Review: Traktor Kontrol S4 – A Great Leap Forward For Digital DJing?

Review Summary:

As a flagship product from the software company that makes the most popular DJ software, the Kontrol S4 is something that Native Instruments had a lot riding on. What was most important was that they didn't drop any balls. And I can report that there's nothing at all done badly here; the controller ticks most boxes well. However, it won't tick all the boxes for diehard turntablists looking for a digital solution as the jogs aren't quite as good as the best of breed. Overall, a strong controller with a lot of features that's sure to elevate digital DJing.

Traktor Kontrol S4
  • Traktor Kontrol S4
  • Rating: 5
  • From: Native Instruments
  • Price: $799
  • Reviewed by:
  • On April 19, 2011
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014
Traktor S4

The Traktor Kontrol S4: The first controller built just for Traktor. It’s not cheap, but is it better than the rest?

Review: Traktor Kontrol S4

The Traktor Kontrol S4 is the most popular DJ controller with Digital DJ Tips readers as voted for in your 2011 Reader’s Survey, but until now we’ve not carried a full review of the unit.

However, the initial months since its launch have given us the chance to really get to grips with it, and with the recent arrival of the Traktor Pro 2 software, we felt it was high time publish a full assessment. So here it is: the full Digital DJ Tips Traktor Kontrol S4 review.

Background

One thing that’s always held digital DJing back is the lack of seamless integration between hardware and software. While many manufacturers have over the past five or so years waded in with digital DJ controllers (which after all, are just Midi control units, not too different to any Midi controller), later adding sound cards as they realised most DJs don’t want to carry around a separate sound interface, most of the time these units have relied on other people’s software to make them work.

So we’ve seen controllers for Traktor (mainly) but also for Virtual DJ, MixVibes, Deckadance and so on. All of these programs are good, but none of them were made specifically for the controllers that made use of to use them. Thus mapping files were provided (either by the software manufacturers to make their software more attractive, or by the hardware manufacturers to make their software more compatible) in order to define how the myriad different controllers and the software communicated with each other.

Midi mapping is actually one of the new skills of DJing brought about by controllerism, but the flip-side of all the configurability that creative, geeky controllerists take full advantage of is that things can seem over-complicated for people considering digital DJing who just wanted to plug and play.

Midi mapping

Traktor’s Midi mapping screen – not somewhere you want to hang out if you can help it.

What’s more, almost invariably until recently, the software provided was always “LE” or “light edition” – cut-down, get-past-go versions of the full packages that needed to be upgraded to get the full functionality, at extra cost to the consumer of course. (see out Bundled DJ Controller Software: Facts & Myths article for more on this). This was done in order to keep headline prices low, but didn’t provide an ideal situation for those wanting to just pay their cash and get DJing, with a minimum of fuss and extra expense.

Various companies had a go at providing a full solution. Serato with ITCH achieved “it just works” functionality by licensing DJ controllers made by third parties (such as the Vestax VCI-300) that its software simply recognised when plugged in. Indeed, Serato ITCH only works with such products. No re-mappings, no need to tweak anything. The Torq Xponent DJ controller does the same thing with Torq software, although that software has recently been opened for control by other devices. And Mixvibes has the same thing with its U-Mix Control DJ controller and Cross DJ software, although again the architecture is open.

Indeed, Traktor has itself always featured in the guise of “Traktor ready” and “Traktor certified” badges on third party products; but it was clear with the launch of the Kontrol X1 that Native Instruments was eyeing a closer integration of hardware and software, more akin to that of some of the above; the X1 (Native’s first DJ controller) had its own configuration page in the Traktor software, which when accessed via an easy wizard, took care of all the settings for you. And so, with the launch of the Kontrol S4, the company’s first full-strength DJ controller, Native Instruments took this thinking to the point where it finally provided its own tightly integrated DJ controller, made in the image of its software.

Now, the company had a DJ controller that with one simple click upon set-up in the software, recognised and configured everything accordingly, without the need for any further set-up by the digital DJ. Plug in and start playing. What’s more, the software (Traktor Pro S4) contained features that had specially been designed for the S4 to take advantage of.

So, you see why the Kontrol S4 was such a significant product not just for Native Instruments, but for digital DJing as a whole. Now, with Traktor Pro 2 (a free upgrade for existing users too), it is potentially even better. The question is, has it reached the point where it is throwing other DJ set-ups behind it as it marches forward? Let’s find out…

Unboxing and first impressions

Traktor Kontrol S4 crib sheet

The Traktor Kontrol S4 crib sheet (click to enlarge)

The trendy, full-colour box has lots of hooks for the digital DJ: A flight deck-style picture of the controller on the front, with a top-down view on the back highlighting its main features and describing the software, which as it points out is a full version – none of this buy-now-and-pay-to-upgrade-later stuff. There’s a free Beatport gift card inside, and the box also shows a picture of the unit in the dedicated Traktor Kontrol S4 hard flight case. It all paints a very high-end and professional picture.

Inside, as well as the aforementioned gift card, are a perfect-bound colour set-up guide, a mains adaptor with regional attachments, a USB cable, the installation disc, a box-sized crib sheet with every control outlined on it, some Traktor and Native Instruments stickers, and a fold-out keyboard shortcuts reference sheet for German and US keyboards. (Unlike, say, Serato ITCH, it is perfectly possible to DJ using just the Traktor software and your laptop – although I doubt many S4 owners will be doing that for quite a while having purchasing an advanced hardware controller!)

The unit itself has two polystyrene end-pieces holding it in place. Many people use their product boxes at least at first to carry DJ controllers around while they’re considering their options as far as a trolley, shoulder bag or hard case goes; the best product boxes I’ve seen for carrying controllers to and from gigs have fixed plastic innards so you can slot the unit in and out quickly (I’m thinking of the Vestax VCI-300 and Xone:DX packaging), and while the S4’s isn’t as convenient as that, it’ll certainly be OK as a temporary measure, especially as the box has a secure plastic carry handle.

Native Instruments has recently announced a trolley bag for the unit made in collaboration with pro bag maker UDG (although it is too big for hand luggage on some budget airlines); there is already a traditional-style hard case available (definitely don’t try that one in hand luggage!); and various third-party manufacturers including Mono, Magma, DJ Tech Tools and Novation have bags that are either specifically designed for it or that it will happily fit into.

So, once you’re unboxed with your Kontrol S4 sat in front of you, the first impressions of the unit are that it is serious-looking, large and light in weight. Serious-looking because it is covered in buttons, knobs, faders and wheels, and comes in sober, we-mean-business black with a big TRAKTOR logo on the front and motifs on the jogwheels; large, because apart from the new Pioneer DJ controllers it’s the widest of its type on the market (and only the Xone:DX is deeper); and light, just because it looks like it should weigh more.

Traktor Kontrol S4 trolley

The Traktor Kontrol S4 trolley, made for Native Instruments by UDG.

The latter point isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it is clearly well made, and is rigid enough, which indicates a quality chassis, especially tasking into account its size; everything on first touch feels high quality and turns, moves and spins well. It is simply made with lightweight materials – mainly plastic with rubber feet and some brushed metal on the fascia.

Plugging in and setting up

The first thing you’ll do is install the software. The unit we had came with the S4 version of Traktor Pro; we’ve since upgraded to Traktor Pro 2, but new versions will obviously have Traktor Pro 2 in the box from the off. You pop the disc in your computer, click “Traktor Kontrol S4″ in a list of install options, and let the computer install it as normal.

You next need to register with Native Instruments. It takes a bit of time, but it’s not hard – you need to access the activation area in order to enter the serial number provided against the product online, and provide an email address. At this point updates can be downloaded and clicked on to install. The end result will be an activated, fully up-to-date version of the software.

Next you’ll plug the unit itself in to mains power (it can work with bus power, but the lights are much dimmer). The plug comes with four regional adaptors, so you’ll fit the correct one first. Then it’s just a case of attaching the USB cable, and turning the Kontrol S4 on by pushing the on/off button on its rear. If you’re on a Windows system, the computer will then complete the device driver installation. With the unit powered up and connected to your PC, you plug your headphones in, attach your powered speakers or amp/speaker set-up, and start the software – and that’s it.

This will be music to the ears of mere mortal DJs who’ve ever tried to set up a digital DJ system, especially one with a DJ controller, third-party software and a separate sound interface – because at this point, you variously may need to import mapping files, set up your audio device and inputs/outputs, select your controller, and troubleshoot.

But with the Kontrol S4, it is all simply working, there and then. It’s how all digital DJ systems should work; indeed, since the Kontrol S4, Pioneer has launched a Traktor controller with much the same functionality, working alongside Native Instruments to improve the user experience, and expect more in the future as the industry matures and moves past insanely complicated configurations just to get some sound coming out of the speakers.

Hardware details

Traktor Kontrol S4

The control surface of the unit, showing off some of its buttons, knobs, faders, jogs and visual feedback features.

