To that end, today we're taking a quick look at Native Instrument's Kontrol X1 -- the first official, dedicated controller for its Traktor series of apps, one of the world's most widely-used DJ suites.
Handling the X1, you'll notice that this might not be up to the same level of over-engineering as your average club mixer, but it probably doesn't have to be -- it's an incredibly simple device with a bunch of lit buttons and knobs, that's it. That said, it's still solidly-constructed plastic that's neither too heavy nor too light, and we'd be comfortable throwing it around a bit without fearing that we're going to pull it out of our bag in three pieces. And really, the X1 is still over-engineered where it has to be: both the buttons and knobs have a great, positive feel to them without a hint of wiggle or flimsiness. The absolute knobs in the FX sections glide smoothly, and the relative knobs down below have firm, solid detents that ensure you're not going to change a track or loop position unless you absolutely mean to.
In our case, we used the X1 paired with a full Stanton SCS.1 rig, consisting of an SCS.1m mixer and SCS.1d digital turntable. Even though this is a pretty unusual setup and probably not one of the use cases NI considered, we found that it shined here -- the device takes several critical functions that would require two or three hand movements on the SCS.1 (changing loop size, for instance) and puts them right in your face. Mission accomplished: we never had to touch the machine once over the course of an hour mix, whereas we probably would've messed with the machine several times rather than going through the motions on the Stanton gear. It's not that there's anything wrong with the SCS.1, it just wasn't designed specifically with Traktor in mind -- it's a generic MIDI controller. NI's willingness to create a device specifically for user with Traktor makes it a winner here (it can be used as a generic controller too, coincidentally, but you probably wouldn't want to). And if you're a four-deck kind of guy, Traktor will happy accept two X1s plugged in side-by-side.
It's good, and we certainly found it helpful, but the X1's not perfect. The FX knobs are absolute, for instance, so you can't change effects in real time without running into some drama. We would've preferred that the text be painted on with luminescent ink (though it may glow with club blacklighting), and even though it's not designed to replace your mixer, we would've liked at least one assignable fader -- slapping even a single one on there would've made it way easier to DJ in a pinch with the X1 alone. Finally, the case -- which doubles as a stand to raise the X1 to the same height as standard mixers -- is a $40 accessory, and frankly, it's important enough so that it should've been included. That said, for the $200 NI's charging, this could very well be a must-have accessory for the average Traktor musician running live performances.