Traktor Kontrol S5 Review: The True S4 Followup?
Today marks the official in-store date for the new Kontrol S5 controller for Traktor, and we’ve already got a number of DJs who have picked one up in the DJTT store. Many of you had questions about the unit and how it works, so we’ve got a deep-dive review of the controller in today’s article. Read on and chat with us about Native Instruments’ latest DJ device!
- Product: Traktor Kontrol S5
- Price: $799
- Availability: In the DJTT store now
- The Bottom Line: A welcome addition to the Kontrol line – outclassing the S8 in many ways and giving Traktor users a very solid controller to access Stems and Remix Decks in an intelligent but simple workflow.
Screens: The Biggest Win On The Kontrol S5
Having the ability to quickly reference exactly what’s going on in Traktor without looking at a second screen is fantastic. The screens are incredibly high resolution (just as on the Kontrol S8), allowing you to focus on the controller instead of the laptop (which you can hide away and turn off if you like). The best element is the easy reference of Traktor’s FX units – which are often difficult to see even with a well-placed laptop.
Same goes for Remix Decks and Stem Decks – having the full visuals for each makes these powerful tools more realistic to incorporate into your DJ set – as they both require significant visual feedback to use effectively.
The bottom line: you could play an entire night without looking at your computer at all, and that’s a major plus for a lot of DJs.
A Simple Control Interface
Let’s be honest here – the S8 is a lot of controller. It’s fantastic for technically-minded individuals and works well as a stay-at-home base of operations for a portable digital DJ rig, but it’s a bit of a beast.
The Kontrol S5 takes the more obvious one-to-one workflow of the Kontrol S4 and keeps the surface of the controller less cluttered and easier to navigate. A few drinks into your local DJ night in the dark booth, and you’re going to want a controller that you know well and can quickly find all of the basic controls.
In terms of portability, S5 is very reasonable to carry around. It’s got about the same dimensions as a Kontrol S4, and while is a few pounds heavier still is a reasonable back pack carry.
About The S5’s Touch Strips
Yep, they’re not jogwheels. Once you get past that, it actually becomes pretty clear how powerful the touch strips are on the Kontrol S5 – they have a few different modes.
- When a deck is playing, swipe left or right to pitch-bend, or if your tracks are synced, adjust phase.
- Hold Shift on a playing deck, and you can scratch a track (you have to enable this in Traktor’s preferences).
- When a track is stopped, hold the Shift button and you can move around in the track, needle drop style, and then fine-adjust the track with the Shift button released.
We will admit, touch strips will never appropriately replace spinning platters. Especially for open format DJs and those who are doing more standard 1-to-1 blends. For that camp, the S4 might remain a solid controller for years to come. However for anyone that is not scratching or doing heavy pitch manipulation, these will handle the basic beatmatching just fine.
Stems and Remix Decks On The S5
As noted in the video review, we found that the S5’s workflows for dealing with Stem and Remix Decks more than sufficient for easy control. A lot of people questioned the usability of the Stem / Remix decks without having individual faders like on the Kontrol S8, but in reality, being able to use the pads in combination with the loop encoders was just as easy.
The faders are more natural for levels, but I would gladly give up the precise control in exchange for a smaller/streamlined controller. Four Faders are already a bit to manage, but 16 is truly next level. Unless you are constantly adjusting Stem levels and dropping out parts in a musical way that demands fader control, the pad and encoder combo will work just fine.
A few notes here on things that you don’t get with the S5 – or what might be considered shortcomings of the controller to some DJs:
Make no mistake, this controller is absolutely designed to be used with sync regularly. We actually think that because the Kontrol S5 (like the S8 before it) has such good integration with Stems and Remix Decks, it’s not “cheating”, but rather the best example of sync allowing you to do more when DJing. It’s more realistic to start chopping up loops into Remix Decks or playing Stems when you’re not worried about beatmatching.
Will it take a little while to get used to this from a traditional DJ set up? Absolutely, but once you do, the floodgates have started to open. Especially if you’ve never actually mixed more than two decks at a time, the Kontrol S5 could really open your eyes to how fun and effective it can be.
That being said, if your music material is not well beat-gridded and with correct BPMs, then you might be in trouble. The world of sync means it’s very easy to drop songs and mix them seamlessly, but it also requires more advance preparation – or a willingness to get good at beat gridding on the fly. If you are the kind of DJ that hates file prep, and just wants to drop a track and manually beat-match it up – then probably look elsewhere.
No Mixer Mode / Timecode on S5
This is one of the few instances where we recommend upgrading to the S8 over the S5 – if you really need a mixer instead of just an aux input, the S8 has that ability. Same goes for timecode input, although if you wanted you could unlock that on the Kontrol S4 MK2 as well.
The #RealDJing Haters
It’s worth noting here that a drawback of buying any all-in one DJ controller these days are the difficulties of being a controller DJ in an era of CDJs and a mixer. There’s no denying that controller-only DJs get a fair amount of shade thrown at them at times. We think if you have a controller that actually allows you to do more than a pair of decks (like playing a track, dropping the other elements and isolating ONLY the drums, mixing in a second song, and layer one-shots overtop of the whole thing) and any hate starts to become irrelevant in the face of raw creativity.
At the end of the day, don’t worry about what other people think of your setup – focus on having fun, mixing great music, and creating a unique sound. And a full dance floor never hurts. There are a lot of massive DJs that rock very respectable crowds with the S4, and now that the headphone outputs are at proper club levels, we would not be surprised to see even more on this more portable S5.
Edit: NI has released a series of great videos demonstrating the S5’s various features – watch with the below embedded YouTube playlist: