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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
- From: Native Instruments
- Price: $199
- Reviewed by:
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.