My new controller arrived last evening and I was able to spend some time with it last night & this morning. I have some initial thoughts:
Packaging - standard NI, completely perfect.
Build - Much better than the old S4, in line with Maschine mk3 (which should be no surprise).
Layout - Very intiutive, but with some changes.
First off, let’s talk about the biggest new feature of the controller - the JOG WHEELS! This new “Haptic Drive” technology is really, really cool. The sensation of dragging the platter over a cue point (in your fingers) is really something I never knew I would want - but now I am really glad to have. When scratching last night, it seemed exceptionally responsive, tight, accurate and controlled. When in vinyl (TT) mode, you can adjust the tension on the wheels to better emulate a turntable. I found this very helpful, but I wish they had more torque. My old decks are Technics 1210 Mk2 units, so when I place a bit of pressure on these spinning wheels I get more of a “stop” than a “slight nudge down” in tempo, which is likely due to their smaller size & the grippy feel of the wheels.
I found that, in my use, the TT mode was helpful for scratching and for being mesmerized by the spinning light, but while actually mixing I moved it to “jog” mode so the familiar push/pull of the tempo occurred with my input. The only complaint? I think the sides of the jog mechanism should be metal and slide like a proper Technics, and would love them to be 7” in size. Still, I cannot really fault NI here. The tech is really cool.
When dragging across a cue point, you FEEL a little catch, which is really unique and useful!
The mixer knobs feel SOLID. No more “falling off the post” for NI controller knobs! The initial layer of FX (mixer FX) have larger knobs, with great feel, and they sound as one would expect. When used in conjunction with the other FX modules, one can create very cool sonic changes within the otherwise static beats in a typical house track. I purposely loaded 32 beat loops of techno tracks and tried to see if I could make interesting drops/stutters/changes/builds/reverb fills, etc on the fly, and it was really quite easy.
The sound coming from this unit is solid. I keep it dialed really low in my house bc my “living room” speakers are powered 1,000 watt QSCs with the 18” sub - so I was being nice to the neighbors while testing. Still, with my speakers on minimal volume & the mixer turned down quite low, I had a HOT signal. Headphone volume also seemed more than loud.
I know, I have some. Maybe you will not. We all have a background and preferences that are unique, so here goes:
NI’s goal to keep the unit compact is awesome, but I wish they had used the template of something like the new Pioneer DDJ1000… SO here goes:
The buttons on the S4.3 are small. The mixer isn’t ”cramped” but it’s not “roomy either” really. I wish the jogs were 7” in size. The pitch faders are good, but not quite as long as those on my Techics, so the highly precise nature of songs these days result in really, really subtle changes to the tempo faders.
I would love some more creative pad modes on this thing! I hate to reference it again, but the Denon Prime SC5000 players are a HOOT to use for mangling tracks & the s4 just has some limitations in that regard. For example, when in a loop on the Prime players, you can instantly trigger any one of the 8 segments of said loop with the performance pads, maintaining the spot in your phrase (or not) as an instant sampler.
Audio routing - if you want analog signals to join the show, you must give up the main four channels - at least one. This unit has no “aux” input channel to add your live production gear to the 4-deck traktor set without sacrificing a channel.
No standalone mixer features whatsoever. If you want to listen to old records on your Technics, this little box still needs to be tethered to a computer running Traktor - no exceptions. This seems a bit silly to me, but I am sure NI has their reasons.
Overall the little unit is really solid. I did a 3 hr set in the dark, my second time using the unit, and had nearly no trouble finding my way around. Sure, some color-coded channels would have helped, but you get used to the layout really quickly.
Traktor Pro 3 is not exactly game-changing, but it’s an improvement over the old platform & I had no complaints about TP2 (overall) so the current software is fine with me. I’m still not sure I’ll use most of their new effects, but the mainstays are still solid & allow the dj to get a bit creative with ease.
I have not yet played with sample decks, but their method for using STEMS without four faders per side is really quite slick in practice. I am hopeful the sample decks (with RECORD feature, presumably to record live sequences) will be a lot of fun. Watching the videos on the sample decks, it appears they have implemented the same workaround for the four volume faders (found on the S4) - the first row of pads correspond to samples, the second row is a mute row, and the two knobs handle volume and filter, per pad (channel). The sample decks also have “record” which seem to allow you to do a basic one-bar pattern step-sequence. It’s a start!
One perk for Traktor over Serato - you can enable the preference to “automatically save changes to sample deck file” - so you have a way to recall your sample sets. This feature should have been in all dj apps which offer sample / Remix decks last year.
I tried to just start fresh with TP3, to see how fast & accurate the new striping algorithm would be, and so far it’s a pretty clear improvement. I will still run the files through Mixed In Key 8, but this new version is MUCH faster and more accurate than prior iterations.
UPDATE = ran MIK8 and it added 8 cues to every one of the tracks in my 85,000 file library automatically. WIN!
For what it’s worth, last night I ran an Ableton session with TP3 on my 2015 MacBook Pro and had zero glitches. I ran Ableton through the Master 1/2 on the S4.3. I would have preferred routing options within Ableton or Traktor, for full control over that live layer, but it worked well. LINK was pretty good, but I ended up just manually matching the beats & had no CPU or RAM issues on either end. Nice job, NI!
It’s no SC5000, but it’s also under $1,000 with four channels and everything Traktor has to offer. It will absolutely do the job! I hope for a larger, more robust S8.2, but if that does not materialize I will be, for the first time since the initial S4, happy with this current offering.
If you already have a laptop that can be dedicated to Traktor, don’t hesitate. If you would need a new laptop to run Traktor well, then maybe consider the SC5000 players - but avoid that X1800 mixer until Denon gets it together a bit more.