Native Instruments Kontrol Z1: Unbeatable Precision

Native-Instruments-Kontrol-Z1

Having caught our attention with its recently released Traktor DJ app (free for a limited time), Native Instruments today released the world’s smallest professional mixer and audio interface, the Kontrol Z1.

The new controller takes the company’s new app and transforms it into a professional DJ system combining the best of a touchscreen with the unbeatable precision of a physical tactile controller.

Combined the recently released app (which is currently free on the App Store) and the Z1 controller you get a fully-fledged DJ system with headphone cueing, dedicated faders, filters, effects controls and crucially a 3-band EQ for each of the 2 channels.

Where the Z1 begins to make even more sense is the inclusion of an integrated 24-bit audio interface that dramatically improves the output sound quality to club-ready levels – all without interfering with Traktor DJs engineered touch interface.

The beauty of the Z1 is it gives users physical controls that complement the touchscreen controls on the app, all faders, filter, effects controls, and 3-band EQ are automatically mapped and synced to Traktor, giving aspiring DJs hands-on, physical control over their iPad or iPhone setups.

Kontrol-Hardware-and-Software

With the Kontrol Z1 added, Traktor DJ becomes a compelling tool for crafting credible live mixes, utilising the app’s looping, cueing and effects functionality to create professional mixes than can even be recorded within the app to be then shared with your fans and friends.

To use the Z1 with Traktor DJ does, however, require an AC adapter for power, meaning the possibility of using it anywhere are off the cards, but it has the added advantage of supplying power to your iPad or iPhone. So at least you know you won’t run out of juice mid-set.

If you want to use the Z1 as a MIDI controller and/or audio interface for other software, you can just open up Ableton Live or whatever you have, and the Z1 should be recognizable and configurable from the jump. We were able to map it to Live 8 using the software’s MIDI map function with no problem at.

The Z1’s cue section introduces channel headphone monitoring to iOS setups, allowing for track pre-listening – a first for any app-based mixing software. The inclusion of a professional 24-bit integrated soundcard delivers quality club-level sound without the need for an additional audio interface.

Traktor Kontrol Z1 is the world’s smallest professional mixer for Traktor Pro 2 too – perfect for intimate after-party gigs or any situation that requires both compact size and professional performance features.

Traktor Kontrol Z1 also comes with a license for Traktor LE 2 and connects to iPad and iPhone with the included 30-pin connectors. For those of you who have the Lightning connector devices you’ll need to pick up the Lightning adaptor which is sold separately unfortunately.

Traktor Kontrol Z1 is available at retailers worldwide and at the NI Online Shop for $199 / 199 € / 20,800 ¥. ??All Z1 customers receive a personal $50 / 50 € e-voucher, which is? delivered by email upon registration of the Z1 hardware.

Traktor Kontrol F1: Live looping and sampling on the fly

As Electronic music finally penetrates American mass culture 20 years after it reached European Shores – music hardware sales are rocketing with the advent of digital mixing.

Digital mixing isn’t anything knew as there are a plethora of programs and software solutions, which makes the laborious task of beat matching as simple as making a slice of toast.

NI-Tracktor-Kontrol

The digital vs analog argument with run and run, with purists arguing the essence of turntablism has been lost via technology company’s constant pursuit of the perfect mix. Analogue purist will always insist if you take the human element out of DJing then what’s left is just a man, or woman, stood behind a laptop essentially checking their email.

Traktor over the last 5 years have built reputation as the go-to company for digital mixing. Their software allows almost anyone to learn to mix with little or no knowledge. You can always use the synch button and never have to worry about an impending car-crash mix or use the system like a virtual DJ setup where you need to do the basics like you would with a traditional vinyl/CD setup.

Their new Kontrol F1 midi controller looks to marry the old with the new, and from the face of it is the best compromise between digital advances and the skill of a good DJ.

The new system is aimed at one particular group of DJs: Scratchers. Most modern day mixing takes place where two tracks need to be seamlessly woven together to continue the groove of a DJ set. The other school of DJing is scratching and beat juggling, which is were the origin of mixing comes from, firmly anchored within the world of hip-hop and DMC champions.

The new system allows users to mix an endless amount of loops and samples live, via two time-encoded vinyl’s, and the new F1 midi launch controller – whilst the software allows you imprint any digital sound file upon the two blank vinyl’s. Instead of mixing two full tracks, the Kontrol F1 has been firmly aimed at DJs who uses loops and samples. It comes with 16 multi-color LED pads, where you launch clips in a perfectly intuitive, DJ-centric way, switching between up to 64 tracks, loops and one-shot samples on each Remix Dec.

From the controller you can control every function of the software and digital decks. You’ll be able to controlling sync, select your preferred quantize method, sample size, reverse and other functionality. The comprehensive global section also features a push encoder to switch through the four pages of the 16 pads and offers a ‘Capture’ button, which allows DJs to grab samples from running tracks of each track deck within the TRAKTOR software, both before and during the actual DJ performance.

