“People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware,” said computer visionary Alan Kay in 1982. And when it comes to making computer software into something you can control physically with your hands, that has made some music tool makers look to integrated hardware for control.

But music users – DJs included – also expect to be able to use their own controller hardware when they play, an expectation cemented by decades of access to the standard MIDI protocol. That meant that Native Instruments stirred up some controversy from its users when it failed to match third-party control of new remix features in its Traktor software with its own, custom hardware, the F1 Kontrol.

The results reveal a bit of the gap between MIDI and protocols used by modern computer hardware – and the gap between what Native Instruments has released to the public and what it plans for future versions. (NI is ultimately working to let you use a variety of controller hardware with Traktor 2.5.)

First, here’s what’s missing. Traktor 2.5 introduces a new feature called Remix Decks, as clearly explained in the tutorial video at top, showing preparation. Instead of playing tracks as-is from start to finish, the idea is that Remix Decks offer more elaborate controls over bits of tracks for manipulation, allowing you to “remix” materials on the fly. You can control Remix Decks from third-party hardware like the Akai MPD (or NI’s own Maschine controller), among others, but there are some limitations, as first reported by DJ TechTools. Only the first four slots are assignable, not the sixteen slots available in the software, which would map more logically to the many 16-pad controllers available. Also, other bi-directional data is missing, so light-up color feedback can’t map back to controllers that support it, and scrolling is unsupported. This means that, for many users, only the F1 Kontrol hardware from NI is able to access the Remix Deck features in full.

Traktor’s 2.5 Remix Decks will have Limited Controller Function.. For Now [DJ TechTools]

Native Instruments confirmed to DJ TechTools that this was not intended as the long-term state of Traktor 2.5, but that, instead, the software would eventually support all third-party control. Readers complained to CDM that the omission was tantamount to intentional lock-in, pushing Traktor users to buy additional hardware. We asked for additional clarification from NI as to why this release lacked this functionality. Native Instruments tells CDM:

There was a conscious decision to focus on tightly bringing the hardware and software together on the lowest level and ensuring that we did the best job possible on connecting the Kontrol F1 to the new features of the Remix Decks in Traktor Pro 2.5. For this, it was important to test this closed system before opening up the infinite possibilities of what mapping can bring.

Also, we wanted to round out the Controller Manager a bit more (relabeling, output learn and a few other features that didn’t make it) before just cramming more in on top. It was not possible to do this in an open fashion to really nail the nuances that we absolutely wanted to go into with the F1 – the last thing we wanted is any stability issues because we tried to do too much. People certainly do not appreciate when something is not there but there is only one thing worse: Something that is there but not ideal, well rounded or worse, not stable.

Native Instruments has separately told DJ TechTools that they expect to unveil the reworked Controller Manager, the feature that supports custom mapping, in the next major release.

The reason that the F1 is different from other controllers is that NI makes use not of MIDI, but of HID – the USB Human Interface Device class, to be specific. That basic protocol is a fundamental part of the standard USB specification. In other words, to support additional hardware via MIDI, NI has to do additional work, both in providing the MIDI implementation itself and support in its Controller Manager facility.

NI tells CDM that they “want to implement MIDI support looking forward, but could not make it in the initial release.” They say there is no timetable yet, but they can confirm support.

In the meantime, users have found ways of providing their own support. DJ TechTools, which hosts the community in which much of the work is being done, calls them “hackers.” These can be considered hacks in the sense of “building your own solution to a problem by any means necessary,” as they require no reverse-engineering of something truly proprietary. HID is a standard protocol, so effectively what users are doing with HID support is using a standard protocol to provide support even without the user interface supporting it in Traktor. We’ve covered music projects that use HID before; some readers have suggested in comments that HID even become a standard way of augmenting MIDI support. For their part, DJ TT is working to add support for its MIDI Fighter 3D hardware. Two users are working on templates for Lemur, the iOS touch application. Another user has a project on GitHub with F1 support.

None of these projects appears to offer seamless, turn-key support in both directions of the full functionality, so it’s unclear whether users or NI developers will be first to offering an alternative to the F1. Most Traktor users, though, will almost certainly want to await the new controller-mapping features in an upcoming update to Traktor. Even if the preference is for modification and customization, this will allow for standard MIDI mappings without the complexity of trying to make controller support work through another means.

Four Hacker Projects Unlock Traktor’s Remix Decks [DJ TechTools]

Your feedback?

Looking beyond just Traktor 2.5, I’d love to hear from people working with HID for music, and whether any enterprising musicians out there might imagine some more comprehensive solution for using HID for control – if such a thing makes sense. In fact, do you agree with the apparent conclusion by NI’s engineers that HID is a superior choice for this kind of bi-directional control application to MIDI over USB?

We’ve been looking at the notion of doing some sort of very focused “hack day” in Berlin and online, as in one with specific goals or themes in mind rather than the (very awesome) generalized hack days hosted internationally in recent years; if you’re interested in helping plan, do get in touch.

As an illustration of how non-homogeneous musicians’ rigs typically are, here’s the first photo I stumbled upon of the F1 in the wild – alongside NI’s own Maschine (which would benefit from MIDI support in Traktor) and Ableton Live:

A little bit of this, a little bit of that – two NI hardware controllers meet Ableton in the kind of hybrid setup typical in the real world. Photo (CC-BY) Hong Kong-based JasonF.