The first thing I did before even playing a song was press buttons, flick faders and turn knobs to see what everything felt like and what changed on the unit’s lights and readouts and on the software onscreen.

By and large, the software out of the box doesn’t replicate the controls on the hardware’s control surface where not necessary – hurray! When you have tightly integrated hardware and software, the screen should show you stuff you don’t have in the unit and vice versa. Why have a crossfader and volume knobs and so on onscreen when you can see how they’re all set by looking at the hardware?

(Having said that, the looping, tempo and transport functions have onscreen indicators. It would have been better to use the space for the effects parameters in the “essential” view – one of the two non-library browser software views you’ll be likely to use, the other being “extended” – because that would mean you’d maybe never have to leave this view. However, this is software stuff, and more on this can be found in our Traktor Pro 2 review).

Visual feedback
The reason that the software can afford to give you the option not to see so many of the controls of the Kontrol S4 at all is that the hardware itself has more feedback than most.

The lights – stylish in royal blue, light orange and white – give you more than just on/off feedback: There is a number readout to show you loop lengths, from 1/32nd to 32 beats; an ON AIR light for each deck that indicates whether the selected channel is present in the master output; visual feedback for keylock, master tempo, samples and selected deck; and dozens of the aforementioned on/off indicators for things like effects assignment, snap/master/quantize and record/playback. Finally, there are individual seven-bar VU meters for each channel (six blue and one orange for peak) and a five-bar master stereo level VU.

The best feedback I’ve seen on a digital DJ controller is on the Stanton SCS.1 system, which has advanced LCD readouts to show you things like the exact effects selected. While the S4 isn’t as sophisticated as that, it’s nonetheless good.

The controls
The non-replaceable crossfader is loose enough but does have some resistance, though not as much as the other faders. The rubberised knobs feel solid and can’t be pulled off, and those that click upon turning also click on pushing, and go round forever; the rest have centre-click and turn from seven through to five o’clock; obviously they’re matched to their tasks accordingly.

The jogwheels are completely silent in use, except the top plate, which has a mechanical click upon pushing, a little like some Pioneer CDJs; Native Instruments has chosen not to go for the capacitive touch-sensitive metal surface as preferred by many manufacturers in favour of this mechanical design. It works fine, although you’re advised to calibrate its sensitivity using a wizard in the configuration.

Traktor Kontrol S4 Front

Native Instruments has made a design statement by pushing the jogwheels back on the unit like they are on the Torq Xponent, and by putting looping and sample controls and hot-cue buttons front-of-controller.

The wheels only spin for a fraction of a second after you take your hands away from them, no matter how fast you spin them; therefore they differ from the feel of real turntables more than jogwheels from some other manufacturers in this respect.

The front edge has small volume controls for the cue volume, cue mix and microphone volume (although the microphone jack is round the back), and these knobs click in to the unit when pushed, to become almost flush with the panel, for protection; a nice touch.

Native Instruments has made a design statement by pushing the jogwheels back on the unit like they are on the Torq Xponent, and by putting looping and sample controls and hot-cue buttons front-of-controller; in reality, the jogs feel perfectly accessible where they are, and controllerists will appreciate the easy access to big, clear buttons they can push away at. A win-win.

Apart from this obvious nod towards controllerism, everything else is pretty much as you’d expect – channel-assignable FX, control over both of Traktor’s FX sections, the nowadays pretty standard controls for library browsing, deck switching, loading, cueing, sync etc. Of the standard-type features, the biggest wow factor for me was a big, chunky filter knob under the line EQs for each channel, so four in total; great fun for four-channel, sync-locked house and techno mixes.

Round the back
There are proper DIN-style Midi in/outs, two extra input channels for line/phono sources; the aforementioned microphone input (just a 1/4″ mono balanced TRS, not an XLR) with its own gain; a foot switch 1/4″ jack; the outputs (again no XLRs, instead confined to twin RCA and twin 1/4″ balanced TRS); plus a Kensington lock hole. Oh, and an earth pin for your Technics, if you’re still in the dark ages. ;)

A point about the Kontrol S4’s size: Many DJs, and not only DVS DJs, have taken warmly to the Kontrol X1 because in its little soft case, it is nicely portable and can accompany a laptop and allow house or techno DJs control over Traktor in the most cramped of DJ boxes; two of these diminutive units let loop-loving DJs go to town over four decks with a tiny footprint.

Obviously the Kontrol S4 isn’t going to give you that due to its size, and therefore you’ll struggle to fit it in to some DJ booths where smaller controllers wouldn’t be a problem. Bear this in mind if you think you’ll be playing in cramped conditions.

Basic use

I set the unit up on our test bench with a pair of M-Audio monitors, a MacBook Pro 13″, and some Allen & Heath Xone XD-40 headphones, and proceeded to start playing…

Browsing and loading
There are two browsing modes, one which lets you quickly load a tune, and another that allows you to free up most of the screen space for your library and access further functions.

Traktor Kontrol S4 Browser Mode

The browser mode of the Traktor Pro 2 software.

With the former, you use the browse knob to move through your collection, and you can press it to preview a track, turning it while pressed to scrub through that track. With the latter, you get additional functionality, because either set of loop knobs now lets you scroll through either your favourites (the dozen folders above the main library but below the main window) or your directory structure tree, pushing the knobs to open/close folders. The jogwheels also allow you to move quickly through lists when in this mode.

Pressing LOAD above a jogwheel or one of the sample slot buttons (more on this later) loads it to the selected channel.

As the control surface offers so much functionality, it would have been nice to have easy sort by column here: So for instance, you could select artist, or BPM, or rating and click to sort the column – this still requires reaching for the keyboard, something it’s nice to get away from when using DJ controllers if possible.

Mixing and playback
As it is a proper four-deck controller, there are four line channels, not two; many so-called four-deck controllers force you to switch two sets of controls between the four decks, which has its advantages (size, mainly) but is not as intuitive or fun to use. But with the Kontrol S4, for each virtual deck you get the full complement of EQs, volume fader, gain and filter.

Channels can be individually assigned left or right; out of the box it is set up logically, with those to the left of the crossfader assigned left and vice versa. Shift plus the FX assign buttons changes this (or switches a channel out of crossfader control entirely).

There are four cue points available per track (switchable to eight if needed via the preferences), and they work as you’d expect, with Traktor software’s quantise and snap functions allowing you to find and accurately drop cues, and holding down shift and pressing a cue button letting you deleting them.

It is possible to monitor more than one source through your headphones at once as the headphone listen buttons are toggles, not either/ors.

The positioning of the tempo sliders (bottom left and right) is an anomaly; as most people use Traktor with the full gamut of sync, quantise and snap-to grid all in place – basically because unless you’re a purist, why not get the extra help while DJing? – I can’t actually see most users ever using these controls. They’re ripe for a remapping to something more interesting!

Traktor Kontrol S4 Review mixer

The mixer section has four full channels, as opposed to some ‘four channel’ DJ controllers that only have two lines and the ability to switch between them.

(One use of them with the provided mapping might be to set the pitch +/- to 100% and then use them creatively to rapidly completely stop/ speed up a track.)

So we’ve looked at the parts: How do they all come together when DJing? Well, in basic mixing mode – whether using two or four decks – we found the unit to be a dream to use.

Everything feels good: it’s nicely laid out; the screen feedback especially with the new coloured waveforms of Traktor Pro 2 is satisfying; the jogs are extremely responsive and accurate; cue point juggling is fun as the four cue buttons are very responsive, meaning things happen bang on the beat as you intend; and finally, I love the filters being right there by your fingers, imploring you to tweak them as you’re coming in and out of a mix or break, or whatever.

Sound quality is spot on, and I assume its using the same sound circuitry as used in the company’s Audio 2/6/10 sound interfaces.

Effects
The effects sections are pretty standard and work well – four knobs at the top of each deck, allowing control over Traktor’s effects in either individual or daisychained modes as per the software; there’s the usual wet/dry control per unit, the on/off buttons double up as effects select for the slots when in daisychained mode and used with the shift button, and each channel can have either or both effects banks assigned to it.

One weakness of this software/hardware combination that becomes clear when you’re playing with the effects is that in Traktor’s essential view, there’s no effects strip, and no way of switching between essential and extended view using the S4; thus if you like to use this view as your standard, as I do (due to the way it lays the screen out with a bit of room left for the library), you need to use the trackpad/mouse pointer to switch views on your laptop. It would be nice to switch out the redundant effects strip from the essential view and replace it with an effects strip, as I mentioned earlier.

Of course, the new software has even more effects than before in an already crowded FX area; there’s much to keep you happy looking for weird and wonderful new ways to get interesting sounds out of the unit here, especially in daisychain mode.

Looping
Traktor’s looping functionality is controlled by two knobs and manual in/out buttons per physical deck; because of the loop length numbers on the Kontrol S4 and other feedback lights plus infinite rotaries, the system recalls seamlessly where you’re set on individual decks as you switch between them.

