Native Instruments make cool DJ gear, simple as that. Their Traktor software has been one of the industry standards for an age. Their X1 controller was a game changer, followed up by the S4, S2, and F1 controllers — all great products that were intended to make performing and the DJ's life so much easier. They put performance back into the market place when the scene was on the verge of digital DJing boredom.
Their promotional videos showed the world what could be achieved with digital DJing gear and proved that DJing skills are still essential at any good show. But it doesn’t end here. Whilst looking forward into the future but also recognising the essentials of the past, Native have turned their attentions to the humble DJ mixer, with their first foray into this side of the market. Step forward, the Z2 mixer.
Native are aiming this mixer at the heart of the scene by making it a true hybrid to be used by any DJ, whether they employ conventional turntables and CDJ decks or make use of Native’s Traktor. It is the ultimate controller, borrowing its steer from the other controllers in the family, the S2 and the S4.
Unpacking the Z2 is a pleasing experience. Open up the box, and sitting on top of the packaging are two MKII Traktor timecode vinyl discs and two timecode CDs, the all-important licensing and download documents for installing the new version of Traktor Scratch Pro 2. Lift up the protective polystyrene covering and there it is, in all its beauty.
FRESH OUT THE BOX
The Z2 looks like a Native product: shiny, black, slick. Minimalist, considering how much this one mixer can do. An aircraft-grade aluminium chassis gives the unit a reassuring sturdy feel, the build quality is excellent and the weight of the mixer is just the right side of heavy to promote the feeling of quality.
The buttons and knobs feel like an upgrade from the already decent knobs on the S4, and the faders are class, with Native going for the rather cool-yet-premium Innofader brand. The faders that come with the Z2 are the short throw versions, but DJs wanting to can upgrade/update these to long throw varieties. Still, these faders are excellent as is.
The two main fader channels each have a dedicated three-band EQ, and filter knobs. The layout is simplistic and uncluttered — the shiny mid section looks like the S2 with the track browse and deck load buttons taking up the top slot. The headphone and cue section are just beneath this.
To either side of this section are two brushed aluminum strips known as the Kontrol section, which house the external mic controls, master and booth output knobs, the all-new Macro FX controls, two additional knobs labeled deck C and D, which can be used to control the volume on the Remix Decks, knobs for loop controls and below all this, a bank of four numbered, multicoloured push pad buttons assigned to control cue points and Remix Decks.
Right at the bottom are the Flux buttons for the new Flux mode — which is like the slip mode in Pioneer's CDJ decks and follows the audio timeline while you’re scratching, juggling cue points or looping, and drops back in at the exact point of the track as if it hadn’t been touched. These extra controls are for deep integration with the Traktor software, and open up the new elements that version 2.6 now offers.
One of these new elements is Macro FX, utilized from the mixer via a single knob. Macro FX consists of multiple Traktor effects combined together to make the daddy of all FX units. These FX can add extra dimension to performances and have been created to compliment various styles of dance music. They sound great. DJ Mag had a lot of fun mashing up the mix with this little section.
The Z2 is designed to be a pro mixer, and as such, is to be used in pro club environments, as well as sitting comfortable in a bedroom or studio set-up. It comes fully equipped with pro XLR outputs, a booth output and 24-bit sound quality from its built-in audio card, phono inputs for traditional turntables and a line input for other audio sources (namely CDJs).
The Z2 also uses Advanced HID technology which means seamless integration with compatible CDJs, offering enhanced visual and tactile control of the features in Traktor. In use, the sound that comes from the Z2 is really good, loud, punchy and precise and is of the quality that would be expected in a mixer costing twice as much.
It can be used in a variety of configurations, and popping onto Native’s website shows five different ways of using their new mixer. One of the main examples is the CDJ club set-up, using the Z2 as the hub of the club rig.
We're using the word hub quite often here, as the Z2 has two extra USB ports built into the back, so that it turns the mixer into a USB hub in its own right. Extra controllers like the X1 and F1 can be plugged directly into the mixer and be instantly recognised by the Traktor software without the DJ having to use up the precious and limited USB ports that come on today’s laptops.
This adds a whole load of extra performance capabilities to a set-up. When DJ Mag managed to rig it up in this way, we were truly blown away by the depth and complexity of the set-up.
The Z2 is a great mixer and a lot of mixer for the price. It works brilliantly as a conventional mixer, and when used in conjunction with Traktor, takes the game to the next level. DJs and clubs using the Z2 can control all aspects of their set-ups from one superbly designed central console. The mash-up of hardware and software control in one box makes for a “please everyone” scenario, and these are extremely rare.
|Ease of use||9.0|
|Value for money||9.0|
The meeting of two worlds — the conventional and the digital — Macro FX and loads of features on a mixer that takes Traktor control and performance to the next level.
A great mixer that works brilliantly in varying scenarios, as well as a dedicated Traktor controller at a price that is so reasonable you would be a fool not to buy one.