traktor kontrol s8

Having just given you the official lowdown on NI worst kept secret, it’s time to ponder and cogitate over what is in the assorted bits of PR, and to offer a handful of alternative and independent takes on what the Traktor Kontrol S8 is and could be. To do this, we each independently poured over the release, and put together our own ramblings into a single sales pitch free post. There will be inevitable overlap, and we’ll no doubt be adding a lot of opinion in the comments once we’ve seen what you all have to say as well.

I took a sneaky shot of the S8 while down at NI UK. And I didn’t leak it for bragging rights either. Well… I didn’t have to as it turns out. 🙂

Mark’s Take

I’m in the fortunate position of having seen the S8 in the flesh. It was a tad rough and ready, as was the probably late alpha version of Traktor that was running it. But it’s a classic (too soon?) NI controller, albeit with a lot less shiny plastic. It would appear that the relentless finger print magnet comments have touched a nerve at NI, and there’s more brushed metal than on other controllers.

Where to start… let’s get the two obvious omissions out of the way first. Obviously, there’s no jog wheel, but less obvious to the eye but more obvious when pointed out is the lack of pitch slider. Traktor’s Remix Decks push DJing into not so much mixing but remixing workflow, where everything is synced up nicely and not needing endless attention to beat matching. So the workflow isn’t dependent on cueing up the next track having made sure it’s on beat, thus you can realistically ditch two formerly key components and replace them with ones more suitable to the new workflow.

What is left is a layout that is considerably more focussed on working with Remix Decks. I’m still not 100% down with the workflow, but my lasting comment having spent a little time with the Kontrol S8 is that this makes more sense of the Remix Decks. You can see it right in front of you — a detailed high res screen, with controls laid out in neat lines right below them. The capacitive knobs immediately react to your touch, and the whole workflow suddenly drops into place. The laptop is still there, and I don’t think NI is making the same “you don’t need your laptop” noise that Numark is with the NV.

It could be argued that NI has artificially created hype and hoopla around the “remixing is the future” thing, generating a perceived need rather than a genuine one, and magically presenting a boundary pushing unit that just happens to fulfil their prophesy. But the more I think about the way DJs are working, the Kontrol S8 does properly service the needs of a small but growing group of DJs that are more about deconstructing and rebuilding music in a different way that the traditional 1s and 2s format, but do it with a number of disparate units that require much in the way of cabling and specialised mapping to work coherently. The Kontrol S8 is a single lump of pure controllerist goodness.

I did say to NI UK that I feel that this will be a slow builder. To this day, I still don’t feel that the Remix Deck concept has been adequately explained to the masses. And while the Kontrol S8 does make them easier, it’s still going to take a good deal of time to explain them to people. And that is vital for the success of this controller, as I don’t see A to B DJs (which is most of the market) flocking to the S8, as it’s not really designed for them. I feel it’s actually much harder to DJ conventionally on the Kontrol S8 alone.

It’s strange to think that the S8 truly is a next level controller, directly aimed at a small sector of the market that is pushing the boundaries of DJing into live remixing, yet at the same time properly services the more traditional turntable and CDJ users. It does leave this gap in the middle of what we would class as regular controller users. But for those people, the S4 and S2 are still current (and I believe discounted too). And I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to imagine that a new small format unit will be coming along (F1 mk2? X1 mk3?) that will have the deck elements of the S8 in one tidy affordable unit, although you’ll probably want to buy two and stick them either side of a Z2, to make an S6 of sorts.

