Link: Traktor Kontrol Z1 — Price: $199/€189/£169
I want to get something out of the way early in this review… I’ve been a long time Traktor user. I’ve watched the software and company grow all the way from Traktor DJ Studio 2 to the powerhouse it is now. It’s clear that NI are getting smart about their product range. Their hardware and software are tailored specifically for each other, and provide a solid platform for DJs at a very reasonable price.
The Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1 is the latest offering in their “1” range, from the X1 deck controller to the F1 remix deck units and now this to sit alongside them.
I tested this unit plugged into a Xone:62 using the following setups. For Traktor Pro I used Traktor Scratch Pro 2.6.2 on OS X, with an X1. For iOS, I had the latest version of Traktor DJ running on an iPad 2.
In a Nutshell
A very compact, two channel no-frills mixer designed especially for Native Instruments’ range of DJ software, Traktor Pro 2 for computers and Traktor DJ for iOS devices. The Kontrol Z1 has the same form-factor as the rest of the family, the Kontrol X1 and Kontrol F1.
Essentially, the range is designed to give you access to the complete feature-set of Traktor Pro 2 when using two decks and two sample decks.
Removing this from the box, I was a bit dismayed to see that NI insisted on revisiting the glossy surface finish they hinted at with the S controller range and deployed with gusto on the Z2 scratch mixer. Apart from that, the Z1 is solid and compact. If you’ve ever picked up or used the rest of the range, you know what to expect.
The box comes with a power supply, a standard USB cable and a short cable to plug the USB port into an iPad or iPhone/iPod Touch. There’s also a card with serial numbers for the hardware and Traktor LE 2.
Build and Layout
If you’ve ever used a two-channel mixer you’ll feel at home with this unit. It’s a standard layout, apart from the two large filter knobs half-way up. The whole surface is HID/MIDI apart from the cue and master volume faders.
As previously mentioned, the Z1 is exactly the same size as the rest of the range, and has the same build quality. The knobs, button and faders all feel rubbery and cozy between the fingers with good resistance. The polished front panel suffers from the same smudge issues as all the other Kontrol hardware. If you like to keep your gear as new, you’re gonna have a bad time.
Although not an Innofader or anything, the crossfader feels smooth (though falls short of how I imagine a hot knife might cut through butter) but is unfortunately soldered to the main board, meaning no chance of a fancier replacement.
There are two good-sized, bright channel meters, one for each channel. Go too loud and it flickers angrily red at you, making it clear when you’re running the sound too hot. One area that seems to have suffered for the sakes of price/portability is the volume output. This is not a loud audio interface and needs the volume whacked up to get some decent output (although the gains seem to sit happily below 12 o’clock before the red lights blink.
Ins and Outs
- USB data cable
- A/C adapter
- Master out 1 RCA plugs
- Headphone 3.5mm phone jack
With Traktor Pro 2
As you can imagine from a controller made by the same company as their software, the Z1 is completely plug and play with the latest version of Traktor (2.6.2). It makes full use of all the features, and all the visual feedback works perfectly. The latest version of Traktor Pro has a whole new section of the options for the Z1, much like for the X1.
I have to admit that the idea of just using this and an X1 didn’t appeal before I gave it a go, but DJing with them was great fun. I blasted through two hours on this mixer/controller and never felt limited by the hardware.
With Traktor DJ on iPad
The Z1 is literally plug ‘n’ play with Traktor DJ. You can be blasting out tunes within seconds of hooking everything up. It all works very similarly to the app’s bigger brother, except for the fact you will need a free plug socket to power the controller. This is definitely a limitation on Apple’s side, rather than NI’s, and is not something that’s going to change. On the plus side to this, it means the Z1 keeps your iDevice charged up while you play.
Since Traktor DJ is considerably more cut down than Traktor Pro 2, there are a couple of features you might miss. For one, there are no options for the crossfader. Those of us that like to use channel faders are stuck as there’s no way of disabling it. For the scratchier among you, you’re stuck with the fader curve Native Instruments give you. There’s also no curve adjustment options.
iPad DJs do get an extra feature in Traktor DJ that those without the Z1 will miss… Along with the three FX available on each deck, you can also use the channel filter knobs.
