Full Review: Traktor Kontrol S8
Ever since Native Instruments released the Maschine Studio with large color displays, DJs have imagined a Traktor controller with full resolution displays. Last November DJs got their wish when Native Instruments released their first Traktor controller with fully integrated screens, the Traktor Kontrol S8. The controller has been out for a while, and our own Ryan Dejaegher has been putting it through the real world trials to see if it’s worth the investment.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8
- Price + Availability: $1199, Available in the DJTT store
- The Good: Best build quality of any NI controller, screens let you focus on hardware
- The Bad: Can’t be remapped, no pitch faders, no jogwheels may be deal breaker for some
- The Bottom Line: The Traktor Kontrol S8 is the best all in one controller for Traktor
When looking at the Traktor Kontrol S8, it’s easy to see the influence from other Native Instruments controllers. The screens are very similar to screens found on the Maschine Studio, the touch strip pulled from the Kontrol X1 MK2, and the pads, short faders and knobs borrowed from the Kontrol F1. With all these controls rolled together, the Kontrol S8 becomes the only controller a Traktor DJ would ever need.
Hardware: Build Quality + Controls
Native Instruments has continued to improve the build quality of their hardware over the years and the Kontrol S8 is their most well built controller yet. The controller has a solid weight to it, the faders are very smooth, and the large pads/buttons throughout are a nice touch. One thing that DJs will be happy to see is a brushed metal finish for the entire top plate of the Kontrol S8. This is a welcome change from the glossy plates used on the Kontrol S2/S4/Z2, which looked nice before turning into a finger print magnet.
There are number of controls that are both new, yet familiar. The Kontrol S8 has 8 RGB pads per decks that control a number of functions: remix decks, hot cues, and loops/beat jumps. The pads are a nice size, larger then the Kontrol F1 pads but smaller then the full size Maschine pads. Overall the pads feel great, however they are “click style” just like the F1 pads. Having a click helps confirm that the pads have been triggered for things like the remix decks. For finger drumming it can take some getting used to, as many people do prefer the feel of a MPC style drum pad or even the Midi Fighter’s arcade buttons.
DJs that are familiar with the Kontrol X1 MK2 will recognize the touch strip. The functionality is very much the same, DJs can slide their finger across the strip to pitch bend the track, while holding shift lets DJs quickly scrub through the entire track. There are LEDs above the touch strips that indicate the phase of each track (orange in the middle when the track is in sync.) The LEDs also indicate the track position while the shift button is held. DJs can technically “scratch” while the track is paused, but for anyone that’s serious about scratching it’s best to connect a turntable.
The touch strip is missing some functionality from the Kontrol X1 MK2 such as touch loop rolls and touch fx control. Hopefully these are added in a future software update. In general, however, since each touch strip is dedicated to a single deck – we found they performed better than X1’s and were easy to use.
Touch sensitive knobs have started to appear on more controllers. Most of the functionality has been focused on touch EQ knobs that act as kills or touch FX knobs for quick FX triggers. On the Kontrol S8 they serve a different purpose that’s important to the usage of the screens. The touch sensitive knobs will cause the parameters to appear on the screen. Anytime DJs adjust the FX knobs or the encoders beneath the screen, they’ll notice the parameters will appear on the screen. This helps keep the screen clean and avoids cluttering it with parameters that aren’t actively in use.
Full Standalone 4 Channel Mixer
The Kontrol S8 has a 4 channel standalone mixer so DJs can connect up to 4 CDJs or turntables to switchable phono/line inputs on the back and mix without a laptop. The VU meters are nice and large. Another cool feature of the mixer is the filters now have a on/off switch, which makes it easy to do filter sweeps and then instantly kill the filter. The faders on the mixer are all very smooth and according to our sources at NI, were even custom built for this controller.
Each fader features a reverse slide position, so any liquids poured into the mixer will never cause problems with each faders’s performance. The crossfader has a nice loose feel which is great for rapid cuts, and there’s an adjustable crossfader curve, which makes it suitable for scratching. A first for a Traktor controller is a removable/replaceable fader section. Should there be any issues with the faders or if DJs want to upgrade to an innofader this should make the installation easier.
Finally the Kontrol S8 has RCA and XLR master outputs, and a dedicated booth output, something that DJs have wanted ever since the Kontrol S4 MK1 was released.
New Features: Freeze mode + New Remix Deck Controls
The Kontrol S8 was released alongside a new Traktor update which included a few new features to compliment the new controller. The first major feature is “Freeze mode”, which has existed in Traktor DJ (iOS) for sometime but now shows up in full glory on hardware. For those unfamiliar with the feature, freeze mode lets DJs quickly chop sections of their track into 8 temporary slices/cue points on the fly.
