Traktor's latest update sees its sample capabilities grow significantly in the form of Remix Decks, and a new hardware buddy join the range in the shape of the Kontrol F1.
The F1 takes its cue from the new version of Traktor. One thing we will say, though, is it's not actually possible to map the full functions of Remix Deck to a third-party controller. Currently, you can only map the first four slots of each deck to any non-NI MIDI hardware.
The official line is that NI wanted to ensure they did the best job possible integrating the F1 and the Remix Decks and so a 'closed system' was necessary. Users with an APC, Launchpad or other controller capable of RGB feedback are also currently locked out of any custom colour mapping, though again NI say it's 'likely' to be on the way. There are a number of user hacks circulating online but if you want to use Remix Decks to its full potential, you'll need an F1.
And with 64 slots per deck, all capable of hosting a full track, Remix Decks certainly offers plenty of potential. The pads themselves are not lifted from Maschine - they have a reassuring click so you know exactly when your sample has been triggered. The seven-segment LED from the S4 returns and provides relatively cryptic two-character feedback when editing samples and types, but otherwise is bright and clear when displaying loop length, quantise resolution and so on.
This is probably the least intuitive controller - at least initially - NI have done to date. You're going to need the manual by your side for your first few sessions, something NI even point out with a 'Note to the Impatient'.
In use, the F1 'captures' from an assigned deck at a predetermined length, either quantised or unquantised, all of which can be set from the unit. Each sample is then loaded on to the pad you press, and is set to Loop and Latched by default. This means that everything you load in will loop when triggered and that it will continue to play and loop if you press its pad. As there are multiple ways in which you'll want to treat any sample - 32-bar loops, one-shot drums, vocal samples, or effects you just want to trigger here and there - there's no real ideal default.
Jumping between trigger types is simple: press Type and turn the knob and change loop to one-shot, latched to gated etc by pressing the appropriate pad. If you've prepared your set this isn't a problem as you can save the sample with the appropriate mode, but if you're loading during a performance, you don't want to have to dive in and differentiate between trigger types. To get around this, press and hold Type and the previous mode will automatically be selected. A compromise, but why not just let us decide the default mode we want to load in?
The hardware itself feels great; it's solid, well laid out, and very flexible if you wanted to use it as a standalone MIDI controller. Speaking of which, it's possible to hot-swap between MIDI mode and the F1's default mapping, which means the F1 could be your only controller, if you mapped transport, cue and effect mappings etc to MIDI mode.
Close to the edit
Editing samples from the F1 is possible, though it can be cryptic and fiddly. Obscure abbreviations include 'Cp' 'Cu' 'Nu' and 'Of', for copying and cutting samples and nudging and offsetting sample points. Although you can edit your samples on the fly, if you expect that you'll be drifting far from straight up loop loading - preparing your Remix Decks in advance is highly recommended. It's also very easy: everything you can do from the controller you can do with a good old-fashioned mouse and it's possible to save your Remix Decks for recall later.
The truth is, there's a lot going on in the F1, and even when some of it's clunky, there's always an alternative. The hardware is flawless in its simplicity and RGB feedback is implemented perfectly. It's easy to assign a colour to loops, one-shots or music and drums for quick differentiation, all from the hardware; and once you overcome the learning curve, its performance capabilities feel endless.
It might be a personal thing but those nice faders are wasted controlling volume - we'd like them on pitch or delay or reverb time - all possible with manual mapping of course. Another small gripe is that it's not possible to set a loop point in a track and then sample a smaller section. When 'Capture' is enabled, the endless rotary is mapped to loop length of the source Deck. We'd rather have independent control of Capture length and loop length.
Truthfully, we looked hard for those flaws, if you can call them that. The brilliant thing about the F1 is its flexibility. The majority of the gripes even the biggest pedant will find are in software, so they can either be remapped, or fixed in a future update.
The simplicity of the hardware means it can be transferred to other software with ease, adding value to an already low price. At 249 euros, 50 euros more than the software alone cost just a few months ago, the F1 is spot-on in terms of pricing.
The Remix Decks themselves are epic in promise and could totally change your approach to DJing - for others they'll be a fun extra. Traktor's appeal is now greater than ever.