Some observations and additional info

  • Aside from obvious buttons, there is a lack of faceplate markings. Key things are labeled, but the vibe I’m getting is that there’s more to come. The S8 comes with Traktor an updated Traktor, but not the much rumoured but still absent v3. I cannot help but think that v3 will bring more to the S8.
  • CONFIRMED: The Kontrol S8 won’t work with Traktor DJ for iOS.
  • There is no USB hub. I thought this was short-sighted for about 10 seconds, but looking at the unit, what else would you really want to plug in? And a single USB means that NI sees the S8 as an individual performance rather than being a fixture in a club.
  • The whole fader area is one very clean removable lump. I think it’ll take mini Innofaders too. Really fantasising for a moment, perhaps there’s additional plugin modules to come. Probably not though.
  • I like the filter engage button. More hardware needs this.
  • CONFIRMED: The S8 will run as an analogue mixer without a laptop being plugged in.

Summing up — this is a brave move for NI. In much the same way that Apple ditched the floppy drive, sometimes it takes an established company to make waves and challenge convention. The Novation Twitch (to which the S8 owes a great deal) was and still is awesome, but was perhaps too soon for the market. But with NI’s clout and money, they may well be properly pushing DJing into new areas. But they really really REALLY need to break down the Remix Decks workflow in a way that DJs will want to watch, will understand, and will be engaged enough to try.

Jared’s Take

So I’m a Traktor user.  I’ve dabbled with every other DJ software from Mixxx to Cross to VDJ to Serato and everything in between, but I keep coming back to Traktor.  I use mostly NI gear when I spin live (they don’t make a four channel MIDI mixer so I use the under-appreciated Behringer MM-1), but at home my gear is spread all over the place with Stanton turntables, a Vestax mixer, and a whole host of gear that I have floating around.  My point in saying that is that I’m biased.  I really do love Traktor and will continue using it until something that completes my workflow better comes out.  And the S8 has me very excited.

It fills every workflow need I may have, with only one complaint and that’s that it’s probably too big for a lot of the small bars and clubs I spin in.  Well, I have two complaints, and that’s that there’s no USB hub.  My main complaint for that is because laptops are getting smaller, and allowing for less peripherals.  A hub in the back could accommodate an external hard drive, a USB mouse, or two CDJ-2000s for HID control, or to throw connect a Maschine for the power.  I mean, they put the MIDI In/Out port there, but all of that could be handled via USB as well, and probably in a more elegant package.  There are a lot of reasons to want a hub there.

All of that being said, I’m hoping this controller lives up to the hype I’m placing on it.  I’m sure the screen will be crisp and clean, and will probably make Remix deck control more understandable.  The press release mentions “Enhanced Remix Decks” so I’m hoping this will smooth out the workflow so they can resemble the old sample decks, which were infinitely more improvisational in nature, while still allowing the power of the current remix decks, except with maybe a little more elegant workflow.  But the main reason I’m excited is this one controller can sit in any workflow I want.  If I want to use turntables I can.  If I want to use sync and remix decks I can.  If I want to DJ with friends and have them hook their CDJs into it while I use pads I can.  And I can spend less time looking at the screen and more time looking at my gear.  The capacitive knobs make a lot of features for intuitive (here’s to hoping they have kills on the EQ), and it just adds a whole bunch of features to my existing setup, but it does it in one package.

Now that we’ve seen a more in depth video, can I just express how excited I am that they added Slicer mode in?  I mean, finally.  I’m disappointed the video didn’t show any use of vinyl/CDs, if nothing else because it would probably put a lot of people at ease.  That being said, 4 line/phono/DVS inputs is pretty epic, and now that we have confirmed it works without a computer it can really stand its own as an “always on,” primary unit.

The major complaint I can see, and understand, is that when you show up to a club or a venue with an established setup, they won’t be too happy about letting you attach a mixer in the middle.  And that’s really valid.  But for a guy like me, and I don’t think I’m that unique, or for someone who already brings all of their own gear to a gig, like mobile DJs, I can definitely see this being an ideal controller to fill in all of the blanks of Traktor, and really demystify the software.  The real story, for me, is going to be Traktor Pro 3, and that’s what I can’t wait for.

Dan’s Take

I want it noted, before the rest of my words, that I own a pair of 1210s, and my DJing time is split fairly evenly between 4 deck sync mixing and vinyl timecode within Traktor Scratch Pro 2. Just let that sync (LOL) in before hitting the comments filled with rage.

