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Native Instruments launched its Traktor Kontrol S4 DJ controller in 2013, and it has been one of the favorite weapons of DJs ever since. With all its innovative effects, this 4-deck console became a symbol for a solid DJ setup.
In this article, I will recommend to you what I believe is the best setup for Traktor Kontrol S4. I’m going to recommend the best MIDI controller that I believe would be a good fit, some speakers to get the best audio output, DJ software, and even a pair of headphones in the end.
First off, let’s take a closer look into the S4 DJ controller, and then gradually move on to completing the perfect setup. Now, if you’re old-school and want to get right to the point, click on the heading that suits your needs right away!
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4 (Overview)
In this section, I’ll be writing about the Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3 version, which I grew fond of in the last couple of years. If you’re currently an owner of the MK2, don’t worry, because when it comes to the best S4 DJ setup, it won’t make any difference.
The Traktor S4 DJ controller has four channels, meaning that you can play four tracks simultaneously. It has a USB input so that’s all you need to do is hook it up with your laptop. It’s made to go hand-in-hand with the Traktor Pro 3 software, which I’ll review later in the article.
The interface of the Traktor S4 MK3 is just marvelous. It comprises long pitch faders and compact Play and Cue buttons. Each channel has its own three EQ knobs, so you can adjust the three frequency levels – low, mids, and highs.
Each deck has its own display as well, which is mega cool. Additionally, there are eight performance pads per deck. These can control hot cues, stems, or samples.
Haptic Drive System
Native Instruments really invested time and effort into improving the jog wheels in the “new” DJ controller, making them much bigger than those on the MK2 model. But most importantly, they introduced a new high-torqued motorized system called Haptic Drive.
This smart system is so smart that it knows how and where you’re touching the jog wheels. Slowing the platter down, stopping it completely, or using it to scratch feels very intuitive. This innovation in particular has been the biggest selling point for Native Instruments.
This is quite useful on the Traktor Kontrol DJ controller because you have four decks, i.e. four tracks. The edges of the jog wheels are outlined by blue LED lights which will give you a clear visual of your song’s position.
When you switch to channels C or D, the light will turn orange, so you won’t get confused about which track is playing on which deck.
Another cool thing about the jogwheels is the haptic feedback. With this feature, you can trigger cue points and get feedback from them only by scrolling over the jog wheels. This will save you a lot of time and energy, and you’ll be able to activate an effect quickly and easily.
Thanks to the beat grid mode, adjusting beat tempo is much easier with the Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3. There is a grid button that you can hold down and manually adjust the speed of the song by directly manipulating the jogwheels.
Cue points have been “made interesting” in the Traktor controller. You can save a moment of a song just by hitting an empty performance pad. These get automatically saved in the system so you can trigger them any time you want. Every time you load a track, the cue points will appear.
To delete the hot cues, you just hold the shift button and press the pad that had the cue point saved.
One of the most important things they never teach you is how to connect your Traktor DJ controller to other devices. In this case, you can choose whether you want to use an RCA or XLR audio output for the master channel.
At the same time, there is a new stereo booth output that you can take advantage of. Another cool thing is the USB slot that you can use to hook up even more DJ gear, or simply use it to… well, charge your phone.
Jokes aside, that can be quite useful if you’re streaming your DJ set, so you can see how it looks to the viewers.
This has been a short overview of the Traktor Kontrol S4 MK3 DJ controller. Of course, I could go on and on writing about this DJ controller, but it’s time to slowly move on to our next task, and prepare the terrain to configure the best setup for your Traktor DJ controller.
Traktor Pro 3 DJ Software
Whether you’re going to use the Traktor controller solely with DJ software, or hook it up to a DVS (Digital Vinyl System) to introduce control vinyl, the Traktor Pro 3 DJ software is the way to go. This software was specifically designed to work together with the hardware, so stick to it.
This section is perfect for those that have just installed the Traktor Pro 3 and want some introduction as well as tips and tricks on how to work it. I won’t be bothering you with the installation process, but will rather focus on how to use the cool features this DJ software has to offer.
The only information you need regarding setup is to select the display layout. Since you’ll be using a 4-deck Traktor controller, you’ll choose 4 decks – obviously.
Just like you probably thought, after you open Traktor Pro 3, you’ll see the two decks divided by the mixer section in the middle. On the top of the screen, you’ll spot the master level output meter, as well as the recording status of Traktor at that moment.
The library is very convenient in the Traktor Pro 3 DJ software. You can import music directly from your laptop, or if you wanted, you could connect it with your iTunes collection and mix the songs you have there.
