Review & Video: Traktor Kontrol Z1 DJ Mixing Interface

Review Summary:

A close-to perfect partner for the Traktor DJ software for iPad, iPhone and iPod, this "mixing interface" liberates some all-important manual controls from the touchscreen while giving a decent DJ audio interface too. Could also be used as part of a modular set-up for Traktor Pro 2, with which it is also compatible.

Traktor Kontrol Z1
  • Traktor Kontrol Z1
  • Rating: 4
  • Manufacturer: Native Instruments
  • Price: $199
  • Reviewed by:
  • On July 3, 2013
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014
Traktor Kontrol Z1

While the new Traktor Kontrol Z1 is designed to work with iOS devices and laptops, it’s with iOS that we think it really shines.

Review: Traktor Kontrol Z1 DJ Mixing Interface

When Native Instruments released its Traktor DJ app for iPad (and then iPhone), which has quite rightfully generally been well received, one of the questions detractors asked was: “Where’s the Midi mapping, and how can I use it with a pro audio interface?” The Traktor Kontrol Z1 “DJ Mixing Interface” answers at least some of these questions.

The Traktor Kontrol Z1 offers two things: A two-channel software mixer for Traktor DJ and Traktor Pro 2, and a two stereo-channel audio interface. Think of it as an Audio 2 sound card with a built in two-channel Midi mixer, if you like – but crucially for Traktor DJ users, it’s Apple approved, which means no Camera Connection Kit to plug it into your iOS device – and it will charge the device too.

First impressions and setting up

A modular device the same size as the Traktor Kontrol F1 and Traktor Kontrol X1 units, although with a glossy surface like the Traktor Kontrol Z2, the Traktor Kontrol Z1 is small and lightweight.

It has the usual Native Instruments black matt plastic underside with jumbo rubber feet; the lip at the front has “Kontrol Z1″ written on it in the new Traktor font; and the Traktor and NI logos are on the top lip. On the front is a small (1/8″) headphones jack, and the back has a USB out (for computer and iOS; a 30-pin lead is provided as well as a standard USB cable), and twin RCA audio outs.

Also on the back is a 15V DC socket; the provided transformer comes with four different adaptor slot-ons for various territories. There’s a standard USB cable too, as well as the usual sheet of Traktor and Native Instruments stickers should you wish to pimp your gear.

In use – Traktor DJ

Seems a bit weird to me to put a 30-pin adaptor in there when iPads and iPhones all have Lightning adaptors nowadays, and it’s not just a case of swapping it for your charging lead, either, because the USB socket is the “appliance” end, not the “computer” end such as with a charging lead. So you’ll have to buy an adaptor or source a compatible Lightning cable if you have a current iPad or iPod.

Anyway, once you’re plugged in to an iOS device (I used an iPad), the next step is to try and find a good “playing” layout. I plumped for the iPad to the left of the Kontrol Z1, angled upwards with a Smart Case set to the “shallow angle” setting. And… it all worked fine.

Traktor Kontrol Z1

How it all plugs in is one thing, but where do you physically put the iPad and mixer? I demo my choice of layout in the video later…

The audio interface sounds good, and the cable also means the device charges the iPad (remember the Kontrol Z1 has to be plugged into 15V DC to work with iOS). Turns out that having a two channel mixer with a filter seems to really be all you need as far as physical controls go to DJ with Traktor DJ, as the other functions really work best using the touchscreen (and of course beatgridding and sync mean there’s no need for great timing when dropping tunes in anyway). Certainly being able to preview tunes in stereo as opposed to using a mono splitter cable felt nice. It felt a bit weird seeing a crossfader on the screen move up and down when you moved the Kontrol Z1’s left to right, but apart from that it’s all really slick.

