Native Instruments Traktor Kontrol Z1 hands-on review

Our first impressions of the iOS ready DJ controller

The new Kontrol Z1 is the first DJ controller from Native Instruments designed to work natively with both the desktop version of Traktor Pro and its iOS counterpart Traktor DJ.

It features mixer controls for two channels - each with faders and controls for gain, three-band EQ and a rotary which can be switched between controlling either Traktor's filter or one of the software's effects.

The Z1 also features a built-in audio interface, and allows tracks to be cued via an independent headphone output with its own volume and blend controls.

Out the box

In terms of build quality, the Z1 feels just as sturdy as any other NI DJ controller. Its size and shape will be familiar to anyone that has used the X1 or F1 before; just as with those controllers, the Z1 is thin, fairly compact and light enough to carry around but still feels relatively robust.

The faders feel pleasantly weighty and durable, and the same can be said for the knobs and rotaries. Pleasingly, it doesn't feel cheap or flimsy in the way that accessories associated with iPad or iPhone often do.

In Use

The Z1 is definitely at its best when used in conjunction with Traktor DJ for iPad or iPhone. As long as the app is updated to the latest version, the device is pretty much 100% plug and play.

We're big fans of the Traktor DJ app (check out our review to find out why) and connecting the Z1 really brings out the best in it. Although the amount of controls on the unit itself are slightly limited (i.e one rotary shared between the filter and effect sections) combined with the touchscreen of an iOS device, it lends itself to fun and intuitive two handed mixing. It allows EQs and filters to be tweaked on the mixer with one hand, while the other hand goes to town with the effects using the XY pads within the app.

The volume level and sound quality that comes out of the 24-bit soundcard is a pleasant surprise too, going beyond what we'd usually expect from a mobile setup.

One slight issue that's likely to irk some users, however, is the fact that the Z1 ships as standard with just a USB to 30-pin connector. Meaning that owners of newer iPhone, iPads and iPad Minis will need to pick up an adapter in order to connect it.

Going Pro

Of course, the Kontrol Z1 is also compatible with Traktor Pro 2, and ships with an LE version of the software and USB connector for plugging into a Mac or PC. While it's not quite 'plug and play' in the way use with an iOS device is, as a driver download is required, it's still intuitively mapped and fairly hassle free.

In reality, the amount of control that the Z1 offers over Traktor Pro is pretty limited compared to the capabilities of the full software - i.e only two channels and no remix decks or loop triggering - but it does work as a nice entry point.

The fact that it's so easy to use the Z1 as a base to build a fuller setup is a major bonus though. Adding either an X1, F1 or some other MIDI controller into the mix immediately offers a simple way to throw together a more comprehensive setup with the Z1 at its centre.

On first impressions, the Kontrol Z1 seems like an impressively flexible entry point into the world of Traktor. It's far and away our favourite iOS-related DJ device we've seen so far, and has the added bonus of acting as either a simple introductory controller or neat portable back-up device for laptop DJs.

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