Native Instruments has a long history of innovation and high-quality controllers. Let’s dive into the details of this new generation Traktor controller and see what it has to offer.
Traktor Kontrol S3
The Traktor Kontrol S3 is part of the new Mk3 generation of controllers from Native Instruments. It’s a step above their entry-level controllers and a great DJ controller for iPad.
The Traktor Kontrol S3 offers a wide amount of impressive features. Let’s break down each section in more detail to show you what it has to offer both new and established DJs.
The central mixer section offers DJs access to control over 4 channels. Perfect for layering several tracks at once. Each channel has a 3 band EQ for full control over low, mid, and high frequencies.
There is also gain controls for each channel with channel D offering extra control over a mic. You can switch between these by hitting the EXT button next to the channel D gain knob. Individual VU meters are also present for each channel so you can avoid pushing your mix into the red.
The Traktor Kontrol S3 offers a spacious and refined central mixer section.
Where the S3 differs from other controllers is the implementation of the filter knob. Normally this knob would be set to a low/high pass filter. The S3 goes one step further beyond a filter with the ability to activate FX on each channel. I’ll cover FX in more detail later in the review but this is a different layout than other controllers.
Below the EQ section are 4 channel faders with corresponding cue buttons as well as a crossfader. Off to the right side of the mixer are your mix and volume controls for your headphones. This is where you’ll also find your mixer FX controls and booth volume controls.
A master gain knob is also here along with a master VU meter to keep an eye on your mix level.
The mixer section is spacious and laid out logically making for a pleasant experience while mixing.
The S3 includes a full version of Traktor Pro 3. This powerful piece of DJ software is great for both beginners and experienced DJs.
The addition of mixer FX is new in this version along with a brand-new time stretching and pitch shifting engine. The result is good-sounding audio even when tracks are heavily modified by the software. The user interface is clean, dark, and sharp with a variety of layout options available.
You can also use the S3 with NI’s mobile DJ app Traktor DJ 2. Another great piece of software if you want to DJ on the go with your iPad instead of your laptop.
NI experimented in the Mk2 generation by offering controllers without jogwheels. A gutsy choice and one which most DJs didn’t like. The Mk3 generation sees the return of jogwheels. The Traktor Kontrol S3 has two good-sized jogwheels that feel nice and offer a good level of resistance.
The S3 doesn’t have the new haptic feedback style jogwheels of the more expensive Kontrol S4 Mk3. But, the jogwheels on the S3 are still high-quality. These touch-sensitive jogwheels are great for small adjustments and aggressive scratch routines.
The Kontrol S3 offers excellent jogwheels with a range of features.
The jogwheels also offer illumination around the edges to let you know what deck you are currently manipulating. Plus, it will also highlight if you are approaching the end of a track. A nice extra visual touch to keep you focused on your controller.
Several jogwheel options are also available including the ability to adjust the grids of analyzed tracks using the jogs. I’ve always liked this feature as it feels more comfortable using the jogs compared to moving grids with your mouse and keyboard.
The pitch faders are long and capable. They offer a good level of resistance allowing you to make fine adjustments. For DJs that want to beatmatch by ear, long pitch faders are an essential feature.
Sitting above these long pitch faders is the Sync button. This is for those that want the software to match the beats and keep them aligned. A Keylock button is also here. This gives you the freedom to adjust the speed of the track without impacting the key.
Each deck on the Traktor Kontrol S3 has 8 RGB pads. You can use these pads to set and activate your hot cues. You can also use the pads to store saved loops. If you take the time to prepare your tracks this adds an extra layer of protection from awkward transitions.
The pads also offer the option to launch one-shots and samples from the remix decks. This gives you more creative freedom while planning and executing transitions.
Other controllers do go further with pad functionality but the more refined approach from NI is not unwelcome. It invites new DJs to experiment without overloading them with options. But, the more dedicated controllerists may find themselves restricted.
The Traktor Kontrol S3 offers an excellent middle ground in size. Not small and cramped like many entry-level controllers. But, also not as large and overbearing as some other 4 channel controllers. It’s also a comfortable weight making it easy to transport.
The Traktor Kontrol S3 is both portable and feature-packed.
The new Mixer FX section is one of the standout features of Traktor Pro 3. The integration of that FX into the Kontrol S3 is smooth and seamless.
You can assign up to 4 FX from the excellent range of FX available. The FX is by default set to no output at the 12 o’clock position. Much like a classic filter as you move left the FX will impact the lower frequencies more. Likewise, when you move right it will adjust the FX to impact the higher frequencies. Activating and manipulating the FX is simple and fun. It’s a great way to add some extra flavor and spice to your sets.
Where the S3 falls short though is the lack of dedicated Deck FX controls. Often controllers will have these situated at the top of the controller above each deck. With the S3 you’ll need to activate and manipulate the Deck FX using your laptop. While not everyone uses FX it is still an odd exclusion especially when you consider the price point of this controller. My best guess was it was to keep the design of the controller clean and simple.
Traktor controllers offer excellent looping controls. Two dedicated knobs are available for the manipulation of loops. Other controllers opt for buttons or pads so this is a key difference to be aware of. To activate a loop you press down on the Loop knob. This will set a default length loop based on your preferences.
