Last year gave us a lot of new gear from Native Instruments, who have been introducing new controllers as well as releasing a major new version of their Traktor DJ software. Think Maschine Mk2, Kontrol F1 and Traktor 2.6, that introduced Flux Modus. The release of the latest Traktor software was combined with the introduction of Native Instruments’ DJ mixer, the Kontrol Z2. After absorbing the specs and the rumors, we were pretty curious about the Z2. After we received the Z2 in our lab we took it through some extensive testing. We wanted to find out, is the Kontrol Z2 more than just a 2-channel mixer?
The first thing that you notice when you see the Z2 is its size. It is pretty big. It also looks and feels really solid. The second impression is that the Z2 must be easy to use, mainly because there is no overkill of buttons and the layout of the large rotaries and buttons comes across as sensible and well organized. Also, the mixer has just two physical channels to provide controls for. On the left- and right edges, the Z2 has a rows of rotaries and push-buttons that are meant for Traktor software control. More on this later.
Apart from the deckplate, the outside of the Z2 is made from aluminum, which gives the unit a decent feel. The deckplate is partly plastic and the buttons are made from a grippy rubber-like material. The buttons and faders are well constructed, so when operating the mixer, you don’t have to worry about damaging the buttons. On the bottom of the mixer are some rubber feet, that give it extra stability. The only point of attention could be the USB-connector: when moving the mixer, a connected USB-cable does not always stay connected, leading to possible audio loss.
The quality of the built-in audio interface is excellent. We wouldn’t expect anything less from Native Instruments though. The output provides is more than loud enough for use in a club setting. The sound quality is very good. We also connected an old fashioned turntable to the analog inputs of the mixer, and this also produced a good quality and neutral signal to the outputs. Excellent!
On the frontpanel of the mixer, there are two headphone connections, both for a small as well as a big jack connector. On the rear, you find the inputs for the microphone as well as an extra AUX input. The two mixer channels can be fed with separate line- or phono inputs. The output of the mixer consists of Master (XLR), Rec Out (cinch) and Booth (jack). The USB part consists of a USB B-input, as well as two USB A-outputs.
And there is a 220v power connection.
The Z2 can be divided in three functional parts. The mid-section is inspired by a traditional DJ mixer setup. Apart from the expected layout (eq-rotaries on the top and a vertical fader bel0w each channel), the Z2 provides some extra buttons. These are Sync, Browse and Load. The function of these buttons is used to control these function of Traktor. There is also a Shift-button, that provides a secondary function to the buttons, for use with Traktor or (when in MIDI-mode) for triggering other MIDI-controlled devices.
The Z2’s top-section is where you find effect controls. A combined one-knob Macro-FX can be used for buildups and breakdowns on the master channel. Allow your creativity to use this powerful button.
Finally, the bottom-section is the control-section. It provides specific cue control, remix deck and loop controls. This way, you can virtually introduce two more decks and operate Traktor in 4-deck mode.
While the Kontrol Z2 can be operated as an analog 2 channel mixer, it is really meant to be used with the supplied Traktor 2.6 software to unleash its full potential. As we are dutch, we are still feeling left out that we cannot use Traktor’s Scratch functionality due to legal patent issues, because this is where we feel the Z2 really shines. Still, there is plenty of good news when using it with Traktor without using scratch decks.
When using the Loop function with Traktor, the mixer uses a small display for each channel to show the beat of each loop. Thus providing more visual feedback of where the Looper is at through the mixer instead of having to check your computer screen to find out.
It is one of the new Traktor features, but what exactly does it do? In fact, it’s pretty much like the Slip Mode of today’s Pioneer CDJ-900 or 2000-Nexus. It gives you the option of start the looping of a track, while in the background the track keeps playing on. Once you stop looping, the track resumes playing at the point where it was without having used the loop mode. This is a good tool for creating live breaks and remixing tracks live. Or to hide parts of a track behind a loop. Like removing parts of lyrics of a song that might be inappropriate for an occasion….
While we got the full version of Traktor for the review, including the Scratch functionality, we experienced what Native Instruments’ meant with the Z2: to provide the perfect two channel battle mixer for use with Traktor. No extra cables and fast and easy switching between digital and analog. Flux Mode and Remix decks are cool tools to use when Scratching. Everything going on while Traktor helps you out to keep your samples and loops spot on in sync and in tone. Sweet!
A big advantage of the Z2 is definately its powerful connectivity. Because of its built in soundcard and USB hub, you only have to plug in the minimum amount of cables, which makes it easy to just take it with you when you’re playing somewhere else. Also, the ability to be able to sync everything from the mixer is a really welcome feature, especially when using Traktor’s Remix Decks. There are eight transport-buttons on the Z2 (four left and four right), that allow you to control the two Remix Decks without requiring an extra controller.
There is one strange thing though. Most of Traktor’s features can be controlled with (dedicated) buttons on the Z2, except for Cue’ing and Play’ing. While it is possible to re-map some of the Remix buttons for this purpose, it is strange that they are missing. Apparently the focus of the Z2 is more on being used as battle mixer than as being a full featured DJ-controller. Or maybe we can expect new controllers to go with the Z2 to fill in this missing functionality? Who knows…
When it comes to effects, everything is done through Traktor’s software, apart from a filter that is implemented in the mixer itself. This means hooking up the Z2 to Traktor, there are no effects available. While the mixer shines as battle mixer, a 4 channel layout would have been even nicer, especially in Europe where the battle scene is not so big as in other parts of the world.
And it can not be said enough: in the Netherlands we miss the Scratch functionality! The Z2 needs this, and legal issues or not, we think this should be figured out sometime (soon).
The Native Instruments Z2, as a solid, two channel mixer with built in soundcard and USB hub, can be used both fully digital as well as analog. It’s an all-in-one mixer. When you’re playing with two external decks and like to work with the Traktor software as well, then this mixer could be the perfect addition to your setup. So we may conclude that apart from being an excellent mixer, the Z2 is also a great instrument to integrate your external decks with Traktor.