Native Instruments offers some of the best-selling models of DJ controllers on the market. Not only are their controllers considered top of the line in terms of functionality, but they’re also incredibly durable to boot. Their introduction of the Traktor Kontrol S8 has elevated them to a whole new level, with a controller that clearly includes some of the most well-loved features from past Native Instruments controllers, but a look and feel that’s all its own.
Native Instruments continues to offer the very best in DJ controller technology by creating equipment that has the user’s experience in mind. While the price is steep, the ability to clearly view all the precious track data and having total control over the entire process is well worth it. Read on to learn more about this best-selling DJ controller.
Overview and Features
If you’re a fan of everything Native Instruments has to offer, including their popular past models of DJ controllers, then you’re in for a real treat with the S8.
Like many other pro-quality DJ controllers on the market, this model comes with its own dedicated DJ software program, Traktor Scratch Pro 2. Aside from saving you some serious cash on software, this controller has a lot to offer the full-time DJ who is in need of a reliable controller with mixing capabilities.
Many DJs feel that the Kontrol S8 is one of Native Instrument’s best controllers to date. It offers a better build quality compared to controllers produced by this manufacturer in the past and has a nice weight to it, not to mention large buttons and pads and very smooth faders. The entire top of the controller also features a brushed metal finish, which is a huge upgrade compared to the glossy plates used on past models.
Of course, there are several controls that are very familiar, yet there are also new additions that DJs will definitely appreciate. This model has eight RGB pads per deck that control a number of functions such as:
- Beat jumps
- Hot cues
- Remix decks
The controller’s pads are large and have a nice tactile feel to them, however, they’re click style pads. The click will help to confirm when a pad has been triggered. However, it can take some getting used to for finger drumming. Most DJ prefer using MIDI Fighter’s arcade buttons or MPC style drum pads over these click style pads, but once you get used to them, you’ll appreciate their size, how they feel, and that audible click.
If you’ve ever used a Native Instruments controller before then you’ll recognize the touch strip on this model. The touch strip allows the user to slide their finger across the strip in order to pitch bend a song while pressing shift allows the user to scrub an entire track quickly. Above the touch strips, you’ll find LED lights, which indicate the track’s phase. When the shift button is held the LEDs also indicate the track’s position. A DJ will be able to scratch when a track is paused, however, for the serious scratcher a turntable will be the best option.
Unfortunately, the touch strips are missing some functionality, such as the touch effects control and touch loop rolls. Generally speaking, since each of the touch strips is dedicated to a specific deck, they’re very easy to use.
A Much Larger Design
While this model is by far the most expensive DJ controller ever produced by Native Instruments, it’s also the biggest. It’s much larger than past models both in width and depth, however, it is actually much lighter than it looks. Yet, at the same time, this isn’t a controller that you can easily bring to a club without first checking out the DJ booth to ensure there’s enough room to accommodate this massive model. Keep in mind, once you’ve cleared some space for the controller, you’re still going to need room for other gear, including a laptop. However, this controller is clearly a top of the line model that’s very well built. The knob and pad quality will be familiar to the pros who are used to using only the best in DJ equipment.
Equipped with backlit controls, high-resolution displays, LED light touch strips, this controller really has a pro look to it that will complement any club environment. The lights also make it much easier to navigate the controls in low light conditions.
This model is designed around a four-channel mixer that can control four software channels or it can work as a standalone analog mixer. It can also work as any combination of the two. This is definitely a multitasking controller and one that you can rely on for putting together sets, mixing new tracks, and practicing techniques. Unfortunately, it’s not a controller that can accommodate scratching.
Touch Sensitive Knobs
More and more modern controllers are coming loaded with these knobs. The majority of the functionality has been placed on the EQ knobs for faster effects triggers. On this model, the touch-sensitive knobs serve an entirely different purpose. The knobs will cause the parameters to appear on the screen, which will help to keep the screen clean, preventing clutter from parameters for effects that are not currently in use.
