Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 review

For a moment let’s just forget about the vinyl versus digital argument, which seems set to rumble on for all eternity.  The scene is at a crossroads – there’s no doubt about that – and DJ controllers are becoming more and more prevalent amongst modern jocks. Time then to take a look at Native Instruments’ latest offering, the S4 controller.

The S4 is a premium-quality four channel DJ mixer controller with a built-in 24 bit/96 kHz soundcard custom tailored with its own version of Traktor Pro S4 software. It’s slightly larger than its Vestax or Reloop counterparts, tipping the scales at a satisfying 3.4kg.  After all these years the design format hasn’t really changed all that much since the classic Citronic or Cloud Electronics disco consoles of the 1970’s, although with the removable media used to transmit our musical delights constantly changing then maybe that’s no bad thing – the S4 is intuitive, well laid out and easy to pick up after just a couple of goes.  At the back, connections consist of a ground wire locking nut for turntables, while the main output consists of a pair of RCA phono and ¼ inch jack outputs. Then there’s the inputs, which include another two pairs of RCAs with line selectors and gain control, ¼ inch mike input with gain adjust and ½ footswitch control. Five Pin Din Midi in and out, a USB 2 port and the 9-20V DC power pin (for included power supply) complete the link-up possibilities.

On the front we have headphone cue, mix and mic volume with a ¼ input jack which we thought might pose problem when mounted in a conventional flight case. Luckily so did NI, who have knocked up their own custom case which you can pick up for around £140. Up on deck the S4 feels sturdy, the multi-functional jog wheels are rock solid, the pitch control, channel faders and cross-fader move freely yet not of their own free will.  All the knobs and cue buttons have a professional weight to them so without any further pre-flight checks we can fire her up.

Upon launching the software you can customise your S4 set up to a combination of track decks, sample decks and live inputs. Once inside you can use the layout selector to dictate which of Traktor’s features you want displayed on screen.  The S4 version of Traktor is similar visually to Traktor Scratch Pro, the most useful addition being the sample decks below each player.  You can load samples (up to 48 seconds each) from the browser to each cell (eight in total) or set loop points in the playing deck, the contents of which can be moved to one of the cells. Sample playback can be one shot or looped and is activated by one of the four dedicated sample cue buttons on each player. Each cell has a volume knob and dual filter, and the length of each loop can be doubled or cut in half using the loop-in and loop-out buttons on the S4.  Control of the sample decks is achieved by hitting the deck C and D buttons in the top hand corner of each player on the console. You can set up decks C and D as track decks, sample decks or live inputs through the preferences menu.  You can also sample the signal from the main mix, cue or aux with the all new loop recorder function located at the top of the screen or middle centre of the S4 which will sample up to 32 bars and is triggered from the sample deck, foot pedal or other device.

The layout of the S4 console is clean, and you can tell a lot of care has gone into positioning certain controls in close proximity to others. The player’s loop, sample trigger, play, cue and shift controls are situated beneath each of the two jog wheels.  These resemble a professional CD deck and can be used to browse files, cue and scratch tracks or samples as well as nudge the tempo.  The central mixer module has four channel strips, two for each channel with illuminated cue, filter, 3-band EQ control, gain and effects sends.  As mentioned above, the loop sampler is situated in the very middle and is made up of a dry/wet mix knob as well as record, play, loop size and undo keys. Below the sampler the browse button couldn’t be better placed as it activates S4 browse mode for quick track selection whilst in the mix. Directly above it the large encoder can be used to browse and select tracks as well as preview files prior to loading.

Along the top of the unit to the left and right we have the effects controls.  We all know how much fun these are to use in Traktor and the S4’s deliverance doesn’t disappoint. With the aid of a dry/wet mix knob and three additional control knobs you can jam in single mode which allows you to modulate three different parameters of each effect or group mode which makes it possible to apply three effects at once controlling them through their central parameter.

It doesn’t take long to familiarize yourself with the S4; even those of us who don’t know our way around Traktor Pro will find it easy enough to learn the basics, with advanced operation not far around the corner. Existing users may resent the current lack of upgrade options from Traktor Pro to the S4, with Native Instruments deciding to sell this as an all-in-one system. That said its highly impressive userbility, paired with the quality of bundled software and soundcard options, justifies the price tag.

Review: Dicken Lean

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 Specifications
Optimised For Traktor Scratch S4
Max Channels 4
Rotary Controls 35
Faders 4
Multi-functional jog wheels Yes
Sample Rate 96kHz
Bit Rate 24bit
Soundcard Yes
Inputs 2x Stereo
Outputs 4
Midi USB/5pin DIN both
Bus Powered USB or mains powered
Mic Input Yes
Dimensions (l) 50 x (w) 32.2 x (h) 5.2 cm
Weight 3.4kg
System Requirements PC Windows XP (latest Service Pack, 32 Bit),
Vista/Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32/64 Bit),
Pentium/Athlon XP 1.8 GHz OR Core2/AMD
Athlon X2, 2 GB RAM
System Requirements Mac Mac OS X 10.5 or higher, Intel Core Duo 1.66 GHz, 2 GB RAM