A State Of Traktor: New Hardware and Software Coming in 2018

Image credit: MontyLov on Unsplash

Digital DJs around the world fell in love with Traktor eight years ago. At the time, Traktor Pro was one of the most flexible platforms for DJ performance, control surface customization, quality FX, and a future-forward approach to development. The hard work that engineers at Native Instruments did in the development of Traktor Pro 2 and the Kontrol S4 (with help from a few visionary artists) laid the groundwork for the software to stay competitive even as development slowed in recent years.

The Post-Stems Slumber

After the launch of Stems in 2015, questions of long-term viability started to emerge for heavy Traktor users – especially in comment threads and forums (including our own). Even our own staff was a bit confused about decisions made for the software. A few key moments that I remember that felt “off”:

  • A quiet death of Traktor DJ – which was an amazing iOS tool but became a toy after Metadata Sync broke and wasn’t ever replaced
  • A rumored Maschine / Traktor integration was “on deck” for years – and prior to Stems, we had heard it was one of the top items on the roadmap for the software
  • Missing HID support for CDJ-2000NXS2s, which took eight months post-product launch to be completed. The new 2.11.3 beta released this week finally brings some “next generation” style support (colored waveforms, beatjump, etc)

Combined, these small things started to feel like writing on the wall. Was Traktor slowly being discontinued? (Spoiler alert: it isn’t, keep reading.)

2017’s Signs Of Life

Then, at last, we started to see stirrings of new development on the Traktor platform. It was small at first, but at the end of 2017, we saw two updates to the software (2.11.1 and 2.11.2) that made it clear something was happening. The turnaround time between releases dropped dramatically:

Traktor Pro 2 release lead time between versions
The lengths of time between releases of new Traktor versions between 2.6.0 and 2.11.2

At the same time, Native Instruments representatives met with DJTT and shared some good – albeit confidential – news: Traktor was getting a new product director and the software was being revitalized. We were ecstatic, but details were sparse.

Outside Investment + Kontrol S5 / D2 Discontinuations

Of course, there was one other factor that might have driven the signs of life: money. In late October 2017, Native Instruments announced that they were taking on outside investment from a private equity firm on the order of $59 million. Outside capital can have a dramatic change in priorities and development cycles of companies – even within our industry, there are great examples (Pioneer DJ, for instance).

It felt like a whirlwind of good news for Traktor’s future – but then two fascinating things changed in the Native Instruments product line that we first got wind of via the DJTT store:

  • February 6th: Traktor Kontrol D2 discontinued
  • March 26: Kontrol S5 discontinued

Interestingly, these two products were also the two most recently released Kontrol units from Native Instruments. It felt again like the sky was falling. The Kontrol S5 had won praise from DJTT’s founder Ean Golden as being the best all-in-one Kontrol unit. While the S5 might have been an amazing controller, it still regularly got outsold (on industry sales charts) by older products – namely the S4 and S2. Jogwheels are still what people think of when they think of DJ gear.

The D2 was a bit more of a shock. Not only was it the only easy way for non-S8/S5 users to get good Stems control, but major DJs seemed to be adding the D2 to their setups. Remember Carl Cox’s How I Play?

The Plan For 2018 – Straight From NI Themselves

We’ve been in touch with Native Instruments a lot this year – at NAMM, and again after the discontinuation of the two Kontrol products. “What’s happening with Traktor?” is a question that almost every DJTT reader wants an answer to. In an exclusive statement below, NI’s new Director of Products (Traktor), Pedram Faghfouri, finally sets the record straight. Traktor is alive and well:

“In 2018, with over 500,000 users and some of the world’s best DJs behind Traktor, we are in a unique position to integrate feedback from artists and our community.

The digital DJ market is fast moving and increasingly cluttered with competition. At Native we are passionate about leading genuine change and taking our time to ensure we blend quality, innovation and user functionality.

In 2018 we will unveil new Traktor hardware and software that we believe achieves this goal, and further empowers our global community of professionals and hobbyists. We have prioritized user feedback and collaboration for product development. The discontinuation of the Traktor D2 and S5 reflect these shifts and enables us to focus on launching new Traktor products into market later this year.

