s4setup_ipad

That’s one small step for DJ hardware, one giant leap into the post-PC era.

Native Instruments today has updated their integrated hardware for Traktor DJs, the 4-channel Traktor Kontrol S4 and 2-channel Traktor Kontrol S2. But while the updates are nice, the biggest transformation is that you can watch a DJ working with these controllers alongside either an iPad or a Mac/PC laptop – and it really doesn’t matter which they’re using.

Oh, sure, the laptop is more flexible when it comes to storage, and NI’s iOS software still lags on some of the nice features of the desktop version, like added effects. But, if anything, the iPad is starting to look like it could someday have the edge. It’s smaller, it’s more focused on the task at hand, and its touchscreen excels at manipulating digital waveforms of the music being played. It’s both screen and interface in a way no other hardware or computer can be.

In fact, the one show-stopping problem I have with Traktor DJ on the iPad – the fact that it’s too easy to accidentally switch off a deck with your finger – is resolved by having dedicated hardware.

On the other hand, laptop users benefit from this flexibility, too. If you still prefer the more-powerful features and expanded storage of a desktop, that iPad now serves as an adequate backup system. (Beer and MacBooks don’t make the best combo.) And furthermore, you’re no longer purchasing hardware for a dedicated system; the Traktor gear will work with desktop and mobile, NI’s software but also anything that supports MIDI. (I’m rather keen to hack these, in fact.)

The Hardware

As to the “small-step” incremental updates, they’re nice, too:

  • Updated design
  • 8 color-coded RGB buttons for triggering (as part of NI’s march to turn everything into RGB buttons)
  • High-resolution jog wheels NI claims send better data, with “aircraft-grade alumnimum plates”
  • Dedicated controls for Flux Mode (on iOS) and Remix Decks (on desktop)

US$799 / 799 € buys you the S4; $499 / 499 € the S2.

I’ll say this, too. Apologies to those of you in comments who think CDM should be trashing NI’s new hardware. But I find the designs to look and feel terrific, and I keep hearing good feedback from the folks using them. (Now, that doesn’t mean I’m not keen for some software updates – Maschine, Reaktor, better third-party controller support in Traktor, and so on being high on the list.)

But – let me say this again – the big news here is that this could well be the announcement when it was clear that iPads and perhaps other tablets would be on equal footing with laptops.

(Oh, and PS – because it is class-compliant for iOS, this also makes this controller more hackable for other solutions. Just sayin’. Come on, you know this is still CDM.)

The Kontrol S4. iOS/PC interchangeability is the big news story here, but updated hardware is both sleeker and more usable.

The Kontrol S4. iOS/PC interchangeability is the big news story here, but updated hardware is both sleeker and more usable.

The two-channel S2, viewed from the integrated audio interface cue jack. All images courtesy Native Instruments.

The two-channel S2, viewed from the integrated audio interface cue jack. All images courtesy Native Instruments.

The "high-resolution" platters and new aluminum build are a big part of the story here. We're keen to try them - and even try mapping them to other software.

The “high-resolution” platters and new aluminum build are a big part of the story here. We’re keen to try them – and even try mapping them to other software.

The Controllerist

madzach

Music technology is built as tools for humans, so it really only becomes interesting (or not) once you put a person behind this hardware. And NI chose well – Mad Zach. This talented musician and contributor to DJ TechTools does turn digital DJing into an instrumental skill. He’s a justification for the term “controllerist” if ever there was one.

The NI kit is nice, but this is as much an ad for Zach’s unique virtuosity, too. And the setting is perfect: it’s the abandoned control room of the power plant at Kraftwerk, the space above Berlin’s club Tresor. (Dear NI: please find a way to shoot a video relating to Reaktor there. Obvious, no?)

If you’re in Berlin, you can catch him on the 27th of September at a stupidly-affordable 3-hour workshop. I wish I could be there; I’ll be in Hamburg for Reepberbahn Festival, but I hope someone takes good notes for the rest of us.

And for anyone who routinely complains at this site for focusing on vendors, that’s not what his workshop is about – it’s about developing your musical chops, not any one product.

Looks great – details on the blog of Barb Nerdy’s Wedding, Berlin party collective:
DJ Tools workshop with Mad Zach [Support Your Local Ghetto]

http://www.madzach.com/

  • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

    This looks really, really nice. And I agree with you about the big plus of not being bound to either ‘Pad or ‘Book anymore. But that $/€ price tag is a joke. Same as with Apple’s newest ‘Phones. I just hope that street prices will somehow regulate that insane $/€ equasion.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, wait a minute, you’ve answered your own question. If a company that prices as efficiently as Apple is also doing this conversion, it means it actually reflects the cost of selling the goods in Europe.

