Preface from The Editor
This is the first of a handful of articles relating to Native Instruments’ latest and greatest release of Traktor. Version 2.5 brings the all new Remix Decks as well as the diminutive Kontrol F1 controller to make them sing. Over the next few days, we’ll bring you this update article which is aimed at those who want to know about Traktor Pro 2.5 and its new features but without having to buy an F1, as well as other Remix Deck and F1 articles. We hope you like them all. Now back to Jared’s review…
Even though it hasn’t been discussed very much, Traktor Pro 2.5 has brought a few new features and controls that effect users who don’t buy an F1. Even though the Controller Manager is still there, a number of very serious improvements have been made as well as some under the hood changes that can make any DJs life easier. Unfortunately, they also made some serious workflow changes that frustrated me as I was playing with this software sans F1.
While I now have an F1 and have played with it a bit that will be for a different review. This review is instead dedicated to Traktor Pro 2.5 as a general update, while explaining how the more advanced MIDI functionality has changed with the Remix Decks for users who don’t have an F1. Please keep in mind that a lot of what I am going to talk about it just dedicated to the MIDI mappers out there, and if you are (understandably) averse to mucking around in the Controller Manager you might not be interested in some of what comes next. I still really wanted to understand what would change if I didn’t have the F1 in front of me.
The 2.5 update feels a lot more solid now. My computer resource monitor moves around a lot less than with other softwares (VDJ and Itch), and having four decks running, each routed to advanced FX with loops shows no latency whatsoever. All in all, I can’t recommend this update enough for people. That being said, there were two issues I ran into with beatgridding that frustrated me.
The analysis was great (and the addition of reanalyzing Gain levels is a wonderful addition), but there are some frustrations. If the analysis of the new song was incorrect (didn’t happen often) and I didn’t know the correct BPM there was an annoying bug that would delete my inserted beatgrid and replace it at some random point in the track. However, I have been informed by Native Instruments that a fix is forthcoming in the 2.5.1 update due at the end of the month.
My general method of gridding a song once the tempo is correct is to constantly trigger the beatgrid and push the marker back and forth until it is right where I want it. In previous versions of Traktor this worked perfectly. Now, though, the wave form is not moving smoothly and I can’t trigger as quickly as I’d like. It didn’t prevent me from gridding accurately, it just feels like it was a step backward.
Native Instruments has finally given a series of updates to the outdated behemoth that users have been requesting for far too long. The best update (and arguably rollback as it was available in Traktor 3) is the availability of using Learn for your Outputs. Thank god, is all I can say. No more needing to scroll through the awful trees of notes and CC and Note messages to have them mysteriously disappear because I hovered too close to some unrelated window.
They also added a nice feature for outputs that I didn’t expect. If you select any Input message and click the Output menu I can now automatically duplicate that Input into an Output, messaging and all. Perfect.
They added a bunch of new modifier values added to be used with any command. These include the Hotcue states, what the Remix Deck play state or mode is, what the FX mode is, and whether Scratch has been activated. These are great additions to the selection that was available before, but there are still only two slots for any translator, which can feel limiting once you want to do more complicated mappings.
The Controller Manager has also been heavily reorganized. Controls are easier to find, and Legacy controls are labeled as such to hint that they have been replaced with better options (more on this later). My favorite change was that the FX control has been consolidated to just one set of commands that encompass both Advanced and Chained options.
However, with these submenus, the Cue menu does not line up correctly. Hovering over the wrong part of the menu will close what you were looking at. This is frustrating, especially when neck-deep in a mapping dedicated to making your sample decks work like they did before.
Unfortunately, the Controller Manager has a lot of its ingrained nuances that make a lot of MIDI mappers frustrated: I can’t select more than one command; I can’t make batch changes; I can’t resize it; use the keyboard to scroll through it, etc etc etc. The Output changes are a great step, but there are so many parts of this thing that need deep updates that I can’t help but bring them up. That being said, the changes they have made are a great step forward into a world where mapping a controller in Traktor isn’t an absolutely miserable experience.
Remix Decks/Sample Decks
So let’s say you don’t have an F1, nor have any plans on getting one. Well, first of all, be prepared for a little bit of work ahead of you. Slot Play has been removed altogether, though your individual mapping will not be cleared of this command, yet. Bear with me because this is about to get a little confusing.
Keep in mind this entire section is going to be dedicated to getting your controllers “future proofed” (protected against future updates of Traktor Pro 2) and having them interact exactly as they did in previous versions, or as close as we can get them.
The first thing you want to do is go to the Remix Deck section of the preferences and check Auto Enable Deck Play on Sample Trigger. This will force your Remix Deck to play when you hit retrigger. If this is not selected and you turn on a Remix Cell it will not play until the associated Deck is activated.
Slot Play has been removed and the only option is now Slot Retrigger. Retrigger is linked to the cell type (Gate and Latched) of the sample you are working in and has two different interactions, as per usual, hold and toggle. Be careful because these interact completely differently depending on whether your deck is in Latch or Gate mode.