You can move a set loop, alter loop length on the fly from 1/32nd of a beat to 32 beats, and also drop manual loop in/out points. As I say it’s the standard Traktor stuff, done well but with no surprises. However, one nice touch is that you can store a loop as a hot cue by simply setting it up and then pressing an empty hot cue slot; the slot then lights green instead of blue to indicate this (incidentally, loops can also be assigned to sample decks here; more on sample decks below).

Advanced features

So far, so good. In either two or four-deck mode in Traktor, the Kontrol S4 shines, giving intuitive, clean, clear and fun control, with lots of nice touches. However, there are two sections we’ve got staring us in the face that Native Instruments knows mark its product out from the crowd, because as of the time of writing, nobody else’s hardware has control over them in the way that the Kontrol S4 does.

The features I’m referring to are the sample decks and loop recorder. So let’s take a closer look at both.

Sample decks

Traktor Kontrol S4 Review Sample decks

Four small buttons, but a powerful new feature for the creative DJ: The sample decks.

With the sample decks selected in the software’s preferences panel (it’s the default), you see four small waveforms under each of the main deck sections. What we’ve got here is basically Traktor set up as a normal two-deck DJ system (decks A and B), with the third and fourth channels (C and D, or the outer two lines on the mixer part of the controller) given over to these eight sample slots.

The sample slots can accept samples up to 32 beats / 48 seconds each in length, from the current track or from the library or other sources (more later). Once a sample is loaded into a sample deck, it can be set for one-shot or looping (but you have to use the mouse to do this, there’s no button to do it on the Kontrol S4). Then, pressing its button triggers it, pressing it again mutes it but it carries on playing, and pressing and holding it for a second stops it entirely and re-cues it for subsequent re-triggering.

A powerful feature of these sample decks is that provided snap is switched on, they stay in time with the music, taking the repeat cue from the current loop length set in the software (and displayed on the numeric readout on the Kontrol S4). Each four-sample sample deck is, of course, assigned to either the left or right “spare” deck (that is, C or D) and thus the line controls of C and D affect each bank of four samples as a whole – filter, EQs, volume etc. Thus you can build up a beatsynched groove and treat it just like another track for mixing purposes.

All of the above works independent of deck assignment, but you get some pretty mind-blowing functionality in addition if you explicitly switch to deck C or D. For instance, you can then use the hot cue buttons to instant trigger samples like cue points, for intensely rhythmic effects (so basically you’re able to play the samples as you would on a pad controller); you can nudge and scratch just like with a normal track, hitting “sync” to realign the phase afterwards; the loop in/out buttons will half/double sample length respectively; you can alter the filter and volume setting of all the samples together or individually using the loop move/size knobs with combinations of shift and individual hot cue buttons; and you can even load samples from elsewhere on your S4, for example the library.

The power you have here across two sample decks is impressive; you can basically produce music on the fly, and the filters and volume controls let you do some advanced stuff across eight loops or shots with the ability to scratch, nudge, re-sync and so on – plus of course, you can use your effects like normal by assigning them to the sample decks for further overall manipulation.

It’s not all good news; one shortcoming is that the sample decks don’t remember keylocking, so for instance if you’re DJing at -6% pitch but keylocked and you sample a deck using the sample player, once you play that loop back, it loses the key processing and plays back a semitone lower than the musical bed, obviously sounding correspondingly off-key.

You can always use the loop recorder to record your key-shifted, effected output and then transfer this to a channel in the sample deck (more on the loop recorder below), but it feels like a workaround. It’s something Native Instruments informs us has already been addressed and will come in the next free software update.

Loop recorder

Loop recorder Traktor Kontrol S4

The loop recorder: Down, dirty and a lot of fun.

Speaking of the loop recorder: This is meant to allow you to record new things on the fly, rather than play around with existing audio as the sample decks do.

On the Kontrol S4 unit, the loop recorder’s controls appear right in the centre of the mixer, below the library browse knob and map / master / quantize buttons. You’ll need to be in Extended view on the software to see the controls for this, and you can’t get away with not doing so as there’s not enough feedback information on the Kontrol S4 unit itself for you to be able to use the loop recorder without referring to the screen.

The first thing to do is select the input you wish to record, which you have to do in the software. This is a shame; a simple shift-toggle could have been implemented to allow you to cycle through the options on the Kontrol S4 itself. Anyway, it’s a small thing as you’re likely to “set and forget”.

Your choices are the main output, the cue channels (i.e. any channel whose cue light is on), the input FX send or the aux channel – typically the microphone.

Next you’ll select the length of loop to record by cycling through the available options from four beats to 32 beats, i.e. one to eight bars), using the “size” button on the unit; it’s synched to the master tempo deck. Then you press the REC button to record a loop of the length chosen, which will automatically loop when finished (unless you press the PLAY button while it’s recording) and which can be mixed with the master output using the wet/dry button. It’s simple to overdub your loop and also simple to undo the previously added layer if you don’t like it.

I loved using the loop recorder. It’s down and dirty, immediate and simple, and that suits DJs who want to do something creative, fast, while performing. If you come up with something you like you can always transfer it to the sample decks for posterity (the sample decks will automatically record the loops you make with them).

Being able to plug your headphones into the back of the thing and use them as a makeshift microphone to scream into then loop back over the music, as DJ Shiftee did in an S4 promo video, brings a new layer of fun to DJing, and I also found it useful to loop a simple part of a track with a high pass filter on it, and then bring the main track back in over the top unfiltered for effect – there’s loads you could potentially do with it and as I say, it’s the simplicity and immediacy that make it appealing.

External inputs

As briefly touched on at the start of this review, the unit has the ability to take inputs from CD or record players, and a microphone, although the microphone uses one of the input channels reserved for CDs or record decks (the Kontrol S4 can also work with timecode vinyl/CDs due to a just-available extra recent upgrade). While of course the jogwheels and transport controls won’t work with external audio, you can route the external inputs through channels C and D and use the effects, filters and so on.

Also, you can set one of the inputs (D) to work as a “thru” input, which would typically be used as a back-up in case of any technical issues. In this case, the signal bypasses all the channels and is simply controlled in volume by the gain control next to the input socket on the back of the unit.

Conclusion

As a flagship product from the software company that makes the most popular DJ software, the Kontrol S4 is something that Native Instruments had a lot riding on. What was most important was that they didn’t drop any balls. And I can report that there’s nothing at all done badly here; the controller ticks most boxes well.

Firstly, it’s plainly a serious piece of gear, and one that isn’t going to make you look like you’re playing with a toy; you’ll feel like a real DJ when you use it in public. I don’t think this can be understated – first impressions count, and especially with DJ controllers, many people feel self conscious with tiny, brightly lit toy-like micro controllers.

But once you scratch the surface and get past the Kontrol S4’s fundamentally pleasing form factor, it’s clear that this is one of the most innovative DJ controllers on the market right now.

The sample decks are a great idea, and they’re well implemented. There is endless fun to be had pulling tracks apart into sections and loading them into the sample decks for manipulation, and the way you can scratch and pitch-bend samples is how you’d want that element of The Bridge to work when Ableton and Serato finally manage to bring it to ITCH and therefore to controllerism. Native Instruments is there already as far as that usability angle goes, and it’s a scream to use.

Traktor Kontrol S4 samples, loops and hot cues

This bank of buttons are the jewel in the Traktor Kontrol S4’s crown, and where DJs are pushing the unit to its limits; they’re what ultimately stands it out from the crowd.

The loop recorder is a different beast; equally innovative in its own way, not because what it does is particularly difficult or mind-blowing, but just because it’s there. Being able to grab eight bars out of the track that’s playing, loop them, then literally clear the decks to do something new while the music continues to flow is great.

You could have a bongo pattern on the loop recorder and have it underpinning a whole set, beginning middle and end, just bringing in a bit of colour intermittently. You could use it to drop an ident, recorded on the fly, over your set. You could perform vocals on it, as DJ Shiftee demonstrated in the aforementioned video.

The fact that Native Instruments has put these functions, along with the hot cue, loop controls and filters, right at the front of the Kontrol S4 shows that it feels DJing will develop in a direction where performers are happy to be more creative with loops and samples; and the fact that the software comes with demo loops, scratches and one-shots further reinforces this thinking.

Who it’s not ideal for

It isn’t necessarily the best fit for mobile DJs in the way that a controller with two XLR microphone inputs/talkover ducking, standalone mixer capability, XLR outs for a straight-to-PA connection and a booth-out might be (such as the Denon DN-MC6000).

Furthermore it won’t tick all the boxes for diehard turntablists looking for a digital solution, as the jogs aren’t quite as good as the best of breed (I prefer the jogs on the VCI range from Vestax for replicating the feel or turntables, plus of course the motorised jogs on the Numark V7 and Numark NS7 always appeal to such DJs).

