The line between DJing and live electronic performance has been an increasingly blurry one over the past decade. Native Instruments' latest piece of gear expands the company's highly regarded Traktor DJ system to include a dedicated hardware clip-triggering device, not entirely unlike Ableton Live controllers, such as Novation's popular Launchpad or the endlessly versatile and ground-breaking Monome grid controller. Fortunately, the F1 differentiates itself in a host of ways.
The first of these ways, as is plain to see from the get-go, is color. The bottom half of the 5" by 11.5" F1 houses a grid of 16 MPC-style square sample cue pads, essentially broken into four channels. Every translucent button houses an assignable 16-color (!) LED light, which will almost certainly impress even the most discerning trainspotter. But it's a functional addition, as well, helping the user classify sample types according to color (i.e. blue for bass, red for drums, etc). The pads also serve as a means of scrolling between sample pages, while four pairs of filter knobs and volume sliders sit atop the box, offering individual control of each column.
Perhaps the best thing about the Kontrol F1 is its smooth integration into the existing Native Instruments ecosystem. If you're already comfortable with your Traktor S4 or S2 setup (or any of the third-party compatible options), bringing in the F1 is essentially a plug-and-play affair. It's not quite dead-easy—learning how to integrate all these extra sounds into a DJ set does require a fair amount of practice—but it comes with some 1.4 GB of loops, and incorporating them (or any other samples you have on deck) into your set is as easy as dragging and dropping them into place. In many ways, the F1 helps to bridge the gap between Native Instruments' own Maschine and Traktor suites, in much the same way as The Bridge brought together Ableton Live and Serato Scratch.
As is the case with Ableton controllers, the F1 pads do indeed launch clips, as well as everything from full tracks to loops and one-shot samples. These triggers act as shortcuts, too, however, with settings like Punch mode, effects assignment, and sample muting. You can also trigger functions like sample size, sync, quantize, and reverse. It can be used like an MPC with more conventional samples, or like Ableton Live's Session View.
If you're already invested in Native Instruments' Traktor ecosystem, the flexibility (and colorful, blinking lights) of the Kontrol F1 will be tough to resist. If you're a producer or DJ looking to bring more of your own material into your live sets, or just looking for an impressive controller with which to perform live, it's yet another inspired option in the live electronic music controller universe.
MSRP: $279, Native Instruments