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Native Instruments Komplete 10 Ultimate

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Read more about Native Instruments Komplete 10 Ultimate at MusicRadar.com


Native Instruments’ Komplete moves to version 10, incorporating new instruments in a range of categories…

There’s an awful lot to like about Native Instruments’ product range. If you’re a synth fan, you’ll be aware of Massive and the extraordinary impact it has had on Dance music in the past few years. You’ll probably admire Absynth 5 and the FM8 too, whilst Reaktor’s own libraries of instruments now extend to high-profile titles including Razor and Monark.

“If you’re not yet a Komplete user but have been yearning for one of the bundles, there has never been a better time to buy”

If you’re a media composer, you’ll no doubt have had your head turned by Kontakt’s exceptional array of piano, strings, brass, drums and percussion libraries, to say nothing of the fact that Kontakt is established as the weapon of choice for third-party sample library developers.

And for guitarists and mix engineers, Guitar Rig 5 and the extended range of individual and bundled effects processors offer plenty of cherries to place atop your perfectly crafted sonic cakes.

Individually, these titles are powerful enough but, bundled together, they offer an unparalleled suite of production tools in the form of Komplete.

This is available in two new incarnations: the cheaper yet still generously appointed Komplete 10, or the more expensive ‘all you can eat’ buffet that is Komplete 10 Ultimate. The latter is on test here.

Komplete overview

In total, Komplete 10 Ultimate bundles 75 of Native Instruments’ separate product titles, which add up to over 440GB of data. Installation, as per Komplete 9, is from a Read Only hard drive, from which content is transferred to your hard drive(s) of choice, replacing the need for 100-odd DVDs.

The install took about four hours on our test computer but Komplete is authorised from a single code rather than individual ones for each library title, so, once installed, you’re soon up and running.

As is traditional, Komplete Ultimate 10 collects up and includes some titles which have been released as separate entities in the past few months, as well as offering some brand new ones.

Three of the latter come in the form of new Reaktor Player synths, Round, Kontour and Polyplex. We’d exhaust our entire word allocation simply listing what’s included, so for a full list, check out the Native Instruments Komplete site.

Of particular note for media composers, Kontakt has been expanded in a range of sonic areas. On the film-composing front, Action Strikes, Rise and Hit and the Kinetic Metal libraries are included, the latter of which offers an engine to bend and evolve sound in thrilling ways.

The Studio nature of Kontakt is boosted further by the inclusion of Session Horns Pro, the Cuba library and the hybrid DrumLab instrument, which lets you balance drum sources between acoustic and electronic base layers.

Three new piano titles – The Grandeur, The Gentleman and The Maverick – further expand upon the options offered by Kontakt’s already impressive ivory-tickling options too.

“What’s clear is that Komplete continues to go from strength to strength”

On the effects front, the Tube Saturation Compressor SuperCharger GT is included, as is the Reaktor FX library Molekular, which provides a modular approach for effects processing and sound design.

Also new is the Komplete Kontrol software which – as well as acting as the bridge between the Komplete software and NI’s new Komplete Kontrol S-series keyboards – provides a launchpad for browsing all of Komplete’s content from a single plug-in.

This is invaluable as, until now, you’ve had to learn the assorted personalities of Komplete’s instrument collection before being able to take a ‘best guess’ at where to find sounds which might suit your productions.

Now, you can choose from target ‘keywords’ and Komplete will list suitable sounds from across its titles.

Krunching the numbers

So, what’s clear is that Komplete continues to go from strength to strength, bundling new libraries with those present in Komplete 9 and, more valuably still, creating new instruments for Reaktor which will prove hugely popular.

If you’re not yet a Komplete user but have been yearning for one of the bundles, there has never been a better time to buy. The extraordinary discount offered when comparing the prices of individual NI titles with those included in the bundle is beyond compare.

However, if you’re updating from Komplete 9, you might pause and look at the £339 upgrade price, which seems a little steep. For this, you gain Rounds, Kontour and Polyplex, several new Kontakt libraries, effects like Molekular and SuperCharger and more besides.

If all of those titles appeal to you, £339 is still a good price compared to the individual costs of each product but, in keeping with the total package price, we’re a little surprised the upgrade isn’t £50-£100 cheaper.

Of course, if you’re upgrading from a previous version of Komplete, the word ‘bargain’ can again be used more liberally.

What’s not in doubt is that Komplete Ultimate remains a class leader. If you’re a producer or composer whose work spans a range of musical genres, Komplete 10 continues to offer itself as the ultimate sonic toolkit.

Read more about Native Instruments Komplete 10 Ultimate at MusicRadar.com







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Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S Series

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Read more about Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S Series at MusicRadar.com


When NI announced Komplete Kontrol, an innovative way to browse and edit the sounds resident in its world famous plugins, we gave a little wince.