And it’s not built as solidly as the heavy, more traditional Allen & Heath Xone:DX, a fact which may deter heavy-duty touring crews. But nonetheless, all these types of users could still get by with the Kontrol S4.

Target market
But for serious hobbyists, controllerists who DJ in clubs on their own gear, Traktor DJs wanting to dabble in live production, mashup DJs, digital scratch artists, web radio DJs, and anyone else who wants the most capable controller for Traktor that there is, the Kontrol S4 is not only perfect, it’s a joyous revelation.

While it will be interesting to see what other companies now come up with to make use of the new features in Traktor Pro 2, At the moment, for this market, this controller is unrivalled.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

As a flagship product from the software company that makes the most popular DJ software, the Kontrol S4 is something that Native Instruments had a lot riding on. What was most important was that they didn't drop any balls. And I can report that there's nothing at all done badly here; the controller ticks most boxes well. However, it won't tick all the boxes for diehard turntablists looking for a digital solution as the jogs aren't quite as good as the best of breed. Overall, a strong controller with a lot of features that's sure to elevate digital DJing.

Traktor Kontrol S4
  • Traktor Kontrol S4
  • Rating: 5
  • From: Native Instruments
  • Price: $799
  • Reviewed by:
  • On April 19, 2011
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014

Did you buy a Kontrol S4 when it first came out? what are your views on it now you’ve got used to it? Are you considering buying one? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

Comments

  1. Fantastic and spot-on review! Nice job!

    • Phil Morse says:

      Thanks! Just sorry it took so long – we thought after our first year in business we’d be pretty much up to date with reviews, but people keep launching exciting new controllers… :)

      • Ctrl Alt Funk says:

        Bought the S4 last december and loved it since then. My only issue is the audio drop outs ive experienced even with the new traktor pro 2 software installed. I thought this would have solved the problem once and for all for PC users, but alas no luck! I guesse owning a mac pro is the only solution. Anyone else experience audio drop outs on the new traktor 2 software?

        • Yes i have. I play the software on a 15″ HP Notebook running on windows 7 and had the same problem. Just shut all your network-adapters and connections such as wi-fi and blue-tooth off. It worked for me, its perfect ever since. This may solve your problem and saves you a lot of money!

        • Yes I still Getting drop out in Windows 7 64 Bit Home Ed, Other Machine with Windows Vista Ultimate 32 bits, Has not Drop outs at all.

        • the problem lies in your USB cable, even the one that comes with the S4. You need to purchase a dual Ferrite (the large barrels looking things that are on the cable) high integrity USB cable, preferably with gold tips, also with twisted power cables. The Ferrite nulls any sound interference on the cable, and getting a dual cable decreases it even greater. Another note, if a cable states it’s “faster” than USB 2.0, it’s a load of bull. only 3.0 is faster. Also I use a dual boot setup on my PC, the second OS is a clean install of XP Pro on a 250Gb SSD. removes all the bloat from the CPU

        • Ctrl Alt Funk says:

          thank guys ill give all your solutions a try!!

          holding thumbs

      • Darren Daly says:

        Cant make mt mind up between the S4 and the allen&heath xone dx..

        Can anyone give me help with this??

        Cheers!!

        • Phil Morse says:

          Well you could read both reviews on here (this is the Xone:DX review :) ) Also, read the reviews on Traktor Pro 2 and ITCH 1.7, and the preview of ITCH 2.0.

          If you want the sample decks and loop recorder and prefer Traktor software, it’s the S4.

          If you see benefits in ITCH software and want the superior build quality and more traditional functions of the Xone, and are prepared to forego sample decks and loop recorder, then the A&H unit is probably more appealing.

    • Informative review, I do have a question though. I’m at a crossroads with the Torq Xponent and the S4. Beyond features which both have plenty of, which controller would be better in the long run, both for personal and professional use? I ask since there is a $300 difference and I probably wouldn’t want to upgrade for quite some time(at least 2-3yrs). Any thoughts are greatly appreciated.

      • Phil Morse says:

        Different software. If you want Traktor, best with the S4. If you like Torq software, go wioth that. Try them both from their respective websites.

      • Phil is right – they are different softwares. Download the demo versions and check them yourself.

        Additionally, it is expected that Avid, the company behind Torq & Xponent, will launch a new 4 channel controller to match Torq2’s feature set.

        … and my personal $0.02 is – the extra $300 for the S4 are well worth. It’s a much better controller, IMO. I also like Traktor 2 as software more. Specs wise, the S4 has much better sound card inside and can control 4 channels.

      • Id strongly advise to go with traktor + the kontrol s4(or s2). They have insanely tight integration on the controller vs traktor features.

        Torq + xponent were my first digital setup 4-5 years ago and it put me off digital dj’ing for a long time after 6 frustrating months of audio, button and unpredictability with torq/xponent. Before I recently sold my xponent, I did try it with Torq 2.0 and I was still not impressed.

        I bought and subsequently sold the kontrol s4 after a few months as I decided to stay on a non-midi controller setup for next few years. But I was impressed with what a difference the s4 was compared to xponent. Very nice controller.

        If the extra cost of kontrol s4(or s2) isnt an issue – I would def go with that.

  2. Great review, and I agree it’s the top controller out there.

    I just don’t think it’s really meant for hobbyists. $900 is a lot of money to pop down if you’re not really planning on making money off it (gigging). At least compared to solutions that cost $400-$500.

  3. pro: great review and a very helpful article.
    con: it makes me want the S4 more and I can’t afford it.

    • Felt the same xD

    • I’m in a difficult situation as I have the chance to get gigs but I only have a Numark Mixtrack and an X1 at the moment so I think I need an S4 before I gig…

      • I don’t know what’s the situation there but I gig regularly with a Numark Total Control and Akai LPD8 setup.. it’s not how big your controller is, it’s how you use it ;)

  4. Until Traktor gets it shit together and offers parallel waveforms one on top of the other, I can never justify using it. It seems like the simplest of things to implement and until then, no amount of awesome hardware will make me use a crippled software in comparison to others.

    Sure, Traktor 2 has a LOT of features and a bunch of which I would love to have in Itch, but the waveforms for me are a must because of my style of DJing. I started off with Traktor, switched to Itch and will only ever look back if they offer this simple little feature. But because of the software, I personally think it’s impossible to qualify this controller as the best of the best. A&H Xone:DX is still #1.

    • I have to disagree. Parallel waveforms, while nice, are pretty overrated. I have Torq and Serato and I must say, NO waveform regardless on where it is in relation to another will be better than the best beatmatching instrument available – your ear. If you can’t figure out that one track is off from another, you need more practice, not better waveforms.

      Parallel waveforms take up a lot of screen real estate; especially if you don’t have a laptop over 15″. Looking at the 4-deck version of itch makes my eyes bleed. It looks like I’m checking the vitals of a heart transplant patient.

      Plus, if you’re allowing the program to sync the bpms and your beatgrids are tight, why does it matter where the waveforms are?

      I personally, can not wait to get my hands on the S4.

      • I’ve never used the sync function and beatmatch by ear, helping myself out with the little detailed “kick view” window. I use the parallel waveforms to align build-ups and drops together from different songs and it’s extremely hard to do this without the waveforms. I don’t use loops as much as other DJs for outros.

        The result is quite different from what I’ve heard other DJs do and I take pride in that; it may not be for everyone as it results in a much smoother sound and transitions but I like it and I’m guessing the people that listen to my podcast do too. But because it’s easier to align build-ups together, it can also make them much more epic if done right!

        • dj distraction says:

          Good point.
          Now I know why you are so concerned about the parallel waveform.
          I also align build ups and drops and harmonically mixed my set.
          What I do is use together with the waveform, the “Beat” and Beat to Cue” feature in the decks. i.e. 14.2.1 (14th phrase, 2nd bar, 1st beat). Beat to Cue is represented with minus numbers.
          Using this I know how many bars left or phrase left (plus the waveform shows it) then I align my build ups and drops.

        • If you need parralel waveforms to align your drops, you might as well be using Ableton live to automate your drops and cues and let the software do it for you.

          Honestly, I have only been seriously DJ’ing for 2 months and even I know that being a DJ means knowing your music inside out. If you absolutely need software to tell you how to mix a song correctly, then you either rely to much on a feature or just don’t know your songs well enough.

          I don’t mean to discredit you, as you probably have mountains of experience over me, but serato users always resort to the parallel waveform trump card when knocking traktor. Fact is: traktor has so many advanced features over serato that is can run circles around it with ease. There is a reason the top DMC champions all use and endorse traktor: it works.

