Review: Traktor Pro 2
Last week, Native Instruments launched its new Traktor 2 range, which consisted of new versions of all of its Traktor software, plus the Audio 6 and Audio 10 sound interfaces to replace the old Audio 4 and Audio 8 devices.
Of most interest to serious digital DJs, of course, was Traktor Pro 2, the new version of the company's flagship product for controller users. We've now had a weekend to play with it, and with the help of a lot of insightful feedback from you, our readers, over on our First Thoughts on Traktor Pro 2 post, here we present our review.
Hands down, it looks nicer. Those coloured waveforms make the software look modern and somehow cleaner. (If you're a bit overwhelmed by them, you can change them to other more monochromatic versions, but you lose a bit of the functionality if you do.) There are more subtle tweaks to the overall look including a higher contrast skin, which should make use in dark clubs easier.
However, many of the features in Traktor Pro 2 were already present in the Kontrol S4 version of the software, notably the sample decks. It's telling that this version was offered free to all S4 users. In that respect, some of the "great leap forward" had already happened, and if you're an S4 user, don't expect anything major when you open it for the first time.
Even if not, immediately it's clear this is still Traktor as we've known it with some new bits added on, and so don't expect anything that maybe used to irk you about Traktor 1.x to have necessarily changed just because it carries the "2.0" moniker..
So, no immediate wow factor for us - but beauty isn't always skin deep. While we are aware that we can't give you a proper review after only a weekend, that length of time was definitely long enough to discover that there's plenty going on beneath the surface to get excited about.
Preparing for use
Setting up your hardware
To start with, the program seems to load quicker for us. (Also, incidentally, browsing through the preferences seems to be faster too.)
However, it seems to load the CPU more heavily. This would make sense, but also apparently the CPU meter now shows a blend of latency and CPU load or something like that. We didn't do a proper test because everything worked fine on our MacBook 13" out of the box, but some users have reported glitches with underpowered hardware that worked fine with Traktor Pro 1.2.7.
The set-up wizard is now better, and because of course Native Instruments has plenty of hardware of its own, it is optimised for use with their hardware as far as getting going fast out-of-the-box goes.
Fair enough - one of the beautiful things about using Serato ITCH with the dedicated hardware available for that platform is the speed and elegance of getting up and running. Traktor is now getting on a par with Serato in that respect, at least with the Native Instruments hardware. (And actually, I am assuming this would be the same with the Pioneer DDJ-T1 too, because that seems to be treated as a separate case by the software.)
A small but welcome improvement is that when you unplug your controller (at least, the S4 - not tried it with other hardware), Traktor switches back to internal audio automatically, allowing you to work on your beatgrids, cues and so on seamlessly away from the hardware.
Beatgridding and reanalysing
The first thing you'll need to do is reanalyse your library for the new waveforms to accurately represent your collection. This is a time-intensive task for the computer, so as usual, best to leave it running while you're off doing something else.
You should be sure your beatgrids are locked before doing so on your previous collection (do it from within your previous version of Traktor Pro, which this installs side-by-side with). Otherwise, Traktor will guess for you - not clever if you've tweaked them all manually. But if you mess up, your old information remains intact in your previous version, so you can try again.
Traktor will ask you if you want to import your settings from the old version on first starting.
On the subject of beatgridding, there are now two sync modes - beat sync, which is the old "full" sync (ie it will pull the BPMs in line then hold the phase using the beatgrids) and another, tempo sync, which will allow things to drift if you don't hold the tempo on manually, like when DJing with analogue gear.
I like the latter as when playing "traditionally" I like to decide myself where the phase should be depending on the tracks I'm mixing, and this is something you can only do by ear, not by previously decided beatgrids. It's something I've always wanted in Traktor and I'm glad it's been added.
The different views
There are extended, essential and browser views, using less screen real estate consecutively. The essential is basically the extended without the effects section, and the browser view shows the bare minimum, giving most of the screen real estate over to the library.
However, there could still be more space saved on all views, and I feel it doesn't make the most of the screen real estate, especially on a 1280 x 800 laptop. Of course, a laptop with a higher resolution is the answer, and I accept that 1280 x 800 isn't that good a resolution nowadays - I'd certain recommend 1440 x 900 for using Traktor.