We always quite liked NI’s Kore and gave it the benefit of the doubt on the strict understanding that a) It often ‘got in the way’ when you wanted to do proper tweaks b) It never really made good on its promises. So it’s admirable that NI has remained attached to this ‘one software to rule them all’ ideal because – at its ‘kore’ – it’s a good idea.

Instead of searching through each plugin for a specific sound you can browse all your ‘bass’ tones at once. What does it matter if the sound comes from Absynth or Massive anyway? And if you do want to specify a specific synth you can. Easily. Rather than walk away from the ‘koncept’ NI is back with another stab. And this time it’s got it right.

“All Komplete’s sounds are accurately categorised and everything makes so much more sense than NI’s R.I.P. Kore system”

This time their ‘super synth’ is a game of three parts and each makes a lot of sense. Firstly there’s Komplete, NI’s popular super-suite of software that in version 10 feels more unified and consistent than ever. Next is Komplete Kontrol, a free bit of software for Komplete 9 or 10 owners that sits in front of the individual plugins and gives a simple unified interface. And finally there’s the Kontrol S keyboards, a new set of controllers specifically designed to work with Komplete Kontrol and which come in 25, 49 or 61 key forms.

Take Kontrol

Okay, so let’s talk Komplete Kontrol first. Komplete Kontrol finds the plugs and presets installed by Komplete and allows you to browse all of its sounds, edit important elements with a trimmed down version of the full plug’s interface and generally do all the stuff that matters from one simple-looking plugin.

You can search for ‘pad sounds’ (for example) via search criteria and pull up a list of options regardless of the plug that makes them. It’s a standalone or plugin (appearing in your NI folder in your DAW’s drop-down) and it works great.

It’s simple, easy to understand and pretty fast, given that tapping through sounds requires your computer to load up each plug and sound to let you hear it. Locking the search to a particular plugin speeds things up further but rather rubbishes the ‘one plug searches all’ concept.

All Komplete’s sounds are accurately categorised and everything makes so much more sense than NI’s R.I.P. Kore system. There’s no spurious ‘sound morphing’ features, unwanted effects and mixer sections or buttons you don’t understand (or use).

And the software feels clean and nimble enough for you to confidently have it between you and your NI plugs without any fear that it’s slowing down your computer or dumbing down your synths. It might be that you never open the full plug again and we can see a Komplete 11 (12? …13?) where this single interface truly becomes the front-end of Komplete’s gamut of power.

So it’s slightly confusing as to why Komplete Kontrol is being made available for free. It would make more sense to include it only with the Kontrol S as the keyboard is next to useless without it and – at those prices – needs all the help it can get.

We can see lots of Komplete users cheekily enjoying Komplete Kontrol with no intention of ever buying a Kontrol S and giving NI any more money. Still, it’s their call.

S for style

“The keybed is made by Fatar so the feel is precise, light and definitely ‘synthesizer’ but sturdy with a smoothly weighted touch”

Attach a Kontrol S keyboard to Komplete Kontrol and things simply get a lot more tactile. The Kontrol S is styled identically to NI’s Maschine Studio and the pair will immediately strike a chord with anyone who cares about their studio’s ergonomics.

Seriously, if you own one you will lust after the other. The plastic is matte and soft to the touch and the metal surfaces are brushed and (literally) cool. Knobs are identical to the smooth dials on the Maschine Studio and the whole thing is solid enough to feel premium but light enough to sling around.

Browsing sounds, setting search criteria and tweaking parameters can all be done from the keyboard’s controls and it’s easy to start thinking about Kontrol S as the most powerful synth you own rather than an ‘empty’ box.

The keybed is made by Fatar so the feel is precise, light and definitely ‘synthesizer’ but sturdy with a smoothly weighted touch allowing fast playing and accurate dynamics. After five minutes we loved it.

Kontrol S’s eight built-in screens give vital information as to what each knob is about to do before you turn it and where that parameter is set. Eight parameters for every sound automatically appear on the keyboard and page left and right buttons take the knobs deeper into more obscure functions. The concept is similar to Novation’s ground-breaking SL keyboards which used tiny screens (albeit at lesser quality) to do the same thing.

Kontrol S’s Light Guide – a system of coloured LEDs above the keys that aims to show you ‘what a key will do’ before you hit it – is a real unique selling point. The exact use for the lights system changes depending on what you’re doing but broadly speaking it shows the position of sounds across the keybed and/or notes and scales selected in the keyboard’s unique chord and arpeggiator modes. And in a studio’s half light it just looks cool, with the length of the keys more often than not bathed in a cool blue.

And finally there’s Kontrol S’s unique mod and pitch ‘wheels’, replaced by two touchstrips with LEDs showing levels. At their simplest these are faders allowing you to drag a finger up to the desired height but their use as a touch surface allows a player to tap at different points and toggle between extreme settings instantly in a way that a wheel could never accomplish.

