The Traktor Kontrol S8 from Native Instruments is, let’s face it, the Cadillac Escalade of DJ gear. It’s loaded. It’s shiny. It’s powerful. It’s also expensive and hard to parallel park.

So, without much fanfare, NI last week gave us the S5. It’s roughly the size of the S4 – the two-wheel controller that was once flagship of the Traktor line. But in that space, you get the stuff you’ve probably envied on the bigger Traktor controllers (the S8, and its one-deck-at-a-time counterpart the D2).

It’s got color displays.
It’s got touch strips – no wheels, if you like such things, but at least something that lets you cue manually.
It’s got a built-in audio interface (even with some basic input).
It’s got mixing controls – quite a lot of them, in fact.
And it has direct access pads, knobs, and triggers, for use with effects and loops and so on, or if you’re a fan of such things, Stems and Remix Decks.

Cost US$/€ 799. Ships October 1.

Let’s see how it stacks up.


Size and Weight:

I actually consulted with NI on this to get the stats. The closest equivalent to the S5 is the S4 – it’s slightly heavier, and slightly shorter. I wouldn’t describe the S5 as “mobile,” exactly – you’re going to need to ask for some space on your tech rider to fit this in. But what it is is a piece of hardware that does the vast majority of what you need from the S8, in a narrower and lighter package.

In fact, the S5 is so close to the S4, they both share NI’s own flight case.

I have been playing around with just a D2. There’s no comparison to the all-in-ones: you need some other gear for a mix control surface, it’s not an audio interface, and you have to swap between decks yourself. But it is a lot smaller, and I quite like it in hybrid setups – though that’s another story.


Depth: 32.2 cm, Height: 6,6 cm, Width: 50 cm, Weight: 3.7kg

Depth: 33.8 cm, Height: 7.2 cm, Width: 50 cm, Weight: 3.4 kg

Depth: 37.8cm, Height: 6.6cm, Width: 19.6 cm, Weight: 1.5kg

Depth: 38.7 cm, Height: 6.6 cm, Width: 58.5 cm, Weight: 5 kg


Control Functionality:

So, what do you give up on the S5 versus the S8, as far as controls? Well, the main space saving feature here is that you don’t have the four dedicated vertical faders on each deck for controlling volume of Stems Decks and Remix Decks. Instead, those map to the encoders on the top. Also gone are the S8’s second round of encoders.

Here’s the weird thing: I think the simplified layout might actually be a bit easier to learn – or at least less intimidating to look at.

Everything else is there. Now, again, if you really want wheels, you should look at something else – though frankly I do wonder if you what you really want in that event is turntables.

But let’s assume you don’t care at all about either Stem Decks and Remix Decks. There’s still a lot from the S8 and D2 line you may find very useful. It’s really easy to trigger cues and loops, and use “freeze mode,” with those same pads. And the dedicated encoders are terrific if you’re using effects.

I can’t imagine missing the wheels. The S4 still has some other advantages, though, over the S5 and S8:
It works with iOS.
It’s USB bus-powered.
It has dedicated loop recording controls.


Mixer functionality:

Here’s where the S5 is a bit behind the S8 and even S4.

The S8 is really a full-featured mixer, with 4+2 channels, standalone operation, and a full four stereo inputs for turntables, CDJs, and so on. That’s part of what makes it overkill – maybe you just want to buy a separate mixer – but it is impressive.

The S5 itself is actually a bit of a step backwards from the S4. There’s one stereo line input instead of two, plus the same one mic jack. On the other hand, I think the use case for this kind of gear is probably most likely laptop plus output, and there, the S5 is just fine: you get XLR and phono (cinch) main outs, plus a stereo booth out.


First impressions

I like the S5 a lot; I think it may woo away some S4 users by offering up more dedicated controller features and those slick screens. And the screens are really everything, because they mean you can use the S5 without looking at your laptop. The S8 is the very definition of a flagship; it’s impressive. But the S5 is more likely to be the mainstay of the fleet.

With the S8 now at US$/€999, it is worth considering the S8 basically for the added I/O. The S4 I think wins in almost every other case.

Of course, NI really wants you to use Stems. Now, the S5 completes the Stems-compatible lineup, joining the S8, the single-deck D2, the entry-level F1. But I think the S5 should be of interest even if you don’t care about Stems, because those controls remain useful otherwise.

That shouldn’t stop you from continuing to use an S4 if you’re happy with it, especially as it remains a nice piece of gear in terms of I/O, it works with the iPad app (which means you may not miss those new displays after all), and it’s bus powered. And you might already own it or find one cheap. So please, don’t throw that S4 away if you do update – find it a home.

Meanwhile, it’ll be nice to pit this against the Serato offerings. As far as compactness, though it doesn’t have displays, this Pioneer unit remains interesting.

Let us know what you think.


Comparison chart from NI (doesn’t yet show the S5, but does show the S8, S4, S2, and Z2)

Traktor Kontrol S5