It’s all about Traktor DJ, really, which remains a wonderful piece of software – smooth, responsive, minimal and just fun to use! The Kontrol Z1 adds even more fun, and the whole thing still throws easily in a shoulder bag. I can see it fitting nicely behind cramped, Amsterdam-style bars as the house DJ system, especially as it will happily act as an audio interface for whatever music you happen to have playing on your iPad (Traktor Kontrol Z1 appears as an audio option in the AirPlay menu). An iPad could therefore be left permanently plugged in in such situations, charging and providing background music, ready for a spot of DJing as and when.

In use – Traktor Pro 2.6.2

Over in PC/Mac land, you need to grab Traktor 2.6.2 from the Service Center if you’re already a Traktor user, otherwise Traktor LE 2 is in the box, with a $50 upgrade if you want to grab the full version of Traktor at a later date. Here, the Z1 becomes part of a potentially bigger modular set-up, so for instance you could pair it with a Kontrol F1 and/or a Kontrol X1 to give you transport, Remix Deck and mixing capabilities, although you’re going to start eating up USBs that way. Might have been nice seeing as the Kontrol Z1 has its own power supply to have also squeezed a couple more USB sockets on the back so it could act as a powered hub for extra modular units.

There’s not much to say here really; you plug it in, it is recognised instantly, it all works. The “Mode” button doesn’t do anything, though, which is a shame.

Pairing it with an X1 certainly makes sense for a small set-up, especially as the new X1s will have a touchstrip for easier deck control, but get more complicated than that and I don’t see the advantage in modular; a small all-in-one DJ controller to me would be more convenient than fiddling around with two or three modular devices that won’t really save you much space, plus a sound card. If you’re one of the DJs who use the Remix Decks and thus the Kontrol F1 as part of your DJing, then of course it may make more sense to assemble such a set-up.

By the way, you don’t need the transformer plugged in to use the device with a laptop; so you can leave the power supply at home if you’re just using it as a sound card for Traktor.

Conclusion

Love Traktor DJ on your iPhone/iPad? Then you should consider shelling out the asking price for one of these. It gives you a high quality sound card, headphones monitoring, and just the controls you need to mix expressively while doing the “touch the music” stuff over on the iPad. They are a good pairing. Would have been better to see an up to date cable in the box for iOS users with current devices, but there are still an awful lot of 30-pin devices out there, and I guess NI took the decision for that reason.

Traktor Kontrol Z1 connections

The important stuff, and nothing else; the connections on the Kontrol Z1.

For Traktor Pro? As I said above, unless you can see this being part of a dream modular set-up with the Kontrol X1 and/or Kontrol F1, you’re probably better off with an all-in-one controller for DJing with “big” Traktor. Its credentials as part of such a system would have been strengthened if it had a USB hub built in to it, because as part of an ultra-portable system, you may just run out of USBs before you’re done adding items… and for me, the more complicated “modular” systems get (carrying extra leads, hubs etc), the less appealing they become.

Overall, then, the Traktor Kontrol Z1 will make DJing with Traktor DJ on iOS devices more fun for just about anyone who is serious enough about iOS DJing to shell out $200 on hardware for a $20 program (and I think you should be, by the way!). Additionally, for certain Traktor Pro 2 users it will also make sense – but it’s not so essential here, due of course to the massive choice for ways of controlling Traktor on laptops.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

A close-to perfect partner for the Traktor DJ software for iPad, iPhone and iPod, this "mixing interface" liberates some all-important manual controls from the touchscreen while giving a decent DJ audio interface too. Could also be used as part of a modular set-up for Traktor Pro 2, with which it is also compatible.

Traktor Kontrol Z1
  • Traktor Kontrol Z1
  • Rating: 4
  • Manufacturer: Native Instruments
  • Price: $199
  • Reviewed by:
  • On July 3, 2013
  • Last modified:August 19, 2014

 

Video review

What do you think of the Kontrol Z1? Will you be building a modular system with this and other components to control “big” Traktor? Or are you more interested in adding it to your iPad for the obvious advantages it brings there? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. Nice critical review! Thanks Phil!
    Where is the “We like.. / We don’t like..” summary at the end? :)

  2. whoop? Where is the Good/Bad summary gone? I loved that section!

