Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1 review

Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1 review

Last Updated on by Daniel Lawrence

The Z1 is a perfect companion for Traktor DJ software on iPad, iPhone, and iPod. A “mixing interface” allows some of the most important manual controls to be liberated from the touchscreen, while the DJ audio interface is also decent. Also compatible with Traktor Pro 2, with which it is also compatible. For Traktor DJ users, it’s Apple-approved, so there’s no need for a Camera Connection Kit – and it also recharges your device.

FIRST IMPRESSIONS / SETTING UP

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We think Traktor Kontrol Z1 really shines with iOS devices, even though it’s designed to work with laptops and iOS devices as well.

Despite having a glossy surface like the Traktor Kontrol Z2, the Traktor Kontrol Z1 is small and lightweight. It is the same size as the Traktor Kontrol F1 and Traktor Kontrol X1 units.

This unit has the usual black matt plastic underside with jumbo rubber feet from Native Instruments; the front lip is engraved with “Kontrol Z1″ in the new Traktor font, and the top lip features the Traktor and NI logos. The front of the device features a small (1/8”) headphone jack, and the back has a USB out (for computer and iOS; a 30-pin lead is included, as well as a standard USB cable) and twin RCA audio outs.

Also on the back of the transformer is a 15V DC socket; it comes with four different adaptors for different countries. Also included is a standard USB cable, as well as Traktor and Native Instruments stickers.

IN USE

With Traktor DJ

It seems odd to put a 30-pin adapter in there since iPads and iPhones all have Lightning connectors now, and it doesn’t just work as a charging cord, since the USB port is the “appliance” end, not the “computer” end. Therefore, if you own a current iPad or iPod, you will need an adaptor or a Lightning cable.

The next step is to find a good “playing” layout once you’ve connected your iOS device (I used an iPad). My iPad sits to the left of the Kontrol Z1, angled upwards with a Smart Case set on its “shallow angle” setting. It worked perfectly.

It’s one thing to know how it all plugs in, but where do you put the iPad and mixer physically? Check out the video to see how I arrange them…

In addition to the good audio interface, the device can also charge the iPad (remember, the Kontrol Z1 needs 15V DC to function with iOS). The fact that Traktor DJ only needs a two-channel mixer and filter seems to be all you really need for physical controls, as the other features work best with the touchscreen (and beat gridding and sync ensure that you don’t need great timing when putting tunes in any way). The ability to preview tunes in stereo as opposed to using a mono splitter cable was certainly appealing. While moving the Kontrol Z1’s left and right caused a crossfader on the screen to move, apart from that everything was really slick.

Traktor DJ is what it’s all about, which is a wonderful piece of software – smooth, responsive, minimal, and fun to use! Even better, the Kontrol Z1 can be easily thrown in a shoulder bag. As a house DJ system, it will fit nicely behind cramped, Amsterdam-style bars, particularly since it will also function as an audio interface for whatever music you are playing on your iPad (Traktor Kontrol Z1 appears in the AirPlay menu). Therefore, in such situations, an iPad could be permanently plugged in, charging and providing background music, ready to be used as a DJ as needed.

With Traktor Pro 2.6.2

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For PC/Mac users, you’ll need Traktor 2.6.2 from the Service Center, if you’re already a Traktor user. Otherwise, Traktor LE 2 is in the box, with an upgrade option for $50 if you’d like to grab the full version later. In this case, the Z1 becomes part of a potentially larger modular set up, such as pairing it with a Kontrol F1 and/or a Kontrol X1 to perform transport, Remix Deck, and mixing functions, though you will consume USBs in the process. It would have been nice if the Kontrol Z1 had also had a couple of USB ports on the back, so it could function as a powered hub for extra modules.

There’s not much to say about this; you plug it in, it’s recognized immediately, and everything works smoothly. Unfortunately, the “Mode” button does nothing.

Pairing it with an X1 would certainly make sense for a small set-up, especially since the new X1s will have touch strips, but if you get more complicated than that, I don’t see the point in modular. I would like an all-in-one DJ controller instead of messing around with two or three modular devices, plus a sound card. You may find it more practical to assemble such a set-up if you’re one of those DJs who uses the Remix Decks and thus the Kontrol F1.

As a side note, the device can be used with a laptop without the transformer plugged in; so you can leave the power supply at home if you’re just using it as a Traktor sound card.

CONCLUSION

Are you a Traktor DJ fan? If this is the case, you should consider paying the asking price. You get a high-quality sound card, headphones monitoring, and all the controls you need to mix expressively while doing the “touch the music” stuff on the iPad. They work well together. It would have been better to see an up-to-date cable in the box for iPhone users with current devices, but there are still a lot of 30-pin devices out there, so I assume NI made this choice for that reason.

The Kontrol Z1 has only the connections that are important; nothing else.

Are you using Traktor Pro? In sum, unless you envision this as part of a 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 a “big” Traktor. For an ultra-portable system, you may just run out of USB ports before you’re done adding items… and for me, the more complicated modular systems become (carrying extra leads, hubs, etc), the less appealing they become.

In conclusion, the Traktor Kontrol Z1 will make DJing with Traktor DJ on iOS devices more enjoyable for anyone who is serious enough about iOS DJing to shell out $200 on hardware for a $20 program (and I think you should be!). It also makes sense for certain Traktor Pro 2 users – but it’s not so essential here, since there are so many other options for controlling Traktor on laptops.