The Traktor Kontrol X1 is an exercise in minimalism, reducing the various uses of Traktor to a few encoders and buttons and a compact form factor. But while it supports MIDI for use with any DJ software, its “high-resolution” mode – as with Maschine before it – uses a proprietary protocol. The unit will sell for US$229 when it ships in February of next year.

The control arrangement of the Kontrol X1 fits a selection of essential parameters into its narrow form factor. The controls are divided in right and left into the two decks, with four sets of effects controls each. There are dedicated controls for browsing through tracks, and cueing and tempo controls. The case can be used either horizontally or vertically.

The strategy appears to be to focus on controlling loops and effects, while those who want to work with digital vinyl can view this as a consolidated mixer / browser interface.

There are some nice extras, too. The box itself comes with Traktor LE, meaning someone can get started with digital DJing for about two hundred bucks. And for another $49, you can add a custom stand and case – details too often left out of controllers.

We saw this controller in September, in use in Richie Hawtin’s set. On NI’s promotional site, Richie has something interesting to say about Traktor, which is that it isn’t necessarily getting used by everyone in the same way:

You can put ten people on a stage with Traktor, and each one of them will have a different way to be creative and bring out their personality through it.

My sense is that this hardware will be well-received, because it is focused on some clear functions, it’s compact, it’s cheap, and it can be used in different ways by different people. Those trends have proved successful in controllers of late. On the other hand, it seems that a generation of hardware controllers that could have employed an open, standard, high-resolution control protocol are doing anything but. Ableton has locked certain software features to certain controllers, and in its controllers uses only MIDI. NI uses higher-resolution data, but has not continued to actively develop OSC. That could mean that, while open-source and visual software continues to progress, we may have to wait years before commercial music software comes to support any standard for this kind of communication using anything other than low-resolution MIDI. The big question may be, is there any incentive to commercial makers to do otherwise?



  • aikah

    a bit pricey for a remote

  • RichardL

    Perhaps we need to look harder at solutions like OSC and ask hard question not just about the things it does well like transport independence and high resolution, but also user experience and suitability. I don't know the answers, but I do know my experiences with OSC to date have been less than completely satisfactory. Maybe that's stuff that can be addressed as refinements of OSC's open source spec. And that should be encouraged. But maybe there are reasons other than just control of proprietary solutions that are inhibiting widespread OSC adoption outside of a handful of areas.

  • @RichardL: OSC the protocol works just fine. I think what you're talking is implementation. But there aren't any hard questions to ask here. OSC seems not to even have been seriously considered for these hardware projects as far as I know, and generally my sense is that the level of knowledge in industry circles is very low.

    I don't want to read too much into that. I think given the gestation cycles of hardware and software, there was a missed opportunity here. But you know, we've tried the top-down, big industry first approach (more the likes of Roland and Yamaha than Ableton and NI, but…). So I expect that with OSC, the best we can do is to improve the user experience with open software and then hope it can trickle up instead. If there's a good demo, I know that'll be more convincing to Ableton and NI.

  • RichardL

    I find it hard to believe that NI is ignorant of OSC. Reaktor supports OSC (albeit somewhat broken).

  • They're aware of its existence, but not of the real usage cases; that's been more of a challenge. And I think right now we lack the ideal end-user implementations that would show it off. I expect some progress there; it's something I'm working on, too.

  • RichardL

    I don't believe it's all just implementation. Sure a visionary reference implementation can go a long way in promoting a standard.

    Even in the NIME's proposal for OSC 1.1 they say "Most criticisms of OSC address errors of omission: things they wish OSC would do that it doesn’t. We have chosen not to address most of these in this effort and defer them to OSC 2.0…"

    And even OSC 1.1, which is a major tightening up of the spec with the goal of bringing OSC up to standards quality, is apparently currently on hold due to lack of funding.

  • Well, a BIG chunk of OSC 1.1 — the most important piece, I think — is Zeroconf. That and XPath are both existing standards. So it is implementation, because those standards are written. In fact, there's nothing stopping people from adopting best practices with what's called "1.0."

    Time? Funding? Yeah, pretty much all of us have these problems. But there's potential here. I think there's enough in the spec to get a really impressive implementation going.

  • RichardL

    Yea. No kidding about the time funding excuse.

    The article the quote I gave above was referring to is this. It's an interesting read.

    Fraietta, A. Open Sound Control: Constraints and Limitations

  • this looks pretty nice. looks to be built well, with aluminum instead of the standard plastic (judging from the renderings, at least).

    i would love to get even a simple OSC controller; just a handful of knobs and sliders at high resolution. something like the nanokontrol but with OSC would be incredible. or this controller, for that matter.

    my guess is manufacturers are not interested in supporting it because it's a big risk, going down the path of a new protocol. and software vendors aren't interested in investing the man hours necessary to get it working when there's no devices out there to use it with. so, chicken and egg. which one needs to happen first?

    also, any details on how this high-res midi protocol works?

  • RichardL

    The hexler.net's TouchOSC controller app on the iPhone/iPod touch is pretty nice and cheap (even considering the cost of a iPod touch).

