NI’S S4 MK3: TIPS FOR POWER USERS
S2 MK3: Ultra-portable, entry-level model.
third generation of each — dubbed “MK3” (following NI’s traditional hardware versioning nomenclature). As NI has tweaked and refreshed its overall brand identity and general look, they’ve applied that “design language” more broadly. That’s arguably what the interface changes in the software are all about, and indeed, what NI has done to the hardware starts to make the older versions look a bit dated. While it’s a fresh look, I have to say that the downside is that NI’s controllers now look more like those of its competitors — and a tad less trailblazing. An example? On the original S2, NI stubbornly used a button labeled, simply, “PLAY” to start and stop playback — one the same size as three others in the same row. The new S2 MK3 goes mainstream; the button is larger, stands paired with the Cue button, and uses the familiar triangle and parallel bars iconography for play and pause. Is it nice it follows an accepted standard? Sure. Does it take sandpaper to some of NI’s quirkiness and uniqueness that was part of its appeal? Yes. The S2 is an affordable (a bit over $300 street price), portable controller that delivers all the basics you need to be effective with Traktor. The RCA and stereo 3.5mm (1/8-inch) master outs make clear the target market for the S2 — as does the focused, reduced feature set. As has been the case all along, the S2 offers no ability to bring in external sound sources; it’s designed solely to control the virtual decks in Traktor, and use the music library on your computer. I don’t know about the S2 MK2, but the differences between the S2 and S2 MK3 are pretty stark. Beyond the changes mentions above, the rotary encoders (platters) are much larger, and less toy-like, and the make cueing and scratching easier and more accurate. NI has removed the dedicated effects-control capabilities to make room, but has added knobs and controls for the aforementioned mixer effects in Traktor Pro 3. A 2x4 multifunction, color-coded pad grid has been added for cueing and sample playback. The S2 MK3 also provides easy access to Traktor’s loop capabilities. The build quality still seems good, but per-
haps, reduced a bit from the original, which felt to me more solid, a bit heavier, with slider controls that were smoother and had a better feel. Some of the niceties have been removed; the headphone jack is now 3.5mm only, and the ¼-inch outputs are gone as well. The S2 remains a joy to use, however. You still get the full version of Traktor Pro, so you still have its full capabilities available; they just might not be mapped to hardware controls. The unit is easily portable, allowing you to go from bedroom to studio to house party to club with ease — and with all the functionality you truly need to make it happen. And given the price point, the Traktor Kontrol S2 seems like a bargain. In my original draft of this review, I speculated where NI was going with the S2 MK3, and indeed, at Winter NAMM 2019, I was proven correct. There’s a USB port on the back of the unit labeled “iOS” and the box has a very obvious “Made for iPad” logo printed on it, so I’m not sure I needed a crystal ball to figure it out; there is indeed a new version of Traktor (as mentioned previously) for iOS (and for Mac and Windows) called Traktor DJ 2. It’ll be bundled with the S2 MK3 when available, and brings to market a full hardware/software DJ solution to the iPad from NI. I’ll report more when I have a chance to try it hands-on later this year. The Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3, as was the case with the first-generation hardware, is the S2’s bigger, nicer, and better-looking sibling. It offers a larger array of hardware controls, and while it, too, adds the multifunction pad grid to the controller like the S2, it offers some extras. Among them is a small color LCD display on each side, along with improved rotary encoders that are motorized, and use a system NI calls “Haptic Drive.” The platters can behave very much like vinyl, including a very authentic-behaving backspin, or be set to function in the more familiar jog mode. When cueing up a track, I really liked how the platters provide haptic feedback at the downbeat of the track. It’s quite subtle, but the tactile feedback was an interesting, and I think useful addition; it works on cue points as well.
While Wes handles the full review here, we also offer a rundown on items that highlight Native Instruments’ S4 MK3 controller. PRO-LEVEL SOUND QUALITY • The MK3 uses much better audio converters vs. MK2 (Cirrus Logic CS5368/CS4385). • MK2 was 24-bit/48kHz, while the MK3 is 24-bit/96kHz IMPROVED MASTER LIMITER • Coupled with superior converters, the master limiter has been reworked. The new limiter is more transparent (neutral) than the old one. • Suggested Clubs Setting: Use the new Transparent Limiter with -3dB headroom, which will allow you to easily compete volume-wise with other DJs playing before or after you. ROTATED CARBON FADERS • High-quality carbon faders mounted “upside down” to reduce particle contamination. STRONGER HEADPHONE AMP • MK2: +2dBu and 99 dB dynamic range - MK3: +5 dBu and 104 dB dynamic range LARGER JOG WHEELS & ON-UNIT DISPLAYS • Responding to user feedback, Native Instruments increased the size of the S4 MK3 by a few inches to accommodate much larger jog wheels and on-display screens. ENHANCED MODERN LAYOUT • From the improved meters and knobs, to the flat-black finish and augmented user offerings, the MK3 is a great-looking unit. – Paul Dailey
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