Link: Traktor Kontrol X1 — Price: $199/€189/£169
Let’s get one thing straight from the off… this unit is a MK2. It’s an incremental release of the original X1, with a tweaked layout and a few new bits. The original has been hugely successful, finding a home in many setups whether using Native Instruments’ Traktor software or straight up MIDI elsewhere.
It was also championed by DJs from a wide spectrum of music and DJ-style, from Techno don Richie Hawtin, scratch master DJ Craze and house legend Pete Tong (who famously received a special edition white pair from Dubfire for his 50th), showing off the breadth of its application. So, How does this new version stack up? Here’s how…
In a Nutshell
The 2013 Kontrol X1 (hereby known simply as ‘the X1’) is Native Instruments’ integrated hardware to control (Kontrol?) two decks and two effects units within their Traktor Pro 2 and Traktor Scratch Pro 2 software. With version 2.6.3 of the software, the device is literally plug n play. Combined with the Z1 or Z2, you are ready to go without any fiddling.
This version of the X1 took on board feedback from the first one released way back in 2010, adding and taking away things to help workflow.
Taking this out of the box, it’s clear that owners of original X1 will be familiar with the layout apart from a few changes as you’ll see a bit later in the review. You get the controller and a cable plus the usual paperwork with serials etc., plus some stickers in the bottom of the box. Really, that’s all you need to get started.
So, even though this is just an iterative product, has Native Instruments done enough to entice people over?
The most obvious additions are the touch ribbon, RGB buttons and LED displays. NI have obviously done some research into what areas of the hardware/software are causing DJs to get Facebook Face staring at a laptop screen, as the visual feedback from the controller is ridiculously granular. Just having the LED display helps you keep track of loop length for each deck, along with other bits of functionality such as what decks it’s assigned to. The touch ribbon also has a strip of lights along the top that give clues to how the ribbon is currently used. This is very handy as you can assign controls to the touch strip such as effects, track scrolling and pitch bend. You can even change how much of the touch strip is used for each deck.
One addition that is definitely a Marmite feature is the touch sensitive browser encoder. With the feature enabled and you’ve got your fingers on the encoder, the Traktor browser will maximise. Let go, and the deck view flicks back. In addition to this, you can now finally scroll through the playlist tree by holding SHIFT while turning the browser encoder. It’s about bloody time, NI!
Speaking of the SHIFT button… It’s amazing just how much more functionality that’s been squeezed into the X1. From reassigning touch strip functionality to scrolling through effects and adding an extra layer of hotcues, pretty much everything can be accessed.
Build and Layout
The X1 has very similar build quality to all the other Kontrol products. It sits comfortably beside the Z1 and F1, and fits in the carry case without issue. It also clips onto the Traktor Kontrol Stand to sit flush with a mixer.
As is customary with NI gear, the X1 is very sturdy. There’s no give with any of the controls, and the tough metal and plastic casing has no twist. One thing you can always rely on with Kontrol products is their robustness.
Just like the older model, the top half of the unit is dominated by the FX controls. Things start to get divergent below this, as you’ll be greeted by a glossy central panel featuring the LED screens, load buttons, browser encoder, loop encoders and the long touch ribbon. On DJWORX, we’ve pointed out the madness of using glossy materials for DJ gear time and again but in this case I do concede that here, at least, it’s needed for the screens and lighting feedback. (I think we’re just going to have to get used to it Dan…Ed)
The transport/hotcue section at the bottom has also had an overhaul, getting rid of a few primary functions and replacing with four hotcues along with transport. The RGB backlight gives you very quick visual feedback when in use, making it even easier to know what’s going on
I was a bit disappointed to notice that the buttons didn’t feel as soft as the original, making them less reactive to lighter touch. I’d describe the feel of the buttons on the old model as “soft and fluffy”, something the X1 here no longer has.
COMMENT FROM NI: The harder/stiffer feel of them was intentional on our part because the tactile click feedback was stronger with this newer button. Some of the old X1 buttons were too “soft and fluffy” and you couldn’t feel any click from them at all.
There’s no point in dwelling too much on how the X1 works with other software, other than to say that the controller has a MIDI mode that can be mapped with ease. I’m not sure if some of the funkier features such as the touch encoder and LED displays can be accessed. My guess is probably not, but some enterprising individual might be able to crack that open.
Do I prefer it to the old one?
This is always a difficult question to answer, having only used it for a few days, compared to the three years with the originals. There are some niggles, partly based on my mixing style, and partly something akin to a missing feature.
