Gadget review: Native Instruments F1 Kontrol
A WHILE ago, I reviewed the Native Instruments Kontrol S2, an all in one DJing solution with everything you need to start mixing tracks with professional results. The hardware included two decks, two jog wheels, and a built in mixer with effects banks and a sampler.
The only drawback I found was the sampling units; they lacked the full functionality to manipulate samples and implement them smoothly while playing live - rendering them redundant.
NI resolved the issue by releasing the F1 Kontrol. The F1 looks like a black rectangular slab, designed to match the rest of the NI Kontrol range to fit neatly into any set-up. There are four rotary knobs, four faders and 16 rainbow coloured pads - looking very Maschine-like. This will give hints to its purpose - triggering samples.
While Akai and Roland have been at the forefront of sampling way back to the 80s and beyond, NI has simplified the process for Traktor. With the F1 you have a superior level of control compared to trying to integrate a separate sampler. There’s no midi clock matching or anything overly complex about its use - it’s simply a case of installing a software upgrade and turning it on.
A quick overview of the unit reveals the F1 is split into sections. The top features four pairs of rotary knobs to control filter effects. Beneath each knob are volume faders, and under them a set of function keys to allow precise control over each pad setting. If you are familiar with NI software and controllers you will be at home with the F1. Newbies will feel a little daunted at first but after some fiddling find it fairly simple to use. So set aside a few hours to mess around with it and build your confidence using it live.
To get the best results, work out how you would use the F1 in a live environment. That way you can try out your ideas before playing, giving you a clear idea how best to use the samplers. Much can be learned by playing with the unit but if you don’t take stock of what it does and what you want it to do, you will get lost for hours.
Build quality is superb, as you would expect from NI. The faders and knobs are tough, durable and responsive. This brings me to the lower section - the multi coloured pads. They feel great to touch, nothing spongy and they’re very responsive, triggering samples instantly. It feels professional. The closest competition in touch and feel is Abletons MPC, the pads are nearly identical. The translucent buttons house assignable 16 colour LED lights which when samples are loaded and cued, blink and glow. They are, ahem... very DISCO.
What is an excellent feature is the ability to colour code your samples to each pad, thus allowing you to organise banks of samples without confusion, using colour as a clear visual reference. Do take full advantage of this feature - it makes life far easier when playing out live.
The control section offers a low res display, very similar to an 80s digital watch, which I like in a retro kind of way. A rotary knob next to it allows you to scroll through the four banks of 16 samples. The function buttons enable sampling 1/32, 1/16, 1/8, ¼, ½, 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 or 32 beat loops. At the bottom of the controller you’ll find four stop buttons, which are self-explanatory: pressing stop will instantly stop a running sample.
The F1 is the perfect upgrade for any Traktor user; I would go so far to say it is an essential upgrade if you are to take advantage of the technology and get into sampling while mixing. For someone familiar with using NI’s S2, I found the F1 a must-have addition. After a little practice, I took it to a gig and used it live. With two records mixed and the F1 firing kick drum samples or hi-hats stolen from others in my playlist, layers and layers of sound built up... subtlety employed, I still managed six tracks going off at the one time.
However, don’t fall into the trap of believing you’ve made it just yet, practice makes perfect and as I said before, find out how you’d use it in your DJ sets. While I don’t advocate ‘sync’ it becomes increasingly impossible not to use ‘sync’ with the F1 (utilizing the controls other than primarily beat-matching). Though some DJs will need to turn it off (sync) when mixing outside a standard 4/4 beat.
I had the equivalent of six tracks firing at the same time and furiously tapped away on one shot samples. Blending elements of tracks which I intended to drop in later in my set. It fitted my set up perfectly.
I have since seen other DJs use the unit to produce complete tracks with fantastic results, thanks to the factory supplied sample packs. Traktor 2.5 comes with 1.4 GB of professional grade samples. While only one sample can be played per column, this is enough to be going on with, making sure the DJ doesn’t get ahead of himself, keeping it to a minimum, and ensuring you don’t mess up. Therefore, remixing without getting lost.
The F1 is a worthy addition to any set up, but it will take a while for you to work out how to make it fit. For those who haven’t ventured into NI’s digital DJ range yet, there is a plastic overly which allows the F1 to become a stand lone controller for Traktor akin to their X1 Kontrol - handy but not as good as a designated X1.
The traditionalist may scoff, but for those who want additional remix features, this is a must-have purchase. The F1 is a powerful unit to manipulate sound, and loads of fun to use. I wouldn’t be without one now.
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