For DJs like Manuela Krause, it’s the Traktor software, not the Stanton hardware, that makes digital DJing a draw. Now NI just has to figure out what hardware will be ideal for this market … perhaps a laptop-based cupholder for our cocktails? (I’d buy that, NI.)

Native Instruments, maker of the leading Traktor DJ software (now part of their DJ line, have quietly announced they’re ending their relationship with Stanton, the company that makes the vinyl-to-computer interface Final Scratch. Given that the Traktor/Final Scratch combination has been dominant in the DJ club world, that’s big news. Here’s what Native had to say announcing the “mutual” decision. (I cut the part where Stanton said “we’ve been together for several years now — where is this relationship going?” and Native said something about how they “really liked Stanton” but things had been getting a little “too hot and heavy” and that “maybe the best thing would be a break.”)

The successful partnership with Stanton Magnetics based on the pioneering FinalScratch digital DJ system will mutually expire in 2006, with both companies focusing on their respective product lines from that date on. Native Instruments will continue to maintain the FinalScratch user forum on its website until December 31st 2006.

I was planning on calling on my secret informant deep inside NI’s Berlin headquarters to find out what was going on, but it turns out it’s in black and white right in the press release:

In the future, the DJ Division of Native Instruments will completely concentrate its operations on the TRAKTOR platform, and will also develop integrated solutions for the DJ market based on its own internal hardware engineering capabilities and expertise.

There’s your answer: NI clearly wants to build their own hardware instead of relying on Stanton (unless they’re planning on using their “internal engineering capabilities and expertise” to build model airplanes or something).

So, good news or bad news? I think that depends entirely on what NI plans for their hardware. Personally, to me the core of what Traktor is is, well, Traktor. Now that NI has had some experience building a plug-in host in the form of Kore, it’d be great to see Traktor DJ take on plug-in support and other software features. And if there is hardware, it’ll be up to NI to prove they can offer something existing offerings don’t do already. Of course, for DJs who really want to redefine their techniques in digital terms, NI’s real strength is its wild sound-mangling capabilities in Reaktor, but I won’t kid myself about the size of the market for that — part of what makes it cool is that the experimental DJs doing crazy things with Reaktor are a radical, fringe group. The reality on Final Scratch may simply be that it’s a technology others can replicate; even M-Audio recently jumped in with its own hardware product line.

The best news: NI is dropping its confusing product names like “Traktor DJ Studio” and going with “Traktor”, which is what we called it anyway.

In the meantime, here’s my hope. I don’t think anything can replace the feel of real turntables, any more than I would give up playing acoustic pianos forever as a pianist. But there are a number of good products for connecting vinyl to Final Scratch. What there isn’t out there is a strong control surface for DJs, many of whom have developed new techniques in Traktor, Live, Reaktor, Max/MSP, and others, to say nothing of VJs. I’d love to see NI apply some experience to that; so far we’ve had a few knobs and foot pedals here and there, but no hardware that’s yet as striking as NI’s software.