The freeze mode is probably the S8’s one stand out “must-have” feature. No other NI controller features a fully integrated freeze mode with all 8 slices and the screen to show you what slice is playing. These two together made it surprisingly easy, and fun, to slice up songs and do multi-part juggles on the fly. Eventually, freeze will probably replace all cue-point juggling entirely, since it can be applied to any part of the song.
The latest Traktor update also includes 2 new controls for the remix deck slots, and the S8 is uniquely designed to leverage them: FX send and pitch adjustment. FX send allows DJss to control the dry/wet signal of FX per remix slot, allowing for more subtle FX application that is very appropriate for electronic music parts. Pitch adjustment is also fun with electronic parts such as hi-hats and rides, enabling the classic 909 pitch down ride effect found in most throw back house tracks today.
Let’s just get this out of the way, the screens on the Kontrol S8 are gorgeous and it’s the best thing about this controller. Native Instruments has almost taken away any need to refer to your computer’s screen for information. There is a huge list of what the screens can display including: track collection, scrolling/zoomable waveforms, FX parameters, remix deck cells, remix deck controls, loop size and so much more.
While the remix decks are a cool concept, one of the challenges with them is trying to remember what is loaded into each remix cell. The only thing DJs have been able to do is try to color code their cells or keep referring to their computer. The Kontrol S8 screens solve both these problems. When DJs switch to a remix deck on the S8, the screens will display a 4 x 2 grid of the remix cells with the title/names/wave for each remix cell. In practice it makes you feel like the S8 is a real remix machine, and not just a remote control.
For track decks, DJs get the essential track deck information displayed on the screen including scrolling waveform, full track stripe, artist, title, BPM, and key. At this time DJs don’t have the ability to change the deck details or where details are displayed on the screen. The graphics on the display are large and clear so they’re easy to see. DJs also have the option of viewing a small waveform for Deck C/D under the Deck A/B waveforms, very handy for DJs that like to mix 4 decks.
The last major benefit of the screens is being able to view the track collection. The screens give you full access to the entire track collection: playlists, remix sets, and any other folder trees. When scrolling through the track collection, DJs will be able to see artist, title, BPM, and key. To speed up the search, DJs can also sort the library by artist, BPM, import date, and others. One thing that could be improved is the scroll speed while going through the library. With a big collection or playlist it can take a long time to scroll through all the tracks.
When looking at the Kontrol S8 it’s obvious that a couple very common controls are missing. The most noticeable are jog wheels, but these were probably a required sacrifice in order to make room for the screens and remix deck faders. A fair trade off perhaps, scratching for true remixing. In actual DJ use, the touch strip is a fine substitute for jog wheels, the only thing it can’t do is scratch. For DJs that want full surface scratch control, the Kontrol S8 ships with Traktor Scratch Pro 2 allowing turntables with Traktor timecode vinyl to connect into the S8.
The second thing DJs will notice is there are no pitch/tempo faders on the Kontrol S8. Instead the tempo can be changed for each deck using the large screen encoder on each side. There is also a tempo knob in the centre of the Kontrol S8. This controls Traktor’s master clock. The idea here would be for all decks to sync to the Traktor master clock, then use the tempo knob to adjust the master clock as needed. With this kind of setup Native Instruments is really pushing sync and negating the need to manually beat match at all. It makes sense since the Kontrol S8 is really focused around 4 deck mixing or 2 deck + 2 remix deck mixing. It wouldn’t be very practical to manually beat match each remix cell that a DJ drops in.
Finally at the time of this review, the Kontrol S8 cannot be remapped. This is disappointing for DJs that want to customize their controllers and workflow. The word we heard is that the screen integration made it impossible to support custom workflows or special mappings, however a single mappable “section” (likely the remix deck faders and encoders) might come in the future.
The Best Traktor Controller Out There?
For DJs looking for a high quality Traktor controller with control over almost all of Traktor’s functions, this is definitely for you. For DJs that want to stop staring at the laptop and focus on their gear, the screens on the S8 will definitely let you do that. However the controller isn’t for everyone and many will be turned off by the price, weight/size or possibly it’s focused intention.
There are DJs that still want jog wheels, and who have no need for the remix deck control due to more traditional DJ sets involving mixing a wide range of tempos. For them – the S8 might be feature overkill. The largest obstacle many face is considering this controller is price.
While the Kontrol S8 is expensive, a DJ would need to have a Kontrol S4 and 2 Kontrol F1’s to have close to the same functionality. For roughly the same price, DJs can get the Kontrol S8 with superior build quality, built in screens, and a Traktor Scratch Pro 2 license – which does makes it a good value if you want to go all-in on the Traktor universe.