This model comes loaded with a four-channel standalone mixer, which allows the user to connect up to four turntables or CDJs to switchable phono and line inputs located on the back. The DJ will also be able to mix without the help of DJing software. Another popular feature on the mixer is the filters, which now come with on and off switches. This makes it much easier to do filter sweeps or instantly remove a filter. The mixer’s faders are nice and smooth. Each fader has a reverse slide position. The crossfader has a great loose feel that makes it perfect for rapid cuts. You’ll also notice an adjustable crossfader curve which is perfect for scratching.
Last of all, the controller has XLR and RCA master outputs, in addition to a dedicated booth output.
This controller comes with a few new features that every DJ will appreciate. The first is the freeze mode which lets the user quickly chip a section of a track into eight temporary slices. This mode is definitely a stand out feature. No other controller offers a fully integrated freeze mode complete with eight slices. Additionally, the display screen will show the user the slice that’s playing. This feature makes it fun and easy to slice up a song and make multi-part juggles.
You’ll also find a couple of new controls for the remix deck slots; the effects pitch and send adjustment. Effects send will allow the DJ to precisely control the dry and wet signal of the FX per remix slot. This allows for a subtle FX application which is perfect for electronic music. The pitch adjustment is perfect for such electronic parts as rides and hi-hats.
The screens are one of the best things about this controller. Their clarity almost gets rid of the need to refer to your PC screen for info. The displays can provide such info as:
- Loop size
- Remix deck controls
- FX parameters
- Zoomable waveforms
- Scrolling waveforms
- Track collection
Overall, remix decks are a great concept, but one of the biggest challenges you’ll run into with them is trying to recall what’s loaded into each remix cell. In the past, the DJ would have to color code their cells. But with this model, you can switch to a remix deck and the display screen will show a grid of the remix with the wave, name, and title for each of the remix cells. The user will get important info regarding track decks, including key, beats per minute, title, artist, full track stripe, and scrolling waveform. However, the user will not have the ability to change where the details are displayed on the screen or certain deck details. The screen’s graphics are clearly visible and large.
The ability to view the track collection is another big benefit of the screens. The screen will provide the DJ with full access to their entire track collection including:
- Folder trees
- Remix sets
The DJ will be able to see the key, beats per minute, title, and artist when they scroll through their track collection.
For some DJs, with just a glance it’s easy to see that some common controls are missing, such as the jog wheels. However, these were sacrificed in order to make space for the remix deck faders and the screens. For many, the touch strips are a great substitute for jog wheels, however, you can’t scratch with them.
There are also no tempo or pitch faders. Instead, you’ll need to change the tempo for each deck using the screen encoder. There’s also a tempo knob located directly in the center of the controllers. This knob also operates the master clock, with the idea that all decks will sync to the master clock, then the tempo knob can be used to adjust it as needed.
Another thing you may notice is that the controller cannot be remapped, which can be a disappointment for the DJ that wants to be able to customize their controller. Unfortunately, the addition of the screens made it impossible to support custom workflows.
If you love your jog wheels and have no need for the remix deck control because you play more traditional sets that involve mixing a wider range of tempos, then you’ll be disappointed with this type of setup. For some, the features will simply be overkill.
But if you’re a DJ that’s looking for a high-quality controller that gives you ultimate control over all of the functions, then this model is definitely for you. However, some potential buyers may be turned off by the controller’s size and weight, or the hefty price tag.
Does the Lack of Jog Wheels Make this Controller More Difficult to Use?
If you’re an experienced DJ and you’re used to controllers that have jog wheels, then the lack thereof can make it difficult to adjust to mixing and cueing without them, in which case, I recommend the Numark Mixtrack Platinum 4-channel DJ Controller With with Jog Wheel Display for Serato. However, the beginner who is just starting out as a DJ will appreciate the built-in screen display that makes it much easier to keep track of a wide range of track data.
To learn more about traditional and new tech DJ controllers, you can click here to read by DJ controller buyer’s guide.
Can You Mix with this Controller?
You can! This versatile DJ controller allows you to mix, cue, and create your own unique tracks using the included software program. Many controllers don’t offer this type of capability, which is one of the reasons this model is such a big hit in the DJ scene. To learn more about controllers, mixers, and controllers with mixing capabilities, click here to read my article on What is a DJ controller vs a mixer?