Although designed for their own software, the Z1 has a MIDI layer for use with other software. I tested the controller using the latest version of Mixxx and Ableton Live Intro 8, and both the audio interface and MIDI worked fine. The controls on the unit map easily to your favourite software, apart from the cue and master volumes, which are hardware-based.
Build quality is as solid as the rest of NI’s gear. It’s built like a tank, but isn’t as loud as some might want. Enough with the glossy worktop, though, guys, eh?
Apart from a few missing features such as crossfader curve, the Z1 gives you everything you need at the centre of your set up in a very small form-factor.
It’s hard to argue with the price for a tiny Traktor mixer with built in sound card.
The Bottom Line
If you’re already a Traktor user either on iOS or computer, this’ll fit right in. The fact it also has an audio interface built in sweetens the deal. The working MIDI controls make it handy for use with other software, but Z1 + X1 = Traktor Pro bliss.
A Second Opinion from Mark Settle
I wanted to add a few of my own findings to Dan’s on-point review. There’s not really much to say functionally beyond what has already been written — the Kontrol Z1 is a utility controller that gives the necessary physical controls to Traktor DJ. It doesn’t do anything out of the ordinary and is a long way from being a revolutionary bit of gear.
It’s clever in that it seamlessly works for desktop and iOS devices (sorry — Android still isn’t capable yet), and is proper plug and play with the latest version of Traktor Pro 2.6.2. On this subject, people asked the question about if it could be used with the Kontrol Z2 as a supplement for Traktor Scratch Pro. The answer for that is no, but yes. If you plug the Z1 and Z2 in together and run them natively , they basically fight for control, essentially asserting their dominance. Turning a channel filter on each device to opposite ends and twiddling sees a high/low pass war.
IDEA: A switch in Traktor to assign a Z1 to control deck 3 and 4 natively would be perfect.
Side by side, I was able to prove that the crossfader in the Kontrol Z1 is perfectly capable of the clickiest of turntablist tricks, but juggling with 2 decks and 2 crossfaders is a bit of a brain scrambler. But the Z1 on its own won’t run Traktor Scratch by itself — you’re still going to need the requisite NI hardware for that.
But what you can do is switch it to regular MIDI mode and map away to your heart’s content. I really didn’t get deep and dirty with it, but I’d soon mapped enough controls to see that I could wrestle control of decks 3 and 4, and in this respect, the Z1 does become a useful addition for a Kontrol Z2 if you use those extra decks.
As far as the iOS version goes, it feels a bit odd to use it with an iPhone or iPad Mini, but perfectly at home with a regular iPad. The form factor of the smaller units feels awkward from a “where to I put the Z1?” point of view. Obviously it still works just fine but just feels strange. It also felt like there was something missing… oh yes — jog wheels. Using the Z1 with your iOS weapon of choice takes some getting used to, like a manual gear driver using an automatic. You get there but it feels weird for a bit.
One more thing NI — I know I talk about “new shiny” all the time, but I want you to stop taking it so literally. The glossy faceplate looks amazing in pictures, and also when setup fresh out of the box. But in use, it’s a highly reflective pain in the arse that makes me want to polish it every 5 minutes.
Despite what you may have read and focussed on above, I rate the Traktor Kontrol Z1 highly — very highly indeed. The initial logistical awkwardness using it with iDevices soon passes, and the dislike of the shiny surface is more of a personal opinion. Z2 owners looking to harness the extra channels in MIDI mode can map this and have an ideal partner to take full control of Traktor Scratch, and Traktor DJ users now have a degree of physical control over touch controls.
The Kontrol Z1 is definitely not a pant-wettingly visionary lump of nextleveleness that we all crave from NI, nor should it be. This is a well designed and executed purely functional piece, that plugs, plays, and importantly works exactly as intended. It’s an A grade piece.