From there you can alter the size of the loop by turning the knob. Each move left will reduce the length by half and likewise each move right will increase the size by double. You can also move the loop forward and back with the Move knob.
I’ve always liked the way Traktor controllers handle looping. It feels intuitive and a quick loop or adjustment can save you when faced with an awkward transition between tracks.
Keep in mind if you end up moving onto gear from other manufacturers this will be one of the major differences you’ll come across.
The Traktor Kontrol S3 offers an impressive and versatile range of connection options.
Plenty of connection options gives you maximum flexibility.
The S3 boasts an excellent 24-bit internal soundcard that delivers clear sound. It’s capable of handling both home and pro-level sound setups.
Master output offers you the choice between RCA and balanced XLR. This will allow you to plug in the vast majority of speakers.
A further RCA booth output option is also available for an extra set of speakers for the DJ booth. Next to the booth output is an RCA Line In option for mixing with external audio.
A USB port for connection to your laptop or computer also sits on the back panel. The power connection point is also here. There is also an iOS port for a direct connection to your iPad. This allows you to mix using Traktor DJ 2 if you don’t want to use your laptop.
The front panel offers your choice of either a ¼ or ⅛ inch headphone connection. No need for extra adapters. The front panel is also where you’ll find the combo TRS/XLR connection for microphones.
With this array of connections, the S3 gives you the capability to handle a large range of potential setup configurations.
Build Quality & Design
Traktor has an established record of producing high-quality hardware. The S3 keeps this up. It’s solid despite the heavy use of plastic. The RGB pads are of good quality along with all the other buttons and knobs.
The Traktor Kontrol S3 is an attractive 4 channel controller with good quality components.
The jogwheels are also solid. The faders are also well built and offer appropriate resistance. The crossfader is nice and loose allowing for effective use when performing scratch routines.
Design-wise the S3 is a massive improvement over the Mk2 generation. A refined color palette of primarily blue and green buttons gives it a distinct and attractive appearance. The logical and spacious layout adds to the inviting appearance of the controller.
The matte finish helps prevent fingerprint marks. The shiny top plate for the jogwheels offers excellent grip when scratching and adds a nice final flair.
An attractive and well-built controller that will be able to handle the rigor of regular use.
What Others Have To Say
There is a variety of opinions on the S3. Some love it while others are a bit confused about who the target market is. This has led to some heated debates online. Many see it as a nice upgrade from the S2 Mk3 while others see it as a more affordable option compared to the S4 Mk3.
The Three Pillars Of DJ Software
DJ software has become critical in the modern DJs workflow. Three main pieces of DJ software have competed with each other over the last decade.
Serato is the most widely used and supported. With excellent integration with turntables, it is often the preferred choice for scratch DJs.
Rekordbox is the Pioneer alternative. With the dominance of Pioneer gear in clubs, it provides a natural progression point from beginner to Pro.
Native Instruments make a range of DJ controllers and additional DJ hardware for their software.
Traktor is the third player. This software is powerful and often a leader in innovative features. While not as widely used as Serato it still has a loyal fanbase. The range of compatible controllers is also smaller. Despite this, it’s still one of the most popular software platforms available. A testament to how good the software is.
There are some other popular options like Virtual DJ. But, it is these three that dominate the conversation around the software side of DJing. Luckily all share the same fundamental functionality. Selecting a favorite often boils down to preferred controllers and unique functions.
With a packed marketplace, there is no shortage of other options if the S3 hasn’t ticked all your boxes. Check out some of these other Traktor options along with another high-quality 4 channel controller.
Pioneer DDJ-FLX4 Review
If you want to eventually move onto professional club gear the DDJ-FLX4 is the ideal DJ controller. The close resemblance to pro-gear will make the transition smoother.
- Club-style layout with features taken directly from pro-level gear.
- Large range of innovative FX options and extensive performance pad modes.
- Only offers 2 channel mixing which might be a dealbreaker for some.
Denon Prime 4 Review
If you want to take your 4-channel mixing to the next level the Denon Prime 4 is a great choice. It has a massive central screen that allows you to focus on your gear and not your laptop.
- Excellent build-quality to handle the rigors of frequent use.
- A fantastic full-color touch-capable screen that adjusts to your preferred viewing angle.
- A much more expensive option compared to the Kontrol S3.
Denon Prime 4
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 Review
For new DJs or those looking to spend less the Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3 is a good alternative. Full software plus iPad integration gives you the best of both worlds at a cheaper price.
- 2 channel control offers a simpler experience compared to the S3.
- A high-quality built-in soundcard delivers exceptional sound quality.
- A compact controller that works well with Traktor DJ 2 for iOS.
Traktor Kontrol S2 Mk3
Should You Buy?
The Traktor Kontrol S3 is an excellent controller that fills the gap between beginner and pro DJ controllers.
It has an excellent soundcard along with a solid selection of connectivity choices. The improved layout and design is also a step up from the last generation. While it is missing a couple of features it gives aspiring 4 channel DJs plenty of tools to be creative.
If you are a fan of the Traktor ecosystem the S3 is one of the best controllers currently available and should be high on your list of options.
Traktor Kontrol S3