May 22, 2012

Native Instruments Kontrol F1 – First Look

We were expecting the Kontrol F1 sometime in the next week so it was completely unexpected that someone with one would show up unannounced. By the time I had arrived in the office, I found the team frantically skirting around the room setting up the set.  I had been planning on doing an F1 demo when the unit was released and had only began to plan something out in the days prior to our unexpected visit and was unprepared to demo the unit on a whim.  I made a call to one of my friends that produces tracks with me and asked if he would send the stems from our latest track for a demo.

At about 11 o’Clock the artist made his way back to the video room carrying with him a suitcase full of just about any piece of NI gear you can imagine.  His name was Phillip and he was visiting from Detroit.  The team finished setting up the lights when Phillip finally opened up his suitcase full of NI goodness. This was the first time the UniqueSquared team saw the much anticipated Kontrol F1, outside of pictures on the web. Unfortunately we were unable to shoot any sort of video of the Traktor Kontrol F1, but Phillip was kind enough to let us play with the one he brought and learn about it together. Here is what we found.

Construction and layout

My first impressions of the unit were good, it has the same build quality as the Kontrol X1 which is basically a heavy duty plastic as well as four line faders (from the Kontrol s4) and a knob for adjusting the depth of your sample playback and sixteen pads.  What stood out to me the most were the pads, they felt great and when they were plugged in looked they looked like a light show on their own.  They are made of the same material as the Maschine pads but what make these different is that they have a satisfying click upon pressing each pad.  This is nice because you really know when you have activated a pad so there is no confusion as to what you are effecting in your mix.

One thing that I learned almost immediately is that the pads aren’t velocity sensitive which I, at first, took as a detractor to the unit but when reexamined it’s easy to see why NI didn’t want them to be velocity sensitive. (I’ll touch on that later)

Just above the pads is a small display and an endless rotary encoder which gives you control over which sample sections you are controlling.  This is an essential function of the unit because it stores your samples like pages and the scrolling knob is used to flip between the pages and change which samples are loaded into your deck.  Its like your F1 is a book with 16 lines on each page and the knob changes pages so that you can have 64 samples instead of just 16.

As you scroll through the different samples the colors on the pads change, I learned that the colors are selected by the user and can be modified by clicking on the clip in the software or by using the color function on the controller to change them without taking your hands off the F1.  Colors assigned to clips help the user to identify which type of sample they will be using and quite frankly just look amazing when playing out live.  The sheer amount of colors to choose from was quite large so that means that with a variety of clips the end user has almost endless options to choose from in regards to customization and control.

At the very top of the Kontrol F1 there are dedicated clip channel filter knobs, they are assigned to affect the row of clips directly below them and are easy to incorporate into your mixing.  Having a filter and a line level for each channel means that the end user can really dial in how they want each clip to fit into the mix and go “Dr. Science” in the mix by bringing it in silky smooth.  As a Traktor Kontrol S4 owner, I love having filter knobs on my channels and got more than a little excited at the prospect of having them on each channel for clip launching.

When I got to play with the F1 I began rapidly twisting the filter knob and slowly bring up the line level to create a wobble effect in the incoming clip.  This was just one cool thing that I thought of in the few moments that I actually got to use the unit and was exciting because I know that other people are going to find even more cool and unique ways of using the controller.

How it works

Phillip explained that each F1 operates like a single deck and that all of the clips and settings are saved as tracks, this means that once you have inserted all of your clips and settings into the clip launch interface they are saved in the form of a song that you can easily drag and drop back onto your clip launch deck for playback at a future date.  This knowledge came as a relief to me as I was worried that it was going to be a painful process of constantly reloading and arranging clips on the front end before gigging with the unit, but NI likes to make it easy so, BOOM, they did.

Before Philip even had a chance to load up any of the sample content on to the unit I began pestering him about its capabilities as a drum sampler or beat pad.  When I spin out live sometimes I bring out a Maschine and use its beat pads to drop kicks and other rhythms on top of tracks to keep the energy up.  For instance sometimes when playing an epic house set a two minute breakdown with no kick can really destroy a lot of energy but manually tapping out a mark II kick or 808 kick brings the dance factor back to the music and keeps the ladies shaking their hips throughout the track.

Kontrol F1 can be used in a Punch mode where it will play samples live when activated on the controller so naturally it is possible to fill those sample decks with drum samples and use them in times of emergency.  Where this falls short is in in the velocity sensitive area, the pads aren’t velocity sensitive so one must use one of the four line faders on the top of the F1 to adjust the sample rows output levels.

