The neat and simple Z1 is a close-to perfect partner for the Traktor DJ software for iPad, iPhone and iPod. Its “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. 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 / Setting up
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.
With 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.
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.
With 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.
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.
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.