Native Instruments’ new dedicated Traktor controller unlocks the potential of the DJ software’s Remix Decks.
The established approach to any review of DJ controllers is to spend the introduction discussing how widely the likes of Traktor and Serato have been accepted as rivals to traditional vinyl- and CD-based options. Reviewers continually heap praise on software developers for offering a new alternative to SL1200s or CDJs.
But the focus on replacing traditional DJ tools misses the real point. Go to any club up and down the country and it’s obvious that digital DJing is no longer a novelty. The sight of a DJ clutching a laptop and scrabbling around the back of the mixer is a regular feature of most nights. The real question shouldn’t be whether laptop DJ setups have become commonplace; it should be why aren’t DJs doing more with them?
Laptop DJ setups offer flexibility and versatility way in excess of anything which could be achieved with ‘traditional’ DJ equipment. Native Instruments’ Traktor Kontrol F1 USB controller aims to unlock that creative potential, focusing primarily on the Remix Decks introduced in Traktor 2.5.
The key differences between the Remix Decks and Traktor’s existing Sample Decks are that Remix Decks can each hold up to 64 samples, each of which can be triggered and manipulated in much more complex ways than Sample Decks – allowing samples and loops to be triggered almost as flexibly as if they were full Track Decks. The result is something in between a standard Traktor Track Deck or Sample Deck and an Ableton Live audio track loaded with clips. Banks of loops and one-shots can be created, then triggered in time with the DJ set to create new arrangements.
The F1 opens up access to all of the Remix Deck features, allowing Traktor DJs to trigger pre-loaded Remix Deck loops and capture loops from track decks during a set without touching the keyboard and trackpad. We could talk at great length about the options the Remix Decks unlock, but to avoid turning this review into a long list of features take a look at NI’s own demonstration videos for a full overview:
The vast majority of Remix Set features can be accessed directly from the F1. However, don’t expect to plug in the F1 and immediately get the hang of all its features; this is a complex controller with a lot of options, some requiring unintuitive button presses and use of the shift key. Expect to put in a few hours with the manual before you get the hang of it, but the bottom line is that the F1 works exactly as advertised once you’ve figured it out.
In the box you’ll also find a Track Deck overlay, which can fit over the front of the unit in order to offer an alternative approach focusing on slightly more traditional DJing options found in Traktor. With the overlay in place, the buttons, sliders and knobs are used to control hot cues, FX, loops and beat jumps. It’s a neat added bonus, but we’d imagine that most users would find the Traktor Kontrol X1 more appropriate for this kind of Track Deck control.
Once you’re over the initial learning curve, the F1 is an efficient, flexible approach to controlling the Remix Decks and introducing true real-time remix features to your DJ sets. The F1 isn’t the only option for controlling Remix Decks, but it’s certainly the easiest. The controller opens up every feature of the Remix Decks in a real-time performance context.
Traktor 2.5’s Remix Decks build substantially on the potential of the familiar Sample Decks. The possibilities for live rearrangements of tracks are huge, introducing an element of Live-style clip launching functionality to DJ sets and blurring the lines between a DJ set and a live performance.
At a typical street price of £195, the F1 is substantially more expensive than a more flexible all-round controller such as Novation’s Launchpad, but its seamless integration with the software makes it the best way to get the most out of Traktor’s versatile remix features.
The Final Word
The best way to unlock the vast potential of Remix Decks.