Native Instruments new flagship DJ controller, the Kontrol S8, is a big and meaty looking beast. A full 20% larger than the already hefty S4, and boasting more blinking lights than that UFO at the end of Close Encounter, it is probably best viewed as another attempt by the German company to further rewrite the DJing rule book. Or as their own press blurb puts it: “..the advanced DJ controller signals a milestone in Native Instruments’ vision of the future of DJing.”
The S8 itself is the third all-in-one controller NI have so far released, and it is probably best described as something of a hybrid. The most noticeable change from the entry-level S2 and the four channel S4 – and the thing that the peanut gallery seem to have already picked up on – is the complete absence of jog wheels. in their place we have touch sensitive strips, two high quality LCD screens and a number of features designed to make their vision of looping and live remixing a darn sight easier than it was previously. Also included for the first time are dedicated buttons for Freeze and Flux. How well the screens work will be interesting to see. Anything that takes a DJs eyes away from the laptop screen has got to be good. It also promises a MIDI I/O which should allow Maschine users to sync with Traktor. This itself will be a reason for some people to shell out the not inconsiderable asking price; syncing the two bits of software up until now has proved something of a right bugger for most people. let’s hope they finally got it right.
Interestingly, NI seem to be pitching the controller not just at the sync and loop gang, but at those who have a more traditional ethos. They seem to be making things of the fact that the mixer section is able to function in a stand alone capacity, and with a built-in Traktor Scratch certified sound card and four line in/phono in jacks it is a pitch well worth making. It’s here, though, and with the £900 odd quid price point, that questions need to be asked.
With the other two controllers there was an obvious market. The two channel S2 was an obvious entry-level product. It came packaged with a full copy of Traktor and was subject to various sales. It was a decent enough DJ system that contained almost everything you needed to get going in a box. I’ve got one. It feels a bit Fischer-Pricey but it does the job. The S4 was the four channel big brother that, due to the fact you could jack turntables into it, became the cornerstone of many more experienced DJs systems.
The S8 seems to have a less natural market for it. Surely anyone with a pair of tables or CD players who wants to go down the DVS route would be better off buying a proper stand alone high quality mixer and running it through one of NI’s top end sound cards? Are they going to be that interested in the bundled controls for the remix decks? I suspect that many DJs who are going the DVS route are probably more interested in a more traditional method of playing. In fact, how many DJ’s really bother with the remix decks? One suspects that when you cut out a lot of people who crow about ‘remixing on the fly’ being the future the number is probably on the low side. Most people, regardless of the capabilities of the software, simply use it for straight-forward A-B mixing.
The crux of the issue is this: Given that they seem to be making great claims for the mixer section, would NI not have been better finally going down the modular route and creating a high level four channel digital mixer that would have given the Allen and Heaths and Pioneers of the world a run for their money, that could be used both with Traktor or away from the laptop, or used as the heart of a genuinely modular set up along side a variety of NI’s X1 or F1 controllers for remixing and transport control? I worry that Native Instruments dedication to realising their own vision of what DJing should be blinds them from how things actually are. Whether it comes back to bite them, or they convince enough people they are right, remains to be seen.