Sunday, January 15, 2012

Traktor Kontrol S2 Review (+ Traktor S2 VS S4 Comparison)

So I Sold my S4 to get an S2...
The NI Kontrol S2 - S4's Baby Bro!
I Recently did the unthinkable - "downgrading"  my Native Instrument Kontrol S4 (which i have owned and used for about a year) and instead bought the smaller, more affordable NI Kontrol S2. You might ask me... "Y U NO KEEP THE S4???" well the answer is... firstly due to portability issues, among others, but yes I am happy that I made the decision!

Many will be hard pressed to decide between buying the NI Kontrol S2 and the Kontrol S4 - I am hoping this review will help you decide which is best for you :)

The S4 was ALMOST perfect - but its rather massive size kinda limited me from actually taking it out for gigs, first it was difficult to find a bag that can fit it, and secondly once you took it out sometimes its hard to find a place to put it down (except if you can put turntable covers on the turnies and then putting the S4 on top - this could work, although not every club has the turntable cover ready!)

Plus the shiny S4 top plate means you dont really wanna take out the S4 and trash it because it is very very easily scratched and smudged (why did they make the top plate where the faders are shiny? OH WHY? FADERS ARE PRONE TO CONTACT which means SHINY turns to SKRATCHED UP very soon!)

One of the thing that led me to sell my S4 is that - during the one year that I owned my S4 - it became my main setup, leaving my trusty skratch analog mixer Rane TTM-56s tucked away in a box for about a whole year!

You see I have this particular fondness to this particular TTM-56s mixer (ZOMG the buttery faderz that is almost unbreakable!!!), I love the way the EQ sounds, i like having things still borderline analog (with DVS turntables that is) rather than full digital, the S4 was almost perfect to the point that I was starting to feel the loss of connection to my music, It was more on the gear and what the gear can do rather than just the music.

Having the S4 and the 4 deck layer is cool - i can do a lot more, simple 2 deck mixing becomes so horribly boring and easy that I started to use all 4 decks to do crazy things, but after awhile I kinda miss the old school "2 deck and a mixer" setup, and especially I MISS MY TIMECODE VINYLS! Timecode vinyls would have to be the greatest invention in DJ history - it combines the awesome digital library management with old skool vinyl feel... FUCK YEA!

At the same time... the S4 such a great experience to the point that I was reluctant to sell it off... PLUS I happened to know a shop in Singapore (where I am currently) that sells the S2 for a crazy low price (About USD $480??? holy fuck that is cheap)

So the solution became apparent...  Sell off the S4 and buy the S2 and get back into the timecode (with the addition of the NI Audio 6 sound card) so i can have the best of both worlds - S2 can be my portable controller (and fits into bags easier) and i can also rock my trusty analog mixer with timecode!

Compared to The S4
(Photos Courtesy of Engadget!)

My previous S4 reviews can be found HERE and HERE

The S2 is like the baby brother to the S4 - although unlike the ipod shuffle to real ipod comparison, the differences are rather minimal, as you can see from the pictures below~ But it does, make a world of difference, in looking for bags. The S2 can almost easily fit into laptop bags suited for 19 inch laptops (and there are quite a lot of those around!), unlike the S4 with its borderline monster case and needs some specialized bag or case to carry around - in my hunt for a S2 bag i found it was much much easier (and having more options) to find a bag for the S2 than the S4.

For example, the popular MONO EFX 365 which would be impossible to fit an S4 into, somehow fits the S2 rather snuggly (but still fits!). Also its similar size to the AKAI APC40 means most cases that fit the APC40 can also fit the Traktor S2 - neat huh?

Other than the overall size, the S2 loses 2 decks (obviously, but you still have access to extra sample decks) and you also lose the dedicated filters on each channel and the dedicated sample deck buttons (now shared with the hotcue buttons). The LED showing the loop / beatmove size is also ommitted in the S2 due to size restrictions, but the loop size / loop move encoders are still there so no worries!

No Filters?
The big main thing here is the filters - I LOVED the S4 dedicated filters - you can like filter anything on any deck just like that, that is like UBER EPIC - this is the thing I missed the most from the S4 that is not on the S2. You can use the shift function + Gain encoders on the S2 to perform filters, but the clicky endless encoders dont feel too good to do smooth filtering, they sound rather robotic since the increments of the encoder are not exactly linear / smooth , but bonus points for at least including this as a shift function - not perfect but the filters are there!

Faders & Pots
Everything else on the S2 is is pretty much the same with the S4 (including the shiny, fingerprint-prone top surface!!!) , same mid length pitch sliders (not full 100mm sliders) and same volume faders and xfaders, and same nice rubberized pots, just like the S4.

The s2 xfader is nice and smooth while the upfaders have some resistance to it - nicely done! In fact the pots and faders layout  feel a bit better on the S2 - being only a 2 deck controller there are exactly 2 decks and 2 channels of control, rather than the 4 deck layared style of the S4 which can be really confusing sometimes ~ in the S2 with the default mapping its just like 2 cdjs and a mixer - each controls correspond to each channel and the layout is not cramped at all - just right!