Alternatively (via various modes in the Kontrol software) a player could set an effect modulating up and down with inertia based on how fast you pushed the strip, touchscreen style. Just the job for wobbling the LFO on your basslines or going modulation and bend crazy while still having your hands free to play.

The Komplete package?

Caution to the wind and wallet rinsed and you’ve got a very new and sleek way of putting sounds in your DAW. For this review (more by circumstance than intention) we installed Komplete 10, Maschine and Komplete Kontrol on a new fast Mac with Logic. The result – tens of thousands of sounds we can select and manipulate in a consistent way that we really like and understand – has really made us wonder if we should even bother installing anything else.

Komplete plus Komplete Kontrol (for free) makes a lot of sense but we do wonder quite how popular Kontrol S will prove. Simply requiring Komplete on board (in order to unlock nine tenths of the stuff it can do) makes it rather niche. And that price tag, hiked by its great screens and one-of-a-kind Light Guide, just makes it more niche – £429 for the 25 key version and an incredible £599 for the 61 key? Ouch…

But like all cool, expensive stuff, you can of course simply choose to live without it. A Bentley is just a car after all. But we think that once you’ve test driven Komplete with Komplete Kontrol and Kontrol S in the driving seat you might well part-ex your banger.

Read more about Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S Series at MusicRadar.com







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Learn to Use Komplete 10′s Real Gems – Those Great New Reaktor Instruments

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014

Just because there’s a nice marketing angle doesn’t mean that it has to be the story for you. And that’s been true of NI’s big, splashy product launches. Sure, there’s the epic-looking Traktor Kontrol S8 hardware launched this week – but you tell us you might be just as pleased with a compact controller or an update to the iPad app. And Maschine Studio does wonderful things with its big screens – but the MK2 still has great pads, costs less, and fits in a backpack.

And then there’s Komplete 10. Yes, NI is keen to talk about its light-up series of keyboards, which integrate with the software. But whether you want them or not, what you shouldn’t miss is the superb new Reaktor instruments that come with the bundle.

Rounds is one of the best synths I’ve used recently, full stop. It takes the new analog modeling techniques NI honed elsewhere and launches into new digital domains of effects, modulation, and FM sound generation. No surprise: it comes from Stephan Schmitt, the NI founder who also gave us Reaktor itself. Polyplex is simple but good fun as a drum machine (even if it makes me long even more for a better sample loading facility in Reaktor). And Contour is yet another deep synth.

Matt Cellitti walks through the trio of new Reaktor instruments in a series of tutorial videos, so it’s a great way to get started. Let’s watch.

The post Learn to Use Komplete 10′s Real Gems – Those Great New Reaktor Instruments appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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Native Instruments releases “Komplete Kontrol S-Series” keyboards and “Komplete 10″ – the next generation of Komplete Instrument and Effect suites

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

Native Instruments has released the Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards, and the latest generation of Komplete and Komplete Ultimate software bundles. The S-Series keyboards and accompanying [Read More]
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Reaktor Users Can Starting Playing with Komplete Kontrol Now – Even Without Hardware

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

hwcontrol

Pretty lights are no fun if they’re off limits. So, Reaktor gurus, your fun starts now. As promised here, you get some example patches to begin working with those light-up keyboards from Native Instruments (Komplete Kontrol S-Series, to be technical). And they’re available now:

Here are two example ensembles showing how to control the KOMPLETE KONTROL S-series LEDs and key properties from Reaktor.

HWControl_BasicUse.ens – can be used with an S-series keyboard to directly control the key LED colours and note properties.

HWControl_KB-LED-Simulator.ens – includes a keyboard LED simulator instrument so that you can test your Reaktor HWControl messages without having an S-series keyboard.

HWControl Module Examples: Hardware Control module examples for builders [Native Instruments User Library]

If only one person reads this article and that person makes something amazing with Reaktor, it’ll be worth it having published it. So do let us know here at the CDM Office Tower. (Dizzying, the view from the executive suites, I will say that.)

Nothing yet for controlling the display text, though – that should be interesting.

See, previously:
Komplete Kontrol Integration Will Work with Your Own Reaktor, Kontakt Creations, Too; Details

The post Reaktor Users Can Starting Playing with Komplete Kontrol Now – Even Without Hardware appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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Komplete Kontrol Integration Will Work with Your Own Reaktor, Kontakt Creations, Too; Details

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

Reaktor Lighting up Komplete Kontrol

All the light-up colors and built-in displays on the upcoming NI Komplete Kontrol keyboard may be aimed mostly at users wanting plug-and-play access to instruments in Komplete. But for the DIYer, there’s potential, too. Komplete Kontrol is the first hardware interface built with Reaktor patchers in mind.

It’s not likely to be a feature of the marketing, but Reaktor lovers will be able to build specific integration into their creations. Kontakt scripting will have the same functionality, if you’re designing sample libraries. We spoke to Gwydion at NI to get some specifics even before this launches.