Each regular track deck within TRAKTOR PRO 2.5 can be switched to a Remix Deck, offers dedicated transport, sync and tempo master controls. This allows DJs to control an entire Remix Deck via Native Scratch timecode control with vinyl or CDs, or using the jog wheels of the KONTROL S4 and KONTROL S2 hardware.

TRAKTOR KONTROL F1 will be available on May 30th for a suggested retail price of $279 / 249 EUR at authorized retailers and at the NI Online Shop It will ship with a full version of TRAKTOR PRO 2.5. All owners of TRAKTOR PRO 2, TRAKTOR SCRATCH PRO, TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 and TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 will receive TRAKTOR PRO 2.5 as a free update from May 30th.

The Best of NAMM: Beats, beats and more beats

If you know your oscillators from your saw waves then you’ll probably know that last week NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) took place in California at the Anaheim Convention Center.

NAMM is the largest music product trade show in the world. It’s essentially CES for music, and this year was a record year for the organisation with 95,709 registered attendees and over 1,400 exhibitors.

We’re only going to cover a small percentage of what was on offer, from DAW (digital audio stations) to apps and synths to midi controllers.

BitWig

One of the main talking points of the show was a new DAW (digital audio station) Bitwig. It comes from some of the clever bods behind Ableton – and  the Berlin start-up is clearly very brave considering they’re setting up shop in the same town as goliaths like Native Instruments and their main rivals Ableton.

There’s no information on pricing, which would give us an idea on who they are looking to target. But, Bitwig’s main appeal is flexible editing tools and a super-fast workflow.

Included are features such as multi-track recording, clip automation, instruments and effects, time-stretching and VST support. They haven’t revealed too much yet – but you can sign up for a chance to beta test the new software later this year at Bigwig.com. Check out the video below for an introduction.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7V_t8GfH-v4

Akai-MPC

One piece of hardware that caught our attention, and probably the attention of all the world’s music producers, was the new MPC Renaissance from hardware stalwarts Akai. This substantial, vintage-esque, piece studio equipment is designed for music producers and digital DJs and offers Akai’s class-leading drum pads and more rotary controls than a steam train.

The audio circuitry is the same that you would find in a Modern MPC, but the Renaissane comes with a special party piece: vintage mode. According to Akai the software is built in-house and will work with your preferred recording suite by running in VST, AU, or RTAS mode.

It also includes a 6GB sample library for reproducing some of the classic sounds of the MPC3000 and MPC60. On the hardware side, the Renaissance is the mother of all controllers with no expense spared — there’s plenty of room for 16 backlit MPC pads, 16 Q-Link controls, and a ton of I/O, including USB, MIDI, 1/4-inch stereo, and a dedicated turntable inputs.

The Renaissance will cost you though, with a street price is expected to be around £1,000.

But, if you can’t afford that sort of money – then have a look at MCP Fly. Built for the iPad 2, it comprises a 16-pad controller that comes in laptop-style case, which also houses your Apple tablet, and an app that enables you to sequence up to four tracks simultaneously.

MPC-Fly

The concept seems pretty sound to us, though we’re keen to find out just how capable the MPC Fly is in practice.

Digital music store Beatport was at Namm and from what we saw they are getting into the hardware business. One product that caught our eye was their incredibly practical range of gigging cables.

BeatPort

While they don’t offer anything particularly new they did have couple of clever ideas. First off, their range of cables come colour-coded – something someone should have thought of ages ago. There’s no doubt these will be a god-sent for digital musicians and DJ’s, who are often struggling with low lighting levels in clubs when they’re trying to setup their equipment. Another clever touch was the use of hinged USB ports – meaning you can connect equipment securely into the smallest of spaces.

iMaschine: A pocket MPC

It’s an MPC in your pocket! If that sentence doesn’t excite you then I’m guessing you’ve not had to lug one of Akai’s legendary beatmaking devices across town in a backpack. We’ve already mentioned Native Instruments’ impressive feat of cramming years of beat-making goodness into the now classic Maschine, then squeezing things even further into the recently released and positively dinky Maschine Mikro. Taking things that one step further however, Native Instruments have jumped into the world of apps and released iMaschine, a pocket sized drum machine.

iMaschine

This isn’t the first music making app on the market, and there are hundreds already out there. However the Native Instruments name carries a lot of weight and smartphone owning beat-freaks have been keen to see what Native Instruments will bring to the table.