We have engaged in rewriting Traktor from ground-up, even though this takes significant time and resource investment. We will maintain and improve Traktor Pro for several more years until the new Traktor is mature enough, also for our Pro users. There are more updates to Traktor Pro planned in the coming months.

To ensure focus to both development streams, we also doubled the size of our Traktor teams. We will be shedding more light on these exciting new Traktor projects over the next few months.

We continue to work with the world’s best artists to learn from and inspire new ideas in the Traktor ecosystem. More insight on how today’s leading artists are using Traktor can be seen in our new Signatures series campaign.”

To recap the most important points:

  • New Traktor hardware and software is coming in 2018
  • A new, completely rewritten Traktor is coming (“new Traktor”)
  • Traktor Pro will keep getting updates for years to come – including in the coming months

And indeed, the new Signatures series does show off how NI is paying attention to major artists are using the platform. Here’s the most recent one featuring Jooris Vorn:

A Vision of New Traktor

So DJs using Traktor can clearly get excited about some immediate feature requests, hardware integrations, bug fixes, and general software improvements in the short-term. The new 2.11.3 public beta is proof positive of this, considering that improved HID NXS2 support and better iTunes integration have been so heavily requested.

But what about this “New Traktor” that Pedram Faghfouri teased in his statement above? 

One theory I presented earlier this year is that NI is working on building a software platform that will allow DJs to de-mix completed tracks into Stems-like elements. Check out the evidence here – they’re sponsoring a major signal separation competition this year which will likely lead to some interesting results.

At the same time, there’s lots of room for improving the basic workflow of DJs in the Traktor universe. One amazing post on the NI forums by alza paints a wonderful picture of what this could look like:

Imagine for a moment the following features..

  1. You can use new separate prep and performance apps, so that prep can be done on a desktop/laptop or tablet/phone, and performance can be done either on desktop/laptop, tablet/phone or future standalone Kontrol hardware (i.e. no connected laptop required).
  2. You can use your private cloud music library and/or public streaming music libraries, with offline sync.
  3. Your track analysis is done in the cloud. A public cloud mapping of track fingerprints to track analysis results makes it nearly instantaneous for already-known tracks.
  4. You can use new ?tablet/phone apps enabling track and/or gig prep on the move, e.g. beat grids, cue points, playlists.
  5. You can use a new desktop/laptop or tablet/phone app resurrecting the old Native Mix Recorder, enabling post-performance workflow to fix minor errors, adjust effects, levels etc.
  6. You can do prep (or performance) on Linux, in addition to Windows or Mac.
  7. You are able to do prep and performance in different manufacturers software and hardware. (ok, this one’s a stretch!)

[…] To realize the above features and ensure a healthy continuing future for Traktor against the competition, I propose the following initiatives to NI and the wider community:

  1. Introduce an open format for “DJ data” such as track fingerprints, analysis results, beat grids, cue points and playlists etc.
  2. Introduce a service to store/access the DJ data to/from the cloud, and perform analysis in the cloud etc. The mapping of track fingerprints to track analysis results made available as open data. Allow the DJ data to be synced from the cloud to a USB storage device for offline use with future Kontrol hardware.
  3. Introduce an open format for mix recordings (i.e. not rendered audio data, but instead time series data for tracks played, plus transport, mixer and effects controls etc).
  4. Abandon the existing closed source, monolithic Traktor app and replace it with a new open source modular design and published APIs, comprising an open source core/framework, and all existing Traktor features implemented as plugins which can either be open source, or closed source. Closed source plugins can be used for all of the parts that NI wishes to keep secret and/or has software patents on, such as bpm detection, key detection, mixer, effects units etc.
    This modular design and published APIs will allow for separate prep, performance and post-performance apps e.g. new Native Mix Recorder, with sharing of plugins between the apps where needed.
  5. Change the Traktor revenue model to free software, but paid-for services (such as cloud storage of the DJ data, and cloud analysis of tracks).
What do you think upcoming Traktor software and hardware changes will look like? Share your thoughts and speculation in the comments below.
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