Jared and I were talking about the S8, back when the Amazon leak happened, and were both in agreement that this is an awesome direction to take Traktor controllers. I remember saying to him that “this is the best controller I’ll probably never buy”. This isn’t because it’s not worth the money, but simply because it’s an all-in-one controller that matches very close to my own personal existing DJ workflow. I’ve spent many years getting to the point where I’m very happy with my set up, but this unit could just simply replace it, if I wanted.

I’ve kept up with all the discussions online about the Kontrol S8, and the predictable uproar about the lack of jog wheels. I get the feeling there’s a bit of a divide between Europe and USA (give or take) about what DJing is. Traditionally, The US has been very Serato-centric, because it was seen as very much about turntables and a mixer. This is very much influenced by the fact that until recently, Hip Hop and R&B very much dominated the nation’s music tastes. Conversely, Europe has been very much Dance-focused, pretty much since the early 90s, so the steady rhythms of Techno, Tech House and Progressive House were friendlier to the much-maligned SYNC button, as evidenced by the many European DJs that use Traktor with X1s and a mixer, or use Ableton Live along with an assortment of MIDI controllers.

With this in mind, for a lot of people the idea of not having jog wheels is inconceivable.

inconceivable_princess_bride

Because for their DJing, they are essential. But Native Instruments knows that. They aren’t stupid. The S8 is still for those people. And here’s why… there are two workflows this unit fulfills:

  • Those with the synced, four deck mixing style, that experiment with remix decks and tend to play more Techno, Tech House and the like. The S8 does all that.
  • Those that need jog wheels or turntables, the S8 is meant to fit between your decks.

The S8 not only works as an audio-through mixer, it comes with Traktor Scratch Pro 2. It basically replaces your [Pioneer/Xone/whatever] mixer, two Kontrol X1s, Two Kontrol F1s and an Audio 8. It has two colour screens and a bunch of capacitive knobs. For £940. It’s a damn bargain!

And we haven’t even begun to talk about NI refocusing on the remix decks. I think I’ve mentioned before that when the remix decks came out, Native Instruments did a really bad job of explaining them to the user. Not only that, but setting up remix sets is clunky, time-consuming and the ones you can buy are way overpriced. But once you use an F1 and download the 1.5GB of free remix sets from the NI site, it just clicks, and you get that “holy shit!” moment. The S8 takes that to the next level by bringing remix decks front and centre. I can only imagine what tricks will be in Traktor Pro 3 when it comes out. As an industry journalist, I’m excited for the future of DJing. As a Traktor user, I’m excited to see some renewed innovation, and to have a play on one.

Darren’s thoughts

I work in the Motor Trade for a particular brand, we always strive for conquest business that is winning a customer away from the competition. When we’ve won a new customer our next challenge is to retain them and impress on them how important they are to us. As a Serato and Ableton fanatic I fall in the very category that NI is trying to attract — I’m a conquest!

I was intrigued by the Future of DJing but dismissive that it would be provided by Traktor never mind how many Superstar DJ names claimed to be using it this week. I first saw the leaked pictures a few weeks ago and haven’t yet seen a model in the flesh like Mark. With a massive amount of equipment at home that I could configure in a dozen different ways, I couldn’t see where the S8 would fit in my heart or mind to purchase. Then I realised that my one fall back controller has been the Novation Twitch. It’s handled so many impromptu parties and me jumping onto play a few tunes with someone else’s PA that it’s paid for itself that many times over.

The S8 seems to upgrade the Twitch in many areas, including the ability to still retain DVS functionality and use as a standalone mixer, but it’s also an upgrade in price. I see it differently to Dan — £940.00 is a lot of money, a lot of money to put together what I’ve got on a more advanced basis with my Serato and Ableton set up.

