Review & Video: Traktor Kontrol X1 Mk2 Decks & Effects Controller

Review Summary:

Decent upgrade of the original Kontrol X1 "decks and effects" controller for Traktor, with the touchstrip for deck control, the RGB backlit buttons and the dual double-digital LED readouts being the standout new features. A few features have been dropped from the original X1 which may annoy some, as might the lack of iOS integration with Traktor DJ, but overall a solid upgrade.

Kontrol X1 Mk 2
  • Kontrol X1 Mk 2
  • Rating: 4
  • From: Native Instruments
  • Price: $229
  • Reviewed by:
  • On August 6, 2013
  • Last modified:February 13, 2014
Traktor Kontrol X1 Mk 2

The touchstrip and LEDS are the headline additions to the new version of the Traktor Kontrol X1, which also boasts RGB buttons, LED readouts and a Flux mode button for each deck.

Review: Traktor Kontrol X1 Mk2 Decks & Effects Controller

The Traktor Kontrol X1 Mk2 follows in the footsteps of the hugely successful Traktor Kontrol X1, and indeed, so similar is it in intent and look to its earlier incarnation, “Mk2″ is barely even mentioned on the box or in the marketing material. At first glance, the only real change from the Mk1 is the addition of a touchstrip and two double seven-segment LEDs for numerical feedback, although a quick read of the box shows that more subtle changes (such as RGB backlit buttons) have also been added to the spec. Let’s take a closer look…

The official promo

First, let’s see the official promo. It shows off a lot of the features (although I’m not sure how much of the Chic part is actually improvised), and certainly makes the case for using a pair of X1 Mk2s for compact four-deck control. I wonder if Felix actually plays on this set-up in Ibiza? Would be great if he did…

 

What’s it for?

So now let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. With modular DJing components seemingly all the range nowadays (Native Instruments alone has the Z1, X1 and F1; Behringer has just introduced no less than five), it’s worth revisiting what the X1 is and isn’t, as this is an area where beginners often get confused.

This is a DJ software controller, designed to be used with Traktor, although it can be used with other software too. It connects via a USB lead to your laptop, and gives you physical control over some of Traktor’s controls. What it isn’t is a controller for Traktor DJ on iOS, and it’s not an “audio interface” either. The latter means it doesn’t “make” sound, have a headphones socket or speaker sockets, and so on – it’s purely to give physical control over software features.

Kontrol X1 Mk 2 Modular

Modular control with Native Instruments gear: Here, the Z1 is your mixer, the X1 Mk2 controls track decks, and the F1 handles Remix Deck duties.

Native Instruments is calling it a “decks and effects” controller, which is a good summation of what it does. It is designed to let you control Traktor’s built-in effects comprehensively, and also control the transport and cue features of two of Traktor’s track decks. For good measure, control over beat-synced loops is thrown in, plus library browsing and track loading.

This feature set has by and large beein inherited from the original X1 and has not been arrived at by accident: One of the main uses of the original Traktor Kontrol X1 was for digital vinyl (DVS) DJs. When you’re using Traktor Scratch with “timecode vinyl” on real turntables, it’s helpful to have a small controller like the X1 to give you these kinds of controls (the types of control controller and CDJ DJs take for granted), to save you spending too much time using the trackpad and keyboard of your laptop for loading tracks, triggering effects / cues, and so on. A small controller like this doesn’t take up much space in the DJ booth, but can make a big difference to your performance.

But the addition of the touchstrip brings to the fore another use for such a controller: as the only DJ controller in a DJ set-up. As the Novation Twitch proved, you don’t need “jogwheels”, “decks” or, erm, “spinny things” of any description to DJ “properly”; even if you do want to manually beatmatch and nudge tunes, a touchstrip can be used surprisingly well for this purpose. So potentially, the Traktor Kontrol X1 could happily control two decks; alongside a small audio interface like the Audio 2 plus the club’s mixer (or the Traktor Kontrol Z1), you’ve got a DJ system that you can throw in a bag and take anywhere.

So let’s time to see if it matches up to the hype.

First impressions and setting up

The unit comes in typical high quality Native Instruments packaging, and the box contains the Traktor Kontrol X1 Mk2 plus a USB cable and a card for downloading drivers and documentation. You can get US$50 / €50 off Traktor software, which you’ll need to use the unit; you do this by registering and using an e-code which is then provided to you. The quick start PDF is also a download that you get via this process. The unit required Traktor 2.6.3 to work. There is no “LE” software in the box.

Once you’re up and running, the Traktor Pro software recognises the unit without any need to head off into preferences, which is to be expected from a Native Instruments hardware /software tie-in, but is still good to see. Once all set up, the unit lights up expectantly, looking more refined than the original X1, due to the RGB buttons, the nice Traktor Kontrol S2/S4-esque double-digit LED readouts, and what look like horizontal VU meters above the touchstrip (they are in fact phase meters among other things, as we’ll find out).