This might at first seem like a pain but it’s important to remember that the F1 is designed to be used for clip launching and velocity sensitive clip launching buttons make absolutely no sense.  Can you imagine playing a set where you had to remember to hit the pads a certain speed so that your clips would play at a decent level?  It would suck because it would be super easy to accidentally press a button harder or softer leading to huge inconsistencies with levels in your mix.  This effect would be magnified because NI has such a high quality of velocity response (see Maschine) that it would be just too much to control of audio levels in a clip launching situation.

Once Phillip had loaded up some sample content he began to dance around on the pad demonstrating its features and how each of them worked, he was quick to remind us that he had only been using the unit for full three hours before coming to UniqueSquared so he was also pretty new to it, it was almost a group learning experience with Phillip guiding us through the new layout of Traktor 2 and using his insights to figure out the functionality of each button and knob.

The software looks just about the same as the old Traktor Pro 2 but what’s different is that it now analyses songs with greater accuracy and with an F1 attached to the setup, one of your decks takes the form of a clip launch deck.

One of the demos that stood out to me the most was one that sounded like a bossa jazz track and had been split up into four groups; horns, bass, drums and a lead guitar line.  Each of the four parts was in its own row and they could be triggered just by pressing the buttons.  It is also noteworthy to mention that once a sample is playing on a deck if you have a controller with platter control you can actually scratch the samples and effect them with the jog wheels.  If you saw the demo NI released with Shifty you can see him scratching all over his samples, this results in a lot of really cool scratch effect possibilities.

When using the unit it is possible to activate clips in either quantized mode or in a free for punch mode so you can get your hands all over the clips and have freedom to launch them either in or out of time.  I thought it was really cool that the quantize feature can be turned on or off directly on the controller so its possible to take it off for a second to make a dramatic build and then pop it back on quickly so that when you really do launch it it will be perfectly synced with your other clips.

Room for Maschine and F1

As mentioned earlier, we learned that we were not in fact going to be able to film the unit because the guys at NI really wanted to keep the Kontrol F1 under wraps until the official launch date at the end of the May.  Although it was a huge bummer it was also a bit of a relief because we got to be trained on the unit so when the time does come to make a cool demo we will be fully prepared to do so.

Not wanting to leave us empty handed Phillip pulled out his Maschine and offered to do a demonstration of finger drumming for our YouTube channel as well as demo his favorite kit from the Abbey Road sample kit.  I was curious as to what he thought of the Maschine’s relevance now that the F1 was out and he told me that neither replaces one another as much as they work together to create something completely new and original.

For instance, you could be doing a live step sequence on Maschine and then seamlessly load it into a sample deck on the Kontrol F1 for playback whenever you wanted it.  The Maschine is a truly dedicated drum machine and when used with the F1, it creates live remix possibilities that would literally blow minds if you could travel back in time ten or twenty years ago.

Upon the conclusion of the Maschine demo, we found that the most exciting part of the F1 is that no one really knows how to use it yet.  I don’t mean that NI didn’t think through how the F1 would be used, rather what I am trying to say is that the tools it provides a DJ changes how one can think about DJing and live remixing.

We got the feeling that we hadn’t seen the coolest uses of the F1 yet because they simply haven’t been thought of.  The Native Instruments Kontrol F1 is a blank canvas, and when incorporated into your setup, it will have you thinking about your mixes in ways that will change everything you know about conventional mixing.  The Kontrol F1 takes down barriers in live remixing and its functionality is only limited to the end user’s creativity and I can’t wait to get one for myself. If you have any questions about the Traktor Kontrol F1, or want us to hit on any particular points in our demo, please leave a comment below and we will be sure to follow up with you.

Until Next Time,

Zack Rocket

Native Instruments Kontrol F1 – First Look UniqueSquared


  1. Sonic Surfer says:

    Can you trigger a sample like a drummashine, when using F1 in Traktor 2.5?
    In Traktor 2 you can only make the sample play as a one shot (when doing so, the sample will play and stop, when double triggered) or a trigger the sample as a loop.
    I want to be able to make a beat on the fly, which is imposible in T2, because I cant trigger the same sample rapidly.

    1. Zack Rocket says:

      The F1 has a punch mode that allows you to do exactly what you were describing. Check out the demo shiftee did to see it in action.

  2. Sonic Surfer says:

    Thanks mate. That’s great news! Midi or no midi- I’m getting one for sure.

    1. Zack Rocket says:

      Everything I’ve heard paints it to be strictly a controller for Traktor 2.5. NI says that there is no need to mess with midi mappings so there might not be support but then again that would be uncharacteristic of NI to do that. Guess we’re just gonna have to wait for the launch to find out.