    • Traktor has a phase meter just above each deck which does away for parallel waves and saves space on the screen for other things. The phase meter is a simpler and more ingenious way to mix with if you want to quickly know if you need to speed up or slow the track down. Parallel waves in traktor would result in a even more crammed screen and other features that are more important to users of the software being hidden away resulting in extra buttons to press. Parallel waves result in your eyes getting distracted from what’s going on with each individual deck when you have cues set on each wave and loops. when your working with 4 decks looking at a stack of waves so close can get confusing. I used vinyl for 10 years and CDJ’s for 5 and instinctively know by ear if something need speeding up and slowing but do use the phase meter and sync buttons to tightly lock stuff down. I also understand why they have chosen not to use parallel waves as its not the most efficient solution and best for work flow. I don’t think they need to change just to keep serto users happy when more people are using traktor worldwide now.

      • Like I’ve already just mentioned, I don’t use the waveforms to beatmatch, I use them to align drops and sequences in songs, so what you’re mentioning in Traktor is effectively useless to me.

        • Derek Richard says:

          I have the s4 and the x1. I have used traktor since day one and as someone previously stated, if they added parallel waveforms, it would be to cluttered. Personally, I also feel they are overrated.

          If you were to give traktor a shot you would see that the ability to chain effects and/or use them in advance mode, along with a little creativity and maybe some custom mapping, you can create your own Build ups and DROP them whenever you want and however HARD you want.

          The bar below your main track waveform shows you an overview of the entire song’s waveform in traktor. If im feeling lazy i’ll line the build ups and breakdowns in 2 different songs that way. Or you could just loop the beat of your secondary song and when your breakdown of your main song comes, cue point jump to the break down of your secondary song. Im pretty sure you would achieve the same goal.

          anyways I think Traktor’s 4fx banks and ability to create awesome mappings Trumps parrallel waveforms. I mean, i got one knob that i turn on my x1 and it turns on filter fx, iceverb fx and reverb fx, and equally increases the dry/wet along with the amount of each effect giving an awesome dramatic wash sound, then i just kill the knob on a bass drop and BOOOOM…crowd goes crazyyy.

        • Derek Richard says:
    • dj distraction says:

      Sorry, I just have to ask, and this happened in you post.
      I keep reading about this parallel waveform.
      What’s the big deal about it?
      Aren’t you guys missing one of the most basic point in DJing…listening, use your ears.

    • StrangeMatter says:

      More bleating about parallel waveforms. Simple tip. Know your music. Feel it. Then the need for such an overrated, epic waste of screenspace can be eliminated.
      I hate to be blunt but it’s really started grating on me. Serato’s waveforms were useless and simply got in the way.
      I mix trance so I too need to know my tunes (and occasionally edit them) before playing them. That way, by instinct, I can align drops, builds, etc completely by ear, leaving my screen to sort out a myriad of other things going on.
      If you need a waveform to tell you where your drops are, you should ask yourself a few questions.

      • Exactly.

        • DMC champions using Traktor doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s a style of DJing filled with loops and scratching. I’m pretty sure we can agree that the standard in clubs is CDJs with a mixer, and second to that comes Serato Scratch Live. Serato works too, just differently and for other types of people.

      • What you’re essentially telling me is that either I can spend a lot more time learning my songs inside out, or I can just use the parallel waveforms. I’m a full time actuarial science student and for me, DJing comes second to that.

        The parallel waveforms allow me to do things I would never be able to do unless I spent a lot more time with my music to know my songs inside out.

        They allow me to download a song 5 minutes before a gig and mix it seamlessly with the others. I know it’s nothing more than a tool and it doesn’t make me a better DJ in terms of talent, but the end result is just the same. Your argument saying parallel waveforms are for the weak and unexperienced is just the same thing as how vinyl DJs feel towards digital DJs. Parallel waveforms save me time and allow me to achieve a certain level of DJing I would have a hard time reaching with my all my studies, while putting less time into it.

        And seriously, just what else do you use screen real estate for?

        I’m not saying I can’t align drops and build-ups by ear, just that it’s a lot easier to do with parallel waveforms.

      • futureglue says:

        Dudes, no disrespect but this whole “know your tunes” thing, back off a little bit.

        We live in different times. Before you went to a gig with 100-150 records, now I have 2000+ tunes in my HD (all killers btw). Fact is there is a lot more music coming out these days & it’s easier to acquire. So there are way too many tunes to “know by heart”.

        Why do you think people made such a big deal out of colored waveforms in T2?

        Sorry, maybe it’s all that aspartame that’s digging holes through my brain, but I don’t remember all the drops in my library. Especially when I got 3 decks going, Ableton loops, someone trying to sing their request, dangling their beer over my gear. Seen?

    • Phil Morse says:

      Waveforms help DJs, there’s nothing wrong with visualising your music as well as listening to it. DJs always used to look at the surfaces of the vinyl to “see” where the breaks were. It’s not like skiing, it’s no meant to be hard so you can show off how good you are at it, it’s playing music and anything that helps is good.

      Waveforms help; but parallel waveforms can help more, that’s what people are saying here. It’s a valid viewpoint and certainly not cheating or something to be sneered at.

      • midifingers says:

        Hey Phil, what you say is true, waveforms really are of use to a lot of djs as long as you don’t disengage with your audience while you are lining them up! I do think it a shame that DJToto refers to TraktorPro2 as a “crippled” software though, I think that is unfair bagging of an amazing software. The waveform layout in Traktor has always been in the side by side deck format and I think is an integral feature of the screen layout, it guides the placement of many of the other modules and allows the space for the sample decks and thence the space for the browser below it.

        That aside your review is excellent, in depth and explores a lot of the features, if anyone needed more encouragement to get a paper round to buy one this would be it!

      • There are no rules to DJIng, stop bitching about how people achieve their desired sound. These people annoy me. Visual and audio skills are required for DJing, I heavily used visual when I played vinyl. With new technnology, comes new skills.

        With me starting with vinyl…do I start moaning about people using queue points and what not…blah, blah, blah.

        DJing evolves, move with it or be left behind.

    • I use Traktor and I think parallel waveforms are a great feature on Serato. Traktor has a feature that tells you when the beat is out of sync, but it doesn’t always work well unless you grid the beats. So, out of the box it is a great feature to have.

  5. I think that the S4 has the best features of all controllers, including integration and ease of use. I only have one complaint: the vast majority of the controllers out here, including the S4 simply look like toys and don’t offer a professional look to the digital DJ. Amongst the new wave of controllers I have to stand by the Pioneer DDJ-T1 which has the right width and thus the right amount of space to juggle and so on. Make no mistake, I was in love with the S4 until the T1 appeared. I would just prefer more space and bigger jog wheels. Besides this everything is top-notch.

    • Have you played on the S4? It’s all but cramped. The real estate with the S4 is at premium.

      I feel the T1 being a big waste in many aspects. Firstly, even Pio are advertising it as a home gear, not a pro. Next it’s a lot more expensive than the S4 (add the TP2 software upgrade to the T1). Next it lacks essential the essential Traktor2 controls. Next the lack of pass-through on the line-in (the emergency mode). Finally, the feel of the S4’s controls is better on the S4 than on the T1 – especially the jogs!

      if there’s a better controller than the S4, it’s the NS6.

      • I was surprised by the size of the S4. its bigger that it looks in the photos. its not cramped and the layout is great. Pioneer have just made their controller look like CDJ’s and a DJM to cash in on people crossing over from cdj’s. no thought has gone into the design, There is no set rules in DJ’ing and no set layout. why do controllers have to have a jog wheel on the left and the right? I use mainly my right hand to controller platters with and left is on the mixer. why not have a controller with 2 jogs stacked one above the other on the right and controls and mixer on the left? would be easier and result in not crossing hands over lol

        • thisisian says:

          the problem with two jogs on the right, is it won’t be acceptable for anybody who would prefer two jogs on the left! (myself included) :-)

        • Was just a random idea. Maybe the controller splits into parts for customisation so you can attach jog s on left ha ha. I think controllers will end up being split up soon like the DJ consoles of the 70’s and 80’s and the first CD units of the 90’s. Dj’s will eventually get away from all in one controllers for separates.thats my prediction anyway.

      • dJ ~:DmaQ says:

        Absolutely no way is the S4 better than the T1. I have already sent back my S4 for replacement TWICE after using it for less than 6 months!! And have used the S4 in playing out in Hollywood House Scene Club primetime and after-hours settings and have first hand experience in what a controller really needs to feel, sound and perform like in Professional grade usage with everything on the line as far as music and performance is concerned…. I own both the S4 and T1 and HIGHLY recommend the Pioneer unit over the Native Instrument’s S4. My T1 completely out preforms the S4 in durability, sound output and professional grade feel in every day use and I receive a much more respected and acceptance by club promoters and fellow dJ peers who have a poor idea and viewpoint of dJ’s who use controllers to begin with by showing up with a Pioneer branded controller with CDJ’esque qualities and feel. And though I believe in being bold and having my own skills and belief in not having to please anyone but myself when it comes to playing, I still depend on making the people who hire me and pay me to play my set in the night club to feel assured that the equipment i bring to use will work and sound as good as any standard unit that is already there in the dj booth and with the T1 I get that backing every time. If you are going to be playing out in night club settings with a controller, I highly recommend Pioneer, Allen & Heath or looking for the best sound card and using time code with a thin small effects controller like the Kontrol X1 and plug into the club mixer, because overall…. promoters, club owners and the dJ community in general frown upon bringing into their clubs any more equipment that is needed for a dJ to play and use. If you don’t see yourself ever playing in the club circuit that I just mentioned…. then the controller market is wide open and all yours.