      Trust me, it’s not a joke, as I’m doing the same math on MeeBlip. Start with VAT. Add predicting the fluctuations of the Euro and associated currency conversion costs. Then add in additional distribution costs in Europe, and a vastly higher tax rate (plus new incidental taxes, additional recycling takeback costs, and even things like a recycling takeback tax on the boxes).

      And don’t forget that Europe doesn’t actually manufacture any of this. Neither does the USA in this case, but China charges in US dollars – back to the currency issue. After all of this, you’re probably still making more money from the US sales than European sales, even with the pricing conversion you think is a joke.

      Now, I reach a couple of conclusions. One is, we badly need to expand manufacturing in Europe. I actually was just saying this on a panel with reps from Ableton and NI in Berlin.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      But the other conclusion is this, and it’s related — I am glad to be a European resident. I’m glad the EU is forward thinking on environmental policy, even when that means a logistical pain – even if only to try an idea. I appreciate what those tax dollars buy. And I appreciate that, for all its flaws, the Euro is part of what makes it possible to sell things like synthesizers to an entire continent as if it we one market.

      So, I hope we do find a way to do more manufacturing and assembly in the EU. Just don’t expect that to result in lower prices, either. And if you like low taxation and want to sacrifice things like health care to get it, well, there’s Florida and Delaware in the USA. I can tell you all about them. ;)

      This does sound like a topic for a follow up article. I may look into it. And yes, then I’d do some more detailed research, though I think I am in broad terms more or less accurate here.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Well, yes… And yes, I am aware of the math. And I am also aware that many countries in Europe do all this tax thing in order to enable health care systems, be environmentally aware etc. And yes, I have tried to make my maths on importing “cheaper priced” devices from the U.S., which always ends up not being worth it with all the additional shipping, customs and what not. So, yes, I am on the same page as you.

      But it still annoys me to see a price tag saying $299, €299. It’s just not a positive signal. And no, I don’t know how to solve it. It’s obviously a matter of perception. But then again, perception is key when it comes to marketing and user satisfaction. Well, at least I believe so.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, be glad it’s not $299 / 329 €, etc. ;)

      Also, remember that as one person, you’re dealing with fewer variables than someone like NI. In fact, one scenario is that the 299 € actually nets more profit than the US$299 unit shipping to North America, but the *distributor* is taking more of that (and then you’re into whatever their margins look like). Europe has a different distributor network than the US/Canada, and it behaves differently.

      To be fair, I’m not sure this is building us better railways and paying for health insurance and saving the earth and stopping global warming. It may in the long run really have nothing to do with that. But… uh… it does make you feel better, at least, so if you don’t know, I find it helpful to think that way. ;)

    • Big Mister Doom

      Where are you based Peter? I always presumed you were US for some reason…

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I’ve been based in Berlin since 2011.

      Prior to that, I was in New York.

      I’ve thus had a crash course in what it means to import products (MeeBlip) into Europe. ;)

  • heinrichz

    NI is ahead of the curve here, now we need something like that for Maschine i.e. iPad replacing the laptop as an option. Do you think that would be feasible?

    • coolout
    • heinrichz

      This is very nice but i would prefer a combination of Maschine hardware knobs/buttons and and an iPad. But you certainly can’t beat this approach here for portability…very intriguing, I’m tempted !

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, I’ve already told the Maschine team I think something like this would be nice. ;) (It would require a different driver model for the Maschine hardware, as that currently requires host drivers the iPad lacks.)

      In the meantime, I’m happy to see improvements in the desktop Maschine combo, though.

    • syntheticjuice

      Wait, are you teasing about a maschine update coming soon?! :)

  • S4Jaded

    As amazing this is… I had no idea this deck was coming when I bought the S4 2 months ago. I’m quite pissed. I guess that’s what I get for not researching more :(

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      It’s the same problem with any consumer electronics device you might buy. Get a new laptop and find the manufacturer releasing an update next month. Buy a new phone and hear about the new model coming out soon. It’s always going to be the same.
      You could try and contact NI (or the store you bought it at) and hear if you could return it and instead purchase the new one. It’s a possibility.

