15 december 2013

Numark 4Trak Traktor Controller & Mixer



The Numark 4Trak is a big, chunky, semi-portable four-channel Traktor controller and standalone mixer, with a distinctive detachable filter and effects strip along the back edge, that’s tilted towards the user.
Roughly the Traktor equivalent of Numark’s NS6 Serato controller, which is itself roughly the non-motorised platter equivalent of the Numark NS7, the 4Trak is finished to a professional standard, with high quality faders, knobs and jogwheels, and a similarly impressive specification to boot. Let’s take a closer look…
First impressions
In the frankly huge box are the unit, the effects strip (it is attached using brackets and screws, and you don’t need extra tools to do so), a power adaptor (it needs mains power to operate), a USB cable, some documentation including a quick start guide, ands a couple of CDs (drivers and software).
The 4Trak is a nicely designed item, unusual being finished in silver.
The finish oddly reminded me of the big coffee machines you get in cafes, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – just different. Once plugged in, the backlit buttons immediately make it feel more reassuringly hi-tech once again…
Let’s take a quick tour of the controls. On the front is a standard mixer section with four channels, with a nicely loose replaceable crossfader and slightly scratchy line faders, plus rubberised knobs for bass, middle, treble and gain. Each channel has a cue button and a PC/line buttons, which on channels 1 and 4 is actually a PC/line-mic button.
Decks and jogwheels

Each deck section has big responsive sync/cue/play-pause buttons, a line of five hot cues (small but again nice and responsive with a good “click”) , a useful couple of buttons to help with Traktor beatgridding, and a really nice long-throw pitch control with a pleasing resistance and a range button for fine or course adjustments.

There are old school +/- pitch buttons too, a big blue/green backlit “layer” button for switching between the two decks in the software that each physical deck can control, and an unusual but useful “back to start” button, to return you immediately to the beginning of the loaded track.
A button for setting the deck as master tempo, and a spare user-assignable button finish off this area.
The jogwheels are the same as on the NS6, which is to say they’re big, silent and smooth in operation, and overall feel on out-of-the-box touch like they’ll be really nice to use. I actually think the jogwheels look nicer than they do on the NS6; on that controller the plastic edges of the jogwheels are painted silver and feel a bit cheap to me; the black colour here looks better.
Loops, effects and filters

Above each deck is a comprehensive loop section, with a host of autoloop functions: loop shift, beatjump, half/double loop length plus manual in and out; it’s the most comprehensive loop section I can recall seeing on a Traktor controller. Also in this section but not connected to these functions are the touchstrips, which allow you to hop through a track, as if dropping a needle through a record.

The filter and effects are on the detachable back strip. They’re nice and spaced out, with just 12 knobs and 14 buttons spread out along the strip – four filters (one per channel, with on/off buttons), and four knobs and six buttons per effects section.
The central section

Above the mixer is a section with a shiny grey plastic backplate, within which a black back-plated area contains a few output controls and the library controls. Here there are a booth volume, master volume, record and autoplay buttons, and a view button for cycling through Traktor’s screen views.

A stepped push-click infinity knob controls library browsing, with buttons to load to the active deck and to switch between favourites, song list and file tree.
The FX assign buttons for all four channels can be found in this section, as can the musical key controls (on/off and key change on a knob), plus two user-assignable short-throw faders and push-click infinity knobs.
Front and back of the unit

Across the front are crossfader assign and curve switches and knobs, switches to turn fader start on and off, headphone cueing volume / mix and split cue controls (good to see split cue on a DJ controller; along with kill switches, split cue seemed to go out of fashion a while back), plus two sizes of headphone sockets.

Meanwhile round the back are both balanced XLR and unbalanced RCA master outs, unbalanced RCA booth outs, and four analogue inputs, two of which are line/phono and two line/mic, complete with 1/4″ TRS microphone sockets. There’s a ground pin here too for using to connect turntables that require ground, such as Technics. The back section is actually shielded from view (and from easy access) by the inclined effects panel – good once set up, awkward when actually plugging stuff in.

Setting up and in use

The software

Traktor is never the easiest software in the world to get going with third-party controllers, even when you’ve got a special edition (this comes with a “4Trak edition”). You have to install the drivers, reboot, then install Traktor, then plug in and run the software, at which point you have to tell it you want to enter a serial number, register with the Service Center, finally entering your serial number in order to get past the opening screen of the software.