This should come as good news to Reaktor fans even if you don’t get Komplete Kontrol. The integration will be possible whether or not you own the hardware, and should generate more attention and enthusiasm around Reaktor.

First off, let’s talk about what you can’t do. You can’t control those colored light-up LEDs via MIDI. That I think qualifies as bad news; even Native Instruments’ own Traktor Kontrol line lets you send RGB messages to the colored pads via MIDI.

Komplete Kontrol is different, however; the host software is what controls the colored LEDs and parameter displays (Komplete Kontrol). But Kontakt and Reaktor builders will be able to access that feature via scripts and patches. That means especially interesting stuff in Reaktor: you’ll be able to use colored light feedback directly in a patch, would could lead to unusual new instruments and sequencing ideas.

So, to review: MIDI mapping lets you add custom CC labels and colors above the keys. But in both Reaktor and Kontakt, you’ll get interactive control of each per patch. In detail:

A new module. The communication is accomplished via a new output feature. Gwydion:

In the upcoming Reaktor 5.9.2 update there is a new module called HWControl. It’s output only. The documentation contains tables showing how you can control the S-series LEDs from your Reaktor creation. You can set the following properties per note: colour (1 of 16 colours and off state), whether Note Pressed indication is handled by Reaktor or by Komplete Kontrol, whether the note is a standard note or whether it’s a control type (e.g. keyswitch). The latter parameter is important, for example to tell Komplete Kontrol arpeggiator to skip this note.

As default, the Kontrol software will take care of the LED colours. But, by adding the HWControl module to your own creations you can create custom colour patterns and control key ranges.

Not just Pretty Lights. LED colors are cool, but I bet you’ll be even more keen to use the displays next to the encoders.

Reaktor + keyboard integration isn’t just limited to the LED colours. We’ve also added an Automation Module to Reaktor which adds support for dynamic parameter labels. This becomes invaluable when you have macro controls and instead of having to call them something generic for the host, the builder can now change the automation label during runtime depending on what the macro is currently mapped to.

I’ve got Reaktor 5.9.2, so let’s have a look:

hwcontrol

Reaktor integration. To me, the new Reaktor instruments already look like the best stuff in Komplete 10 – with or without the Komplete Kontrol hardware. With the keyboard, they literally light up.

For end users:

Both Rounds and PolyPlex use the HWControl module to customise the LEDs to the instruments – to great effect. You can really play the keyboard and use key switches without having to look at any screen now. With Kontour, there’s no custom LED mapping – Komplete Kontrol handles it all.

For developers:

We’ll be uploading some helpful macros to the Reaktor User Library to speed up building with the HWControl module, including a S-Series simulator so that even keyboard-less builders can prepare their creations for integration.

I’m slightly biased here in that I haven’t had Komplete 10 to properly test – this is the reason anything I’ve said about the hardware so far isn’t a review. But already, I’ve found it most appealing messing with the Reaktor library.

reaktor_kk

It’s a great time to love patching. Max 7 is on the horizon, and Max for Live is robust as ever (and integrates with Push). Pd remains the free, omni-platform tool that’s lightweight enough to build into games, iPhone apps, or run on a Raspberry Pi. And Reaktor is still a terrific go-to tool when you just want to focus on instruments and effects, with unique granular functionality, ultra-quick construction with ready-to-use ensembles and modules, and recently refreshed with OSC support and a new user library. So putting it together with keyboard interaction is a nice extra.

It’s funny, you hear people talking about modular hardware a lot – and I definitely get the appeal. But modular software offers its own universe of endless possibility, and it doesn’t take up space or weight (or very much, if any, money). There’s certainly never a reason to ever know again the feeling of boredom.

We’ll be following all of these.

The post Komplete Kontrol Integration Will Work with Your Own Reaktor, Kontakt Creations, Too; Details appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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Native Instruments announces Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Native Instruments today announced the Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards. The keyboards represent a hallmark in the history of Native Instruments, providing advanced innovations in hardware/softwa [Read More]
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NI Officially Reveals Komplete 10, Kontrol Keyboards [Details, Gallery]

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards_Perspective_Macro

You’ve seen the leaks; now here’s the official announcement.

Native Instruments is releasing an update to its Komplete suite of production tools (including Massive, Kontakt, Absynth, Reaktor, and others). And while the software update is largely composed of some (nice) new instruments, the banner news here is hardware.

As NI has done with its DJ line (Traktor Kontrol) and Maschine groove workstation, the company is unveiling integrated hardware that makes for a hybrid hardware/software solution. The Komplete Kontrol instruments come in 25, 49-, and 61-key variations, coupled with touch strips for pitch and mod, 8 encoders paired with interactive displays for parameter control, sound browsing, and arpeggiator and scale-mapping functions.

While you can’t quite take your eyes off the display with the same ease as you can Maschine Studio or Traktor, you do get interactive access to your Komplete library, and Reaktor instruments, too.