And what a treat. Firing the app up I instantly felt at home, with a familiar grid that I could thump a beat out onto. The pads are just about the right size for my fingers. I won’t be able to emulate Clyde Stubblefield on my phone – but I couldn’t do that on a full kit either. There’s also note repeat and velocity editing where you can do a bit more delicate finger work. In addition to the grid (where you could build a whole track if you’re that way inclined) you have two keyboards tracks where you can lay down bass lines or melodies. Track 4 is a mic where you can lay down vocals, live instruments or your own samples that you Line-In to the device. And you can mix this up any way you want so you could have 4 sample grids going at the same time if you’re feeling a little bit Kanye. There’s a mixer so you can toggle the levels and switch between the two FX channels. In about 5 minutes from opening, without looking once at the manual I had a nice little jungle riff going. The live-mode sequencer in iMASCHINE automatically detects and adjusts the loop length of any recording, allowing all four tracks to come together seamlessly. Even better, I can export tracks back to my grown up Maschine workstation and expand them from there – although unfortunately I have to do that via iTunes document sync and not Dropbox.

Your sonic arsenal can be easily extended by sampling sounds directly through the microphone on iPhone or iPod touch, by importing individual samples from a computer, and through in-app purchase of dedicated iMASCHINE sound expansions available through In-App Purchase on the App Store, with ‘Vintage Heat’, ‘Transistor Punch’, and ‘Swagg City’ already available at release.

iMaschine is out now on the App Store for £2.99 and if you like making beats then it’s worth every penny.

Native Instruments KONTROL S2: DJing on a diet

DJing is a lot lot more than “playing someone else’s records and looking cool in front of a crowd” although admittedly that is a large part of it. Continued innovation in the field has turned DJing into an artform in its own right and it’s very hard to argue with the stance that the turntable is a legitimate musical instrument in it’s own right.

KONTROL-S2

Even more exciting that rocking a crossfader and two 1210s is the possibilities opened up by digital DJing via timecode vinyl systems and hardware controllers. One of the pioneers in this area of DJing is Native Instruments, who have released a slimmed down version of their market-leading KONTROL S4 hardware (which is currently taking up way too much space on my desk). While the S4 has been making waves in the four-deck market, the S2 brings the same build quality to the ‘old-fashioned’ two deck market.

The new KONTROL S2 provides a “2+1” setup with sample decks as well as comprehensive mixing and effect features, all based on the same full-featured TRAKTOR PRO 2 software that you would find on the S4. It provides the same patent-pending high-resolution jog wheels, which have a great weight and feel to them, as well ergonomic controls for cueing, looping and effects – all with the sort of build quality people expect from Native Intruments.

There is an integrated 24bit/96 kHz sound card with dual stereo outputs, which maintains clarity even at high output volume, you you can happily ‘turn it up’ and make the crowd go wild.

In addition to the two full-featured playback decks there are versatile Sample Decks, which can add up to eight simultaneous one-shot samples or beat-synced loops to the mix, making it easier to be musically creative during your set – or even to slowly build tracks yourself.

TRAKTOR KONTROL S2 is available from authorized dealers and in the NI Online Shop for a suggested retail price of $669 / 599 EUR.

Native Instruments lower barriers to beat making with MASCHINE MIKRO

Like laying down beats? I know I do. One of the classic pieces of kit for beat freaks is an Akai MPC, a wonderful machine that “got out of the way” and let you focus on machine music. Whilst it’s perfectly possible to make lots of wild and interesting music on a range of devices, lots of it intrinsically feels like hardware or software rather than a musical instrument. Native Instrument’s MASCHINE wasn’t the first set of MPC-emulating drum pads on the market but it was the first to really nail the interface – you weren’t flicking between hardware and software as much as you were immersed in a musical instrument, creating.

MASCHINE-MIKRO

Native Instruments have really committed to the platform since its introduction a few years back and have rolled out significant software upgrades. Slowly but surely, Maschine has gone from a beat freaks dream to a fully fledged Digital Audio Workstation.

However the classic MASCHINE controller is far from cheap, so if you’re producing on a budget you’ll be delighted to hear that Native Instruments have release MASCHINE MIKRO an entry level groove production studio. MASCHINE MIKRO significantly reduces the size and cost of the standard controller as it uses on a single display and a dynamically assignable high-resolution master encoder. However the MASCHINE MIKRO retains the 4 x 4 matrix of bright orange (the backlighting is dynamic) pressure sensitive drum pads. As a long-time MASCHINE user I can attest to the build quality and responsiveness.

Almost as important, MASCHINE MIKRO is bundled with the full MASCHINE software so you don’t miss out on pattern-based live and step sequencing, VST and AU plug-in hosting, real-time audio recording, sample editing and advanced multi-effects.

The MIKRO version also contains the full 6 GB MASCHINE sound library (check out the vinyl kit), expandable with the series of MASCHINE EXPANSIONS, as well as the free KOMPLETE ELEMENTS sound collection.

MASCHINE MIKRO will be available in October for a suggested retail price of $399 / 349 EUR.

Additional information on MASCHINE MIKRO is available at
www.native-instruments.com/maschinemikro