When you first get a good look at the DDJ-T1, you can see the Pioneer signature all over it. The jog wheels and cue/play buttons look and feel like they were lifted directly from a CDJ, which is a good thing. The entire unit looks and feels solid, like it could take a bit of a beating and still function without a problem. The downside to a controller with such luxuriously-sized controls is that it takes up a lot of space. At almost 27" wide it's eight inches wider than the S4. Fortunately, some of that space can be made up for by the pair of stubby legs that Pioneer provides, which make it possible for a laptop to slide neatly underneath. This is a smart design decision that will probably lead to a few "why didn't we think of that?" questions being posed around competitors' water coolers.
When using the DDJ-T1 over a laptop, the trackpad and keyboard of the laptop will obviously be inaccessible. This requires that you utilize only the DDJ-T1 to interact with Traktor—a task for which it is well suited thanks to an efficient navigation panel. One knob does triple duty, scrolling through the three main panels of Traktor's library. By default the knob scrolls through the main panel, and there are two buttons that allow you to scroll through the tree and favorites panels respectively. Once you have navigated to the track of choice, loading it to a deck is easy thanks to the dedicated load buttons at the top of each mixer channel. In fact, it would be hard to find complaint with the DDJ-T1's mixer section on the whole. Everything is where it should be, and all knobs and faders feel solid and professional. The only changes I might make would be to add both track-level LEDs next to the faders to aid in mixing without having to stare at the laptop screen, and the ability to enable/disable the crossfader for individual channels from the hardware like you can with the S4.
Moving outwards towards the deck sections is where this positive momentum starts to falter. As mentioned before, the jog wheel and cue/play buttons are solid, but when it comes to the row of controls dedicated to hotcues and loops there were some seriously puzzling design decisions. The process of setting the in and out points of a loop is simple enough, but if you want to adjust the endpoints of that loop or shuttle the loop through the track like you easily can with the S4, it requires a laborious series of button presses to first a) change the mode of the hot cue buttons to "move mode," and then b) change the type of move that you want to make from the possible options (Beat Jump, Loop, Loop In, Loop Out). After that you c) use two of the four hotcue buttons to set the move size, and then the other two to finally d) make the actual move. Confused yet? I was. Add to that the fact that the move size and move type values aren't reflected on the DDJ-T1 itself means that what should be a simple knob twist turns into series of button presses and glances at the laptop that would be all but impossible to achieve easily while in a dark DJ booth in the heat of the moment. The possibility of accidentally hitting a hotcue and jumping back to the start of a track while trying to adjust a loop should be enough to scare many away.
Even though the DDJ-T1 started officially shipping almost a month after Traktor Pro 2 was announced, it comes bundled with a watered-down "DDJ-T1 edition" of the original Traktor Pro. This raises some questions into how much cooperation there was between Native Instruments and Pioneer in the development of the DDJ-T1. If Pioneer was aware of a major upgrade on the horizon, it does not appear that they planned or adjusted very well to accommodate it. In addition to bundling with the older version of the software, the hardware itself has no native support for the new sample decks. This means that even if you pony up the $139 to upgrade to the full version of Traktor Pro 2 (a free upgrade to the limited version is reportedly coming in July) you will still need to manually map some existing controls to the sample deck parameters. As for the limitations of the DDJ-T1 edition of Traktor, unfortunately they are pretty severe. You cannot change the filter type, there are only six effect types to choose from, and the effects can only be used in Chained mode (i.e. one control per effect). The inability to switch the effects into advanced mode is a bit maddening, as there is an Advanced/Chained selector button on the unit that purports to do that very thing. It's only after digging into the manual that you get the bad news: "the effect panel can be switched into the [Advanced] mode when you upgrade to Traktor Pro or Traktor Scratch Pro."
These kinds of complaints would not be so damaging if there wasn't a direct competitor in the S4 that integrates with Traktor much more closely, comes with the full version of Traktor Pro 2, and carries a street price that's $200 less than the DDJ-T1. Is the DDJ-T1 a solid unit that would function well if basic mixing is all that is needed? Yes, of course. However, if you are in the market for a new all-in-one controller/soundcard that integrates well with Traktor, the clear choice is the S4—unless you hold a strong allegiance to Pioneer. My hope is that this was an initial stab by Pioneer at creating the perfect DJ unit, and now that the dust has settled with the release of both the S4 and Traktor Pro 2, they will follow up with an innovative unit that attempts to overcome the competition.
Ease of use: 2/5