I’m also mindful that with the now confirmed Serato Ableton Bridge 2 (it’s probably not called that), I’m probably going to save my pennies up to buy a S8 outright. I will however reserve final judgement until I get my hands on one in the Worxlab.

Ray’s Fault

Ever since the Rane Sixty-Four came along, I’ve been using both Serato DJ and Traktor, unable to pick a clear winner between the two. But there is no question at all which is currently the better program for DJs with a controllerist approach to performing – Serato is still way behind on the whole MIDI mapping thing. Controllers like the NS7II are a lot of fun to use, but with Serato DJ everything only ever comes pre-mapped – so “plug’n play” also means “our way or the highway”.

Of course NI’s business model has essentially been the same since the release of the S4, but the difference is that with Traktor, you have a custom MIDI mapping framework. It hasn’t aged well, but it does the job – having an old tool that works is much better than having no tool at all. The main reason I added Serato DJ to my setup really is the awesome Rane hardware. The Sixty-Four allows me to use two laptops running Serato DJ and Ableton Live + Maschine in ways that put both Remix Decks and the Bridge to shame – while I can’t create macros in Serato DJ, I can send it through Ableton Live where I can basically do anything I want. I’ll be talking about that in detail soon. The thing is, the more complex your rig gets, the more you notice how little the audience cares about what you’re using. They came to dance, so the only important thing is the music you’re playing – and because of that, I’ve never stopped looking at “all in one” type controllers – you can’t always bring a ton of gear, and you probably don’t necessarily want to either.

Along comes the S8, which due to an unfortunate early leak took no one by surprise. Advertised as the #futureofdjing, like every new flagship product announced by every company making DJ gear in the short history of companies making DJ gear, it’s supposed to be a game-changer. But besides the Maschine Studio screens boasting some truly sexy interface elements taken straight from the iPad Traktor DJ app and Maschine… what’s really new about the S8? It’s basically a 4-channel mixer with two integrated F1s, and as such it doesn’t have a jog wheel or a pitch fader. This may seem like a bold move, but NI isn’t the first company to ditch those two established concepts at once. Novation did this with the Twitch a few years ago – unfortunately for them, Serato Itch was never really any noteworthy competition for Traktor.

To be fair, now that NI is doing this, it’s a whole different story altogether. These guys are largely responsible for making DJing as accessible and widespread as it is today, so if anyone is in the position to take a bold step that could affect the entire world of DJing, it’s them. We’re not just looking at another piece of kit here – I would go as far as calling it a statement: “quantisation and sync are the norm now”. But here’s the thing: the S8 can’t just be “okay” for them to get away with it. It has to be good – very, very good.

Save a few details I’ll figure out the moment I get to mess around with it, the controller itself looks entirely self-explanatory to me. It’s the software that I’m worried about. The S8 will ship with Traktor 2.7 – not a major release, so we can’t expect anything ground-breaking yet. How long until Traktor 3 and what features will it unlock on the S8? Are we going to have a better key lock algorithm (Zplane Élastique v3?) to compete with Pitch’n Time, will the beat grids finally be capable of handling non-quantized hand-made music like the ones in Serato, will there be tools for managing Remix Decks (to export and re-import them after editing them inside a DAW)? I don’t know, but for a controller built around a Remix Deck workflow, those things better get sorted quickly. I wouldn’t mind not having to fire up Live for such simple stuff. True live sets are different – but Traktor is not a DAW, it’s a tool for playing back tracks and slapping loops on top of them.

As a nerd, I’m of course also curious about how hackable the controller will be in terms of custom mappings, especially when it comes to accessing the screens. With MIDI getting the boot in favour of proprietary HID protocols, NI probably won’t go open source – I’m afraid it’s yet another step towards keeping users locked within the company’s “ecosystem” of products. But if the basic functions are all implemented well and the workflow works as well as it flows, we’re looking at a fun piece of kit regardless.

Oh, and since we’re doing memes now… just one final thought:

S8 that would be great


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