In use

Transport controls
The transport buttons, although small, are the biggest on the unit, and due to their positioning at the bottom they feel fine in performance use. The blue “cue” and green “play” buttons glow brightly when pushed/activated. The blue “sync” buttons toggle on/off with the same dim/light glow, as does “Flux”.

Flux controls the recently added “Flux” (or “slip”) mode in Traktor, whereby you can cue juggle, activate loops and so on, and the track will continue playing underneath regardless. Holding Shift and Flux lets you tap a BPM, Shift + Sync sets that deck to the master, and Shift and one of the four cues erases that cue. The cues change colour depending on what type of cue point (load marker etc) is set, which is a nice touch. It is also possible to store loops and capture samples/control some of the functions of the Remix Decks using the hot cues, although it’d still make sense to have a Kontrol F1 if you’re going to get serious about the latter.

The performance section
The central “performance section” is backed with glossy black plastic and is where the touchstrip is located. This is probably the most eagerly awaited part of the new unit, and I’m happy to report that it works really well. It’s divided down the middle, so the left half of it controls the left decks, the right half the right deck. That of course makes it a bit fiddly, but it works well enough. (By holding then swiping from the middle, you can assign the whole strip to just one deck too.) Pushing it to the right is the equivalent of rotating a jogwheel clockwise, left anticlockwise. It is “weighted”, so you can “throw” the MP3; that’s one up on the S2/S4′s jogs!

kontrol-x1-mk2-profile

That central performance section is where the big changes have been made against the original X1.

When a track is paused, the strip is in scratch mode for easy cue point location, and holding down Shift puts it into scrub mode for rapid moving through a track. When the track is playing, however, it is automatically in “nudge” mode for pitch bending, and in this case, holding down Shift puts it in “vinyl” or “scratch” mode. (Of course you wouldn’t attempt serious scratching on this, but it does sound good nonetheless.)

The small rows of LEDs above the touchstrip are in this mode a representation of the phase of the two tracks; when locked on, the middle LED glows red, otherwise the number of blue bars to the left or right of middle shows you how out of phase the track is for quick beat correction without looking at the screen.

The loop encoders tie in with the double-digit LEDs above them, that show you the size of the current look; the LEDs flash when the loop is engaged. In Flux mode, pushing down on the encode is necessary to engage the loop, otherwise it is an on/off toggle. Holding Shift and turning the loop encoder is the loop shift function, for moving the playing loop around the track. When a loop isn’t engaged, holding shift and turning the loop encoder moves backwards or forwards through the track by the number of beats indicated on the LED.

The library browser / encoder has a function that I really don’t like, which is “touch sensitivity”. Basically, when you touch it, it switches the software into full library mode, so the tracks / files / folders fill most of the screen (normally you’d have to push-to-click for this to happen). Nice idea, but in practice you touch it by mistake, and then I found it erratic / counterintuitive in its ability to return you to where you are. Luckily you can turn it off in the preferences and just push for library mode.

Apart from that anomaly, the library browsing works as expected, with two little arrows for loading to the left/right deck. Holding down shift and pressing either of the arrows toggles one of the quantise/snap functions.

The effects section
A straight port from the X1 Mk1 / S2 / S4 / most other controllers, the effects section has the standard four knobs and four buttons per side. Holding Shift and pressing the top button toggles the mode from chained to single FX, and holding Shift and pressing the buttons in single FX mode cycles through the available effects. The FX assign buttons do exactly as you’d expect; additionally, holding Shift and pressing one of them assigns the FX section to decks C or D instead of A/B respectively. It is possible also to control the main parameter of an effect using the touchstrip, something well demonstrated in the video above using filters.

Conclusion

DJing with the new touchstrip is easy, even manual beatmatching – assuming you can do it on jogwheels or decks in the first place, that is. If so, you really won’t take long to get used to it. That’s the big pull of the new model. Apart from that, though, just like the X1 Mk1 before it, the Kontrol X1 Mk2 is an insanely useful little device for its size, even more so with the RGB backlit buttons, and the LED readouts for loop length.

kontrol-x1-mk2-back

The back of the box picture, clearly showing a socket for a power supply. Was iOS compatibility planned then dropped at the last minute?

I did most of this review minus an instruction manual (I was reviewing pre-release), but when NI did provide me with one I learned that you can adjust BPM by holding the sync button and holding down the loop encoder, that you can assign loops to the touchstrip (nice!), and – as mentioned earlier – assign FX parameters to the touchstrip by simply holding the FX button the touching it. Great fun! Most of it, however, was intuitive enough to use without really needing to read a manual, and ergonomically, the unit is only let down really by that annoying touch sensitive library browser.

