Review: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4

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Review: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4

Words by Mixdown Staff

Distributed by: CMI Music & Audio | Expect to pay: $1249

Key Features:  It really feels like the last couple of years have brought some massive leaps for tactile functionality for the laptop DJ. Every new product drop focuses heavily on improved ergonomics, enhanced feature sets and generally smoother/more responsive software and hardware interfacing, ticking all the boxes for those DJs working exclusively in the box.

In and amongst all of this rapid evolution, the name Native Instruments stands out as perhaps the best representation for where DJing is headed, with the German brand’s beloved Traktor Kontrol line (and accompanying Traktor Pro software) serving as the de-facto setup for a generation of MP3 hoarding beat selectors. 

The current generation MK3 options boast everything from the entry level (and delightfully minimalist) two-channel Traktor Kontrol S2, right through to NI’s incredibly powerful, four-channel all-in-one flagship DJ solution, the mighty Traktor Control S8. 

Smack bang in the middle of the range – at least in terms of price point and physical footprint – is the ubiquitous Traktor Kontrol S4, a lightweight, endlessly flexible four-channel controller that is a longtime favourite here among the Mixdown alumni. 

Stowable, light and easy as anything to set up, the S4 is everything you would want in a modern DJ controller, boasting all the portability of NI’s two and three channel options, but with enough input and mix flexibility to really allow for your creativity to flow unimpeded.

The new look MK3 moves up the ante again, in terms of comfortability and ergonomics with it’s asymmetrical design and classic layout. The mixer portion will feel right at home for anyone coming from CDJ world with three-band EQ, single filter/effects knob, up-faders and a dedicated master section as well. 

Haptic Drive, a pretty unique feature for DJ controllers, provides physical responses to user set cues in the song and literally vibrates when you spin past them. This mode also turns on the motorised jog wheel which behaves like a record player and is very intuitive. The light surrounding the jog wheel creates a sense of immersion as you can use it as another guide for cueing and scratching.

This unit comes with club ready DJ routing options including two phono, line and mic inputs processed through a 24bit/96khz interface that allows for professional sounding results. It’s a tangible upgrade from both the S2 and S3, with additional features like four FX knobs per deck, motorised platters and two LCD display screens all worth the price of admission. Needless to say, the ease in which these features integrate so seamlessly into one’s workflow make it difficult to ever go back.

Utilising the 16 performance pads on the S4 will allow you to flourish and accentuate the music you’re playing with its inbuilt 16 step sequencer, sampler and hot cue functionality. There’s a screen located above these pads which displays everything you need to see whilst mixing. Interestingly you can change the quantisation grid of a track on the device while the song is playing which is perfect for getting your mixes perfectly in.

Of course, it would be difficult to talk about any of Traktor Control series without mentioning how user friendly and instantly accessible the Traktor Pro software is, both aesthetically and in terms of overall functionality/compatibility. 

The ease and manner in which the software integrates with the NI hardware is so rock solid and effortless that it often feels lightyears ahead of whatever else is out there, sharing just as many commonalities with high end studio DAW software/controller setups as it does with traditional DJ. This level of quality extends to the reliability of the connections and software as well, because after all, who wants to be weighed down with unnecessary web-doggery and IT issues when there is a dancefloor to fill?

Mixdown Says:  The S4 can be used as a standalone mixer which, because of its high grade audio interface, can handle high level line inputs from drum machines and synthesisers. This means it can double as a recording device or four-channel mixer for your studio setup. Now combine this with the ability to have different effects for each individual channel setup in the mix section and you’re really able to use this in live performance as well.

Additionally, with the performance pads on decks three and four, it’s possible to dub out a break section with your own programmed drum patterns and samples or even create interesting buildups to the mix. Tight.

Australian readers can also take advantage of some truly awesome deals going at the moment, with the S2,S3 and S4 all shipping with free AKG monitoring headphones (just in case you didn’t need more of a reason to jump on the Traktor train!).

Overall: Controllers come and go but the Traktor Kontrol S4 has stood the test of time and has continued to evolve into the beast it is today. With its tactile feel, extensive input options and standalone capabilities, the new look MK3 iteration of the S4 is the logical next step for what is one of the defining products in the space.

Find out more about the Native Instruments Traktor range via CMI.