S2 (Left), S4 (Right) Not THAT Smaller You See...

But it is smaller...

Explanation of 2.1 Decks
The ads for the S2 kept on mentioning "2.1 decks" - what does it mean exactly? well other than the 2 full decks, you also have shared controls for the sample decks using the hotcue buttons, there is also a single knob that controls the volume of BOTH sample decks (channel C+D at the same time) this means when you raise or lower the red "sample deck knob" , both decks C+D faders move correspondently. A good way to save space yes, but not exactly good as you lose dedicated controls to both sample deck, my solution is to add another controller like the X1 (or the upcoming X2 that seems to be able to remedy this perfectly!) if you really need more than 2 decks.

The S2 also loses its timecode function. While you can hook up decks to the S4 and do timecode on them, due to the smaller size and feature wise, this is not available on the S2. I personally think using an analog mixer + NI soundcard is better, but i have seen people who use the S4 with timecode and be very very happy with the setup. The inclusion of booth output with a separate gain at the back of the S2 is very nice, this feature was not in the S4 and i suspect it was added to the S2 due to the complaints by people regarding the unavailable booth output in the S4.

Almost Perfect?
As I have said many times with the S4 , the S2 is also, almost perfect. It comes nicely priced, and also comes with a full version of Traktor Pro 2 - no LE or limited version here, you get to legit, full blown, full featured stuff - no gimmicks!

The S2&S4, being built ground up by Native Instruments the creator of Traktor, offered arguably the best Traktor Experience for controllers. The S2 and S4 offers jogwheel response unmatched by any other current TRAKTOR controller out there - with the Company's deep understanding of its own NHL native protocol, meaning the jogwheels of the S2 & S4 are REALLLY GREAT - other than the size limitations these jogwheels really ROCK~ great german precision movement (lol?) and response, razor sharp accuracy, and almost no latency, and compared with some other controllers - no mapping required! just plug and play! You dont even need to import any TSI file as the device is coded into Traktor - working perfectly as soon as you plug it in!

The only things that prevent the S2 from being perfect - is firstly , the non inclusion of dedicated filters - sure the layout is nice and not cramped but i am sure there is a space somewhere on the S2 for dedicated filter knobs - and secondly - just like the S4, the faders are not user replaceable, meaning you will definitely need to send in your unit to Native Instruments should any of the faders (or anything else) fail - for those who are far away (like me - I am in Singapore!) This is not very practical and means we will have to part with our equipment for 2 weeks to up to months! (according to stories on the NI forums)

The jogwheels are perfect for scratch mode (although super small) but are VERY high resolution and very touchy for pitch adjustments, this is fine after you get used to it but if you come from CDJ1000's feel, the kontrol S2/S4 jogs might feel a tad too touchy / sensitive for manual beatmatching, by now I am used to it and i think its fine, but some might need to get used to this.

For manual beatmatching the jogs and pitch sliders perform really really well in time, once you adjust to the sensitivity of the jogs - so well that i included a special outline on my Traktor entitled CDJ MODE where the phase meters are removed , moving waveforms removed, and BPMs removed - for an old skool 2 deck beatmatching session without any visual or bpm aid!! Try it! Its fun!

No AC Adapter No Problem!
One thing that i would like to point out is... I have never used the included power adapter with my NI S2 and it works damn fine!!!

The less channels (and less lights) of the S2 means It allows the whole unit to be fully bus-powered (actually the S4 too - but i really dont recommend doing  it!!), although I'd recommend plugging in the power for stability, I have yet to use the Kontrol S2 with the AC Adapter!

And the gain of the output both on the headphones out and the main out is sufficiently loud enough for most cases - if you are going to plug the S2 into another mixer (club's own or your own) then the gain output is perfectly fine, the headphone output is loud enough to damage your hearing - if you need any louder headphone gain without the ac adapter then you might want to get your ears checked for hearing damage!

This is great so if you ever forget to bring the ac adapter (intentionally or not) you'd still rock out without a problem! There are some controllers out there that will ALWAYS require ac adapter to be plugged in so keep this in mind as well - if you forget the ac adapter with other controllers you might run into major problems, but not the S2 - no ac adapter no worries! (tested on Macbook pro 2010 13 inch), you still get a powerful loud output both on the headphones and the other outputs - the LEDs get slightly dimmer but that's about it - nice!

I'll keep it nice and short - im not sure whats gonna be introduced on next week's 2012 NAMM , but currently and as of today the NI Kontrol S2 delivers one of the best 2-deck Traktor experience and value than any other controllers in the market - PERIOD. The inclusion of the FULL Traktor Pro 2 is another bonus, rather than paying close to $200 for the full blown software, it is included with the S2 package, this is something you would have to put in consideration when purchasing controllers - does it include any software or do you have to buy more on top?

If you use Traktor - or are looking into Traktor/controllers, you should definitely consider or at least try the NI Kontrol S2 - It is perfectly priced, fully featured, and worth every $$$ you spend on it , perfect for both new and seasoned DJs

Native Instruments Kontrol S2 Review By Ivan Zilch @ Zilchified

Link: Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S2