Once you’re in, you have to run the set-up wizard, which reports back that its work has been done. You’re not, however, set up. Next, you have to go into the rather daunting Traktor preferences panel, and set up the controller and the FX unit separately, in order for the controls on the hardware and the audio to work correctly with the software.
It’s not entirely intuitive and it’s definitely long-winded, but once you’re there – and assuming you did everything in exactly the right order and used your intuition a bit (for instance, there’s no mention on the quick start sheet about the Service Center / serial bit, and you really would expect a set-up wizard to, you know, set you up, without you them having to do manual stuff too) – you’re ready to go. Indeed, f you managed to read that whole last sentence without losing the meaning, you’ll probably be OK! But it’s not plug & play.
The software boots up in four-deck mode, which is not ideal on a 1280 x 800 laptop, as you can’t see any of your library, so you’ll want to experiment to get a view that suits you out of the available options. Alternatively, you can just hit the “view” button whenever you want to scroll through your tracks (there’s a special library view for just this purpose).

The version of Traktor in the box is a surprisingly full featured take on the “full” version. The effects are limited both in functions and the number of effects, but what you get is OK. I would like to have got better sounding filters out of the box, though, as the ones you get don’t really resonate very well and overall sound a bit dull to me.
DJing with the 4Trak

In use, the controller is, with the exception of one issue, a dream. The jogs, particularly, are extremely good. They have a high resolution and the scratch performance in Traktor is excellent – not always the case with Traktor controllers.

There’s an on/off button for scratch mode (I, for instance, don’t tend to scratch, so I would leave this off to save accidentally touching the jog and affecting the music), and combined with the long-throw, hi-re pitch faders, it means the jogs are great for both manual and beatmatched / sync DJing. they are appreciably better than the Traktor Kontrol S4, jogs, for instance.
The mixer section feels high quality in use, with one pretty major bugbear for me: No VU for cueing. what I mean is that the only onboard VU metering is for the master outs. There is no way of using the VU meters to monitor an individual channel pre-fader, in order to correctly set the channel gain. On a DJ controller that is sold as a standalone mixer too, that’s a major omission, because proper gain staging is essential if you’re mixing outside and software sources.
Selecting tunes, setting effects and loops, setting and deleting cues (you use shift plus the cue button to delete, which is standard) and even adjusting your beatgrids if you use them are all intuitive, and for the effects and filters, the tilted strip feels great. There’s something nice about having a big, wide panel of knobs tiled towards you, inviting you to have a tweak, something that I’m sure many DJs will enjoy!
The touchstrips are a good addition, which taken with the “return to start” buttons mean that overall, the 4Trak probably has the best transport controls of any DJ controller I’ve ever used. Sensibly, the touchstrips only work when you’ve got shift pressed (in case you touch them by mistake), and usefully, they have a strip of LEDs across the top of them to show how far through the tune you see.
One feature I particularly liked having right there in front of me was they key-change knob. As well as locking the key, you can also alter it up and down with this knob, so you can fine tune acappellas over backing tracks (for instance) by ear. Obviously the further away from true you go the worse it sounds, but it’s still a creative control and typical of the completeness of the 4Trak’s implementation of Traktor.
If you want to use Traktor’s sample decks, you can grab a mapping with alterations to do so from Numark’s website – but as with all Traktor controllers, if you want to use the Remix Decks, you need to buy a Kontrol F1 and plug it in in addition to the 4Trak.
Finally, I love the sound quality on this – it’s sold as 24-bit but as always, I just plugged it in, turned it up and listened – and it sounded sweet.

Conclusion

This is an almost perfect Traktor controller. I can see it being used by mobile DJs, bar DJs (especially if you’re a resident and can keep your gear permanently set up there), and hobby DJs who want a truly nice bit of kit that’s more substantial than most DJ controllers (it’s the biggest non-motorised platter DJ controller I can think of). The design feature of a detachable, tilted effects/filters strip works well, both making the controls easily accessible, and hiding the wiring at the back.
Of course it’s as much a standalone mixer as a DJ controller, with a generous set of inputs, although at least one XLR microphone input and at least one mic socket on the front would have been preferable to having both hidden around the back.
The biggest flaw is the poor VU metering, You can work around it when software mixing, but on a standalone mixer that’s a big omission.

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