If you create a playlist in the software, you could just drag and drop as many tracks you like into the newly created crate.
The most important feature that you’ll be using in Traktor Pro is the analyze button which will tell you the tempo, pitch, or the key the track is in. You can sort your songs by key, speed, or by artist and genre.
Loops & Cues
One of the coolest features in Traktor Pro are the loops and hot cues. Once you’ve launched the loop effect, it will go on forever, until you turn it off with a simple press of a button. However, to trigger some cues, you’ll have to change the display layout to advanced.
“Hot cueing” and “looping” are made much easier in Traktor Pro thanks to the flux mode. DJs use the flux mode because it allows you to trigger your favorite parts of a track without losing the phrasing.
In other words, this is a technique that makes it easier for you to follow up on the track’s position. Without it, your track would be way ahead after you cut the loop effect. This way, it will resume playing in its original position.
Another essential for a DJ is the possibility to sync tracks. Surely, you know that in order to create a nice mix, your songs need to overlap so you don’t get the so-called “horse track effect”, where one beat runs ahead of the other.
The easiest way to do this is to hit the sync button which you will find right above the waveforms in your decks. However, I always advise entry-level DJs to try and beatmatch by ear, using the pitch faders and adjust the tempos until the beats overlap.
Traktor Pro 3 DJ software costs $99 to download, with more potential in-app purchases.
Optional Traktor S4 Setups
This could be the moment you were waiting for. In this section, we’ll take a peek into the additional devices that you could hook up to your Traktor controller. The products I’ll give you here are of top-quality and go perfectly with the DJ controller in question.
Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol F1
The Traktor Kontrol F1 is one of my favorite add-onn controllers for the S4 setup. It offers a plethora of additional functions such as remix decks and a step sequencer, which significantly contribute to the sound quality of your mix, as well as to your performance.
A step sequencer is a MIDI-based feature that can take a sound or a note from your track and give it a different value. It’s mostly used by music producers to create tunes using a MIDI controller.
Although many DJs use the F1 as their sole controller, I choose to see it as an addition to the S4. At the end of the day, that is its purpose – to sit next to a controller or DJ mixer.
The main purpose of the F1 is to assist you while working on the remix decks on your Traktor DJ controller. Just to clarify it a bit more, the remix decks allow you to load more audio files into one deck. Still don’t get it? Don’t worry.
You know how “normally” you load one track into one deck, and another one in another deck? Well, the remix decks feature will let you load multiple samples, cue points, or even more songs in one deck, which will be separated into more cells. You can trigger each audio individually without changing the deck.
The remix decks are important because they go perfectly together. Each remix deck has four slots, and these slots correspond to the faders and filters that you will find on the top of the F1 controller.
At the same time, if you want to start mixing stems in Traktor Kontrol, the F1 is the perfect way to do that. In case you’re not familiar with the term, stems are the audio files that you get when you combine (mix) more sounds together.
Note that you can only control one remix deck at a time. In other words, you cannot use all of the remix decks simultaneously with the F1. This add-on controller is also very popular with musicians as well as in music production, and for those creating their own songs on the fly.
I’ll move on with effects, or the 16 performance pads that you’ll be using to trigger all the effects you planned for your DJ mix.
Audio Kontrol 1
If you’re using your Traktor Kontrol with a DVS, to play songs directly from your laptop and manipulate them with real vinyl, you’ll need an audio interface. For that, I strongly recommend the Audio Kontrol 1 by Native instruments.
This audio interface is compatible with all iOS and Windows operating systems. You can connect it easily via USB cable. I must say that the sound quality it provides is superb thanks to the USB 2.0 slot that supports 480 Mbps transfer speed.
I’m sure that some of you just want to spin some vinyl but still use the Traktor Pro and their Traktor Kontrol S4. This is made possible thanks to the DVS system that allows you to use timecode vinyl and manipulate all of the songs with a single record.
You could easily lose the CDJs and hook up some turntables to the DJ mixer. Most DJs use the Audio Technica 1200 with Traktor, including myself. In this chapter, I will explain to you how to connect everything, and get your favorite DJ setup.
Connect The Cables
First of all, you need to take your Traktor Kontrol S4 and look at its back side. See where the jacks are, recognize your ins and outs, and figure out where to plug in everything. Don’t panic just yet, we’ll soon get to that part.
If you take a look at the back of your Native Instruments Traktor controller, on the left-hand side you have your outputs, which you will connect to your speakers in order to transmit sound. You will find the four outs under “main out”.