  3. Wish something like this was out for DJ Player (unless there already is a midi map-able/DJ Player certified mixer out there).

    Thanks for the review – will consider getting Traktor for my iPhone 5.

  4. Please don’t expect any connectivity with other apps on iOS, no DJ Player for example. The Z1 is not a MIDI interface, but uses a custom protocol.

    • Michael L says:

      What a shame…

    • Guilherme says:

      Can i use the kontrol z1 as a mixer on Cross Dj for Ipad like this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeBzLTnLWpE
      ??????

      I aks this because Cross dj have a external mix mode on setup and deck A go to Rigth audio and deck B goes to lefth,
      so if i use the Kontrol z1 and two diferent cables on his master audio out, then using an adapter to connect the cables again in one to conect on a speaker. This will work?

  5. Looks like a great addition to Traktor DJ, but I think the lack of a lightning cable is a mistake. It now means owners of newer devices (iPhone 5 or new iPad) will have to fork out extra $$ for another adapter.
    Also, I agree with the USB hub thing too. That would have been a nice addition for Traktor Pro users.
    Maybe these changes will appear in version 2….

    • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

      If they are at all clever over at Native Instruments, they will shortly come out with custom 2-,3- & 4-slot cases that you just slide your modules in and have one power, one set of sound out and one USB out connector.

      That is what I would do, minimize the cabling hassle that Phil mentioned, have everything looking neat and tidy.

      Greetinx,
      C.

      • Would love that, finding cases for modular setups is a pain enough as it is; I think that would go over really well.

  6. Steven V says:

    Can’t wait for the X1 mk2. That will make a nice pair for the traktor Dj and traktor pro. I picke up the Z1 like a week ago and it’s not bad at all. To me traktor Dj is one of the best app out there. And now with this it make it so much fun.

  7. I was really excited for this but now am realizing that you can’t connect x1 and z1 both to ipad. That would have been great.

    My dj partner just got his in the mail today so I will play with it tonight.

    Nevertheless, unless I can use an x1 and s1, with an ipad, I’m not interested. Also, I don’t have an ipad. HAH

  8. LOL…NI just needs a platter module control and they practically beat out the Behringer CMDs

  9. Jonathan says:

    Ok so seeing as there is a 30 pin adaptor has anyone tried it out with an iPhone 4S? I love traktor DJ and use it with my phone so this would be a perfect piece in my setup if it works properly with a 4s connected. I really don’t have the money to shell out for an iPAD.

  10. Jonathan says:

    Ok sweet thanks Steven. Time to save my pennies.

  11. No one thinks that the Z1 can be used whit two Denon sc 2000?, I do, And I think that would be a good combination, what Do you think Philp?

  12. Jocoseman says:

    I’d like to be able to DJ off my iPod using DJ player but the CCK hack doesn’t work with it, limiting the options of midi controllers. With that 30pin cable, could it be possible to hook up other class compliant midi controllers to the iPod and work with the app? Is it only with this z1 that I can get a cable like that (should it work)?

    • The Z1 is not MIDI, it doesn’t work with other apps than Traktor DJ.

      iOS7 supports the CCK on the iPhone and iPod touch (beta 1 and 2 so far). So wait until it’s released, then you can use your iPod with many MIDI controllers.

  13. Mario García says:

    Does it can be plugged another speakers through the 3.5 mm hesdphones hole in the ipad while is using this midi controller?

  14. nice review as always.just an off topic question when are going to review the xdj r1.(has pio send you one?)