If your sample is set to Latched mode and you set Retrigger to Hold, the sample will continue playing forever. Not only that but when you hit the button again it will just trigger over and over. When it is set to Toggle it has identical interaction.
What does this mean? In Latched mode, you cannot stop individual samples without stopping the whole deck or using your mouse with a Shift + Click on the sample.
In Gated mode, with Retrigger set to Hold the sample will only play as long as you hold the button and will disengage on release. This is tied to the Quantize value, so if your quantize is set to 1 beat it will stop after 1 whole beat has passed.
With Retrigger set to Toggle you can start and stop your sample as per normal. Keep in mind this does not stop it at a certain point and then start it again; instead it restarts the sample again from the beginning. There doesn’t see to be a Pause for individual sample cells.
Also, when loading cells from decks or the loop recorder, the old interaction was great: it would load the cell, mute the cell, and play the loop just like a deck copy. This allowed for some seamless transitions between samples and newer songs when it was necessary. Now this functionality does not exist. There are very complicated ways to do this involving modifiers and layered commands, but it just bothers me, as that functionality worked so well.
You can also set the source of where the sample will come from directly. This gives another option for how your controllers are set up, instead of needing a full shift layer to load from the loop recorder OR the deck you can just change that option and when you are in the process of loading. The original commands for Copy from Slot and Copy from Loop Recorder are in the Legacy window, though, so they aren’t gone yet.
The Capture command is set using the Slot Capture/Trigger/Mute command, which was fascinating to just play with. If there was nothing in the cell it would copy to the cell. When I pressed it again it would play. When I pressed it again nothing would happen, but then again it would mute. Then I realized that my interaction mode was set to toggle, when I set it to hold it worked as expected. It’s still just a really strange way of doing things. I think this was an attempt to get at my issue above, but it just doesn’t hit the mark.
So they have added a bunch of new properties to individual samples, all of which are great. They each have their own Play Type as before (Loop or One Shot), but now have Trigger Type (Gate or Latched), whether or not the cell is sync’d to the deck clock, reverse, its own beatgrid that isn’t very easy to edit within the Remix Deck, pitch and gain.
My frustration is the only way to get to this menu is to open up the entire Remix Deck. I can’t have access to it while it looks like a sample deck, and hence it takes up precious screen real estate. These options are great, but getting to them can be a pain if you weren’t planning on using the full 16 cell window. These should be available no matter what size I have the Remix Deck set to.
You can now loop a Remix Deck and all of the included cells. This can be a lot of fun once you get your samples doing exactly what you want them to do. When samples are set to One Shot, though, they will stop one beat before the loop ends, wait a beat, and then begin playing again. Just something to keep your eye on.
Should you upgrade to 2.5? Yes, just for the stability improvements. Hell, gain analysis and beatgridding are better, and that little bit can go a whole long way. Also, being able to save gain and pitch to samples, as well as any other cell type is very useful. So I’d say go for it, whether or not you have an F1. Just be aware of the changes you may need to make for the Remix Decks to be used to their full potential without needing your mouse.
I really love the idea of the Remix Decks, just like I did the Sample Decks. They are great with the F1 (I mean, hell, it has a Sample Stop button), but the inherent work flow is not the best when you are using any other type of controller. The fact that they removed a tried and true functionality that, at least for me, worked very well and informed my entire work flow (loading sample cells) is frustrating.
A lot of discussion has been happening around Remix Decks drinking Ableton’s milkshake. I can see where that comes from, but I don’t think NI pulled it off yet. This is a great step forward in DJ software technology, but if someone wants to DJ in the method Ableton allows (cell based) Ableton is still the best solution for that. Traktor, for me, was always great because of its improvisational technique. I could bring my system to a gig, load up and DJ with minimal prep. That just isn’t possible in Ableton. And now it feels like Traktor is moving in that direction as well.
Deep down at its core, Traktor is still an improvisational DJ tool. If I don’t want to build Remix sets and instead want to show up to a gig and just mix two or four decks, I can. The Remix Decks add a whole other layer of functionality to play with, but I think they restrict the improvisational nature I have come to love over the years. I want to see Traktor embrace what it’s great at. The Remix Decks, however, are built to be used in a very specific way, and if you don’t want to use them that way, then, well, tough. In the past, every new function added was never required to be used in a specific way. Remix Decks are the first time I’ve loaded up a new feature in Traktor and felt forced to use it their way, which was not nearly as satisfying without their new controller.
A counter argument has been that the Sample Decks were offered only with the S4, and then were rolled out to the general user base with the release of Traktor Pro 2 later. I would have been completely fine with this if they had given advanced access to Remix Decks for F1 users, but left everyone else with the Sample Decks for now until the kinks were worked out for the general user base. That would have made a lot more sense to me.
This is obviously a first step, but either they went too far in one direction (locked control) or not far enough in the other (improvisational grid style DJing). I know Native Instruments has great things on the horizon for Traktor, and I am beyond excited to see how this software I’ve used for years grows in the future.