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Watanabe in control?

In a world exclusive direct from Japan, we get a first look at Vestax’s new TR-1 USB controller.

Hiroshi Watanabe (aka Kompakt producer Kaito) isn't a name that springs to mind when thinking of DJ pioneers, but Watanabe San has been making a big noise in Japan and has been pushing the boundaries of DJing in the most tech-obsessed city in the world, Tokyo. It's no big surprise, then, that Vestax turned to him when it came to designing their new TR-1 Traktor Controller.

The TR-1 is their latest piece of shiny new DJ equipment, a controller designed with one thing in mind — controlling Native Instruments' DJing software Traktor.

The design philosophy behind the new hardware DJ controller is emulating the feel and fine controls DJs are used to having at their finger tips. Working with someone who actually stands in a dark DJ box night after night, like Watanabe, makes a lot of sense. Most products are designed in brightly-lit labs and meeting rooms, so it is little surprise to see so many that ALMOST work brilliantly in a club environment.

The TR-1 is a four-channel controller that allows access to pretty much all of the features in Traktor without needing to reach for the mouse. Smooth long throw 60mm faders and nice feeling pots all make for a great time while DJing, even if the TR-1 is missing a cross-fader. The knobs used on the TR-1 are great, the grip is excellent and they are spaced well, so there is no chance of accidentally moving the knob next-door, while tweaking knobs madly in the middle of a set. Another simple, but effective feature, is that every time a knob or slider is adjusted, a little data light flashes in the top right hand corner of the unit — an important visual aid.

The TR-1's control panel is laid out like a two-channel mixer, with effects and various other controls to the side. Each channel has the same set of controls. Four-channel control is via switches at the top of each channel, which select the current channel being controlled; this is a clever way of squeezing extra channels into the same sized box, and makes a lot of sense for a unit that is designed to be portable.

This should make moving over from traditional DJing formats like vinyl and CD even easier.

Each channel has a fader for volume and pots to control EQ (Low, Mid and Hi), a Pan pot and a filter control. At the top of the fader, we find a cue button for each channel sitting either side of a four-way switch (sort of like a joystick), which is used to browse and load tracks.

To the left and right of the faders, in a mirror image arrangement of the Traktor screen on the computer, are buttons to control features such as Loop, Key, Sync, Cue Forward and Back, and set Cue Point. Also located in this area is a large button which toggles play and pause as well as buttons for FX 1 and 2.

The Move Control Section allows precise manipulation over the four channels' loop parameters. A simple button selects between channel A, B, C or D, while another button, Value, then lets the length of the loop be tailored to suit, from 1/32 of a beat to eight bars. Once again, the emphasis is on ease of use. The Mode button allows the loop start and end points to be adjusted, and in conjunction with the Move button, the loop can then be placed around the track.

The FX section is also a relative joy to use. Four knobs and four buttons activate the desired effect, which can be turned on or off at the push of the corresponding button. How much effect is added is determined by how far left or right the knob is turned — simple.

The influence of Hiroshi Watanabe can be seen in features like the lovely long Tempo faders and the placement of the Bend buttons at the bottom (just where you want them). At the top of the fader is a knob to control the key of that channel.

The master section is also designed well. A knob rather than a fader takes care of the master level, which saves space and avoids potentially knocking a fader while your fingers are darting around. Next to the master level are the monitor mix and the monitor level knobs.

The TR-1 is sturdy and well built, as well as being small enough to fit into a laptop bag. The control surface is well spaced, and packs a lot of control into a small space without feeling cluttered. All in all, the TR-1 gives control of 160 parameters and the shift button allows customisation of controls in a very neat way.

There are a few things missing from the TR-1 like a cross-fader, the ability to switch master tracks manually, and no built-in soundcard. But this is a great product. The TR-1 offers control of a computer-based programme, whilst putting performance back into the hands of the DJ. By mimicking everything that would normally be done on screen and with a mouse makes for a fast, easy, hands-on way to control your tracks and sets. The art of the digital DJ has evolved and the time is definitely now.

Verdict

Price   £449
Contact   vestax.com
 Build Quality   5.0
Ease of Use   4.0
Features   4.0
Value for Money   4.0
Sound Quality   n/a
Hype   A why-didn’t-I think of that controller. No more looking at emails when you’re meant to be DJing.
Gripe  

No crossfader.

Conclusion  

A compact, but feature-rich controller that does away with the need to have full vinyl control of Traktor, but doesn’t take any performance away from the job at hand — DJing.

Overall Score   4/5
Build Quality