We tested it with a Kontrol S4, probably the most optimal controller as it'll be the one Native Instruments are most keen to get everything exactly right on.
The coloured waveforms (or "TruWave") are great. Native Instruments was missing a trick not to represent audio in colour, and the company has finally fixed this. Not only that, but you can now zoom right in (closer than any DJ software, they say) and right out too.
Zooming right in is great for setting clean, precise cues and beat markers, and indeed you'll probably find any sloppy beatgridding you did beforehand on older versions of the software (that could only zoom in one step which wasn't actually very much) may look a bit, well, sloppy when you see your handiwork visually here! Time to tweak if you're OCD in any way...
Serato users report a real attachment to using coloured waveforms as a memory jog as to the sonic structure of tunes, something that's now available to Traktor users too. The only thing missing is (apologies for going on about it) parallel waveforms.
With Serato, you can look down all four decks playing in parallel and see the sonic characteristics of all the individual elements instantly.
Parallel waveforms are useful. Why not try and come up with a display option that allows them, Native Instruments? Overall though, excellent. Well done for putting this one right.
Loop recorder and sample decks
For S4 (or Virtual DJ) users, nothing new. For the rest of us, if you've ever had tracks you use exclusively for sample drops (and maybe even made them up yourself in Audacity and used them as pseudo sample decks, mapped to cue points), you'll like the sample decks here.
You can basically have multiple samples ready for immediate triggering, and adjust the volume and filter on your samples, and what's more, you can sample on the fly from the decks, the microphone/other external sources, or load samples previously recorded.
The software comes with a set of samples and it's clear Native Instruments wants you to start building your own rhythms and so on using them as a stepping stone. It's creative DJing for sure, and many DJs will scratch their heads and say "so what?", but then again, Traktor is a creative product and Kontrol S4 users in particular are a creative bunch. If you just want to play records, something like a Vestax VCI-300 gives you a much simpler but more limited "two-decks-and-a-mixer" experience for old skool DJing.
Samples can be up to a minute in length, and you can set them as either one-shot or looping by right clicking them and choosing your option.
Even more than the coloured waveforms (especially when using with the Kontrol S4, which puts the sample controls literally right under your fingertips), I think the sample decks and loop recorder represents the biggest leap for Traktor software in this version.
We were promised better iTunes integration, which had me scratching my head as I can see no differences at all, unless "better integration" meant "fixing obscure bugs". As always, the library and playlists are there, in non-editable form.
What I want to be able to do is use iTunes to sort out my playlists, and Traktor to play the music. I don't want to use Traktor crates, as I like smart playlists and anyway, to me DJ software shouldn't be music library software, it should be for performing.
I accept that I won't be able to alter smart playlists and so on within Traktor, but I do want to be able to edit metadata inline. I just want to play from iTunes, not Traktor crates, and have the same core functionality - adding comments, correcting errors in spellings in file names when I see them, altering group metadata and so on.
I admit by wanting to do this I am not using the software how Native Instruments intends, but I can do it easily in other software. Why not in Traktor? Three-quarters of Digital DJ Tips reader use iTunes as their music management software. How about it, Native Instruments?
Apart from that, it's all good. I like the previewing, it's as good as it's ever been; it's good to be able to search within the current playlist or the whole library (both these features are better than Serato. They're not, it must be said, new to this version - but they're good nonetheless.) Indeed, everything else is how I recall it from Traktor Pro.
The new effects
There are four new effects. Tape delay is nice (it's a warmer delay, with an analogue colour to it), I've not got to grips with the other effects yet - Bouncer seems extreme to me!
But you know, without actually inventing new sounds, it's hard to really make great leaps in effects as most of the classics are classics for a reason, and Traktor already had them.
However, adding new effects in DJ software that has the ability to allow you to easily chain effects together to create your own sound (as Traktor does) is always to be applauded, however obscure the effects seem on first play.
I can't wait to hear the results of innovative effects combinations when clever early adopters incorporate these into their DJing. More work is needed to assess, but overall the effects section remains excellent.
