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The Traktor Kontrol S5 has been around for a while, but still is a very relevant DJ controller for Native Instruments. It might be the best choice if you are planning to go the Traktor Pro route in 2017.
The Kontrol S5 follows the tradition of build quality and sturdiness of all Native Instruments controllers. the performance pads are a joy to use, very responsive to touch. The built-in screen is gorgeous, just as good as the one on the S8 or the D2.
This is, however, not a traditional DJ controller, not by a long shot. First and foremost, there are no jog wheels at all, and there is no pitch fader. Instead, the pitch can be adjusted using a combination of buttons and knobs, and the touch strip serves as jog wheel replacement, even for scratching.
This means, ultimately, that the Kontrol S5 is not meant to be used as a traditional DJ controller emulating a mixer and two turntables. The default way of working with the S5 is to sync up decks and lock them into a master tempo. If you really go all out on the S5 and Traktor Pro, you can have remix decks running together with Stems, samples, and regular tracks, and there is no way, at least for a human, to keep all that synced up by ear.
So before you continue reading this review: If you are not into any of this, and traditional DJing is your thing, make sure you are ready for a paradigm shift if you decide to go for the S5. The learning curve will be steep, and it will require a change of approach to Djing.
If you are OK with the above, please continue reading 🙂
Too much text for you to go through? Check out our Traktor S5 video review below!
Features & functionalities
Let’s dive further into the functionalities of the Traktor Kontrol S5.
The biggest attraction of the Kontrol S5 is the amazing screens. The pictures or video cannot really do them justice. They are crisp, clear and very high resolution. They are, hands down, the best screens on a DJ controller, maybe only matched by those on the Pioneer DJ DDJ-RZX.
There are different buttons on the screen that allow changing different settings, including key, tempo, waveform zoom… The Kontrol S5 doesn’t have a pitch fader, so the only way to change the pitch is by using a combination of buttons (one of the deck buttons + the BROWSE encoder). This feels much less natural than a pitch fader, but it does work well.
The waveform is not a full-color one, but there is enough detail there to make out the specifics of the track. It’s possible to zoom in and out of the waveform, depending on your preferences or needs.
The screens are on the Traktor S5 are very bright and clear, and make browsing tracks and viewing track information a breeze.
Browsing tracks on the S5 is very convenient due to the built-in screens. The information is clear and very readable, and you can sort tracks by TITLE, ARTIST, BPM, IMPORT DATE, #, and KEY. Of course, the screens are rather small compared to your laptop screen, but seeing the information right in front of you does make up for the lack of screen size.
The Traktor Pro effects are excellent, and controlling them with the Traktor Kontrol S5 is a fantastic experience. You see exactly which effect is activated, the wet/dry setting, how much effect is applied… It is so much easier to use effects when the information is right in front of you.
Also, the effects panel slides down at a simple touch of the effects knobs and retracts when you stop using it. Very smooth and handy, and helps to make optimal use of the available screen space.
The looping section really benefits from the screen. I really liked the looping section on the Traktor Kontrol S4, using a loop encoder and a small LCD to indicate the size of the selected loop.
On the Kontrol S5, there is a loop encoder as well, but additionally, all the information regarding the selected is shown clearly on the screen, and this really helps, once again, to focus on DJing.
Also, note that a smaller version of the full waveform remains visible at any point on the bottom of the screen, so it’s easy to check where you are in the track any given time.
Performance pads & Stems
The performance pads of the S5 are very well made and very responsive to the touch, frankly one of the best I have ever used. This is key, as they fulfill a lot of functions. It misses the individual faders and knobs of the S8, but it still manages to fulfill most of the functions the S8 has.
The S8, being a much larger (and more expensive) controller, has 4 individual faders per channel, complemented with 4 knobs, that are perfect when using remix decks and Stems.
The S5 doesn’t have all that, but it’s still possible to adjust individual volumes and apply individual effects to different parts of a remix deck or a stem track. This is done by using the browse or the loop encoder in combination with the pads. To see how this is done, check out the video further down this review.
