Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8 review

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S8 review

Last Updated on by Daniel Lawrence

The S8 is Native Instruments’ most extensive piece of DJ hardware to date, both in terms of its features and size.

Although it’s bigger than the S4 both in-depth and width, it’s not something you can bring into a club without prior notice, and hope there’s room in the DJ booth.

Despite making room for the S8, you’ll still need a laptop and possibly additional gear (more on this later), so we recommend the space-conscious look elsewhere.

Design and Features

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It is clear, however, that the S8 is a quality piece of kit. The build quality is excellent, and it looks amazing. Pads and knobs will be familiar to those who have experienced the S4 MKII, while the new fader section – which we’re told uses an inverted design to ensure maximum durability – is part of the proper pro-level package that we would expect at this price point.

The controller has backlit controls, LED-lined touch strips, and a high-resolution display, so it’s easy to use in a darkened club environment. The S8 really does have a lot going on, which is good.

It includes a four-channel mixer that can control a quartet of software channels, act as a standalone analog mixer, or a combination of both.

A Traktor Mode button located at the top of each channel allows you to change between digital and analog modes with ease, making the S8 an extremely versatile modern DJ ‘hub.’

The most noteworthy feature of this mixer’s channels is the addition of backlit on/off switches for each of the bidirectional filters; something that earlier NI controllers lacked.

The mixer is flanked on either side by a pair of deck controllers. A transport section appears along the bottom of each, with Play, Cue, Shift, Sync, Deck select, and a button for turning on and off Traktor’s beat-locked Flux mode.

There is a grid of eight pads above this, whose functions are changed via buttons along the outside edge. Assigning and jumping between eight cue points are possible in Hotcue mode while triggering beat jumps is possible in Loop mode.

There are 64 sample slots on the software’s Remix Deck while the pads are in Remix mode. Freeze mode adds a feature from Traktor DJ, which grabs an eight-slice loop from a track and triggers each piece as a separate sample.

The Remix Deck is controlled by four faders, the rotary serves a number of purposes, including selecting and editing loop size, scrolling through samples in Freeze Mode, and selecting the sampled sources to be used for the loop recorder.

Above this row are rotaries that control the Remix Deck filters, effects sends, and pitch, each with an On/Off button. Additionally, there is a row of four effects rotaries along the very top, plus an FX Select button, which offers control over the software’s effects.

Jog off

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The S8’s control set, however, lacks two very noticeable features: jog wheels. Let’s be honest, when we saw the S8, this was a bit of a concern. We like jog wheels, or better said, we like something that resembles a turntable. Despite being no DMC champion, this reviewer will turn off sync when DJing with the S4, because he’s a semi-Luddite.

Although Traktor’s beat detection algorithms are great, as are all of its tempo sync’d performance features, personally, this writer gets bored very quickly if everything is too ‘on the rails’.

There’s some truth to NI’s claim that the new touch strips can replace jog wheels. Upon stopping a track, these can be used to scratch the current track, while holding Shift puts them into Seek mode, which allows the user to jump to any part of the track.

When the track is playing, these become Pitchbend controls, which have surprisingly good implementation and can be used for basic, ‘nudge’-style beat matching. Beat-matching will not be possible due to the lack of pitch faders.

Changing the tempo is done by rotating the central tempo rotary, which by default fades between bpms slowly and requires a Shift press to make quick changes.

Unless you are mixing with less ‘rigid’ genres like Funk or Soul, this is all too fiddly for the S8 to qualify as an ‘all-in-one controller.

It’s best not to think of the S8 as an ‘all-in-one device’ despite what NI says on the box. Connecting turntables or CDJs really brings the S8 to life. It has built-in DVS support and comes with Traktor Scratch Pro.

This external gear takes care of the track control part of your set-up, freeing up the S8’s main body to make the most of Traktor’s advanced features. Fortunately, the controller’s best feature – the pair of screens – makes it a pleasure to work within this area.

These screens are not particularly large, but the touch-sensitive controls, combined with the implementation, make them absolutely fantastic. Whether you’re looping, sampling, tweaking effects, or browsing libraries, they offer clear information exactly when you need it. Essentially, they allow one to perform a set with Traktor, Remix Decks, and more, without having to look at a computer screen.

In spite of a few shortcomings in beat-matching, the S8 has incredible control over Traktor’s advanced features. Add some additional ‘analog’ gear to it and it becomes a next-level hybrid DJ set-up.

As part of our tests, we used two turntables and a drum machine synced via the MIDI out, along with a pair of turntables. Currently, the S8 is one of the best digital DJ devices we’ve ever used. Being able to flip seamlessly between vinyl, analog, and digital sources, live sampling, and looping from the inputs, all conveniently and intuitively, is so fun, and it inspires real creativity.

 

Pros Cons
Screens and touch-sensitive controls shift focus away from the laptop. Not really an ‘all-in-one device.
Massively intuitive control of Traktor’s ‘deep’ features. No jog wheels.

Conclusion

If all you need is an all-in-one controller, the S2 or S4 are still good choices, but if you’re willing to spend more money and space on the S8, the S8 is the best buy.