I’ve been testing the Komplete Kontrol S25, so I’ll leave impressions for a separate story. (A full review will come closer to the October 1 release date; the software isn’t entirely finished yet.)

Update – it’s ready. Our hands-on with the S25 keyboard.

But as far as the announcement, let’s stick to the facts – after the obligatory, heart-pounding promo video.

Seriously, I wish you were here. Every time I touch a MIDI keyboard, it’s totally this exciting. It’s like watching NASCAR cars explode inside a galaxy going supernova with an Icelandic death metal band – and that band is buck naked.

Komplete 10 / Komplete 10 Ultimate

As previously leaked, you get six new instruments.

There are three new Reaktor-based instruments, regardless of which bundle you choose. They don’t require the new keyboards, but if you do spring for the new gear, they map to the color-coded light guides on the keyboard and encoders.

Rounds. Imagine a sequencer combined with sound design.

Kontour. This is the latest synth from Stephan Schmitt, founder of NI and originator of both Reaktor and, before it, Generator. Stephan’s name alone should get your attention, and this synth is something special from what little I’ve heard out of it. You can span from more organic sounds to distorted stuff, with loads of clever modulation.

Polyplex. This is the sampler/drum sampler Reaktor users have been waiting for. Because you can randomize samples per slots globally or locally, it’s brilliant for mixing up drum kits and percussive patterns. And it’s full of effects.

Each of these tools is really interesting, and worth following up separately – stay tuned later this month.

There are also three new pianos, part of what NI now calls The Definitive Piano Collection:

The Gentleman. A sampled 1908 upright.

The Granduer. A sampled grand – yes, this is the ubiquitous Steinway Model D, even though NI can’t say that.

The Maverick. Probably the most interesting of the bunch – a 1905 grand made for the Prince of Prussia.

The pianos got a lot of flak on the forums, but as at least one CDM reader pointed out, they’re overdue. NI has made some beautiful sampled piano libraries recently, but the ones in Komplete haven’t kept pace with the accelerating quality of sampled pianos on the market. This should help modernize the piano offerings, and given how often they’re used, that’s significant.

Komplete may not be everything NI makes, but it’s big. Komplete 10 is 39 instruments and effects; the Ultimate version is all 75 products in the Komplete lineup at the moment, with over 440 GB of content.

Pricing: $ 499 / 499, or $ 999 / 999 € for Ultimate.

Don’t sweat yet if you recently bought Komplete; NI says it’ll have its upgrade/update/crossgrade info and the like shortly.

NI_Polyplex_Screenshot

NI_Kontour_Screenshot

NI_Rounds_Screenshot

Kontrol Keyboards

The biggest news with Komplete 10 is what happens when you add the Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards.

See our separate hands-on, but the basic idea is really applying to Komplete what Maschine and Traktor Kontrol brought to groove production and DJing, respectively.

The keyboards:

  • 25-, 49-, and 61- key models.
  • Fatar synth keybeds – sorry, no hammer-action model here yet, though that seems likely some time in the future.
  • Komplete Browser controls let you look up sounds, similar to those on Maschine. (No display, though – for that, you’ll be looking at your computer screen.)
  • Parameters map to eight touch-sensitive encoders, with displays showing parameter name and amount.
  • “Light Guide” color LEDs above the keys reveal switches, zones, and other preset information. (Don’t worry, you can also turn this off.)
  • Chord mode, with ready-to-play progressions.
  • Built-in arpeggiator with interactive controls mapped to the display.
  • Scale mapping, which maps to white notes of the keyboard – for specialized scales, fun with arpeggios, or avoiding wrong notes.
  • Touch strips for modulation, pitch bend.
  • Physics modeling for touch strips, so you can have Lemur-style animations as well as the normal functions.
  • MIDI in and out jacks.
  • USB operation. (Note: it requires power; not USB powered.)
  • Two pedal input jacks.

The intention of the Komplete Kontrol hardware is to work with associated software. That’s the only thing bundled with the keyboard, so you need either Komplete 9 or Komplete 10 to make use of this functionality. (Komplete 9 works, though, so you could conceivably buy the keyboard but skip the software upgrade.)

I’ll explain how the software works separately, in my hands-on.

What you don’t get is any bundled instruments with Komplete Kontrol; you need to own the Komplete software to really make use of it.

You can also use the Kontrol S-Series keyboards as MIDI controllers, with custom MIDI templates, as you can Maschine. Colored lights still let you indicate splits in your MIDI templates, too. But the arpeggiator, scale, and chord modes – for now – work only with the NI software. The transport controls are mapped to Mackie Control for control of your host.

Pricing:
S25: $ 499 / 499 €.
S49: $ 599 / 599 €.
S61: $ 699 / 699 €.