Firstly, something missing is that there’s no way to reassign the controller to different decks without disconnecting and reconnecting it to your laptop. Not a huge issue, but it could be annoying, and if you were hoping to use it for controlling four decks on the fly, you’re out of luck.
Secondly, although the touch strip is has a very slick and clever implementation, I can’t shake to feeling that for the average DJ, it’s a bit gimmicky. You can get some nice loop effects, and it can pitch-bend, but if you’re on DVS, why bother? And if you’re beat syncing, pitch bending is irrelevant. It’s certainly a head-turner for performance controllerists, though!
Thirdly, the different feel of the buttons definitely threw me, having used the original X1 for so long, it got a bit frustrating until I remembered to tap harder. Saying that, many of the added features make sense to the Traktor workflow, and get intuitively used. The LED panel being the big one, but I also found the touch sensitive encoder to be handy, and the RGB buttons just strip away some of the ambiguity with what’s happening in Traktor.
Just like any other unit in the series, the X1 is a solid workhorse of a device. Apart from the stiffer buttons, there’s nothing really to fault.
Native Instruments has definitely put a lot of thought into what they needed to add. Most of it is a welcome addition, the touch strip possibly being the exception.
Everything in the Kontrol series is always great value, especially if you’re a Traktor user. People with other software might have better choices, but this is definitely a contender.
The Bottom Line
Another solid controller from NI, geared very specifically to their Traktor software line. If you’re a Traktor user and in the market for something to control your decks and effects, you’d be hard pressed to leave this out of the shopping list.
Whatever you use it for, you’ll definitely be spending less time staring at your laptop and more where you should be… at the controls.
A second opinion from Jared Helfer
I have spent a few weeks now with the X1 MK2 sitting next to my DVS setup, and I wanted to add to Daniel’s great review above. I had never used its predecessor, so I can only compare this X1 against the modular controllers I’ve tried to hack to do a lot of what it purports to do. I wanted to see how the X1 MK2 would fit into my current workflow, which I am still trying to optimize for more in-depth control of Traktor while still using turntables and a mixer.
I found myself spending almost all of my time using the touch strip and above while the only button on the bottom third of the controller I used was Flux mode. Now, I do have a Maschine Mikro MK2 on a stand controlling hotcues, but only having access to 4 at a time was really frustrating. I didn’t need play, cue or sync buttons, and could reassign the Flux button elsewhere. Going through the remapping process, though, was overly complicated and relatively frustrating. That being said, I was surprised there was no toggle to set the FX knobs to control banks 3 and 4.
I was surprised at how much I utilized the touch strips, though. I’ve generally been wary of them in other controllers, and find them more gimmicky than anything. This one, though, has so much control packed into it with really in depth LED feedback that I found myself coming back to it over and over again. Using it for loops with or without flux mode, or a filter effect, even the beatmasher and the beatslicer was extremely intuitive. I never used it for pitch bending or seeking, though, but that’s more due to my setup than anything. Granted, if I’m using this controller exclusively, or with a Z1 or any other MIDI mixer, I couldn’t see myself adjusting the phase on this tiny half of a strip. Not with sync right there (see: fanning the troll flames).
The smartest feature that NI added in, which has the potential to become the most frustrating, is the touch sensitive browse knob. While reviewers have commented that it can get annoying swapping through full browse mode and back again, I found it very helpful. What makes this a very intuitive feature is that a delay was added to the off message. If I hold the knob, turn it, and have to readjust my hand to keep turning the browse mode does not turn off. There is around a 3 second delay, which is very helpful when scrolling through large portions of my collection. I was worried it would just be on/off, but it feels much smoother this way.
All in all, I think this is a great controller for what it does. I just think it has a sort of identity crisis. I want a really solid, intuitive, powerful utility controller to add into my rig which covers the features other controllers don’t. I already have all the transport controls I need. But a lot of my controllers don’t have hotcue control, or control FX slots 3 and 4, or beatjumping or loop moving. While I can override their stock mapping, I have to do it in the controller manager, and, well, that doesn’t always work out for the best.
Just because these controllers are modular doesn’t mean they have to do everything. I think the F1 and the Z1 really handle their individual functions spectacularly. The X1 MK2, though, can feel like it has too much on its plate, and some of the features aren’t handled to the best of their ability. That being said, I have a feeling this is going to find a permanent place next to my DVS setup, I’m just going to ignore a bunch of buttons on it.