By Chris Cartledge
September 18, 2012
Much like the 4MidiLoop before it, the Glanzmann 4TrackTrigger is developed in collaboration with FaderFox, the boutique controller brand that tends to divide people – some love them and immediately need them for their rig, but some see the minimal design as simply cramped and overpriced. One thing’s for sure: the 4TrackTrigger is built for pro use and priced accordingly.
The 4TrackTrigger’s surface focuses purely on controlling Traktor’s decks, effects, and loop recorder – or in other words, it steers clear of the mixer section. This means that the ideal use case is to have the 4TrackTrigger sat alongside a four channel mixer, but ironically the 4MidiLoop isn’t really the ideal controller because far too many controls are mirrored for it to make sense. No, think hardware for this pairing. It’s on a very small production run, so we’d better find out whether you need to snap one up or not…
More than just about anything else I can think of that just does MIDI, the 4TrackTrigger feels like a professional piece of DJ gear. It’s exceptionally well built, and has a sturdy feel throughout without anything really screaming ‘cost saving component choice’. High quality encoders are used throughout, the rotary pots are smooth and slick, and the 7-bar LED displays scattered around the controller give the kind of visual feedback on control values, loop lengths, and so on that we’re used to from dedicated hardware.
The buttons are probably the best buttons I’ve ever used on a piece of DJ gear. Arcade buttons, the current popular choice for the button pressing connoisseur, feel hacky, space inefficient, and dare I say toy-like (who’d have thought?) in comparison. The colossal price of the 4TrackTrigger left me sufficiently deterred from opening up the unit to poke around, but the buttons feel like ball and spring switches akin to arcade buttons but with a 2-3mm action that’s either up or down, so there’s no ‘squidgy’ feel – just immediate, gratifying tactile feedback. Awesome.
To confound that though, I do have a bit of an issue with the small, circular, secondary buttons. In comparison to the main square ones they’re too finicky and don’t have the same level of tactile feedback. Their use around the FX sections of the mixer is a shame because it seems to me that FX activation is a musical endeavour, thus more suited to the square buttons, and there’s room (on the surface, at least; perhaps under the cover things are just too tight to fit them in) for the square ones. They’re not a big problem in the loop and master areas, as they stay out of the way and have the right amount of space for usage frequency, but in the track areas they definitely feel cramped, and that’s without even going into the shift functions assigned to them.
One thing though: if I were to pay €1500 plus VAT and shipping (so €1850 – £1475 - to get it to the UK, then) for a piece of gear, no matter how well it was made I wouldn’t want to see Comic Sans within a hundred miles of it. The 4TrackTrigger’s logo is just hideous, sorry logo designer.
Whilst the 4TrackTrigger really works as a ‘proper’ on-the-fly controller, it’s perhaps more important than ever to properly prepare your tracks with accurate grids, cue points, and so on, because the lack of jog wheels or touch strips that you’ll find yourself faced with means that if you load up a track that’s not got, for instance, the cue set up properly for the start of the track, you’ll find it difficult to seek to it in any way that could be called intuitive. This isn’t a problem, of course, because nowadays meticulous track preparation is analogous to the importance of arranging your crates so that you could find the record you want in an instant back in the days of yore.
I’ve seen a lot of comments from would-be users who say the 4TrackTrigger looks cramped, and to be completely honest I both agree and disagree at the same time. The controls are squashed together pretty tightly, but when you get away from the idea of ‘controllerism’ and think from the perspective of a DJ that actually plays two-hour plus sets of music being mixed together, the ergonomics of the 4TrackTrigger work like a charm. No, it’s not the perfect controller for busting short, crazy controllerism routines, but it’s fantastic for actually mixing with. Everything’s right where you need it, and in anything that could be called normal operation nothing feels like it’s dangerously close to a neighbouring button or control.
Whilst I did have a bit of a jab at the secondary buttons – especially in the track sections – in fairness, the things they control like manual loop and beat jump aren’t features that, er, feature prominently in the workflow of that many DJs, and the shift functions control things like cue type and grid locking, things that in an ideal world are set and forget functions done before the mixing begins… so maybe I’m being a little bit harsh here.