  6. So I am still confused on the quality of build. Seems like some people say it (the hardware) is still plasticy and cheep feeling versus something like the mc6000 which feels like a rock. I am a mac lover on a dell and I cant stand how cheep the dell feels to a macbook pro. I dont want to feel like that on my controller too. I am trying to decide between the two, being a small gig mobile(both are fine for me size wise) dj playing mainstream and top 40 mixes with my own flair. I am also running a windows 7 dell so the software issues with windows scare me. Would it be better to run an mc6000 with TP or TP2?

    • mc6000 has the biggest benefit of the advanced I/O. The controls feels great on it, but it’s really cramped for me. Have you seen it in real? It’s like a miniature, compared to the S4. You need to see and touch them both to decided if the MC6k will fit you.

      The denon is much better in terms of hardware features, but I love my S4 and would buy it again over the Denon. The quality feeling is great with my KS4 unit. NS6 is the only one with potential to beat the S4 IMO.

      • I have physically played with both. I just went back and played with both again today after posting this. I understand how some users feel the mc6 is cramped (especially on the eq)but I can work around that. but between just the units alone, the Denon feels hands down more sturdy and quality. The jogs between the two feel different but both great and are about the same size. Im just not sold on the S4 feel wise. I just dont want to get the denon and regret not getting the s4…but i guess i can always return it.

        • The Denon is the better hardware unit for sure, so if you’re fine with the EQ knobs and the overal layout & placement, it’s the biggest win.

          I love how my s4 feels, but I admit that i somehow liked the denon’s feel a lot (maybe more ;) ).

        • Yeah like i said, im not completely hating on the S4… i just feel like ill always wish I got the denon.

        • DJ 1 DER says:

          Without bal xlr outs your sound probably wont sound as good.Denon has s4 has’nt..Thats why I bought an mc 6000…Im glad I did…..

        • dj distraction says:

          @DJ 1 DER
          At the back of S4, beside the unbalanced RCA outputs, there is “1/4″ Jack: Unbalanced main output”.
          Quality wise, is this different from Balanced XLR outs that you are talking about?

          I used this balanced output once and connected it directly to daisy-chained four (2 each channel) D.A.S. Avant 215A, and it sounds great. We don’t even have a sub yet.
          Unless there’s problem with my ear.

          http://www.dasaudio.com/index.asp?pagina=productos&subpagina=1&galeria=281&producto=2608&numPagina=1&lang=en

        • DJ 1 DER says:

          THE 1/4 INCH OUT IS CLOSE TO THE XLR TO MY EAR,BUT I WANT TO GET AS CLOSE TO THE SOUND COMING OUT OF GODS SPEAKERS AS I CAN.SO ITS TIME FOR THE S4 TO ANTI UP.AFTER ALL THEIR PISSIN WITH THE BIG DOGS NOW….

        • Guys, the TRS (1/4″ jacks) and the XLR are electrically and sonically identical. Both are balanced outputs. The difference is only in the locking mechanism of the two connectors – XLR just gives you better locking.

    • I opted for the Denon MC6k myself. It took about a month of deliberation to decide between that or the S4, but based on what I wanted to do with it, the denon appeared to fit the bill slightly better. That being said, I love the denon and am sure I would have loved the S4 just as much had I bought that instead.

      It’s hooked up to is an HP something-or-other with windows 7, and I’ve never had an issue with Traktor Pro (Haven’t picked up TP2 yet). Even when running off the battery while downloading stuff with wifi and chaining effects on multiple decks, I haven’t gone far above 50% CPU and the audio has never clipped – the biggest reason why I moved away from VDJ (that, and the effects). So as someone who uses the Denon with windows 7 and TP, I can say it works extremely well together.

      I’ll probably wait another few weeks before getting TP2 until more kinks are found and ironed out, but in my experience with the MC6k and traktor Pro, I don’t forsee any major headaches occuring. At least, not ones that aren’t mapping-related :)

    • I have an MC-6000 and it is awesome. Solid as a rock, fully mapped to Traktor Pro (i have TP 1.2.7 not game to go TP2 yet given the complaints on the forum). I highly recomend it. :-)

    • Another Denon owner here. Love it. It’s small, but the thing is built like a tank. Keep in mind that it has more outputs and inputs than the traktor so you can add two CDJ’s or turntables if you wanted to, and they can be mixed externally without the need for a laptop if you are in a pinch. It’s a true standalone controller. The xlr’s and separate booth out were selling points for me, not to mention that it’s priced $100 below the S4. The jogs are fucking great, small enough to not get in the way, big enough to get the job done. There is no play in them, they are rock solid and the touch sensor is spot on.

      The only deal killer is space and less control functions. As the article said: the S4 has controls for the loop recorder and separate sample deck buttons. The Denon has a toggle that uses the same 4 hot cues as sample buttons (on TP1 they are mapped as hotcue 5-8). I don’t have TP2 yet, so if I opt for TP2 then I will probably get an X1 or some other small footprint midi for mapping advanced features as well.

      I can only really say good things about the Denon. It has its quirks and driver installation is a bit tricky, but once you get it set up, it is really a powerhouse controller and THE BEST controller to go mano y mano with the S4 at the under $1k level.

      The only major problem is the pitch faders are midi and are somewhat inaccurate. They fluctuate unsteadily when you move them while a track is playing. I am learning to beatmatch by ear without using the sync and phase (gotta pay my dues), and the pitch faders make it a real chore to lock down your pitch. Denon is aware of the problem on the forums, but there hasn’t been an official response. Probably will get fixed when they release another firmware update.

      I would suggest getting the Denon and snagging a copy of Traktor Pro 1 off of ebay or amazon since it’s dirt cheap now and letting the TP2 bugs get ironed out.

      Also, check this forum. You will need it once you get the Denon:

      http://denondjforums.com/denonforums

      Let us know what you decide on. You can’t go wrong with either, but there are alot of happy DNMC6k owners out there. I had to wait an entire month after ordering mine just for it to ship: Denon had outsold their capacity! That should tell you something right there.

    • dj distraction says:

      > Guys, the TRS (1/4″ jacks) and the XLR are electrically
      > and sonically identical.

      Thanks for the info!

  7. Great review! Glad you enjoyed the S4 :)

    one of your weak points is actually there, you just didn’t know about it:
    “you need to use the trackpad/mouse pointer to switch views on your laptop”

    Shift + Deck C/D is the shortcut for changing the layouts. Furthermore, the Preferences page has the option to either have it as “Next Layout”, or a shortcut to specific layout preset. The two sides (C/D) can be set independently, so one could be next, the other to your fave custom layout.
    Additionally, you could just clone/alter the Essential preset by enabling the “Global Section” (FX panel) and have an essential w/ and w/o FXs :)

    The layout management is very advanced with Traktor. I wish the mapability of the S4 is more flexible.

    IMO, one of the biggest weaknesses of KS4 is the poor mapibility NI is forcing. It’s either impossible or too damn difficult to remap controls from the built-in mapping. And the MIDI mode (Shift + Browse) does not allow mapping of the “display strip” – you practically loose big part of the nice visual feedback the hardware has …

    • Amen. I really wanted to override the Filter controls so I could use 4-band Xone EQs. The mapping engine does not allow this, sadly.

      • I’m glad you said this. If I can’t map what I want to where I want, I’m passing. Traktor’s MIDI mapping has always been an atrocious, opaque ordeal. Why they can’t take a lesson from Ableton there I don’t know. But outright restricting mapping functions is bullshit.

        • it’s not totally restricted, but it’s definitely not straight forward.

          You practically have to “neutralize” the mapped function and then map a new function to a control. In many cases, it works fine, but not for everything, I’m afraid.

          think for example that none of the mixer area controls have a shift function, So if you want to double the loop recorder’s controls, you need to firstly deactivate it, then recreate the built-in functions with a custom mapping and finally define the Shift+ commands. It’s annoying, but definitely not a NoGo. The same approach is to be taken for Filter knobs -> 92’s low.

          There are other “dead end” examples like the FX slot assignment in 4fx mode. Once you enable the 4FX, it becomes slot per channel and not freely assignable. If you remap, you have to sacrifice the LED feedback of the FX assign buttons.

          they’ll probably improve this. It’s a relatively frequent request by many advanced users.

        • @loopbd

          How did you disable the filter knob? I could not work out how to do this.

