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Over the 11-plus years that I’ve been writing for DJ Times, I’ve seen a lot of hardware and a lot of software for performing DJ sets. And these days, the choices are wider and better than they ever have been. But clear back in 2006 when I first started DJing, I went down the digital path, and the software I chose when I first started was Traktor from Germany’s Native Instruments.

And when the gig calls for me to use a laptop and take advantage of my full digital collection and years of accumulated songs and their metadata (song tags, ratings, styles, BPMs, keys, cue points, etc.), I still primarily use Traktor. Let’s just say I have a soft spot for this software — and the terrific hardware that N.I. has put out over the years to support it.

N.I. has had three primary Traktor controllers on the market for some time now: The Traktor Kontrol S2, S4 and the cooly received (and unusual) S8. Late last year, N.I. decided to expand that family to fill a perceived gap between the very capable 4-channel S4 (at a suggested $999), and the much more strip-downed, entry-level-focused S2 (at a suggested $339). The gap filler? The Traktor Kontrol S3, the subject of this review. And, at a suggested $649, it’s almost exactly halfway (pricewise) between the S2 and S4.

What’s Different? Like the S4, the Traktor Kontrol S3 is a proper 4-channel controller, with faders and controls for all four provided in hardware (with no shifting of shared controls). Obviously with two deck sections, transport controls are shared, with clear selector buttons to the lower left of the platters to swap out the decks when needed. The 4-channel support immediately, in my view, makes it a much more serious controller than the S2 (which has only two channels surfaced directly in the hardware).

So, what did N.I. change to get the price point down? For a start, the company removed the “Haptic Drive” motorized jog wheels. I actually really liked these controls on the S4, but I think they actually were a smart candidate to remove in the name of a more affordable controller. Also missing are the onboard color displays. Again, these are nice to have; they look nice, and they do enhance the experience of using the S4. But are they strictly necessary? Not really. N.I. also chose to strip out the deck-effects controls for the S3. The utility of the deck effects depends entirely on your DJ style. The S3 still offers access to Traktor’s mixer effects, which are interesting, but not as sophisticated.

Finally, N.I. took the standalone mixer capability of the S4 off the table for the S3, and this is probably the single most relevant factor in allowing the reduced price point. Again, if you’re a laptop-centric DJ with your music collection on the computer, those standalone mixing abilities just aren’t going to be something you use. You still get one stereo line input should you wish to incorporate external sources into your set.

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