More than any controller I’ve used in recent memory, the 4TrackTrigger allayed any controller related stress that I find almost inevitable when coming away from dedicated hardware. I set it up next to a mixer and was confident that everything I needed was provided for between the two devices and I could just get on with getting on. It’s difficult to explain, really, because that’s a comment that should really apply to any well designed controller, but I think it’s something to do with the fact that the 4TrackTrigger is a track and effects controller that leaves mixing to mixers, and in the process does away with any weird layouts, cramped design or any other issue. I think the fact that the 4TrackTrigger is so well built and really feels at home next to a mixer as a piece of pro gear helps as well.
I was also sent a foot pedal to test the 4TrackTrigger with. Sure enough, the looping aspect of the 4TrackTrigger works very well, and there are two separate 1/4” pedal inputs to use. Having foot control can make a big difference for things like live looping, but it’s funny how as a concept it’s not really taken off, even in the light of four deck mixing and live recording which is really a marketing ploy for the vast majority of us that never mind don’t have the skills, don’t have four hands either.
The only real issue I have is that as the 4TrackTrigger is so obviously designed to sit with a hardware mixer, having it at only around two inches tall is a nuisance. Now, in their promotional images Glanzmann have the 4TrackTrigger mounted on a stand above a mixer, so the shallower form factor makes sense, but if I want it on a desk I need to use risers of some kind to get it flush.
On the whole the 4TrackTrigger is very well mapped to Traktor 2.5. Most things do exactly what you’d expect without having to delve into the manual, for instance shift+cue point to delete a cue, but there are some odd ones (shift+pitch bend to unload a track seems bizarre, as I intuitively expected it to be coarse tuning, and pushing the main browser encoder seems a bit buggy as in the track menu it loads tracks to decks or switches tracks, or… generally doesn’t do anything useful), and there’s definitely a learning curve when it comes to the advanced features such as Remix Deck use.
That said, despite NI’s crippling of third-party devices’ integration with remix decks the 4TrackTrigger does a pretty admirable job of mapping things to its deck sections, with three of the buttons taking on general/volume/filter mode duties and the top four cues loading and then muting/un-muting the slots with the bottom ones re-triggering them. Shift and FX enables/disables FX for each of the four slots, and whilst it feels like the 4TrackTrigger will be more at home for a standard full track workflow, it can at least have a decent bash at the jigsaw like paradigm of remix decks.
You can of course remap things to your heart’s content. For some reason the default mapping for the track browse on the decks goes up the list with a clockwise motion and vice versa, but that’s a simple fix. The FX buttons are toggles, but if you want them to be momentary you can do that too. With how tightly the layout of the 4TrackTrigger is integrated with Traktor it’s really only little things like this you’ll want to mess with, though, as coming up with a new workflow completely from scratch would take a long time, and greatly detract from the value of the unit in the first place.
The big issue with the 4TrackTrigger is its price. People have been conditioned to think of controllers as ways to save money over an equivalent offering of dedicated hardware, but the 4TrackTrigger is priced in the realms of classic ‘real’ gear. Look at it for what it is, though, and the price starts to make sense. For a start, it just feels great to use, plain and simple. You could take it and a laptop to any club that has a four channel mixer and, providing you can plug your audio interface in, get going immediately. If you want a workhorse that can moonlight as a performance controller and you have the pockets for it, it’s definitely worth taking a look at the 4TrackTrigger. Would it be even cooler if it had a built-in audio interface? Yes, it would. But you can’t have everything.
Build Quality: Really, really good. Everything feels great.
Features and Implementation: Once you get over the fact there’s no mixing section, no jog wheels, and no touch strips – essentially forcing you to pre-prepare like you really ought to anyway – and look at what the 4TrackTrigger is designed to do, you can’t help but be impressed with how good it feels doing it.
Value for Money: This one’s the elephant in the room. Is it overpriced? Perhaps, if it was being made by one of the giants of the industry, but it’s not; 4TrackTrigger is a small production run unit, but with its boutique pricing comes with it a very high quality build. Okay, it’s probably still a bit steep for what it is, but there’s nothing quite like it so what are you gonna do?