One curious omission is the lack of compatibility with the Traktor DJ software on iOS. It would have made a great little controller with that, and I suspect that was originally in Native Instruments’s plans, because the box rendering shows the back of the unit with a power supply socket on it (which would have been needed for it to work with iOS); something that’s lacking on the actual unit itself.

So overall? It’s a winning upgrade. For digital vinyl system user, those wanting a fall-back controller for Traktor, those only needing a minimal system, or those wanting to build a modular system (probably using one or two alongside the Z1 or Z2 and then maybe an F1 for Remix Decks), the Traktor Kontrol X1 Mk2 is going to be a great buy.

Product Summary

Review Summary:

Decent upgrade of the original Kontrol X1 "decks and effects" controller for Traktor, with the touchstrip for deck control, the RGB backlit buttons and the dual double-digital LED readouts being the standout new features. A few features have been dropped from the original X1 which may annoy some, as might the lack of iOS integration with Traktor DJ, but overall a solid upgrade.

Kontrol X1 Mk 2
  • Kontrol X1 Mk 2
  • Rating: 4
  • From: Native Instruments
  • Price: $229
  • Reviewed by:
  • On August 6, 2013
  • Last modified:February 13, 2014

 

Video review

Will you be rushing out to buy an X1 Mk2? what are you planning to use it as – an add-on controller, something to use with a digital vinyl system or as a minimal control device all on its own? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Comments

  1. The iOS already has a touch control interface so I imagine they didn’t spend much time thinking about that. I cannot sing the praises of touch strips enough, they really are a marked improvement over jog wheels and feel closer to spinning on vinyl than jog wheels do.

    The fact that Native Instruments is making smaller, modular controllers is probably indicative of four things 1) Users want to configure the hardware layout the way THEY want to use it, 2) Users want the reliability of a fully-supported piece of hardware, 3) Users don’t want the bulk of having to carry around a large all-in-one piece of gear. and 4) Users want to buy their gear piecemeal instead of saving up to buy a big unit.

    I certainly understand the last part as we live in very money-strapped times and we have to make important decisions about what purchases we make.

    Certainly, this is important enough of a decision for Native Instruments to endorse that they feel a lot of their users are going this direction… or maybe they’re just hedging their bets.

    Either way, I’m interested to see how the DJ community reviews this piece of gear. Denon and Novation have made similar pieces of gear, but this piece comes from a major player in the industry… sorta’ like the popular kid at school telling everyone “look what I just did.” when other (less popular) kids were into it for a while.

  2. Pretty cool. Maybe I should go touch strip.

  3. Using it solo with an audio interface, how would headphone cueing work?

    • If your set up was x1 + audio dj 2, you would set one line out from the audio dj 2 to be the master and the other to be your headphone. You could then set up a mixer mapping for the x1 in midi mode and toggle back and forth between midi and HID mode.

      It wouldn’t be ideal though. I think the mention of x1 + audio dj 2 referred to plugging both lines of the audio dj 2 into a mixer that would already be installed at the gig.

  4. Paco Loco says:

    How do the touch strips compare to the ones on the Novation Twitch? Are they similar to use with Traktor or are they an improvement?

  5. Worth buying one if I already have an X1? I really don’t use my current one as much as I like to.

  6. Mario García says:

    I think the power supply will be used in a future traktor dj actualization. To make the midi compatible

  7. Nicholas says:

    Please bring back the easily scannable pros and cons beneath the reviews. They really help summing up what you liked and disliked.

  8. Shenoizy says:

    So is there a possibility that another version of this X1 will be launched with Traktor DJ/iOS compatibility? I’m already interested in this new X1 but would like the option to use it with an iPad too.

  9. I’m a big fan of modular controllers. I like using all the possibilities Traktor offers us, and to be able to keep up it’s best to add and subtract parts of my setup. This controller looks awesome and would fit in perfectly.
    However, the modular thing is n’t working out 100% for me really either. I currently use 3 controllers which gives me all the control I was looking for originally. But now I want something that gives me 8 hot cues per deck and I’m looking for an effect unit. They’re on the market, but setting up 5 controllers is way to complicated at a gig, plus my funds have kind of dried up for now.
    So, for everyone looking for a modular setup: be wary, you might still end up with way more buttons and knobs then you initially intended :)

  10. ForcedHand says:

    You could always attach the modular units to a board of some sort and use that as an all-in-one…. Just like electronic musicians do with their pedals and synths.

  11. Hi,

    MY current setup is S2+F1, but i am thinking of selling the S2 to get myself an X1mk2 and Z1 instead. Anyone has similar setup and could share some experiences?