  • coolout

    The thing I’m waiting for is DVS support for Traktor DJ. The DJ Player app already supports DVS using the newer Traktor interfaces, so surely NI can handle this. Controllers can be great (I own quite a few) but personally I’m getting tired of manufacturers whiz-bang targeting of casual or new DJs. Most clubs in any major city are going to have turntables and/or CDJs already installed. It’s a pain in the butt to completely rearrange the DJ booth to accommodate some all-in-one MIDI controller. In fact…the most delicate, obnoxious (as in a barrier between the DJ and audience) piece of gear that needs to be replaced is probably the laptop. Being able to walk into a gig with some control records, a sound card, and a ipad mini seems really attractive, In theory it should be able to replace both the laptop and a controller used for FX, hotcues, and looping.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ah, DVS for the iPad – interesting. And I guess no one has done that yet. I agree, it’d be really useful from a form factor standpoint.

    • Gábor

      DJ Player has DVS on the iPad since 12 months. Here is a nice quick something with IDA World Champion Mandrayq: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uRAmTboGAw

  • leolodreamland

    they released midi for remix decks at least.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, we need to do an update there – but glad that happened. I like things like the S4, but then I also appreciate people who do their own custom controller setups, so that we’re not all working from the same controls.

    • leolodreamland

      maybe lead with the guy who releases the absolute best touchosc interfaces – for free! digitaldjtools.net – his mapping for remix decks is really sweet.

  • pizzyb

    These decks will soon just have a auto DJ mode and u wont have to touch a thing

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Surely we’re not getting into the whole tired “automatic beatmatching” debate, are we?

      Almost nothing on this is automated. If anything, actually, I’d worry that in the hands of a less-experienced DJ than Zach, someone would get carried away with all the loop points and effects and Remix Decks and so on. Sometimes it is nice to chill out and let a track play a bit at a party.

  • MrBim

    i love all the virtuoso performer stuff but i cant help thinking how hard it is to respond to an audience over a long set in the way a more traditional dj can.

  • bigd4112002

    gotta s4 for sale

  • http://ccombe.tumblr.com/ Chris Combe

    just as some of my s4 volume faders have started mad glitching a new toy comes a long ;)

  • Joseph Wilk

    Remix deck functionality is going to be my #1 consideration as far as deciding whether I make the upgrade or not. I’ve yet to train my brain (or fingers) to memorize all of the adapted buttons and modifiers on the S4 to make them work the way I want to (I’m an “out of the box” thinker in that I only have time for things to work how I want them to “out of the box,” ha).

  • FAKEDJSMARKETING

    ALL THESE BULLSHIT FAKE CONTROLLER GIMMICKS ARE APPALING!!!!
    DJ TECH TOOLS IS GARBAGE

    THERE IS NOTHING IMPRESSIVE ABOUT THIS OVER USED TRENDY GARBAGE

  • FAKEDJSMARKETING

    NATIVE INSTRUMENTS WENT FROM COOL AWESOME THINGS LIKE REAKTOR AND SYNTHS TO BULLSHIT LIKE KONTAKT LIBRARIES AND SAMPLE BASED CRAP. TONS OF TRENDY DJ CRAP.

    WHERE IS REAKTOR 6?
    WHERE IS INNOVATION?

    INSTEAD WE HAVE ROBOTIC PUSH BUTTON HIPSTER “DJS”

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Just let it out. Feel free to vent…

      Not sure I get the “hipster” part of your argument here, but otherwise, okay. FYI, there are still engineers working on the producer line (Maschine and Komplete), and they’re a different team than Traktor. So NI didn’t sort of pull people off the stuff you like and have them quit and only work on Traktor.

    • chompy

      you’d not do very well in marketing

      hipster DJs just plug their iPod into the sound board cuz even Traktor DJing requires too much effort and expending effort is not hip

      NI is marketing this stuff to nerds. i.e. software engineer type guys who read this site and DJ tech tools and pretend to DJ in their bedroom at home. It’s similar to SLR camera marketing.

  • neb

    As a hobbyist DJ who cut his teeth on two CD decks and an analog Vestax, I’ve come to appreciate the creative freedom that tools like Traktor bring to the table. Beat grids let me focus on mixing (instead of track nudging), and more cue points allow for subtleties of arrangement that make for better mixes. As a musician, Traktor on iPad makes a great deal of sense. It’s intuitive, always there, and expressive in ways the laptop-bound version can’t be.

    Although it’s great to see NI stand behind an innovative mobile product with strong peripherals, plugging in a S4 doesn’t really feel like a step forward. I can’t help but sigh every time I see another “two platters and a mixer” controller. I get that NI is playing to the market, but I can’t help but feel that they could be doing more.