  15. Wylatron says:

    Well, I use traktor dj, and it seems nice, but I can’t help but feel like they limited much of its possibilities to prevent canabalizing their other products….lets face it, they could have just ported the s2 over to be used with traktor dj. Something I will never be fond of is pacing technology in order to bleed my wallet. If I was in their position I guess I’d do the same, but as a consumer I don’t have to like it;)
    As well, I’d have liked to see it powered either by plugging in as it is, but also a reverse where no dc connection makes it run off the ipad.
    Still, seems pretty good for a small setup/home/vacation/fits in carry on bag, and has decent sound that let’s your headphone jack on the ipad take a rest. I’m thankful for that alone.

  16. djrizki says:

    Any thoughts/comments, using this kind of setup in the real club environment ?

    • Check out my post further down in the comment chain under “Jim” regarding me using this at a pool party this weekend. Totally think I could use it in a club setting as well. For an “official” club gig, I feel like I would just need to spent more time prepping my tracks within the Traktor iPad app (cues, loops, where I wanted to remix using the freeze feature, etc).

      And of course if NI would add “echo” as an effect in the app it would be A LOT better….

  17. Hi Phil,

    i got a very specific dilemma, and i am in two minds about this lovely piece of hardware. Would appreciate some shared thoughts or guidance.

    I for one, was extremely buffed of this being released, and then i realized it has no transport functions, and i lost my hope.

    I would loved to have this so i can take it for quick saturday spin session without much effort to my friends place. But, i am extremely annnoyed for having to use the transport controls from the touchscreen.

    I would also have loved to have this in my home setup by combining it with my S2 and F1, in order to control the EQ/transport for decks 3, and 4, but i cannot.

    I feel its a huge letdown that they did not even include a play button in Z1 in the first place. If they’d had, they would have increased the target audience and it’s usability quite a lot, including me.

    Now, i am not sure if this would still be worth the buy. I guess some mappings (maybe the effects button?) can be easily changed to control the “play” buttons when using traktor pro, but i’d imagine it is not going to be possible on the traktor DJ app.

    Any thoughts on this? I really want this, but im not sure if it is going to be useful for me.

    Thanks,

    • Steven V says:

      Am not sure if you saw the pics of the X1 mk2. But it has an AC power cord to use. Now we know that the x1 ,f1 and z1 are USB power when using the laptop. So am guessing that the AC power cord is going to be use for the traktor Dj app. The only way I could see this happening is if they make a double USB A to a USB B. so u can now use both for traktor Dj. Now that will be nice!

    • If you don’t like using your iPad screen for transport, fair enough – maybe the new X1 will work with iPad too?

      • Well. This is exactly what i was looking for. Thanks! I have completely missed any news of x1 mk2.

        I knew i could trust you guys!

      • Now that i am looking at the X1 Mk2 pictures, it makes me wonder about the ipad usability.

        I have never used X1, and im wondering if those knobs next to fx are used for EQ in default mappings, or do they serve just as a dry/wet knob?

        IF, those buttons on x1 mk2 are mapped to eq by default, and it can be used with Ipad DJ, i will definitely buy this.

        We will have to see, but i for one am very keen to see how it turns out.

  18. Now as we all are running on speculation about the future of NI products I would like to give my two pennies based on NI product history. Most of us know about the S4 sale going on and even though it’s a wonderful product it is getting a bit long in the tooth. I would love to jump all over the Z1 and X1mk2 but I firmly believe that they are working on a MK2 version of the S4/S2. Now NI seems to be getting pretty serious about the ipad app and I’m guessing the next S4 will be Traktor DJ compatible. Of course we can all dream of what it will involve but I know that with my DVS system, X1, F1s, Dicers, USB hubs, miles of power and USB cables sometimes I’d rather just grab an all in one system and head out the door. For some people the modular solution is great but for me I want an all in one and when the next version of the S4 is released what I’d like to see is the new standard RGB leds, some form of fat cue point buttons integrated with F1 sample pads (maybe via shift, I could take or leave the F1 pads but it would be nice) and a nice little angled slot/charging station for my ipad. Also some people speculate no more jogwheels like the itch, I like some scratching so that’d be a dealbreaker for me. Regardless of what is or isn’t happening, NI looks to be getting serious about the iPad, which is awesome and it’s double awesome if I could have an all-in-one that runs Traktor and its baby bro.