Both Komplete 10 and the new keyboards are due October 1.

www.the-komplete-instrument.com

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards_LightGuide_StudioDrummer

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards_NativeMap_01

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards_SmartPlay_02

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards_Perspective_03

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards_Komplete_Browser_02

NI_Komplete_Kontrol_S-Series_Keyboards_Perspective_02

The post NI Officially Reveals Komplete 10, Kontrol Keyboards [Details, Gallery] appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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Native Instruments announces Komplete 10 and Komplete 10 Ultimate

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

Native Instruments today announced Komplete 10 and Komplete 10 Ultimate, which both come with six brand-new instruments âEUR“ Rounds, Kontour, Polyplex, and the three new sampled pianos that comp [Read More]
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Exclusive Hands-on with Komplete Kontrol S25 Keyboard [Pictures]

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

That NI is making a keyboard to provide access to its Komplete line of production tools should surprise no one. And not just because of numerous leaks – it’s the next logical step for the Berlin software developer.

After all, NI has an entire line of hardware that makes access to Traktor easier for DJing. And it developed Maschine, a software tool that from the beginning was built to facilitate hybrid hardware/software workflows. The thinking is simple: computer software offers terrific versatility, but when it comes time to actually explore sounds and play, you want knobs and faders and buttons and pads.

And keys.

As with the Maschine and Traktor Kontrol hardware, Komplete Kontrol is on one hand a standard MIDI controller. Connected to a computer, there’s no reason you can’t use it with other software via MIDI. But when combined with NI’s own software, Komplete Kontrol magically inherits other functionality and an unparalleled degree of integration with sound parameters and library browsing.

I’ve gotten a chance to talk to the folks at NI who developed Komplete Kontrol, and have an S25 keyboard here that I’ve begun testing. It’s too soon for a full review, but I can offer some first hands-on impressions – and answer some likely questions. Let’s get started.

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Out of the box

First, here’s a surprise: Komplete Kontrol S25, despite the high sticker price (starting at $ /€ 499), comes only with minimal software. You get drivers, plus the Komplete Kontrol software, but the integration features require either Komplete 9 or Komplete 10. You might expect some sort of player software, as NI has done with Kontakt for other products, but – well, you don’t get that. This is a product for current or prospective Komplete owners.

Installation of the keyboard is otherwise simple. You install the Komplete Kontrol software – specialized host software that communicates with the keyboard and includes a Mac/Windows driver. As with Maschine, the keyboard works only when connected via USB; it doesn’t have any standalone MIDI functionality outside a connection to a computer host.

You also get a power adapter, because the S-Series requires external power. (12V / 1.2A, surprisingly! I’m assuming that powers the displays and lights.)

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The Keyboard

I’ll say this: this is hands-down, the nicest looking, nicest feeling MIDI controller I’ve ever used. (And yes, if you’re getting too much of a Guitar Hero / Rock Band game feeling from those LEDs above the keyboard, you can turn them off, leaving it all a tasteful, 2001/Kubrick black.)

Of course, it had better be, at this price premium. But it’s tough to convey in pictures: the top panel is really beautiful and subtle and neatly laid out, the encoders feel terrific, and the Fatar keyboard doesn’t disappoint. Unlike another very nice-looking premium controller keyboard, the Nektar Panorama, NI had the sense to go with an established keybed maker rather than make their own. As a result, the S-Series is solid, firm-feeling, but not too springy.

Then again, you don’t need me to tell you this. If you’ve worked with other NI hardware, you have the basic idea. Those mock-ups of a Maschine browser put on a keyboard weren’t far off: transport and browsing functions are copied directly from Maschine.

What’s new is the silky-smooth encoders, the razor-sharp displays underneath, and the touch strips. The displays look fantastic, visible from any angle, and clearly represent a lot of the cost of the unit. The other high-quality point is the touch strips. They’re perfectly responsive, and already NI has begun making use of the LED feedback along the sides. (More on that in a bit.)

Actually, my only concern as far as the hardware itself is that the minimal design means there aren’t a whole lot of controls. You really only get the eight endless encoders for parameter control. It’d be great to have toggles or push-button functions alongside those encoders. It seems that may restrict some of the options for sound design down the road, or necessitate an additional controller.

I will say, though, the S25 form factor is great. Because I already own bigger keyboards, I wanted this very model to go on the road – and it seems it’ll be a perfect companion to Maschine and Ableton Live. (I’ll cover Maschine/S25 combined workflow in a separate story.)

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The Ghost of Kore

Let’s get it over with and deal with comparisons to Kore.

With eight encoders and displays, browsing functions, and the intent to provide hardware access to Komplete, it’s obvious that Komplete Kontrol has a lineage to NI’s discontinued hardware/software product Kore. But the biggest indication that Komplete Kontrol isn’t Kore is actually the software. Komplete Kontrol, the software, has a much narrower function than Kore did, at least in its first version. And that means that while it’s missing a lot of what people hated about Kore (bugs and instability being foremost among them), it’s also missing what some of you loved about Kore. This is simply much less ambitious software.