The pads on the Traktor Kontrol S5 have different modes. First of all, they can simply call up your hot cues. Secondly, it controls remix decks. The third function it can be set to is freeze mode: if you are familiar with slicer in Serato DJ, then you understand freeze. It basically takes a portion of a track and chops it up in parts (that can be configured in length). It’s possible then to trigger those individual slices with the performance pads. Finally, the pads can be set to flux mode: it will ensure that no matter what you do (loops, loops..) the track will continue to play underneath, so it never skips a beat.
The performance pads on the Traktor S5 work very differently than those on Serato DJ or Rekordbox DJ controllers. Be aware of that if you are switching.
Prominent in the transport section is the touch strip. The touch strip serves as a replacement for the jog wheel, and while it’s impossible to emulate all the subtleties of spinning with jog wheels (or with turntables) on a touch strip, but the one on the S5 is pretty good. It’s very sensible and responsive to subtle moves, and there is even a function in Traktor Pro that allows for scratching on it (check out the video below for an example).
This is probably, next to the non-existent pitch fader, the biggest compromise on the S5 when it comes to “traditional” DJing, and definitely a breaking point for many DJ’s. If, however, you are prepared to take the plunge and your track collection is perfectly beat gridded, the S5 will do the job in a fantastic way. Getting rid of the jog wheels allowed Native Instruments to include screens and performance pads while still keeping the S5 compact, and that makes it a very performant solution in situations where gear space is critical, such as a small DJ booth.
As different the decks are compared to the ones on more traditional DJ controllers, the Kontrol S5’s mixer feels very familiar. 4 channels, gain control per channel, 3 band EQ’s, high-quality faders… The filter knob has an on/off switch (nice), and per channel, you can assign any of the two available FX decks.
Despite the fact there are 4 channels here, the mixer is not an independent hardware mixer like the one on the S8. This is unfortunate in the sense that for many, the S5 is the rightful successor to the S4: almost same format, comparable pricing (at the time of launch) and similarities in the layout. Except, the S4mk2 has a hardware mixer and thus support Traktor Scratch DVS and has inputs for external media sources.
Inputs & Outputs
We already covered the fact the S5 doesn’t have channel inputs, and that is a shame, but it does have an AUX input. The bad news is that it’s rooted through the software so you will need to give up 1 of your Traktor Pro channels to use it, but there is a way to root it directly through the master output, in the case of emergencies. See the video below for a demo.
Apart from that, the S4 has XLR and RCA master out, and a TRS booth out, which is comprehensive enough for club/mobile DJ use.
Let there be no mistake: The S5 has aged very, very well since its launch back in September 2015, and is at this moment one of the best ways to control Traktor Pro.
One missing feature is the support for the step sequencer launched with Traktor Pro 2.11 back in 2016. Hopefully, Native Instrument will bring that soon to the S5 as well.
Apart from that, the S5 can do most of the tricks the S8 can do (if we forget the lack of hardware mixer), for a more competitive price and in a more compact format.
Even with Native Instruments has slowed the development of their DJ gear & software line in favor of their production oriented line of equipment (think Maschine and Komplete), Traktor Pro is still huge and used by countless top DJs.
If you play predominantly electronic music and are excited to get creative with loops, samples, remix decks and stems, the Traktor Pro S5 is frankly a really good choice. You can’t connect turntables to it and you will have to do without pitch faders and jog wheels, but in return, you have two fantastic high-resolution screens right in front of you, a flawless integration between hardware & software and production like tools at your disposal that we could only dream of a few years ago.
The S5 is for DJ’s that can live without jog wheels and pitch faders, and play predominantly electronic music and are willing to integrate sync into their workflow.
*Prices Ranges in USD: 300:$ 300-500:$$ 500-1000:$$$ 1000-2000:$$$$ 2000+:$$$$$