Saturday, June 15, 2013

A Compact Controller-Interface for Traktor on iOS or Desktop (BY PETER KIRN)

About as compact as you can get, without compromises: the iPad (even mini) alongside Z1 gives you a full-blown DJ rig, complete with dedicated output, headphone cue, control. Image courtesy Native Instruments

Native Instruments – among other developers – has now given you a DJ app you can load onto an iPhone or iPad. But that mobility is only useful in a club situation if you can cue tracks through headphones and comfortably control your mix. Lug along a lot of hardware, and you might as well go back to your PC. (And, please, no one say the word “dock.”)
The Traktor Kontrol Z1, announced today, is NI’s answer to the problem. For controlling your mix, it gives you a conventional 2-channel set of faders and knobs, for hands-on access to fades, EQ, filters, and effects. For audio, you get both stereo (phono RCA) output to the club, and a dedicated headphone jack for cueuing. Solved.
Fortunately, this gadget doesn’t become useless when you connect it to your PC or Mac. There, it’s a standard MIDI controller and audio interface. It’s connected via USB, running on the same drivers as other NI gear, and supports Traktor Pro (or the included Traktor LE) – so, for instance, you can use your iPad as a backup for your MacBook or the other way round, in case one fails while you’re on the road.
Check out the video, and you can watch the iOS and desktop versions all running together in a rather nice rig (approaching live setups as well as DJ setups):

NI somewhat confusingly calls this the “world’s smallest professional mixer and audio interface.” By “mixer,” they don’t mean that it has inputs – it’s what most people I think would call a controller for Traktor. Note also “smallest” paired with “professional.” But it is reasonably compact: NI didn’t yet have figures on size and weight, but tells us that it’s similar to the Kontrol X1 and F1.
Whether you want such a thing really comes down to how excited you are about running Traktor on the iPad and its brethren. The big advantage of the Z1 is that it has a dock connector for native connections to iOS for control and audio cueuing. (Users of newer Apple hardware with the Lightning Adapter will need Apple’s own converter – though, if you haven’t bought one of those yet, I predict you will.) And, unfortunately, NI tells us you can only use these control and cueuing features with Traktor DJ on iOS, not other apps (though other apps will work with the audio output).

When you pair the Z1 with a Mac or Windows desktop, Traktor LE is the logical companion. It seems, though, that while NI isn’t pushing the feature, other apps should work with MIDI and audio just as on NI’s other products – though, of course, Traktor is the logical choice with this accessory.

I could imagine some DJs instead using Traktor DJ (or similar) on iOS for touch access to waveforms, and mixing with the output of a laptop through a mixer. But for portability, this duo would allow you to show up at a club with just an iPad. (iPod touch and iPhone work, too, but would seem too tiny to really be useful – though the mixer controls will help.)
The next step, it seems to me: a version of Traktor LE that will work with touch, with all the touch Windows laptops, ultrabooks, and full-blown Windows tablets we’re seeing.
And as a first DJ product, it’s tough to beat: you get the hardware and a copy of Traktor LE for US$199/199 €. Traktor DJ is US$19.99 for iPad, US$4.99 for iPhone.
To sweeten the deal, you even get a $50 / 50€ e-voucher once you register with NI for anything you like. (So, for instance, you could upgrade to Traktor Pro.)
Available from July 3. Just in time for a DJ rig for a Fourth of July BBQ in America – or Bastille Day in Paris.

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