Red Dog Music | Oct 9, 2018 | 0
Traktor Kontrol Z1: our hands-on review
I’m a big fan of the Traktor software from Native Instruments. I don’t want to start any sort of debate on the whole digital vs vinyl thing, let’s just say it’s all about playing good music and move on! I’ve been using a mixture of setups for my djing for a while, but with the Traktor Z1 controller and interface, I think I might have found just the thing…
Until perhaps the middle of last year, I had used an external hardware mixer, running the two outputs from my NI Traktor Audio 2 into two mixer channels and using the hardware mixer for all cueing, eq, effects and mixing. I didn’t really use Traktor for much other than pressing play.
That all changed when I picked up the first Traktor Kontrol X1 (now superseded by a new version), and I could really get more hands-on and involved with Traktor, taking advantage of its built-in effects and looping functions. The X1 also made track browsing and selection a lot more straightforward and meant that there was really no need to touch the computer at all, avoiding the dreaded ‘looking like you’re checking your email’ thing going on.
However, the Kontrol X1 doesn’t have a crossfader, and is really designed for effects control, looping, track selection and transport, not mixing. This meant that my dj setup was made up of the X1, a Novation Nocturn for eq, mixing and cueing, my interface and my Maschine Mikro. Things were just getting a bit too unwieldy. Imagine my relief when Native Instruments released the Traktor Kontrol Z1.
Traktor Kontrol Z1 lightens the load
By putting a 4-out audio interface in the piano-gloss black Kontrol Z1, Native Instruments have likely simplified the rig of many a digital dj. With a headphone out on the front (stereo mini-jack) and master outs at the back (RCA phono), you’re all set up for cueing, and the cue buttons and level and cuemix knobs help you take care of that.
The Kontrol Z1 is all about the mix though. Every control on the Z1 mapped to the correct function inside Traktor, and that was that. With the crossfader, eq controls and a dedicated knob to control the filter, mixing is as straightforward as it can be. All the knobs and faders offer a smooth action, with an appropriate amount of resistance and the eq and filter knobs are centre detented with a reassuring amount of click for hitting the zero position easily.
The Kontrol Z1 also features dedicated illuminated buttons for activating/deactivating the filter, which, while of course very useful, also looks really good. The Z1 also includes Traktor LE2 so, if you don’t already have Traktor Pro, you can start putting together together mixes straight away. Having said that, the additional features included in Traktor Pro, such as the remix decks and the inbuilt recorder are worth the upgrade.
Using the Kontrol Z1 alongside my Kontrol X1 for a recent house mix, I found the Kontrol Z1 to be intuitive, clearly labelled, and it made the mix easy; the filter certainly got an extensive workout and was used for most transitions.
The volume available from the headphone output was perfectly acceptable, even with my high-impedance headphones, and the audio quality out of the back was crystal clear. I’ll certainly be using this as the centre of the dj setup in future.
Additionally, the Kontrol Z1 has a power input (power supply is included), which may seem strange for a bus-powered USB device. However, this is quite a clever addition to the Z1. Also included is a USB to iOS device 30-pin cable to use the Kontrol Z1 with the Traktor DJ app. When connected, the Z1 powers your iOS device, so you don’t have to worry about your battery running flat when you’re just about to seamlessly transition from Song of Life into Remember You’re A Womble.
Traktor Kontrol Z1 mk2
All that said however, there are a couple of things that would have been nice, or would be nice to see in whatever update to the Kontrol Z1 that NI give us in the future. THe biggest thing for me is the inclusion of a USB hub within the Z1. A very large proportion of the digital dj community use MacBook Pros; these have a paltry 2 USB ports. If you’re just using a the Z1 and X1, fine, but what if you use a Kontrol F1 as well? Or Maschine? Now you’re up to three or four pieces of gear, which means you have to carry a powered hub about with you, and that’s just more to carry, more to lose, more to break and more to go wrong.
Also, and I might be being a bit niche here, but what about a six-output version with two output pairs in addition to the headphone out. That way, if you’re running something like Maschine or Ableton Live in conjunction with Traktor, that application can have its own output and its own desk channel, which would be very useful. Perhaps that’s something for the Traktor Kontrol Z1 XL… And while we’re on the subject of outputs, a 1/4″ headphone socket would perhaps have been nicer, but I imagine NI’s engineers are limited by the slimline form-factor of the range.
Traktor Kontrol Z1 final thoughts
I’m really pretty impressed with the Traktor Kontrol Z1. It feels right, it’s clearly laid out and it doesn’t offer a lot of functions that you don’t need or want. The Kontrol Z1 is also very competitively priced at £169. If you don’t need the jog wheels offered by the Traktor Kontrol S2 and Kontrol S4, the Kontrol Z1 is a great solution, particularly when combined with a Kontrol X1, and is incredibly portable. You’ll get it, an X1, your laptop and headphones in the bag you used to carry your records in!
I’ll certainly be using the Traktor Kontrol Z1 for quite some time! If you mix in the box, are using the iOS app, or just want a portable rig to throw in the bag, we thoroughly recommend the Kontrol Z1, it just works.
If you want to get your hands on the Z1, or other kontrollers in the Traktor range, we’ve got them set up and ready to go at our Edinburgh base, and they’ll be coming to a London showroom near you soon. If you live in Clapham, very near you!
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