Hopefully you’re finding your way here from our exhaustive Kontrol S2 MK2 review. If not, go back and read that one first, since these controllers are so similar in design, form and function that I don’t want to waste too many words covering the same things. The core features of these products, namely the LEDs, jog wheels, knobs, faders, buttons and overall design are pretty much identical. They are also both integrated directly into Traktor DJ for tactile control of the award-winning mobile platform. The Kontrol S4 MK2 does differentiate itself, though, even beyond the extra two channel strips.
Out of the Box
The Kontrol S4 MK2 is a reasonably sized 4 channel controller, more akin to the G4V and Studio 4a in size than the mammoth controllers we’ve been seeing recently. You will require a larger bag to carry it as it won’t fit in most average sized laptop bags like the S2, but it should fit in most booths and is just as sturdy for transport from gig to gig. The extra two channels are well spaced, and all the controls feel just as secure. The center section of the mixer is a little larger as well, allowing for full Loop Recorder control, as opposed to a knob and two buttons on the S2.
Instead of certain functions being hidden behind shift layers, the S4 presents them right on the face. Each channel has a chunky Filter knob, but still includes an endless single-function clicking push encoder for the Gain at the top. The center panel has a Quant and Snap button right under the Browse knob, as well as a Master Clock button for swapping Auto and Master settings. Instead of Reset being a shift function under the Flux button near the pitch fader it is a separate button next to Flux, and there is a Load button above each jog wheel instead of needing to use the Cue buttons when in Browse mode.
The Effects sections have a Mode switch button, but you still can’t directly switch which bank the effects are controlling (more on this later). There is also the same large On Air and Master display from the original S4, not to mention that same bright LED readout for your Loop and move lengths. Included in the S4 is also a deck swap button for each channel, allowing you to swap decks A with C, and B with D. The mixer is set up in the now very popular scheme with A and B on the inside channels and C and D on the outside.
The audio interface is a little larger on the S4 as well. You not only have the same ¼” Main output and RCA Booth Out, but you have two Line/Phono inputs for hooking in turntables or CD decks, as well as a MIDI in and Out for syncing with external gear or another computer. The Mic is still plugged in on the rear of the S4, something I think should definitely be on the front of the unit, but the Mic gain is on the front with the Activate button, as opposed to on the rear on the S2. The front face has the headphone input, as well as volume and cue mix knobs. These can both be pressed into the units face, allowing for safer travel.
My main complaint, with Native Instruments providing so many powerful modular controllers, is there is no USB hub available. Hooking an F1 or an X1 MK2 into the S4 MK2 would allow for a lot of extra control and would fill in a lot of the gaps.
Overall, the layout is exactly what it was with the original S4, with the exception of the Flux button over the pitch fader and the metal caps on the jog wheels. There are integration changes, though, including more control options over the Remix Decks and more options through the controller manager.
On its face, the Kontrol S4’s integration feels exactly as great as you would expect in Traktor, just like the S2. The jogs are tight, the sheer amount of control is vast, and the feature set they focus on is mostly the important stuff. If you are looking for strict plug and play for four deck control, with or without Remix Decks, the S4 is probably one of the best options available, especially if you need tight jog wheel integration.
The extra functions on the jog wheels are solid. For those of us not yet comfortable with scratching on small platters, or who have integrated timecode along with the S4, you can assign an extra layer to the jog wheels to control an effects bank or the filter using the Load button as a shift. This works really well. I’d like to assign the jog wheel to different effect knobs, but defaulting to knob three isn’t really that bad.
The Remix Deck control on the S4 is a LOT more robust than in almost any other controller on the market, bar the F1. The Remix Slot buttons have two available mode: Legacy and Remix. With Legacy you can play only one remix cell, sort of like the Sample Decks of old, but you can hold Shift to control the Volume and Filter of your selected cell using the loop size and move knobs (you select cells by holding Shift and pressing the appropriate Remix Slot). This makes using remix cells on a macro level with the S4 much easier. Using the Remix option, however, you can use the pads to control every cell of the 4 pages of the remix deck. When you move down cells the large buttons update with the cell color, but the next cell plays automatically, and you don’t get visual feedback when you move past page 1 on the screen. If you “scroll” down using buttons the page on screen won’t change, so you can’t see what the next cell is. While you can change what the knobs do in the Controller Manager, we all know how frustrating that experience can be. And it forces you to make a conscious choice between volume and filter, and loop and move to also have a Page Scroll button. Having the options, though, allow for a clear delineation between workflows, which is something I really do appreciate.
The Effect control is the only frustrating integration they have for me. In the interest of brevity, if you are using four effect banks you can only assign one bank to a deck. Deck A is linked to effect bank 1, and can’t be routed to effect banks 2-4. There is no way to change this, and without external controllers it is impossible to have multiple effect routings without digging into the controller manager. This isn’t something that would be difficult to integrate either, just using a shift button.
This may sound very nitpicky, but the reality is that setting up this control on a non-Native Instruments controller is one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had. I’ve tried my hand at this for a few different manufacturer’s mappings and, well, it isn’t something I would recommend the average user do. If Native Instruments is going to take pride in their direct integration, they should offer as many options as possible as easily as possible, to allow users to take as much advantage of their controller as possible.
The Kontrol S4 MK2 offers direct control of Traktor Scratch via vinyl or CDs. Since I don’t own CD Decks I tried this out only with vinyl, with a direct comparison to using it through my Audio6. There was no noticeable latency difference, and the sound was just as crisp as we have come to expect from NI hardware. It was great not to have to use as many cables either. Routing was a breeze, and the turntables were instantly connected.
You can’t, unfortunately, use the S4 as an external mixer without setting decks in Traktor to Live Input. This is pretty simple, though, and with some creative keystrokes you can have two external CD Decks or turntables running through your controller, swapping between timecode and real music instantly. Unfortunately, it does mean that you can’t use the S4 as an external mixer like the VCI-400. Maybe that’s something that will come with a new iteration.
The Kontrol S4 MK2 connects to the iPad to control Traktor DJ as well. Obviously, you can only use 2 decks of the S4 to control Traktor DJ, and you can’t also control timecode or external hardware. For the features available, though, reference the S2 review, as they work pretty much identically.
My opinion of the Kontrol S4 MK2 is very similar to that of the Kontrol S2 MK2. They are great plug and play options tied into one of the most power DJ applications in existence, I just wish that we, as users were able to have more intuitive control over little things to benefit our workflow. If you are interested in having as much control over Traktor, though, as close to plug and play as possible with the ability to slightly tweak your workflow depending on your style, this is a great idea.
The real question up for debate is whether you should buy an S2 or an S4. Once again, see the S2 review to compare, but realistically I think that it comes down to your needs. If you know you need four decks or will be using any remix decks, the S4 is a better option. If you spin with friends who use outboard gear or use timecode yourself, then the S4 is a better option. If, however, you mainly use two decks, or have no problem adding an extra controller for giving you those extra features when you need, then the S2 is a better solution for you. In the end they are both great options, and would sit well in anyone’s rig.