Traktor Kontrol S5 Review
Native Instruments is so well known for their high quality DJ equipment that they are a dominant industry player. Their long held design standard that focused on the jog wheel has been a staple in the industry for years, but now that Native Instruments is designing with a screen focus, there’s so much more that can be done with their boards. Without losing any of the features from the Kontrol S4, the S5 is a new four deck TRAKTOR controller that delivers all the features you could want, plus Stem Deck control. While there’s the additional, logistical problem of the power supply you’ll need for the screen power, the benefits far outweigh the losses and the board is roughly the same size and weight as the S4. The S5 price is approachable, even for amateurs, which is a great boon to those just starting out in the industry.
When Native Instruments’ S5 design was leaked completely with photos, reviewers uniformly noted the obvious lack of a jog wheel, and the lack of individual faders. The onboard screens that the S8 led with are a big part of the layout, which some people felt was confusing when taken in consideration with the missing line inputs for hardware mixing. However, just ahead of the official release, Native Instruments has been able to explain the new design and its use case and people are responding positively.
When Native Instruments released the S8, the advanced controllers and faders drew some people in quickly, while others were put off by the size and price of the S8. The S4’s size was near perfect, and the price for the S4 was realistic, whereas the S8 had neither of those things. Now that the S5 is being released in October, those folks who sprung for the S8 may be a little tweaked. The S5 essentially combines the feature sets of the S4 and the S8, but keeps the size of the S4, and lays out the controller in a more useful and logical manner. The S8 did have one advantage that the S5 doesn’t offer in the touch sensitive encoders that were laid out below the main board. The S5 drops that feature, and uses FX knobs for the same task instead, which can lead to some awkward work around to avoid value-jumping if you use both the effects and remix stems at the same time.
Stem Deck Control
The open source audio concept called Stem allows for finer control over elements of a song, allowing a digital DJ to drill into the node he wants to play, without having to manually isolate it. It appears that NI is moving toward a stem-oriented philosophy, getting away from jog wheels, and in general trying to innovate older DJs toward this model. Using the S5 to control stem decks is not intuitive, but Native Instruments provides instructions on how to do it. The pads are used to mute the parts, then the browse or loop encoders can be used to modify each part. By holding the pad to select each loop, you can then move the encoder to change the volume. It’s not an intuitive process, definitely more mental overhead than the S8 required, but in most cases should work just fine.
The Stem View on the S5 is full color, and shows each wave form stacked on one of the displays. Moving individual stems into place is one of the Native Intelligence selling points for the S5. It remains to be seen if this option will be used, or efficient.
Sadly for some, there’s no jog wheel on the S5. While Native Instruments appears to have gone in whole hog on the stem deck revolution, there are so many talented people who just prefer the jog wheel, that it’s a bit of a surprise Native wouldn’t include one in this redesign. Granted, they do take up a lot of controller real estate, and the S5 form factor is compact. Various media outlets have inquired if Native Instruments intends to release any more boards with jog wheels, so hopefully a response will let the hold outs among us know if they need to venture toward stems sooner rather than later!
The S8 supports line input that lets it operate as a free standing hardware mixer. The S5 does not. The inputs on the S5 are otherwise standard, allowing for booth out, main out, and Aux in. Without the sound card and mixer built into the S5, the price comparison to the S8 starts to be more understandable. If you’re a DJ who needs the free standing hardware mixer, you should evaluate the savings in cost on the S5 over the S8, taking into account that you’ll need to acquire a separate mixer. While Native Instruments indicates that there’s an independent stand alone jack that can be programmed for RCA or Aux channel, allowing you to input from a mic, an external player, or any line level device, this is not the same as having an onboard sound card.
Tools – Mixing
The mixer section of the S5 is laid out well, offering four channels with EQ and filter controls. The FX assigns may be the saving grace of those frustrated by the S5’s focus on the new stem features. The touch sensitive controls let you operate the displays, letting you access features like the FX value for a deck quickly and easily.
Using the TRAKTOR Pro 2 platform, the Native Instruments S5 controller is familiar to most who have worked on the S4, but with a few additional features. The intelligent design of the Pro 2 platform lets it smart switch or autosense to line up with the Stem, track or Remix Set being loaded to the controller.
Displays and Interface
Two full color displays are in full swing on the S5, and let you do everything from nudge cues, throw Stems, or seek through multiple tracks a breeze – once you get used to it. For those who are accustomed to using the jog wheel interface, this is going to take some getting used to, but the advanced features and ability to be more productive in a more compact and cost effective format can’t be beat.
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