Traktor 2.5, Kontrol F1 Arrive with Live Features; Hoping for More Live DJing

  • kid versus chemical

    I don’t think it’s really fair to slam NI for what they did here (not saying that’s what your doing, I’m referring to the users who are complaining, I know CDM is just reporting here). God forbid they try to sell a few of there F1 units. Open and/or customizable hardware and software is great thing, but not requisite. I have lived with Apple’s software nazi BS for years and have still been able to do great things with there products.

    Besides, it sounds like NI plans to eventually to do what the users want eventually. If these dudes want to remix so much, maybe it’s time to buy a full on DAW (that last statement is meant to be tongue in cheek, please no one get bunched panties).

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, I’m just reporting. The shorter version of this story runs like this:

      “NI just added a new Remix Deck feature and introduced new hardware to control it. They don’t support custom hardware yet, because that wasn’t done in time to ship, but that’s coming soon.”

      Obviously, though, there’s enough enthusiasm around the feature that people want more detail, so this is that detail.

    • http://www.facebook.com/patrick.ijsselstein Patrick Ijsselstein

      I use hid in combination with junxion, it’s fast and it gives me the ultimate control because you can use anything with a usb connection… From joysticks to dancing mats, everything. Just recently i’ve started building my own controllers, below you see an example. It’s the inner guts from a joystick i’ve found in a container, the buttons are from a old gem-synth, and the box was from a local tobaccoshop. It costed me nothing, but now i have  6 banks of 8 buttons. Used to select devices and tracks in ableton live. In combination with the macro-mapping of my remote sl, there’s no need to use a mouse anymore.

    • Beedux

       the only reason i use pcs or mac at all was because of traktor. linux has daws powerful enough that a lot of commercial recording studios prefer a custom linux setup because its cheaper, more powerful, and modular. honestly, mixxx is a close second for me n e way since they started implementing fx patches and sampling slots. i realize most ppl dont have the time or skill to compile a program to include various features that arent in the stock version, but thats what linux (and to a leser degree) djing is all about. and the great thing about the open source community (and the beauty of object oriented programming) its that you can change the program to suit your needs easily and legally. if traktor doesnt shape up, i have no reason to use pcs or mac. no i dont think thats harsh. yes i think its a marketing scheme to sell more (antiquated in my opinion) hardware. the f1 doesnt bring n e thing new to the table.

  • kid versus chemical

    FWIW the silver lining here is that many Traktor users may end up with some rad DIY hardware and/or software as well as picking up some new skills along the way, which is potentially a boon not to be overlooked.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Absolutely. I’m not clear yet on whether there’s some advantage to custom HID support, or whether it’ll be easier simply to work with MIDI. I don’t see a particular advantage to keyboard input, etc. – that *does* really qualify as a “hack.” (Or kludge!) Wider HID support could be interesting, though. I have to talk to NI more about what specifically the advantage of HID was here versus MIDI over USB, and I’m curious what others have found. Resolution here doesn’t matter, because you have pretty simple triggers, unless I’m missing something.

  • Brand B

    This remix deck idea.. has been in Deckadance for quite sometime… it is the MAIN reason I have been using Deckadance over Traktor…it functions like MLR inside of a DJ app…

  • http://www.facebook.com/giulio.andreini Giulio Andreini

    The fact that these three features can’t be controlled by MIDI it’s clearly a marketing and commercial strategy: NI is launching a new product and the want to sell a lot of units and that’s the way to go… they’re making their business.
    The problem is we don’t have a standard and easy protocol like MIDI, and we could see more dedicated and closed controllers coming out in the future.
    Anyway we’ll see if we can hack it :)

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, to be fair:

      HID *is* a standard – indeed, you could argue *more* so than MIDI in terms of the way the USB Implementers’ Forum works versus the MIDI Manufacturing Association. And the controller already uses HID.

      If the MIDI thing is a commercial strategy, it’s a bizarre one. Consider:
      1. They’re adding MIDI support – it’s just not done yet.
      2. Part of the problem is issues with the existing MIDI implementation in the software.

      In other words, if you want to put this extremely un-diplomatically, they really haven’t got the quality of the MIDI control stuff where NI themselves say they want it to be.

      Now, it can be a commercial strategy to finish the controller integration first and MIDI second, but … that’s it. Anyway, because it’s HID, it’s hacking in the “making it work” sense – it’s not really even reverse engineering.

  • The konnection dj mix show

    I’ve been a Traktor users for years.  I upgraded my software to TSP2 to use the remix decks with my controller.  If I knew that I was not going to have full control of the software with my controller I would not purchased the upgrade. 

    One thing I hated about serato is the fact that you could only use there audio box.  I know company’s have to make money to stay in business but NI should inform customers that  all the features will not be accessible with third party controllers.

    It make the company look greedy. 

    Check out this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_xnsFBw73k&feature=youtu.be
    I have not tested this but I have used Bome in the past to control other devices.

  • http://twitter.com/traktortips Traktor Tips

    Great article – I have linked to you from one of my recent posts – thanks….. http://traktortips.com/2012/08/21/which-traktor-kontrol-x1-or-f1/

  • Jason Fung

    they are ONLY FCC15 RULES PART 15 DEVISE, “try the open source parts in the devise, 😛
    anyway thanks create digital music post the photo , there’s Myata Moscow

    Jasonf from Hong Kong
    Product Specialist /Traktor Dj Division (Apac)