Friday, March 16, 2012

OFFICIAL: Traktor Kontrol F1 and Pro V2.5

Finally it's here - the much teased, misnamed and misunderstood Traktor Kontrol F1. This is a time when a new workflow demands new hardware, as well as new software to deal with it. So this is as much about the new Remix decks workflow as it is the accompanying hardware.

Firstly, watch this video of Shiftee being somewhat hyped by Greg Nice:

And read the press release:

Native Instruments Announces TRAKTOR KONTROL F1 and TRAKTOR PRO 2.5

New hardware controller with multi-colored LED pads to access the new Remix DecksTM in TRAKTOR PRO 2.5 software

Berlin, March 14th, 2012 – Native Instruments today announced TRAKTOR KONTROL F1, a pad-based, USB-powered hardware controller built to control the advanced Remix DecksTM in the included TRAKTOR PRO 2.5 software. TRAKTOR KONTROL F1 provides 16 multi-colored, touch-sensitive LED pads, an advanced global control section as well as an ergonomic mixer section including four volume faders and dedicated filter knobs. Designed specifically for DJing, the KONTROL F1 offers a DJ-centric workflow for launching clips in an intuitive way, allowing users to switch between up to 64 tracks, loops and one-shot samples on each deck.

TRAKTOR KONTROL F1 includes the full version of the TRAKTOR PRO 2.5 software, also available as a free update to all users of the TRAKTOR 2 generation. Version 2.5 introduces the innovative Remix DecksTM, giving access to a powerful loop suite made up of 64 slots, each able to hold loops, one-shot samples or even tracks. DJs can control up to four Remix Decks at once and save their work as an entire Remix Set with its respective beat grids, BPM and key information in a new file format that can be comfortably imported into a track deck via TRAKTOR’s browser.

TRAKTOR KONTROL F1 was designed specifically to control the Remix DecksTM and provides full and tactile control over the new feature, benefiting from seamless bi-directional software-hardware integration and offering full visual feedback through the multi-colored LED pads. Advanced parameters such as Punch mode and FX assignment can also be comfortably changed from the KONTROL F1 and four smaller pads at the bottom of the matrix stop or mute a group of samples. Controlling Sync, Quantize, 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, thus offering 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 was designed to integrate perfectly into any TRAKTOR DJ setup. With the same form-factor as TRAKTOR KONTROL X1, KONTROL F1 fits neatly alongside standard DJ mixers and the all-in- one DJ systems TRAKTOR KONTROL S4 and S2. The TRAKTOR Bag provides reliable protection for the KONTROL F1 during transport, and also doubles as a solid stand, elevating the KONTROL F1 to standard mixer and turntable height.
Pricing and availability
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.

Yep - just like you, I'm impressed, but utterly confused by what I've just seen. If I understand correctly, Native have just shoehorned a more production based workflow into a DJ product. They haven't bridged one software to another, but have approached the idea of loops and samples in a fundamentally different way, one that is very performance based, including scratching.

 First observation - why didn't they just use Maschine? Well strictly from an operational point of view, Maschine cannot display the different colours, which would make this rather complex workflow impossible. Hence new hardware that is actually easier to transport and tailored specifically for the workflow.

So you've got 4 decks, each with a filter knob and volume fader - that much is easy. Beyond that, it's really hard to decipher exactly what Shiftee is doing bar banging a lot of buttons. So let's pull apart the press release to try and make some sense.

It seems that what you have is a 4 x 4 block of decks, each with 4 slots for loops, samples or whole tracks. But then the same buttons have secondary functions to enable keylock, control FX, monitor the decks and enable "punch mode". Punch mode allows you to switch to different loops in one group instantly and still stay on beat.

And it seems that it's not just about working with prepared groups - you can also "capture" live performances, drop them into slots and use them in exactly the same way. And when you throw DVS control into the equation, what you get is a high powerful but complex workflow.

I was lucky enough to see Shiftee perform with the Kontrol F1 at NI's offices in LA this year. I was chatting with various NI people afterwards and since then too, and explained that while the new Remix decks workflow is pretty cool, it is also equally pretty complex and needs a lot of explanation - more explanation that a slick demo video with holographic overlays affords.

So hopefully more tutorial based PR will appear, and also less scratchy but more controllerist based demos too. I think I'm only going to understand it fully when I get a blank canvas setup in front of me and start to work through the features myself. 

Whatever happens, NI appear to have taken a lot of time to think through how DJs are wanting to work. And the end result appear to be not gluing existing applications together, but incorporating the feature where they're supposed to be. Words cannot express the number of facepalms I did when people were convinced that the Kontrol F1 was designed to run with the new Bitwig software, based on little more than bright colours and being based in Berlin.

That said, the speech that NI boss Daniel Haver gave us all in LA indicated that NI's 3 product groups will be working much better together in the future. As I keep saying, the lines between styles and genres are blurring. So expect to see more interoperability between Traktor, Komplete and Maschine in the future.

It'll be interesting to see how Traktor's competitors react to this. Serato and Ableton's Bridge hasn't exactly set the world on fire. Bitwig shows some promise but nothing in the way of links to DJ apps. The One shows some movement towards production workflows. But the one to keep an eye on is Virtual DJ 8. It's a ground up rebuild and likely to feature Remix Deck style features. Seems that deck A to deck B just got a lot more interesting.

Ultimately, I think this looks great - really great - but needs some more explanation first for us to really get our heads around the features and possibilities.

Find out more about Remix Decks here, and about the F1 hardware here.

For the hard of reading, the F1 complete with Traktor Pro 2.5 will be available May 30th for $297/€249. And all users of Traktor Pro in its various forms will get a free upgrade. Well that's one common internet moanfest avoided right there.