Kontrol is back, is it a case of third time lucky?
It’s been five long years since Native Instruments last updated the S2, it’s entry level controller for Traktor. A lot has happened in those five years with the launch of Rekordbox from Pioneer and Serato’s decision to split their product line up to cater for the beginner market specifically. With this change in the climate, Traktor has felt almost forgotten about, no new hardware or updates to speak of. That was until now, with two new controllers and a complete new software package, is this the update needed to put Native Instruments back on top? Let’s find out.
The design of the S2 has been completely reworked in the Mk3 and one of the biggest visual changes has to be the duplicate decks rather than the old mirrored layout of old. Also gone are the small jog wheels, replaced by brand new 14cm capacitive units. These feel superb but lack the haptic feedback and motorised features found on the larger S4 unit. We found the larger jog wheels to be a little slow compared to other controllers on the market too. The latency is fine but the amount of physical travel required to move across the track was more than we have been used to. The S2 features a beat grid adjustment mode, this button is found to the left of the jog wheel and allows the user to move the beat grid with the jog wheels to tighten up any badly analysed tracks.
Above the jog wheels we find the browser knob complete with a library view and prepare buttons. These are found on both decks which is great, most units in this price bracket use a single browse knob for both decks which can lead to confusion. We particularly like the prepare button, allowing the DJ to load tracks into a preparation area so less time is used on track selection. The transport mode buttons are found to the left, these consist of reverse and flux. The reverse button acts as a censor button, reversing for only the time you are pressing down before jumping back to the play head. Flux mode is Traktors take on slip, meaning you can activate performance features such as rolls and hot cues without losing position in the playing track.
At the bottom of the deck we find large dedicated cue and play buttons that sit to the left of 8 RGB pads. It’s fantastic to finally see RGB colouring on entry level controllers, the colours of hot cues and samples being customisable within the software. The feel of the pads are nice and consistent, they are a little small and do click at the bottom of the press meaning there isn’t any velocity triggering. It is interesting to note that unlike rival units, these pads are only used for hot cues and samples. Loop and beat jump controls are found on individual knobs just above the pads, the length selectable by turning and activated by a press.
The sampler volume control is found in the centre of the mixer and controls the volume of both sample decks simultaneously. From within the Traktor software you can decide whether deck C and D are stem decks, remix decks, live audio input or regular track playing decks. These extra decks are then controlled by the pads in sampler mode. It can become a bit complex at times but its a fantastic option to have for DJ’s looking to get a bit more creative.
The pitch fader like most units this price is a small unit with dedicated key lock and sync buttons found above it. The fader doesn’t feature a click when zero’d which is frustrating at first however makes sense when using relative mode within the software. One massive omission from this controller is the lack of deck effects. Most competitor units have 3 to 4 knobs at the top of each deck to apply an effect to an individual deck. This can be done within the Traktor software but the S2 hardware lacks this control. What the S2 does bring us however are the brand new mixer FX controls. These are four effects based in the centre of the mixer with two control knobs for each deck. They sound super clean and feature delay, echo, flanger and filter.
With the Kontrol S2, Native Instruments are focusing heavily on the portable market. The controller being lighter and smaller than its predecessor without losing the build quality and featuring some great IO including 3.5mm auxilary master out and an iPad usb in! The unit takes power from the USB cable connected to the laptop however a 15v, 1.2 amp dedicated power adaptor can be used with the unit, unfortunately this isn’t shipped with the unit. There has been no word from Native Instruments on the use of this power adaptor yet but given the mysterious iPad labeled USB port and 2 threaded screws also found on the back of the unit we imagine an iPad kit maybe on the horizon. Possibly with a power adaptor, dedicated stand and lightning cable included for the ultimate portable controller experience? The Traktor iOS app is already much loved here so we hope that this will become a reality and we will revisit this when it’s announced.
The Kontrol S2 packs a 44.1/48 khz / 24 bit sound card inside which outputs it’s master to RCA or 3.5mm stereo jack. The RCA’s are perfect for most DJ’s monitors or sound system and the 3.5mm jack is ideal for portable speakers. An unbalanced 1/4” Microphone input with volume control is also found on the back with a simple on/off switch found on the top of the unit. Around the front of the unit we find one headphone jack and it’s the smaller 1/8th style port. The controls for the headphones have all been moved onto the top of the unit compared to the Mk2 with volume, mix and cue buttons all placed vertically between the each channels EQ’s knobs. The EQ knobs are made of hard plastic and each channel gets a total kill 3 band EQ with dedicated gain control.
This is a fantastic controller and a real return to form by Native Instruments. The Kontrol S2 Mk3 is super portable, offers fantastic build quality and is a huge step up from its predecessor. The upcoming iPad integration is an exciting prospect and we look forward to bringing you a review on that feature alone when it’s announced. This update is as much about Traktor Pro 3 as it is the controllers, the overhaul has been long over due and it doesn’t disappoint with new effects and a simpler interface. It’s easy to forget that Traktor is £89 alone and you receive a copy free with the S2 which is not only fantastic value but allows you to progress with the software as you advance with DJ’ing.
We really like the S2 and are currently building a whole new Traktor specific DJ course around it and the upcoming Kontrol S4 controller. Expect a review on the new Kontrol S4 and a full break down of all the new features within Traktor Pro 3 soon!