      • my bad. it’s not possible to neutralize the built-in Filter mapping. I thought the gain remapping approach would work, but it doesn’t.

        the Xone EQs can still be set as doubles on the Mid & High knobs, but you probably know that already …

  8. Bought the S4 a couple of months ago and love it. I still have a lot to learn but it’s a great tool. The one thing that should’ve been noted in the review is the great MAC vs Windows debate when it comes to the Traktor S4. Yes, a lot of Windows users have gotten it working with no issues but for many there are too many problems to deal with. If you plan to buy the S4 and don’t have a Mac you should probably save up to also get a Mac Book Pro. The time you will likely spend trying to configure windows will be time lost with the S4 and you’ll question the investment.

    • I don’t know if you are following the types of issues the win guys are experiencing, but 95% are general DPC latency issues caused by the acpi implementation in the laptops.

      Although it’s not usually NI’s fault, they need to deal with it. Obviously, they achieved great results with the Audio4/8 generation of audio drivers – there are lot users who started to experience these issues since S4 and not before …

      I know enough windows users for whom “it just works”. But sadly, I also know people who’ve had hard time making it work … now they’re happy too, of course

      • Correct. I should have noted its not NI’s fault but its something worth noting.. hopefully people investing are aware of this.

      • Yup. Low-latency audio isn’t really supported on Windows, so companies have to hack their way around it.

        Because of this, I strongly recommend that digital DJs use Macs. It can be very tempting to get something cheap and powerful, especially if you’re already using Windows: but as a rule you’ll waste far too much time trying to get audio working in a stable way.

  9. I have used the S4 as my friend owns one. It is very well made and the feel of it is great. It does not feel like your average plastic DJ controller and the styling and design are very good. It feels solid and looks the part.

    It was a lot bigger in real life than I expected, Just under the width and depth as 2 x CDJ’s put together. Using the S4 I found it easy to pick up the basics straight away as I already use traktor and the buttons are clearly marked and located .The layout is very good and I got to grips with using some of the more advanced features of traktor 2 like sample loops because the layout makes it very simple to do so.

    One thing I was impressed with was the Jog wheels and how smooth, solid and accurate they are, this made me feel confident in using them coming from a vinyl and CDJ background. You can easy pull off some good scratching on them or use to pin point parts in a track accurately.

    I recommend the S4 if you are going to use traktor 2 to its full potential. If you are then the S4 is the best controller out there at the moment and you definitely get your moneys worth. Its a controller and can also be used a a normal DJ mixer. Would love to see them installed in places. Im seriously thinking of selling my mixer and CDj’s to get one. The S4 is going to be the top controller for a few years I think until software changes. worth investing in one.

  10. I don’t understand the concern about build quality raised here. For months I tried to find economy to buy one, and I haven’t looked back since. Everything is what I expected or even better, and one thing I love about NI’s hardware products are the design of them.

    Considering what it is built of (Plastic), it is quite remarkable how light it is. And when it is placed on a surface, you can plug in cables, scratch and everything without the unit moving one inch. They gained a lot of experience on this subject from the X1 I think. Look at how small it is, the feel and the solid placement it has on a surface. Take a look at most other controllers and you will see how anything that is heavier built, is also quite heavier in price.

    Ton anyone considering a buy, go to your nearest music store and try it out. You won’t regret it one bit. All I need to figure out now, is how I can utilize my X1 with the S4.

    :)

  11. I hope to be the proud owner of an S4 in June. I’ve played with this unit extensively, and the two biggest things for me are the tight integration of hardware and software – I can control almost everything from REAL hardware, including the sample decks, while at the same time getting premium quality hardware – and the ergonomics. Quite simply, it’s big, spaced out, the knobs are nice, the buttons easy to push, the jog wheels usable, and faders are useful, and I find this to be a nice, packaged unit that provides a mixer, deck control, sample and cue manipulation a form that appeals. Having done an extensive amount of research, having seen the S4 used, and having used the S4 myself, I’m pretty sure I’ll be satisfied with my purchase – this is going to last (I hope).

    Controllers, just like any other instrument, are subjective. If I don’t like how a guitar feels in my hands and how it looks, why would I buy it? My best advice to people looking for a controller is to go out and try them. Find something that fits your feature set, find a demo or a friend, and look at it and experiment with it. The only way you’ll know it’s a fit for you is if you enjoy using it.

  12. I have the S4 also and absolutely love it!
    I have used it so far live for Mobile gigs, used it live in my radio show and created House mixtapes.
    So far no real issues, although i wish the mixer could be used as standalone in the event of a laptop crash or software issue! It seems fairly pointless to have external input such as Cd players, decks, ipod etc when you access to 4 decks in the software ? Surely it would be a better idea to have an external source in the event of a software problem ?
    I am currently in the process of customising mine, already having swapped some of the knobs from the standard black to coloured for certain sections such as FX controls, eq section and filters. I’d also like to add the 12″ skinz design to give it a bit of sparkle…

    All in all though i couldn’t bear being without the unit, to the point that my DJM700 and CDJ400’s are now redundant!!

    A little tip also, especially for US readers, if ordered via DJ Tech Tools, the unit ships with a fantastic S4 tutorial Dvd created by Eaon Golden….

    • the S4 can be used to play external source without computer working or connected at all. There’s a “through” mode switch on input channel “D” – it allows you to either pass the input to the software, or output it directly to master with an analogue chain. There’s also a proper gain control to adjust the input level from -something to +6db.

      It’s perfect for connecting an ipod or a CD player for emergency backup.

      P.S. the Pio units does not have this feature – lame, huh ;)

      • Well I didn’t know that :-)
        many thanks for the info… will be looking into that… phew!
        Always makes me nervous if the laptop crashes!
        So it’s only available on channel D? I currently have my Mic routed through that… that’s no issue though as can move the mic to external source on Channel C and switch between that and the sample player…
        Many Thanks

  13. Superb review, in fact the most comprehensive one Ive read, also interesting replies, so glad that people on this site have dignity and respect for their fellow members.
    One thing that is apparent is that we can all adapt to use equipment, and although all hardware can’t be all things to all men, we can find a workaround.
    This article has convinced me to save a little more, and not wait for the VMS4 Traktor edition but to invest in an S4

    Thank you

  14. Great review! I’ve bought the S4 from the moment it came out, and haven’t regret it for a second. A perfect controller, and when used with a strong laptop, its becomes a rock-solid combination never letting you down.

  15. DJ Ecliptik says:

    Now, Fix your ASIO driver for the Kontrol S4! Your beta driver still hasn’t fixed anything for the Audio drops. Heck, even the ASIO4ALL driver works better, It’s just that I can’t route the outputs to the mixer itself. How come a lower level Macbook has no drops whatsoever? You guys had enough time before release to figure these things out… why wait for someone to shell out a grand for something that doesn’t do it’s job? I have a gig in less than a month, and if nothing can be done about this, then I want a full refund.

  16. Chrisneil says:

    The dj we booked for the saturday just gone turned up with one,they are a lot bigger than they look in the photo’s and overall looked very spacious, well laid out and seemed to have a good work flow..
    Although the unit did feel very light and not particularly solid,in comparison to an allen and heath unit eg 3d or 4d..

    Highly unlikley we’ll buy one though,still love my vci 300 and itch..

  17. Great Review Phil.

    Will you also make a review on NS6?

  18. I own an S4 and i have done two gigs with it, first time it crashed half way through but i am a windows user and i did not optimise my pc enough and i didnt check the latency before i started, it has been a ball ache trying to get it to work flawlessly but i think i am near enough there after applying these things before i play:
    disable wifi
    disable antivirus
    disable laptop speakers
    disable all root hubs except s4 hub.
    disable webcam/cd,dvd drive
    latency at default for 2.9.8 beta driver

    Traktor in full screen
    disable apci battery complaint manager
    switch to windows basic.

    then i run the latency checker and make sure it is all in the green and at its lowest without any peaks whatsoever, if this is the case then i know ill be alright. Wuite annying isnt it but im sure they are still working on a final solution.
    The thing is that when my s4 is working flawlessley with my laptop,it is actually amazing and such a joy to use, just a bit upsetting when soething goes wrong just because i dont have a mac, i have a brand new dell xps.

    i hope this helps anyone with the same problems.
    I am actually thinking of spending the summer in cyprus to dj but the only thing holding me back is the reliability because i dont have a mac. :(

  19. Well is pretty good I like Traktor but for $900 it needs some improvement before I would buy it. At that cost it should support vst and rewire. They also need to improve the beatgrid system. Fix those things and it would really be an awesome program

  20. Phil Morse says:

    Course you don’t, you can gig fine with what you have.

  21. Nice review, but I have to differ on one point. The inclusion of tempo-sliders is the primary reason I acquired a Kontrol S4.

    I was previously a Audio8/dj-mixer/Kontrol X1 user. This setup is fine for the more-typical user you note in the review (playing nice, stable, quantized trance/techno/hiphop/etc.).

