DJ controllers are the most hot items of this moment. And with every new one they start more and more to look alike. When Native Instruments (NI) announced their new Kontrol S8 they said it was ‘The future of DJing’. Quite the statement, so you expect something very interesting. They did deliver something interesting. NI put displays in the unit and removed the jog wheels. The latter caused some uproar amongst DJs regarding it as a vital part of a controller. Many ‘Sync’ DJs are fine with it. We tried the S8 to see if in fact this is ‘The future of DJing’.
The first thing we noticed with the S8 were A … no jog wheels and B two color displays on both sides of the middle controller lane. The displays are pretty easy to read and are rather clear. The two ‘decks’ left and right are copies of each other as you would expect. The upper part of the casing is brushed and looks way better than the glossy surface of the S2 and S4. It is also larger and a bit more heavy.
The Kontrol S8 feels very solid just like any other hardware unit of NI. Solid knobs and easy to use faders. The pads feel fine as well. Not too sensitive or insensitive but fairly balanced for a hardware unit of this price range. Pretty sturdy altogether and relatively heavy. So carrying it around takes you back when you had to carry a heavy bag of vinyl.
The S8 has numerous inputs and outputs. The main out (RCA and XLR), booth out (dual 1/4″ trs), four stereo RCA inputs (normal and phono), ground, XLR mic and 1/4″ trs mic inputs, midi in/out, USB input. Unfortunally there is no midi hub function though. Kensington safety slot, power input and switch.
The Kontrol S8 offers a wide range of possibilities which will make the adept Traktor 2 users scratch their heads. The most basic functionalities not so much but when you dive deeper you will have to look quite a bit to find the things you want to use or change. Advisable is to read the manual (really) or watch one of the NI videos like https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfDQmbKskqg. They are very informative and will be a great start to learn to use this unit.
The S8 is a four decks controller and has buttons to switch fast between the decks. And when you do the displays will update to the selected deck.
How does this work exactly?
For every side you have a full deck which consists of: effects, display, faders for the remix decks, eight performance pads with underneath a touch strip (similar to the Kontrol X1 Mk2) and the transport buttons. At the side of both decks are several controller buttons and knobs. Like a scroll knob for scrolling through play lists, tracks or files and selecting them for the current selected deck. Capture and edit buttons for remix slots. Next to the performance pads are 4 buttons to select the mode of the performance pads: Hot cue, loop, freeze (just like the Traktor apps) and remix. The pads show which mode is activated by changing the colors. Left are the Flux (slip mode) and deck buttons.
As a side note to the touch strips. These are not assignable to the effects like the X1 Mk2. (This may be a software issue that will be solved in the future). For the remix decks are eight pads unlike the sixteen for the Kontrol F1.
Like said before the displays of the S8 are very clear. In combination with the software they show relevant information so the user has a good overview. Like waveforms or remix sets. The effects settings are easy to read at a glance. This way you don’t have to look as much on the screens and are able to look up and interact with the audience. So you cannot pretend you are mixing while reading your email or facebook page.
Scrolling through your playlist and loading tracks is very intuitive. Or change some settings on the spot and the best thing to manage your grid settings. We did run into a snag because the displays showed something different than the computer display. We do hope this is a bug and that will be sorted out in the near future.
The display uses color schemes to inform users. Downside is that waveforms are shown in blue and you can’t change the settings to ultraviolet or spectrum to estimate the dynamics of the song.
I have to admit that during the test we thought the displays are a bit too small to show all information we would like to see. To that regard you have to organize the settings to show the most important information you would like to see. When you sort your playlist for key, genre or artist it was easier to watch the computer display and use the keyboard because that is still the best way we found.
The S8 has a 4-channel mixer. Advantage is that you can include several CDJs or vinyl decks to your mix. And for each channel you can use the Traktor scratch modus. You even can use the Pioneer PLX-1000 (http://www.dj2dj.nl/blog/pioneer-plx-1000-dj2dj-review/) in combination with Traktor time code vinyl and use jog wheels! You even can use two CDJs in HID (http://www.dj2dj.nl/blog/traktor-update-advanced-hid-voor-de-cdj-2000-en-cdj-900/) modus as deck C and D of the S8. With that kind of setup you can go places.
Every channel has its own filter which you can turn off as well. Advantage is that during mixing you don’t forget the filter and your filtered channel is filtering the low-end. Cue for every channel and two effects for every channel. In the middle you have the cue and cue volume controls and directly above the booth, master controls and the tempo controls. The latter you can use to change the tempo in small steps or when keeping pressed to change the tempo per bpm. We do wonder if this works well when mixing with an additional analog deck but hopefully they come up with an software improvement for this.
As expected the S8 sounds very good. NI also makes soundcards so the know a thing or two about sound. When you use the controller as standalone mixer it sounds as expected even when you use the direct thru modus for vinyl.
As expected the S8 and Traktor 2 are made for each other and it shows. The controller will enable you to control every aspect of Traktor including software settings. We did have some stability issues where the software would freeze. We do hope these issues will be solved in future updates.
Another thing is that we suspect the hardware unit is capable of controlling way more than Traktor 2. We do hope that Traktor 3 is not far from release.
+Good quality displays
+Four deck control
+Fully integrated mixer
+Nearly everything of the software is adjustable with the controller
-Display too small for all information
-Editing beat grids
Is the S8 really ‘The future of DJing’? We think that NI is getting there but A. software needs some work and B. it would be nice to leave your laptop closed. But do you want that? Personally I prefer to use the laptop display to have an overview of all settings and details especially for searching tracks. Is controller interesting enough for all DJs? I don’t so. The controller is an extension of the software and focused on remix decks. If you are an avid Traktor user and like to use remix decks you should check this S8 for sure. Offering a lot of hands-on control in combination with the displays for the remix sets is an excellent combination.
Kontrol S8, MSRP Ä1199