SOUNDING OFF PLAYBACK…PRO AUDIO…PROCESSING
By Wesley Bryant-King
NATIVE INSTRUMENTS: MK3 CONTROLLERS & MORE
S4 MK3: Improvements aplenty, a joy to use.
Clear back in 2006 when I first started DJing, I made an arbitrary decision in the heat of the moment that lives with me to this day, some 13 years later. That decision? To use Native Instruments’ Traktor as my primarily DJ software. For these pages, I’ve had an opportunity to use and learn pretty much every one of Traktor’s competitors, and I’ve found a lot to like in all of them. But there’s a certain amount of inertia involved in changing tools that are so essential to what you do day-to-day, and one’s choice of DJ software is no different. I have years of notes and ratings and categorizations embedded into the metadata of my music collection in Traktor. I know how the software works, inside and out. And I’ve come to appreciate the Berlin-based company’s attention to detail in the UI and UX of Traktor — spit and polish that I’m tempted to attribute to classic “German engineering.” But whatever the specifics, Traktor fans, like me, have been doing a lot of waiting in recent years; the last major upgrade to the platform was roughly eight years ago. Admittedly, not a whole lot has changed in DJ technology in that timeframe, but it seemed like an extraordinarily long release cycle. Toward the end of 2018, Native Instruments (NI) sent out a press release like none I’ve recently seen; it certainly appeared as if they’d be updating pretty much every piece of software and hardware they produce in a single cycle. That wasn’t quite the case, but there was certainly a lot of meat to the news, including a refresh of the Traktor software — as well as many pieces of the Traktor hardware family — which is the subject of this particular review. After returning from Winter NAMM show this past January, NI kept the news train moving at full speed, announcing (among other things) the imminent release of their new entry-level DJ software, Traktor DJ 2, which will be available for iPad — as well as for Mac and Windows. I’ll provide updates on that as soon as we’re able to get our hands on the software. Traktor Pro 3: Long-time Traktor users may find themselves a little confused about NI’s naming and numbering scheme for Traktor. It’s been called Traktor, Traktor DJ, Traktor Studio, Traktor Final Scratch, Traktor Scratch, and Traktor Pro over the course of its nearly two decades. And the name Traktor joined with the number 3 might be familiar too, since it came out in 2006 and survived as the flagship for a couple of years at that point. But regardless, Traktor Pro 3 is the shiny new version we get after roughly an eight-year gap since the last major release. Whether incrementing the number from “2” to “3” is warranted or not is, I suppose, subject to some argument. While I’m grateful that Traktor has received some attention, the changes aren’t exactly revolutionary. NI boasts of five
major changes in the new version: Redesigned interface. Absent a side-byside screen shot comparison, I’m not sure the average Traktor user could identify anything new here. The product’s legendary design polish remains. Everything you’re used to is right where it used to be. Perhaps a (figurative) new coat of wax has been applied, but I’m hardpressed to see much else, beyond support for Mixer effects. (See below.) Retooled sound engine. To be sure, Traktor sounds great. But it always has. In fact, it’s been another reason I’ve stuck with Traktor all these years; it just works, and I never miss a beat (literally or figuratively). Again, I’m hardpressed to hear a tangible difference. Mixer effects. Historically, one of Traktor’s best features has been its superb, highly controllable effects engine. Admittedly, however, it can be a little tricky to use in the heat of the moment without a ton of practice. To change that, NI has added “mixer effects,” a single knob, per-track way to apply an effect or filter with ease. You can assign any of four to the available slots and enable and tweak them quickly and easily. This is perhaps the most notable (and most usable) improvement in Traktor Pro 3. Reverse mode. Like the name suggests, you can now play a deck backward; it works in conjunction with Traktor’s Flux Mode so things stay perfectly in-sync and on-beat. For DJs who slice and dice and essentially remix on-the-fly, this could be a really cool addition to their toolset. DVS ready. Traktor Pro 3 now works with Traktor’s own timecoded media right out of the box — there’s not a separate version of the product for that.You’ll still need the control media itself — which can be purchased separately from NI, or from dealers. But no special hardware or software is required to make it work, allowing you to easily choose or switch between control approaches. At NAMM 2019, NI showed the next update to Traktor Pro 3, which includes an optional new parallel waveform and beat view that I really appreciate. In summary, and as I already stated, there’s nothing truly revolutionary here. Traktor was a great piece of DJ software before, it’s a great piece of DJ software today. Perhaps incrementing the version number glazes over that eight-year psychological gap since Traktor was last given serious love. Or, perhaps it focuses a light on the fact that the gap was, indeed, purely psychological — and Traktor users had it pretty good all along. Traktor Kontrol S2 & S4 MK3 Controllers: It was way back in 2010 that I looked at the first Traktor Kontrol S4, and early 2012 when I got my hands on the first S2. With the most recent versions now out, NI is on its