to make the perfect pocket audio interface.
Awww… it’s so cute. I’m used to great lumps of heavily engineered RCA-laden audio interfaces. Then along comes this tiny simple box that turns all preconceptions of audio interfaces on their heads. Granted, the Audio 2 DJ before it was small (about the size of cigarette pack), but the new Audio 2 takes it to an all new level. It’s almost exactly the size of a credit card, but about 12mm thick, and quite literally sits in the palm of your hand. It’s only when you see it in real life that you get the full impact of this little marvel.
The Traktor Audio 2 has NI’s now standard house style — a mixture of tough black plastic and glossy surfaces screams NI’s sharp-edged German styling. Curves don’t seem to be in their design vocabulary anymore. It’s also incredibly light, something that wrapping in brushed steel would have compromised. Even 72 hours later, I’m still marvelling at this stunning little box. I would recommend getting a pouch or case if you plan to use it out. if not, it will get scratched and battered.
Being so small, it’s focussed on doing exactly what it’s designed for without attempting to be many things to many people. Thus the controls are minimal — cue mix and headphone volume are all you get, but with LEDs that pulse more or less in line with the channel volume. Yes, it’s that simple.
While taking the opportunity to make the Audio 2 smaller, the whole point of the revised design is to improve the connectivity, especially with iOS. So every connection is smaller, including the USB connection. Now you have a mini USB port to connect to your computer or iOS device. It’s important to note that NI recommends that you only use their cables, an issue that we’ve come across when reviewing NI gear before. So be sure to use only the supplied 30 pin and regular USB cables when hooking up.
One thing to note — the Traktor Audio 2 only comes with a 30 pin connector. Luckily for me, I already have an official Apple 30 pin to Lighting adaptor to hook up my iPhone and iPad. For owners of newer iOS devices, the Apple 30 pin to Lightning adaptor is an essential purchase as third party cables won’t work.
The old Audio 2 DJ came with 1/4″ jacks, but the new one swaps these out for minijacks. It’s an understandable move — as a unit directly aimed at iOS, the minijack is more likely to be used that a 1/4″. And it allows for the unit to be that little bit thinner too. So what you end up with is a 4 out (i.e. 2 stereo channels) 24 bit 48kHZ interface that works with computers and iOS devices to give 2 x stereo outputs. Nice
There are 2 specific use cases for the Traktor Audio 2 — as an audio interface for iOS devices, and for computers, but each is different. Covering off the less sexy computer use case first, OS X users seem to have a very simple plug n play experience, as no drivers need to be installed. It just works, and is accessible to all software that can use an audio interface. Windows users however need to install a driver — indeed a big piece of paper in the box tells you this too. NI tell me that no testing was done with Linux or Android. Given that Traktor only runs on OS X, Windows, and iOS, this is no surprise.
For iOS, again it’s plug and play affair. If you want to use Traktor DJ, you’ll need to update to the latest version (always a good idea on iOS). But much to my surprise, it also worked out of the box with other audio apps as well. I hadn’t moved Traktor DJ to my new iPad, but when I fired up algoriddim‘s djay, it saw the Traktor Audio 2 and automagically assigned the right channels to headphone and master. Clever stuff.
What’s also clever is that the Traktor Audio 2 is bus powered, even on iOS devices. This means that you can run Traktor DJ on your iPhone running out through the Audio 2 and still use headphones and drive your master out. How long it’ll do this for without draining your battery is unknown. But you also have the option to power the Audio 2 via the optional power supply. It’s the same as the S2 and S4, and ironically is bigger that the Audio 2 itself. But if you need to charge your iOS device while playing, and also need an extra volume boost (not huge but noticeable), then the power supply is essential. For casual use, running bus powered will be fine. I just have concerns about running for extended periods of time i.e. hours without power.
There is no main volume control on the Audio 2, but when running through OS X you can change the volume at system level, either with the Mac’s keyboard controls (something I can’t do with other Traktor Audio devices) or in the Audio MIDI Setup application. The headphone volume can be controlled on the Audio 2 itself, as well as in the application. This is refreshing, and I hope that NI manage to make this a standard feature across all audio devices.
In iOS, while suitable apps can be configured to output through the Traktor Audio 2, the only volume control on the master is in the app that’s running, be it Traktor DJ or otherwise. Not really an issue as such, but something to be aware of. Hell I’m just happy to have 2 stereo outputs at all.
I guess that sound quality is a good place to finish this section. It’s an NI audio interface, thus excellent. Granted, iOS does benefit from the power supply volume boost, but did you really think it would be otherwise?
When you get the Traktor Audio 2 out of the box, it feels like you’ve entered a whole new world of miniaturisation. It’s so small, but when you connect it, you soon realise that it’s a long way from being a slouch. The problem also comes when you add a Lightning connector and the great lump of a power supply. While the Audio 2 is small, everything else that goes with it to make it into a fully functioning audio interface for all occasions soon adds up, not just in size but in cost too.
If you’re just after a small interface to run with your computer, then the outlay is just for the card. But for iOS, you’re potentially looking at additional expense for a power supply and a Lightning adaptor.
That said, strictly from a workflow point of view, the revised Traktor Audio 2 is a gem. Running with your computer or properly integrated and fully functioning with iOS, it’s a high quality minuscule marvel that properly connects iOS fully with the outside world. And for that alone, I love it.