    Eventually i am aiming for maybe 2x x1mk2′s, z1 and 2 F1′s when i got the many.

    Any thoughts on that? Is a setup relying on two 2x x1mk2′s worth it? Would i even need two?

    Thanks in advance,

    • for the most part you want need 2 X1 or F1 they can be switched on the fly to what decks you want to control. I had 2 F1′s but sold one relay quick after getting them. get 1 of each first then if you still feel the need for an extra get more.

      • Cheers for the response. Have been thinking this approach as well, but it actually never even occured me to use both remix decks with one F1, as it is really easy to switch between them,

        Thanks :D I feel bit silly now!

  12. Realy wanted to order one today but Thoman.de is out of stock until 30th so I just ordered the Z1 instead I want to map them to Mixvibe Cross so I can have a minimal setup for when I don’t want to bring my DDJ SX. If it’d not optimal no pain it only kost a gig’s pay anyway

  13. I’m kind of just holding off to see if NI announces a successor to the S2/S4. I’d love if they offered an all in one kit that had Traktor running natively on it with some small displays to leave the laptop behind (Or rather, integrate it into the unit itself).

  14. Hi Phil,

    Whats going on at NI today?

    They seem to have closed their office for training?

    Is there a new product coming?

    On another point I have had great difficulty logging in on my NI Traktor Pro service centre too.

  15. I’m going to have to believe that N.I. will release either an all-in-one with a touchstrip soon *OR* they’ll release a click-in modular kit that allows X1 form-factor units to be ‘held in place’ with an internal (powered) USB hub… this would predicate more X1 form-factor control units (like the Behringer CMD series), but I don’t think that’s a bad thing.

  16. Shockwave says:

    I currently DJ with the Hercules 4Set and the included Virtual DJ LE. I’ve been wanting to upgrade to a Traktor setup for a while. I downloaded a mapping for the 4Set and the Traktor demo…but obviously there are no buttons or knobs on the 4set for controlling extra cues/samples/effects.

    So my question is:
    Would DJing with the 4Set (which includes a sound card) and buying the X1 + Traktor (and later the F1) be a good, inexpensive way to start using Traktor? Would it even work?

  17. I wonder that usb ports of my macbook is the only way to pair z1 and f1. Because I only have 2 ports on my macbook. Is there any other way to pair them?

  18. From a modular standpoint, awesome. From a minimalist standpoint, I’m not thrilled with a lack of sound card, it would replace the older stuff, and do away with the extra mess of an outboard soundcard but nooooooo, can’t have our cake and eat it too, yet;) so I guess the z1 still has a place in my heart and my kit;)
    As for a frame/case wired with power for multiple ni units, I really don’t see it as much trouble to build your own from wood/fibreglass, line with foam and drill holes, and simply mount a USB hub inside it. If you want a manly feel use checker plate, if you want light and fancy go with carbon fibre I suppose, add led lights and plexi to taste.

  19. Hi Phil,

    As I am aware you used a pre-release with no manual I just wanted to point out that you can disable the touch sensitivity on the browse knob in the X1 preferences.

  20. Nice review as always but *PLEASE* do away with the automatically playing video! Pretty please?

  21. Hi all , for anyone … Could i take the same idea as in the promo vid , but only replace the mixer with the ddm4000 reason is purely on cost of the djm900.

    Thanks.

  22. Anyone able to help with this question please.

    Thank you.

  23. Brandon Mundweiler says:

    Can u use the traktor s2 and the x1 mk2 to control four decks I’m new to this so any answer would be helpful thanks

  24. I am new to the digital dj world. I used to dj “back in the day” and I really missed it. So I bought an audio two and started to buy tracks. I had a blast just mixing with my laptop but it’s a pain and coming from vinyl years ago, was just awkward. I read the reviews and decided to piece together a modular system. I started with the X1 MK2. I don’t have any experience with other controllers but I love this thing. I spend a couple hours a day on it and the years I spent working with vinyl have poured out in just a few sessions. Like riding a bike, just this bike is way more cool. I’m planning to add a z1 then an f1. I like tractor and I like their products so for my budget and ambitions, I think this is the way to go. Thanks to Phil for all the advice and reviews.

  25. As a beginner DJ this little thing is great when you want more control over effects and decks but you have small budget. I have a Hercules DJ Console RMX as my main controller and the Traktor mapping is great…except for effects and looping since you have to turn the balance knob to the right or left and use the EQ knobs as effects knobs. Really annoying to keep track of. The X1 MK2 pretty much solves my problem and works great in conjunction with the RMX and Traktor.

  26. I have traktor scratch pro 1 and I wonder will it work with that version or must upgrade to traktor pro 2 ?

  27. aaronjordan57@yahoo.com says:

    which ones could i use for a dj setup?

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