Tech Review – Sonic Union tests out the new Traktor Kontrol D2

The D2 is the latest controller from Native Instruments for the Traktor DJ software. It looks like a mashup of the X1 MK2 and an F1 controller with an added OLED display; basically it’s one of the sides from the all-in-one controller the S8. It’s also one of the four controllers (D2, S8 , S5 and F1) that support the new DJ music file format STEMS in Traktor (see separate review of the STEM format). The D2 comes with a USB cable, registration card and a power adapter with switchable plugs for US, UK and European sockets. There is also an extension cable that allows you to power two D2s from one power adapter.

The D2 also has a USB hub with 2 ports built-in so that you can run multiple devices with one USB cable connected to your computer. I’ve successfully run a second D2 as well as a web camera and phone at the same time through one D2. The controller is divided into five major parts; FX control, track view and browsing, remix deck/stem volume/filter control, performance pads and finally transport control. At first look the D2 can look a bit overwhelming so lets break down each part in more detail.

FX

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The FX part consist of 4 rotary knobs; one control the overall wet/dry signal and the other 3 the wet signal or value of mapped effect. There is also buttons under each rotary control to toggle the FX on or off or reset it to default value. On the right of the rotary knobs are four small buttons labeled A through D and they turn on and off the effect for Decks A/B/C/D. So if you have one D2 the A->D buttons toggles FX group one on and of for deck A through D and if you have a second D2 that one toggles FX group two on and off for deck A through D.

As far as I can tell there is no way to control the second FX group with just 1 D2. Similarly the ‘DECK’ button hot swaps between deck A & C on the first D2 and B & D on the second D2. This cannot be changed currently, but you can get around that by holding down the ‘DECK’ button and press the A through D buttons. This means you can use just one D2 but the workflow is definitely adapted for having two.

Browsing and display

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Underneath the FX section is the OLED display with several small buttons for accessing on-board settings, zooming in and out on the waveform, enter BPM and key selecting modes. There are also two arrow buttons to change the usage of the rotary knobs underneath the screen from filter mode to FX send per stem/remix deck part. There is also a large rotary knob used for track browsing and loading as well as a ‘BACK’ button to exit selected on-screen feature.

When in BPM/Key mode the ‘BROWSE’ knob is used to change values, by default it increments in decimal point values but holding down SHIFT button and turning the knob changes values on whole number intervals.

Remix decks and STEMS

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Continuing down the device; the next section is for controlling the volume and FXs for STEMS or Remix Deck tracks using 4 rotary controls, 4 buttons and 4 sliders. When using the sliders they run in latch-on mode so if you use STEM track on both A and C deck the display shows the current value it’s currently on and the slider value and you have to take it to its current value to be able to change it, so going between tracks there is no need to worry about values jumping.

Looping and hot cues

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Next up are the 8 pads used for setting/jumping between loop points, beat jump or freeze mode sample triggering. They are also used to trigger samples in REMIX DECK mode. You can quickly swap between these modes using the dedicated buttons for each. The HOTCUE mode allows you to set and jump to up to 8 cue points in a track and you can set and delete these on-the-fly with the D2.

The BEATJUMP mode changes the pads into shortcuts for setting loop sizes and jumping backwards and forwards in the currently playing track. The top 4 pads are used for loop size settings and the bottom four for beat jumping. The settings for the pads are user customisable inside the Traktor D2 settings. Additionally in the D2 settings page in Traktor you can control settings for touch control (what the touch sensitive knobs do by default), sensitivity for the touch strip and set the brightness of the onboard LEDs for both on and off state.

Transport control

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Finally we have the transport control section featuring the touch strip, FLUX/SHIFT/SYNC/CUE/PLAY and DECK buttons. The touch strip has the same functionality as the previous X1 MK2 controller where it can be used for seeking through a track, pitch bend and scratching. Its quick and easy to use and very responsive; so scrolling through a track to find a section in a track to drop a cue point in is very easy. The SYNC/PLAY/CUE buttons are self explanatory so won’t go in to detail on those.

The DECK button allows you to quickly swap between the controllers target decks A/C or B/D (this cannot be changed at the moment as it is hard coded in Traktor). Holding down the DECK button and hitting one of the top right deck buttons (A through D) you can change to any other deck, it works but doesn’t have as fluent workflow as just hitting the DECK button. Finally the SHIFT allows you to access secondary functionality on many controls.

Using it
Now down to the most important part; how is it to use? Setup and installation is as easy as plugging it in and updating Traktor to the latest version (2.8 for D2 support, 2.9 for STEM support). The unit is responsive and after just a couple of hours of using it I felt right at home with it. Tasks like setting up a ‘preparation playlist’ can now be done through the controller which before you had to setup your own mapping in Traktor for your controller to be able to do that.

Simply using the browser and pressing the top right square button next to the display adds the current selected track to the ‘preparation list’. There are a few small issues with the D2 currently that I hope will be addressed with future software/firmware updates like the fact that you can’t control what fields are shown in the browser dialog on the D2 screen. Additionally files with long names gets cut off making it impossible to determine what version of the track you are loading. This could be helped with a simple file name scroller when over a certain length. Similarly when the track has been loaded you can’t read the full name so you have to resort at looking at the computer screen to make sure you load the right one which defeats the purpose of having the screen on the device. Using two D2s are recommended as the workflow is tailored for it but you can get away with using just one.

Should you buy it?
If you are using an X1 controller and want to use the new STEM format then yes; the upgrade is definitely worth it and almost required. If you are also using an F1 controller for Remix Decks or STEMS but feel the visual feedback on the F1 isn’t enough for STEMS then getting the D2 combines the two in a very good way that gives you best of both worlds.

After using the D2s for a couple of months I can’t really see myself going back to my old X1 MK1 controller. I’ve noticed I am looking at the computer screen a lot less then before which is one of the selling points with the D2s. The modularity of the D2s and vast functionality they offer in one unit makes these my new favourite Traktor controller on the market!


About the author

Sweden’s Erik Pettersson is better known as DJ/producer Sonic Union, one half of prolific progressive house pair Bastards of Funk and Sonic Union and co-founder, label owner and manager of Lowbit Records.

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