Kore was built to work with third-party plug-ins. It had powerful functions for making splits and layers and even nesting sounds inside other sounds. It was built with effects and instruments in mind. It had insanely-deep, often confusing facilities for producing your own complex series of presets and sound tagging. It even had its own modules for recording and adding additional performance tools.

Komplete Kontrol actually does none of those things I’ve just mentioned. Perhaps, though, that’s a relief more than a disappointment. Kore proved not only overly confusing for many people to use, but untenable for NI to develop and support. The results often simply didn’t work. If Komplete Kontrol is more conservative, it also escapes Kore’s massive overreach.

NI will have to win back the trust of users burned by Kore, and Komplete Kontrol will certainly bring back some bad memories. On the other hand, NI has clearly learned a lot about hardware design and software design since – remember that the entire Maschine project has happened in the intervening time. And the conservative approach to Komplete Kontrol, while I think it’s lacking some features that hopefully appear in coming months, is part of that.

So, if Komplete Kontrol software isn’t Kore, what is it?

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The Software

It’s best to think of Komplete Kontrol as a single layer between the hardware and individual instruments or sound patches in Komplete. That software provides just two things: one, access to browsing interfaces for pulling up sounds (radically simplified, I might add), and two, mappings between the sound and the keyboard’s built-in facilities for parameter control and scale/arpeggiator functions.

That’s important, because as you’ll see below, outside the software you lose some of the hardware’s advantages.

Komplete Kontrol is a dedicated tool you load either standalone or as a plug-in. (That plug-in then loads whatever instruments you need in your host.)

One loaded, you can treat everything you have installed in Komplete – every sound pack, every instrument – as if it’s a preset inside of a massive database of sounds. Let’s say you’re looking for a unique plucked sound, or a broken piano. It doesn’t matter if that was built in FM7, in the Reaktor User Library, or in Kontakt. You can dial up those different sounds (with brief pauses for loading) as if each were a preset on a massive synth. Kore promised to do that, but via a complex interface. The UI here, whether working with factory presets or your own custom sounds (or Reaktor patches, even) is dead-simple and quick.

Yes, it’s an extra layer of software. But it’s the first time the result has felt seamless. And since commenters are asking, yes, I vastly prefer this to the automap capabilities of software like Novation’s.

Actually, it’s all worth using for the Reaktor library alone. I’d heard NI folks tell me that, but I was a bit skeptical.

Just sixty seconds after starting up the Komplete Kontrol software, I’d found a Reaktor patch I’d forgotten about and was lost playing with its sounds. If you’re a Reaktor user, parameters will map just as easily.

Otherwise, here things will feel familiar to veteran Kore users. Look at the screen, and you can page through parameters. Touch an encoder, and the value appears on the screen, even before you start to turn the encoder.

That’s the good news. The bad news is, the software is fairly limited. You can’t load more than one sound at a time. You can use your plug-in host to create splits and layers, but Komplete Kontrol doesn’t do any of that – you’re limited to how each preset was set up. There’s also no way to easily create a set of patches for a performance and switch between those. (I’m guessing what you may want to do for that use case is use user banks for the job; I’ll be researching this and follow up.)

In short, Komplete Kontrol will have a ways to go before it becomes a useful performance tool, putting it behind software from years ago like Apple’s MainStage or … yes, the Ghost of Kore.

For now, instead, it’s mainly a preset browsing tool and a way to load instruments so they integrate with the hardware. I’ll be investigating just how you’d set this up for a live situation, though, as I know that matters a lot to Komplete users who want to take their sounds onstage and on the road.

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The Extras

Seeing parameters alongside the encoders is nice, but it isn’t yet enough reason to get a Komplete Kontrol. NI hopes that the keyboard’s “intelligent” features will entice you.

Scale and Chord. As with the grids on Ableton’s Push, you can remap the notes on the Kontrol S-Series to different scales. Choose a root note, a mode, and optionally pre-mapped sets of chords, and the white notes (and optionally the black notes) will map to only the “right” notes in that collection.

The modes, in my firmware revision (more might get added later):
Chromatic, major, harmonic minor, major pentatonic, minor pentatonic, blues, Japanese, “Freygish” (that’s Phrygian), Gypsy, Flamenco, Altered, whole tone, half/whole diminished, and whole/half diminished.

This does get a little odd on a piano-style keyboard in a way it doesn’t on an undifferentiated grid like Maschine, the MPC, Push, or a monome. The black notes are set to either play nothing or duplicate the white notes. A chromatic mode would be nice, but they left it out here – and there’s some reason for that, because the octaves would suddenly become meaningless in most modes. I’d still like more controls, but I also acknowledge that this is in part useful to people who didn’t spend years learning to play the piano. Speaking of which –

Arpeggiator. There’s a rather powerful arpeggiator built into the S-Series, ordered up, up/down, down, in the order played (cool), or tied to the chord mode (very cool). And you get swing controls, octave range, dynamic controls, and gate, though a random mode would be nice. Actually, to me as a keyboardist, it’s the arpeggiator that really makes the chord mode worth using.