  • RichardL: i have that on my iphone and it's awesome and quite simple to integrate into something like max/msp. and the lemur uses that as well. but i'm talking about a surface with physical knobs/sliders/buttons.

  • AJRussell

    The really annoying thing, not just with this controller but with many that are going towards proprietary protocols, is that MIDI is not "lo-res." The common belief is that you assign one MIDI CC# to one control, giving that control 128 possible levels. True enough, but you can easily assign a second CC# to the control as an LSB to the first, giving you 16,384 possible levels (128*128). Pretty high res. This is already accounted for in the original MIDI spec, but software and computer controller manufacturers seem loathe to implement it. There's also no reason why you couldn't assign a third CC# to the same control knob, giving you a little over 2 million possible control levels. If that's not hi-res, I don't know what is.

    The only reason I can think of this not being implemented by manufacturers is their own profits, rather than any kind of service or convenience to the users. If NI's proprietary protocol is only supported by Traktor, then you're sort of locked into NI's product line.

  • Abe Mora

    Looks kool but my korg nano kontrol does everthing for 1/4 of the price

  • lematt

    that looks damn sexy ! and as a dj i would buy one for sure, i'm tired of adapting my akai mpd24 to traktor.

    the same controller with two small jog wheels would be even better

  • Johnny Horizon

    The problem with OSC and hardware is that it's backwards. A MIDI device sends a message saying, effectively, "A knob was turned this much." It's up to the receiver to do something with that.

    OSC, on the other hand, has the receiver specifying the set of messages it understands, like "/myapp/gain". there's no clear way for a piece of hardware to use OSC. What message does it send when you turn a knob? What receiver will understand that message?

    Sure, the monome implements OSC. And what software do you use with it? Max, a programming environment. That's just way too open-ended to be useful in any simple way, unlike MIDI.

  • apoclypse

    Other comapnies have their own highres implementation as well such as Euphonix (check out he MC Control and MCMix. In-fact Euphonix has something that looks very much like OSC on paper.

  • apoclypse

    BTW, this thing reminds me a whole lot of Maschine. Which is good since I love Maschine's design. It has a nice metal plate on top and the bottom is plastic to keep it light, it has the same kind of pad coloring and lighting.

    I wasn't aware of Maschine using any kind of proprietary protocol for its knobs and pads. Kore on the other hand is definitely using some kind of proprietary solution for its knobs, though nothing else feels like the knobs on the Kore controller. They are super responsive and give a great level of control that almost feels like you are dealing with analogue gear. OSC is supposed to allow things like that but I have yet to see anyone really take advantage of that.

  • Well NI has been very unopen from all I have seen .. or lets say growing closed. Classic case of a self perceived market leader.

    As for OSC. I think its main issue is too much flexibility. People should collaborate to provide standards for control elements on top of OSC to make it easier for implementors and users alike. MIDI learn functionality remains sane because there are defined ranges for knobs, defined jog wheel types etc. None of this prevent the flexibility of OSC for those able to grasp it, but if we want OSC in mass market hardware, it needs to be mass market comprehensible.

    Now if everyone does their own interpretation of how OSC messages should look like for the varioius standard (not talking about novel control surfaces here), then it means users will start at zero with every controller. Of course in theory they have all the flexibility in the world. But in practice it will be really hard to transfer previous knowledge.

  • Well, if you want to know what would happen if you had a very simple networking protocol and everyone was free to build atop it, guess what? You're on it now. It's the Internet. 😉 And then you have more detailed specs on top of that, like XMPP for messaging (which works so well that, as you chat on Google Talk, you probably don't even know you're using it).

    OSC for hardware is dependent on a hardware-friendly implementation. Right now, that looks like uOSC. And the simple answer is, you'll see that in independent hardware before you do in hardware made by someone like NI. But we're getting fairly close to having the chicken, the egg, and the chicken parmigiana at the current rate of things, so I do think things are looking up.

  • Michael Coelho

    I'm very happy with the build quality and resolution of my NI Kore 2 controller. NI recently added MIDI control capability to this controller, taking it out of the realm of a purely NI environment. This unit seems to have these same qualities. If it is as well thought out as the Kore controller, it should be a very capable device.

  • ToS

    Great article and comments. Let's just save the hope (and money until that change comes).

  • At least it seems that they will allow custom mapping while using their proprietary protocol in Traktor Pro:

  • DJNV Miami

    I hope their next controller is a 4 channel mixer with all these controls integrated into it in a more spacious layout. I gues that wont be for a while as they are still pushing their audio interfaces. Something like the 4d would be cool if made by NI for Traktor.

  • mao mao


    3'36: surprise!!

    that's pretty bold..

  • A DJ controller without a cross-fader? Or a fader of any kind?

    Er… fail.

  • splaaat

    yeah, whats up with the lack of crossfader?

  • Crossfader?

    Have you actually looked at the intended use of this device?

  • Galvo

    It doesnt have a crossfader on it, so if you wanted to use it as one you would have to map one of the knobs to the ableton/traktor crossfader…