Next to it, you have another set of jacks, where you need to plug in one of your turntables, as well as set everything up so the system can recognize it. To do so, take a look at the line and phono switch, and select phono, since you’re using turntables. The line is basically for CDJs.
Of course, the gain knobs should always be down. You do the same thing with the other ins to hook up the second turntable. So select phono, not line, and pull down the gain knob. On the far right, there are two RCA inputs that you can use to hook up a mic or another device if you have one.
Open Traktor Pro
Next, you need to run Traktor Pro on your laptop and set up everything to get it going. First, go to preferences, where you have to select your inputs. At the top of the dropdown menu, you have the audio setup, which is the heart of the software.
There, you choose input routing, since you are “inputting” from the turntables into the Traktor DJ controller. You have to select the same input for decks A and C, which represent your left turntable, and then for decks B and D. Now, you have your 4 deck setup!
If you’re solely using Traktor Kontrol S4 without an external DJ mixer as I do, go and select internal in mixing mode. Naturally, you select the left and right monitors to tell Traktor Pro where to send the sound.
Since the main reason you’re using the Traktor Kontrol S4 controller are the four decks, you want to make sure that they’ll show on the Traktor Pro display layout. To do so, go to deck layout and tick the box that says decks C and D.
The next thing you have to do is go to the mixer section in the menu and tick the boxes that say EQ fader and crossfader.
Set The Preferences
Finally, to have the turntables act like ones, you have to go to the decks’ layout. There, you will have decks A and B marked as track decks, while C and D should be marked as live inputs. We’re not getting into details, so just do it like this and it will work, I promise.
Once you’re done with the preferences, hit close, and check the results. You’ll see that everything is set, and you’re ready to spin some vinyl!
As you probably noticed throughout this article, there are plenty of possibilities to choose from when it comes to the perfect setup for your S4 Traktor DJ controller. It takes some time to absorb all the information, but if you do it correctly, you’ll be happy with the final result.
First of all, let’s sum up the best features of this Traktor controller, and see why it’s so popular with DJs these days.
I’d say the best thing and the thing people went insane over are the remix decks, which enable you to load multiple audio files in a single deck. In other words, you can have loops, samples, even plenty of tracks played simultaneously in a deck.
However, let’s remember that you’d need an F1 add-on controller on the side to be able to work the remix decks and other cool features that come with this Traktor DJ controller. With that pair, you will be able to mix with stems and remix decks, plus you’ll have a step sequencer.
Of course, let’s not forget about the haptic jogwheels introduced in the Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol S4. This feature allows you to scroll over the jogwheel and have it trigger feedback in the form of a cue point or a sample.
To hook it up with a DVS, you’ll need an additional audio interface, i.e. soundcard, as well as turntables, obviously. I recommend a pair of Audio Technica 1200s, but that’s really your choice.
To finish your setup, you just need to set the preferences in your Traktor Pro, and you’ll be good to go. You’ll be able to select songs from your laptop and manipulate them via your turntables. For the hardware, I recommend the Audio Kontrol 1.
Additionally, we learned that the software Traktor Pro is great for music production, and very popular among musicians in general.
Before You Go…
I hope that I gave you some good ideas on the gear you’ll need and how to configure your future setup. Whatever you do, take your time, there are plenty of reviews and articles about all of the products I talked about. Google away at your leisure and I’m sure you’ll end up with the perfect combo – though I divine it won’t be too different from mine.
What Software Does Traktor S4 Use?
The Traktor S4 DJ controller uses the Traktor Pro 3 software. It comes at a price of $99 which you pay for only once. Later, you might get offers for in-app purchases. However, the Traktor S4 can also be used as a standalone DJ mixer and you can combine it with other software.
How Do I Connect My Speakers To Traktor?
To connect your speakers to your Native Instruments Traktor controller, plug in one side of the cables to the RCA outputs, marked as MAIN OUT, and the other end into the speakers’ inputs. Make sure the jacks are firmly plugged in, so there are no sound interruptions when playing.
Can You Mix Vinyl With Digital?
Yes, you can. In 2001, the world of DJing invented the DVS (Digital Vinyl System) that combines the analog and digital world. With the so-called timecoded vinyl, you are able to play music from your laptop and manipulate those songs using turntables.
Can I DJ With Just A Mixer And Laptop?
Yes, you can. In fact, you can mix only with a laptop, as long as you have the software for it. Also, some mixers can be used as standalones, without the need to combine them with software.