Chords: octave, 1-3, 1-5, 1-3-5, 1-4-5, 1-3-5-7, 1-4-7 – or various pre-programmed major/minor progressions.

Those colored lights. In what I expect is going to be the S-Series’ most controversial feature, yes, there are brightly-colored lights above the keys. In normal usage, their main function will be to annoy you, by lighting up as you play.

But when mapped to presets, these go from useless disco bling to very useful feedback. Inside the Komplete library, they indicate splits and switches, so that very complex percussion patches are at last understandable.

They also integrate with Reaktor patches. In Polyplex, for example, the color coding indicates different sample mappings. Intrepid Reaktor patchers could create their own custom color mappings, to produce keyboard patches along the lines of what the monome community has done with that grid.

And, the color coding gives you feedback when you use scales and chords.

Unfortunately, you can only turn the lights on and off globally, not per patch – a shame, as I’d love to see them turn on for splits and then go dark when I just want to play a piano. But this is an area that could expand as sound designers get their hands on the S-Series.

Touch Strips. Purists may be unhappy that there are touch strips in place of the pitch and mod wheels found on most keyboards. But that solves two problems. First, those wheels are often the first thing to break on a keyboard when you take it on the road, or to respond unreliably. Second, this is another area sound designers can use to provide visual feedback and parameter control. The mod wheel can be sectioned off to provide clear switches between different settings, for example.

NI has also provided physics controls, so each touch strip can bounce or respond to friction differently, as has been found in the past on the Lemur touch surface.

It’s another area that could grow in time.

All about the sound designers.

You see, those LEDs on the strips and colored lights above the keys will be accessible in Kontakt scripts and inside Reaktor. That means that the value of the hardware should grow, not shrink, with time, as hackers come up with clever applications for them. We’ll of course cover how to do that yourself, if you want to be brave – hello, Reaktor lovers.

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Preferences

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And for MIDI Users

The Kontrol S-Series does nothing when disconnected form a computer. Like Maschine, it needs the host software to operate. But you can use it with other software, via standard MIDI communication, as a controller.

Again, like Maschine, you do this by switching between MIDI and controller modes – shift-Instance does the trick.

First, the bad news: alarmingly, some features work only with Komplete Kontrol. You can’t use the arpeggiator or scale or chord modes without using the companion software. That’s a pretty big issue, and one I hope NI fixes.

Also, you can’t use MIDI messages to switch the LEDs above the keyboard. That’s too bad, as it would have opened up monome-style patching in Max, Max for Live, Pd, and the like. Reaktor users are the only ones who get to play here.

But, that said, a lot can be mapped.

The transport section is pre-mapped to Mackie Control, so can control the transport of your DAW. It can’t be re-mapped, but that’s already useful.

The encoders send MIDI CC messages of your choice, and you can change the labels (again, already familiar to Maschine owners).

Nicest of all, you can create your own splits with color feedback, per template.

You can also assign physics features on the mod and pitch wheels via the template editor.

You can see all these features in the screenshots. Combined, I think the S-Series would therefore make a very interesting MIDI controller. It’s just too expensive to recommend without the use of Komplete for now, though if NI would make the arpeggiator and scale/chord modes work outside Komplete, I might be able to revise that.

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Komplete Lovers Get a Keyboard

It should already be pretty clear what the downsides of the S-Series are, even without doing a review. They’re pricey. They’re locked into NI’s software; MIDI functionality is there but is a second-class citizen to NI software integration. The hardware doesn’t work without a computer connected, unlike many MIDI keyboards. You really need to own Komplete – or at least Reaktor, or Maschine. (I’ll cover Maschine integration separately; the Browser and parameters do work, which is very cool, though you’ll still want your Maschine hardware around for sequencing – I’m guessing you’ll make basslines on the S25 and beats on the Maschine pads.)

And the software is clearly version 1 – eventually, features like making your own splits are a must, and more attention to live performance workflows could be a huge help.

But there’s a lot here to like. The hardware design shows tremendous promise, particularly when coupled with sound design in Reaktor and Kontakt. And if you’re willing to spend a little extra on a beautifully-designed and built keyboard, with the ability to easily dial up sounds inside Komplete, you probably already hoped NI would build something just like this.

We’ll take another look as NI finishes the new software and other integration becomes clear.

www.the-komplete-instrument.com

Details on pricing and the full announcement:
NI Officially Reveals Komplete 10, Kontrol Keyboards [Details, Gallery]

The post Exclusive Hands-on with Komplete Kontrol S25 Keyboard [Pictures] appeared first on Create Digital Music.


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