    However, for a dj using older music (80’s, disco, funk, etc.) or non-Western music (“world” music, etc.) which is non-quantized due to live drums or simply being originally recorded on analog tape and/or edited with razor blades, the lack of a hardware tempo slider is an excruciating omission.

    The jog wheels are fantastic for fine-tuning and riding the tempo manually for mixing with these types of music, but trying to dial-in the initial tempo change needed for a beat-match by clicking the increment/decrement buttons on the X1 was no fun at all. The S4’s inclusion of a hardware slider was a key-factor making me take the leap and upgrade (again; my old setup was only a year old).

  22. Jon Graves says:

    Great review and a refreshingly open and tolerant discussion. I am not a professional DJ but have been an avid dance music fan since the late 80s. I have owned the S4 since release and just wanted to say that, while the unit is expensive, it is basically a dream for the serious enthusiast who has made a significant investment in digital music. The easy access to sampling and looping capabilities, allowed by the hardware/software integration, enable me to play with my music collection in ways that were simply not accessible to me before. Mixing Richard H. Kirk into Kassem Mosse is so much fun that I’m thinking of playing out for the first time since I spun Motown and Northern Soul in the 70s!

    Respect to all music lovers

    Jon

  23. I’ve bought Traktor S4 in December from native-instruments.com (i’ve preordered it one month before). I was amazed by the quality of the faders and the way it integrates with the software. In January I’ve turned my S4 on and, out of the sudden the left channel seemed to not work properly. I’ve changed the output from TRS to RCA without fixing the problem. The left channel was out of order. I’ve sent the unit to Germany (I’m from Romania) after contacting the customer support from NI. They’ve sent me back the unit a couple of weeks after, telling me that there was nothing wrong with it. During that period I had to go back to my Xone 4d. Last week I have encountered the same problem: one of the S4’s channels stopped working. Have you ever had this problem? Except this I love Traktor S4 more than Xone 4D and DJM 2000.

    • Phil Morse says:

      Without testing the issue, this sounds to me like a sound setup problem. Have you followed all the sound setup instructions through over again in the instructions, or followed toe quickstart wizard once again to set up your unit?

  24. Thanks for the great review! I’m becoming more and more interested in purchasing a high quality controller that I can throw into a carry-on bag and take wherever I go. At the moment, my Pioneer gear is in another country, and although I occasionally move it around (piece by piece) in a carry-bag, a DJM-800 is not a joy to move around with. I really need a high quality compact solution and perhaps the S4 is it.

    • it’s a great controller, but definitely not very compact, especially for flying with it. You will always be on the edge of the hand luggage allowance when boarding.

      For transportation in mind, it’s better to be a smaller unit. There’s the Novation Twitch, which seems to be one of the most promising new controllers. Of course, the Vestax VCIs are great choice – the 100, the 100MKII & VCI-300. There are the Reloop controllers too …

      I move my S4 around, but by car, not by plane. I have the Fusion Workstation DJ bag, which is great, but the overal dimensions of the package are pretty impressive, you know!

      just sayin :)

      Cheers!

  25. Hi! :)

    I’m planning to buy a s4 with the trolley bag. Anyone had trouble boarding due the size of the Bag?

    Thank you!

  26. Hey there, I need some advice choosing between the Pioneer DDJ-T1 and the Traktor S4. I’m a bedroom DJ trying to get club gigs. The controller I have now is Vestex Spin for Mac (yeah I’m making a huge leap). I’m not to familiar with Traktor, is it difficult to get the hang of? Price isn’t the concern, I want a reliable controller with sturdy build and good-easy software for a intermediate DJ like myself.

  27. Hi, I’ve been having problems with the left deck on my s4 that I got a couple months back. When I do a bit of scratching and want the track to keep playing, it stops and I have to manually start playing it again, anyone have any idea on how to fix this ? its driving me crazy. thanks x

  28. In a direct comparison with the new vci 400?
    which is the better one?
    does the vci 400 stand a chance?

    i’ve made my mind almost up on the vci 400 – but i’d like to hear some oppinions of people, who know these things a bit better than me.

    cheers!

    • They’re different. S4 is tightly mapped to Traktor and especially good with sample decks; VCI400 is a “blank canvas” controllers that lends itself far more to customisation.

      • Jona Menasso says:

        Hi there Phill…

        I was hoping you could help me deciding between the S4 and the VCI 400…

        at the moment my choice would be the VCI but maybe if you answer my two questions i can clarify myself.

        1- Does the VCI 400 offer nearly the same integration with traktor 2 as the S4 without the need of a complex mapping? (i am not a very good “mapper”)
        I ask this because that is the main catch in the S4 for me.

        2- Would a VCI 400 last 3 years without abuses?

        I ask this because it’s the strongest point on the VCI for me, and as i am not a Controllerist like Ean Golden or something i am not going to bash hit buttons faders or knobs, at least much. My mixing style is based on smooth transitions and incorporation of samples oneshots and loops. (Mostly House, Prog, minimal and Tech)

        you could also make an Article with your answer to my problem and publish it on the blog as it would very helpfull to manny others in my oppinion…

        Kind Regards to y’all.
        Jona Menasso

  29. Great stuff but I am having an indecision on upgrading from my NuMark Mixdeck to the NuMark NS6 or maybe the Traktor S4. I like the idea of the platters being larger and more user friendly in the NS6 and the functioanlity of the looping and cues (in comparison to the lack of both on the Mixdeck). So I guess I am just asking for feedback on the Numark NS6 compared to the S4. At this point I only play in my basement and throw the odd party at my house…
    Thanks

  30. i’m getting problem with my 2 month old S4. Channel A faddier is moving down by itself only,

  31. Jason Gelgand says:

    Just got my new S4 along with an F1. Absolutely love it. Just gotta take the time to familiarize myself with it and the abundance of features and possibilities. Don’t use without an F1 if possible. (Or two) reducing mouse use is one of my biggest goals and time consumers. Being able to control remix decks via F1 makes all the difference. I started with an Xponent a year and a half ago. Great beginner maschine, quickly grew out of its toyishness and capabilities in about 4 months. Moved up to an American Audio VMS4. Loved having 4 deck control, hated the faders and constant audio and mapping issues, along with very poor sound quality even the Xponent rivaled. VMS4 lasted about 4-5 months of solid use and growth due to a better actual controller itself minus issues. Two days ago got my S4 and F1 to go along side my Maschine and X1. (I’ve become a huge fan and advocate of N.I. Products since my maschine purchase. I am on a Kloud nine and loving the Krisp audio of the sound card, the smoothness in all the faders and knobs, the responsiveness and solid feel of the platters and the true kontroller to software integration all of which gives me more time with my aktual musik and less time on a mouse and gazing at my skreen. Highly rekomend any Native products. If you can’t tell with my new kontinual use of the letter K.

  32. Hi,
    I am planning to buy a decent setup for my home& mobile use.
    I am not a professional dj (more of a bedroom and small gig dj type) but gradually would like to learn to do it professionally.
    I reside in India. Really confused between S4 and S2..have no idea which is the right thing for me
    (considering I will not buy another controller at least for another 3years) so need to be really sure as to what is a better buy.

    Play Style : (not into scratching and dubstep.) electro house, progressive and psychedelic )

    Pricing in India S4: 62000 INR , S2 : 40000 INR

    Please help me. :) Looking forward to your reply.

  33. While I’ve only used Serato and an ns7, a few times. I INSTANTLY fell in love with Traktor. Along with my Traktor S4. Which I purchased 2-3 weeks after its release. I mix on cdj’s. I’ve used various controllers, including the Pioneer ddi-sx and the NS7-II. Haven’t got my hands on the VCI380 and VCI400 Ean Golden Edition. All I can say is… With all Professional Dj’s and the “Professional Dj’s” out there, bashing controllers and/or giving their own “two sense”. They FAIL to understand and except. That wether they like it or not. Not every program or controller is “one size fits all”. They bash and/or “troll” good reviews, like these. While everyone has a right to their own opinion. It should also be understood that being the most widely used Dj softwares, in the industry. Traktor and Serato are two entirely different softwares. Based on a single concept. Like an automobile. Don’t expect your Honda to have heated cloth seats. Just because your previous Volkswagen did. The point to my rambling is….. Features are manufacturer-specific. Therefore… Just because one software doesn’t offer the same or similar feature as another. It doesn’t mean it’s any better or worse. Unfortunately… Personal opinion, pride and bias, comes into play and that is what takes the fun out of things. Although I do find Serato Dj’s a little annoying. When they bash me for using Traktor. Even though, if asked to. They wouldn’t know where to start, feature-wise. Aside from simply mixing music with that “cool” over-under waveform display. In the end… To each his or her own. But, seriously… Let’s face the facts. Traktor has features, Serato will never have and Serato has… over-under waveforms. Oh and little sample crates. Replies negative and positive are more than welcome. Thank you for your time :)

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