  19. Hideously overpriced for what it is.

  20. offtopic ; where can i find this verry nice monitor stands ?

  21. No transport controls as mentioned earlier has just stopped me buying this, would have been the ideal small dj controller mixer for bar / pub gigs, damn, with no cue/stop/start etc,will give it a miss shame …..

    • Chuck "DJ Vintage" van Eekelen says:

      I have to say that Traktor DJ can be operated very well with the controls on the iPad. I think that the Z1 with an iPad is the most portable backup solution to carry with you in a backpack and that you can actually use to play an entire night with.

      If they had stuck more buttons on it (like transport), before you know it you’d want loop, hot cue and what have you buttons on there too and presto! a full-sized controller :-).

      I will probably buy one next month for the exact reason of backup and as a travel unit. It takes so little extra space in your luggage, you can really take it with you and be ready to DJ anyplace, anytime :-).

      Greetinx,
      C.

      • Steven V says:

        Hey chuck! If you do decide to get one by next month,you might run into the new X1 mk2 and I think it might work with the ipad. Then you going to be one happy guy!

  22. Great review! I picked up a Z1 to go with my X1 and F1 for a modular setup to use with my laptop. I’m in the process of creating a custom rack with a built-in USB hub and power supply for my macbook. So far, the integration with Traktor is spot on!

    One minor thing you left out: The MODE button does have a function. See here:
    http://www.native-instruments.com/knowledge/questions/1597/How+to+Use+the+Mode+Button+on+the+TRAKTOR+KONTROL+Z1

  23. Gemini Knight says:

    So you can’t use the Z1 controls on any other DJ app, but what about its built in audio interface? If NI will allow that then I might still get it.

  24. In the link below, N.I. gives detailed instructions for setting up the Z1 to serve as a **MIDI** controller for Ableton Live.

    http://www.native-instruments.com/knowledge/questions/1601/How+to+use+the+TRAKTOR+KONTROL+Z1+as+a+MIDI+Controller+and+Audio+Interface+with+Ableton+Live

    This makes me wonder if something like this could be set up also for other apps, either on an iPad or a laptop, or both.

    FWIW, Traktor DJ is a very nice app, but N.I. is clearly trying to prevent Traktor DJ and also the new Z1 mixer from cannibalizing its other entry-level and mid-range products.

    For example, there are at least two things missing in the Z1 that put me off when compared to, for example, Numark’s iDJ Pro, which will soon be fully supported by the DJ Player for iPad app => (#1) no auxiliary input — I use this quite a bit; and (#2) no mic input — this is very important for any mobile DJ, for example.

  25. Dimikris says:

    Well I unboxed it, installed it,tested it and guess what. Headphone cueing not working, read everything,tried everything but still no signal coming.

    What a 200 euro dissapointment, I mine was defective. Is anybody facing same problem?

  26. Love this thing and good review! Used it to play a friends pool party this weekend and it was an awesome substitution for my usual setup: two cdj’s, pioneer 800, laptop, coffin, ipad (as midi controller), etc.

    I built a slick little case for this using some styrofoam, creative gluing and mounting, and a husky technician’s case from Home Depot. Everything played seamlessly and this controller really makes the app practical for playing in public.

    The only downside for me: the fact that the outputs are unstable RCA cables. Obviously all real speakers are xlr or 1/4 inch connections. My work around for this was to bring a smaller Denon mixer I have and run the z1 outputs to the mixer and then the mixer to the speakers. Seriously, with the briefcase holding the ipad, cords, and z1, my right hand holding the speaker, and my backpack holding the mixer and some extra cords…I walked up, set up in 5, and played all day.

    Well worth the $199 in my opinion!