Guinea pig syndrome
Native Instruments has had a bit of a reputation in some quarters for getting software out there fast followed by bug fixes pretty soon after, and they didn't disappoint this time - the v2.0.1 update was out on the same day!
To be fair this update seems to add features rather than fix bugs. The only bug we found was that the waveforms to the left of the playhead don't render when using hotcues, which was apparently also the case in the S4 incarnation of Traktor. Hopefully they'll fix this soon enough.
We couldn't find anything else but as I say, only a weekend is not really enough time. Reader feedback from gigs indicated that the software is perfectly stable.
So our question was, evolution or revolution? Well, it's evolution, but it could be the start of a revolution. Let us explain...
This is plainly still Traktor as we know it, refined rather than redesigned, which is absolutely fair enough.
As with any Native Instruments product launch, things weren't done quietly. There were the usual celeb-endorsement videos doing the rounds, the teasers for the past couple of months, and then the big fanfared launch on the day. The company definitely built expectations up.
What we got, in the end, was a mix of genuine innovation, some catching up with the competition, and some things missing that we may or may not ever see in Traktor (proper iTunes integration, elastic beatgrids, parallel waveforms).
Expect more Traktor 2-ready hardware
The fact that lots of the "innovations" in Traktor Pro 2 are from the S4 software contributed a bit to maybe a less than massive "wow" from users on launch, but I think that this new incarnation of Traktor Pro needs to be seen for what it is - formalising the functionality of the S4 in all Traktor software, so other hardware manufacturers can go out and do there thing with it, and adding a handful of other improvements too.
Here's where the revolution may well come in. It doesn't look like we'll have to wait too long, either, for exciting Traktor 2-ready hardware - a slip-up means that if you go to the mappings, you'll see the "Pioneer DJM-T1" listed there.
It's a product that isn't launched, but looks very much to be a Traktor-specific digital mixer incorporating control over the sample decks. (More this week from Musikmesse, which is where Pioneer are strongly rumoured to be launching this.) It's no doubt the first of many new hardware products and mappings that will make full use of sample decks and the loop recorder.
Where Traktor Pro 2 fits in to the market
Native Instruments is really out on its own in the market with Traktor, as has been for a long time - this release further cements that position. the company has the hardware, sound interfaces, software and market dominance with third-party manufacturers, all of which is a combination that nobody else can offer.
Serato ITCH 1.7 wins on simplicity and out-and-out usability because it's a closed system (bit like Apple), but is therefore (deliberately) inflexible in comparison. Virtual DJ Pro 7 is arguably more nimble and easier to use but hasn't gained traction with the pros in the same way; something heavily developed over the years by Native Instruments with its celebrity endorsement videos and so on. Torq 2.0 is actually a capable and interesting competitor, but unless we get some new hardware it will remain marginal.
Should you buy it?
So should you buy Traktor Pro 2? Obviously if you're an S4 user you got the upgrade for free. But it's not a majorly expensive upgrade for current Traktor Pro users either. If you're the overly cautious sort, you may want to hold off until the first free upgrade just in case any small bugs have slipped the net (not that we found any, but it's always a risk with all new software), but otherwise we'd say you should take the plunge - the water's warm enough.
If you're thinking of switching from another platform? Unless you can see something here you want that you can't get on your existing software, there's nothing compelling you to do so. Virtual DJ has sample decks already and has had for years, and has a host on innovations of its own; Serato still has more waveform tools (it has two completely different types of waveform visualisation in addition to the main view) and also has elastic beatgrids; Torq has VST plugins. Every platform has its strengths and weaknesses.
But if you're coming at it as a new user? Here you've got a big decision to make. Going with Traktor means you're using the market-dominating program from the off. The learning curve is steeper, but the flexibility is there for all types of hardware so that you can grow, switching from controller to controller, but using the same software throughout.
For this reason alone, unless there's something in the other systems that you find compelling (and we mean Serato ITCH, Virtual DJ and Torq, although especially in Europe, Deckadance and MixVibes have their followings), Traktor is now a more appealing choice than ever.
What are your impressions of Traktor Pro 2? Is there enough here to convert you from other software? Do you think the "missing" features are glaring omissions, or not important? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.