Faderfox is a boutique German company that has for many years now produced a range of controllers that (with the obvious exception of the 4midiloop) are all truly tiny.
Their third generation of controllers now has a new model joining the pack: The Micromodul DS3, designed specifically to unlock the new features of Traktor Pro 2, namely loop recorder and sample decks alongside hot cue and loop controls (although as it’s a Midi controller, it can, of course, control the software of your choice).
First impressions and setting up
It’s tiny. If you’re aware of any of the other controllers in the Micromodul range, it’s exactly the same size, which is to say not big at all. It’s basically a wedge-shaped unit, narrower than it is deep, with a big foot across the back to angle it towards the user, and four rubber feet to hold it steady. The bottom and top black plastic halves are screwed together, and there is a silver metal faceplate.
Construction is light, robust and pro-quality, all knobs and buttons inspiring confidence. The one USB connector on the back is the sum of the I/O options (it’s a Midi controller, not a sound interface – you need to make your own audio arrangements). It would fit in any decent coat pocket – and weight-wise, you wouldn’t know it was there.
Unlike some of the other models in the range which look more like mixers and/or usual DJ controllers (albeit without jogwheels), at first glance, the DS3 is not like any other Traktor controller.
It has twelve relatively large square buttons across the bottom (a set of four and a set of eight), six rotary encoders across the top, and 20 small push-buttons sprinkled around the top half, including a red “shift” button dead centre.
There’s an LED two-digit readout, and 31 assorted LEDs too, in red or green. Each of the rotary encoders is also a press-to-click. That is, frankly, an awful lot of control and feedback for such a tiny unit.
Setting up is actually really easy. You USB it to your computer (it’s class compliant so no drivers), install the supplied mapping into Traktor (go to config then Controller Manager, click Import and OK the options, then select the Faderfox as the Device and Out-port at the top of the screen), and everything works fine. Not even any need for a Traktor restart, which is sometimes necessary in these cases, although I never know why this sometimes so.
The strength of the Faderfox controller is the absolutely ingenious mapping. Seriously, the company manages to pack literally hundreds of possible functions into these little units. Now, it’s no good packing fiendishly clever functions in if nobody can use them, but they’re good to go there too: These guys frankly are usability experts, because with a combination of good “zoning”, a lot of feedback via the LEDs (and, in this case, the two-digit readout as well), and different button and knob types and colours, it’s as easy as you can imagine.
As easy as you can imagine a small controller with hundreds of functions on it to be, that is!
There’s still a learning curve, more so than with a bigger controller, but the curve is as much about knowing Traktor as knowing the controller; there’s very little in Traktor that this little device can’t control, and Traktor is after all powerful software.
The DS3 majors on working with samples, hot cues, loops, and FX. You’re probably the kind of DJ who beatgrids all his tunes way before a gig, works with quantise on, and has moved a step beyond old-fashioned beatmixing. A controller for manual beatmatching this definitely isn’t!
But what it is is a ridiculously versatile unit for the four decks / two-decks-plus-sample-decks EDM Traktor DJ. You can switch easily between these two basic software modes (four decks or two plus samples), and from there it’s a case of getting intuitive with the controls you’re going to end up using the most.
Luckily, there are some very good print-and-keep-handy crib sheets included on the PDF on the CD, and there’s also a video that demos you through, screen-in-screen, all the functions. I’ve added it to the end of this review.
I’m not going to go through the controls one by one, but suffice to say there’s easy control of views and browser (better than nearly all full-sized controllers); full loop recorder-and-assign-to-sample-slot control; full looping control; full FX control including four-deck assign; manual pitch-shifting and key control; eight-slot cue points, including deletion; sample triggering (loops and hits, all functions); all the usual transport controls including cup alongside cue.
Are you getting the picture? Seriously, when doubled up with the shift button, it really is all here – and the LEDs give reassuring settings feedback, especially the two-digit readout (a la Traktor Kontrol S4), which means minimum glancing at the screen. The more you use it, the more you appreciate the effort that’s gone into making it easy to use.
You need to be a decent DJ to use one of these. Frankly, you’d need to be a decent DJ to even want one. Otherwise, you’d probably just scratch your head. Where are the jogwheels? Where’s the mixer? Why can’t I plug my headphones in? Clearly, it’s not made for beginners. But once you move past that, if you’re DJing “the Traktor way”, you’ll start to see it’s appeal soon enough.
Say you’ve got a Kontrol S4. You love it at home, but you’ve decided (like practically every Novation Twitch buyer) that for this type of DJing, jogwheels are pretty superfluous. Also, you have all your music beatgridded. You have got into samples, and have settled slowly on a DJing style you like that no longer has manually beatmatching two records as its crux.
What you may soon enough decide is that hulking your S4 to pro gigs in cramped DJ booths is a pain. Even getting it there is annoying (ever tried to take one on a European economy flight in hand luggage? Good luck…). Especially as once you’re there, you use it basically to trigger samples and manipulate effects.
How nice would it be to be able to do all that from a tiny box? Coupled with say a Traktor Audio 2 and a MacBook Air, the Faderfox DS3 would complete just such a ridiculously small DJ set-up, yet offers exactly this level of post-manual beatmatching control. All you do when you turn up is wire into two spare channels on the house mixer for mixing, use this little unit (much as DJs have been using X1s for aeons now) to provide your source control, and there you are – truly portable, minimal, sample-and-loop-based digital DJing.
The Traktor Kontrol X1 works so elegantly because Native Instruments got it right. For playing less complex sets with Traktor, one of these is fine. You can get quite complicated with two X1s across four decks. But for me, the Faderfox DS3 takes it further. In one little unit, you have true control of Traktor’s sample decks and loop recorder plus FX, standard loops and multiple hot cues.
Of course, hardware has to keep up with software. We know Traktor 2.5 is around the corner, and although nobody can put a firm date on its launch, it’s clear that Native Instruments is attempting to redefine the cutting edge alongside its own new Kontrol F1 button controller. Having watched Faderfox’s prolific output rate, though, I think I can say with some certainty that they’re more than capable of keeping up.
For now, the DS3 is the best portable Traktor controller for sample decks, loops, hot cues and FX that there is. Here’s the company’s own video that looks at the main features:
Are you a samples, loops, FX and cue point addict looking for something like this to control Traktor with? What would you change about it if you could? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.