    • I glad you mentioned this about the RCA outputs Jim, as this is the only real concern that I have with this. As a working musician (guitarist) I’m looking to offer dj services to existing gigs. The Traktor app is superb and as I already have an iPad this would be the most cost effective solution for me. My concern is connectivity – has anyone any experience going from RCA to XLR, i.e with a convertor? Any loss of sound/signal/quality/interference? If the venue has a mixer then presumably I can connect to via RCA. If not, what would be the best way to connect to speakers with XLR inputs?

      • @Si yeah for sure! Glad I could give you the heads up and save you the trouble I went through. So each RCA jack on the back -red and white – does seem to put out its own signal (if you read the manual it will show the z1 set up with two speakers) and I was able to get clear sound running through my mixer with just the positive (red) connected to the mixer and the z1. Thus, I was hopeful and set out to converter land to see what I could do.

        On one trip I came back with a 1/4 inch to RCA connector and ran one 1/4 wire from the positive (red) through the connector, into the 1/4 inch input of my powered speaker and failed. Then set back out and bought a dual RCA converter which I ran from the positive and negative (red and white) out of the z1, which combined (like a wishbone) and converted into one 1/4 inch and ran that 1/4 wire into my powered speaker and also failed. The powered speakers take 1/4 or xlr so I could have gone through the same process with the xlr and converters but that’s the definition of insanity. Bottom line for me, the RCA outputs are just unbalanced.

        Using the converters, if I moved the cable just right I could get sound directly to my speaker but then the slightest movement or when I got texts sent the worst “buzzing” sound and through it out of whack.

        To perform publicly with this I’ve reached a conclusion that you have to have a mixer or something that will take the unbalanced signal and then throw it back out there via 1/4 or XLR. I have a second mixer which I used for the pool party, it’s a cheap (and small) Denon that cost me $150. No frills, no effects, but worked exactly the way I needed it to which is why I have it.

        Hope this helps, if you or anyone experiments I would love to be proven wrong and ditch my mixer. :) all the best!

      • @Jim thanks for this. It looks like that connecting to a mixer is really the way forward. Are you enjoying using it still? Going to buy one I think.

      • I think that a simple pa mixer would work also. I have seen a few with unbalanced inputs and XLR outputs.

  27. abhishek says:

    hey phil i just wanted to know if the Z1 works perfectly with the laptop too??.. i mean can i use it for my small gig confidently??

  28. Juwansome says:

    Just an FYI,

    Although this controller won’t work with any other iOS app as a Midi controller, it is still recognized as a sound card for other iOS apps. Therefore, you can use it as a dual stereo sound card for DJ Player and Deejay, for example, with or without a hub, using the traktor 30-pin cable or the Apple CCK… Of course it’s an expensive solution just to be used as a sound card, but if you use Traktor DJ as well as other iOS DJ apps, then I think this info is good to know :-)

  29. So… what are the compatible Lightning to 30-pin connector brands that we can buy for this?
    I bought an adapter at Best Buy, and it wouldn’t work, it just can’t recognize the Z1, it wouldn’t even charge my iPhone 5.
    However, when I use the same adaptor, with laptop, I can change & sync my iPhone 5 via iTunes. But can’t use with Z1 & Traktor DJ.

  30. Can we use it with virtual dj?

  31. Joe Doerlinger says:

    Hi Phil,
    would the Z1 plus the iPad fulfill your criteria to take part in your video class to learn djing? Or is it too limited for that.
    Currently I am thinking about buying the Traktor S2 MKII but fear that it has too many features which I simply will not use. (I just want to play at some small parties of my friends)
    Thank you

    Joe

  32. Andy Fuentes says:

    Im wondering if I can use the Z1 with my mod set up. Im running X1 and F1 with NI Audio10 ,my mac, my old Rane MP16 Rotary Mixer (which I love for the rotary knobs and sound quality for home rec.) & usb hub.I just want to use the Z1 for the 3 band eq section, Is this possible or is there a better way?

  33. Can be conected z1 & x1 in an ipad ?????? It’s posible to do that or There is a split conector ?

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