Since its introduction at the 2003 AES show, the Native Instruments Komplete bundle of virtual instruments and effects has grown to include most Native Instruments offerings, and the price has remained consistent. Komplete 4 contains all of the company's synths and effects except Massive, the latest in its product line. Of particular note, Akoustik Piano has been added to the bundle, along with major upgrades to three of Native Instruments' most appreciated synths: Absynth 4, Battery 3, and FM8. Intakt and Kompakt, which were part of the Komplete 3 bundle, are discontinued products and not part of Komplete 4. (For a closer look at the changes in Absynth 4 and Battery 3, see the online bonus material at www.emusician.com.)
The Komplete Care option available in previous years has been replaced by a generous upgrade program. Owners of Komplete 2 or 3 can upgrade to Komplete 4 for $339. That is an incredible bargain considering the addition of Akoustik Piano and the quality of the three upgraded synths. Owners of two or more of the synths (not effects) in Komplete 4 can purchase the full bundle for $1,149, or they can buy the bundle along with Kore, Native Instruments' hardware and software plug-in hosting environment, for $1,708. (You'll find a full review of Kore in the October 2006 issue of EM, available online at www.emusician.com.)
At the Kore
In addition to the aforementioned products, Komplete 4 includes the instruments B4 II, Elektrik Piano, Kontakt 2, Pro-53, and Reaktor 5 and the effects Guitar Rig 2, Vokator, and Spektral Delay. These come with a huge library of multisampled-instrument, synth, and effects presets. All instruments and effects come as standalone applications as well as plug-ins in the usual Mac and PC formats. Furthermore, their presets have been integrated into the Kore browser.
FIG. 1: The new Kore-style browser filters presets according to five attribute classes.
Both Absynth 4 and FM8 have a browser similar to Kore's (see Fig. 1). Factory presets are assigned attributes in five categories — Instrument, Source, Timbre, Articulation, and Genre — and you use the browser to display presets matching the attributes you select. A very handy option displays the number of hits for each remaining attribute once one or more have been selected. You can change any preset's attributes and, of course, categorize your own presets. Searchable text attributes are also available, but the two types of searches — category and text — cannot be used simultaneously.
If you're a keyboard player, Komplete 4 has you covered with sampled acoustic and electric pianos and an emulated Hammond B-3 organ with Leslie. These instruments' sounds and highly evolved user interfaces set them apart from their competitors. And when you want to reach beyond authenticity, you can load Akoustik Piano and Elektrik Piano presets into Kontakt 2 for more-extreme processing.
Akoustik Piano won an EM 2007 Editors' Choice Award, and it ranked at the top of EM's survey of standalone sampled pianos, “Software Eighty-Eights,” in the October 2006 issue. It contains four exquisitely sampled pianos: Bechstein, Bösendorfer, and Steinway concert grands and a Steingraeber upright. The user interface is clearly laid out and uncluttered. The controls are pianistically meaningful, which makes tweaking the pianos a breeze. Although no sampled piano measures up to the real thing in solo performance, Akoustik Piano can hold its own onstage and in the studio.
Elektrik Piano (reviewed in the December 2004 issue of EM) starts with samples from four classic electromechanical keyboards: the Fender Rhodes Mark I and Mark II, Wurlitzer 200A, and Hohner Clavinet. The user interface is minimalist and most closely resembles a Fender Rhodes. Four knobs on the left change function depending on the preset; for example, controlling an ADSR envelope for one preset and tremolo, chorus, and reverb for another. The sound is great and the standalone version is certainly gigworthy.
From its inception in 2000, Native Instruments B4 was the preeminent organ emulation. B4 II added a bunch of new tonewheel sets, more speaker and amp setups, and improved MIDI playability. You'll especially appreciate it if you're an organist with back problems. (You can find a review in the July 2006 issue of EM.)
Emulations of classic hardware synths are common these days, but Native Instruments was first with Pro-5, an emulation of the Sequential Circuits Prophet-5. That has evolved into the third-generation Pro-53, which, although enhanced with all the conveniences of software emulations, remains a reasonable facsimile of the original. (Its predecessor, Pro-52, was reviewed in the February 2001 issue of EM.) Among other things, you're not limited to the Prophet's arcane 8 × 8 preset scheme; you get full-featured plug-in host automation and MIDI remote control with prebuilt mappings for popular control surfaces; and you can import or create your own microtuning scales. You can even process external audio through the Pro-53 filter, amplifier, and effects sections. You might use that, for instance, to add the great Prophet filters after your favorite Yamaha DX7 patch in FM8 (see Web Clip 1).
Native Instruments' next classic-hardware target was the DX7. FM7, released in 2001, was a faithful replication of the original. The new FM8 takes things several steps further with some important enhancements. An Easy Page gives quick access to essential operator parameters. Morph Square (also found on the Easy Page) lets you seamlessly morph between four presets using automation, MIDI, or the mouse. The new effects rack adds 11 effects. In addition to the original factory sounds, the library now includes FM7 Sounds Volumes 1 and 2 and roughly 200 presets showing off the new FM8 features.
Arpeggiator/step-sequencer hybrids are the current rage, but the FM8 version is particularly robust. As with any arpeggiator, the note pattern is based on the held notes, but the order in which they're played, the number of steps, which steps are accented and tied, and octave and semitone transposition are all set on a step-by-step basis. You can randomize any or all of these elements for a kaleidoscopic approach to pattern generation.
FIG. 2: Reaktor 5 includes dozens of virtual instrument and effects Ensembles ranging from standard fare to off-the-wall.
The original version of Komplete included Reaktor Session, a player for instruments and effects (called Ensembles) created in Reaktor. All subsequent versions of Komplete contain the latest full version of Reaktor — currently Reaktor 5. This is a great thing if you want to create or modify Reaktor Ensembles. But even if you don't have the time or inclination to get under the hood with Reaktor, don't overlook it as an Ensemble player. The dozens of factory and thousands of user Ensembles arguably offer more novel sounds and unusual effects than everything else in Komplete 4 combined.
The Reaktor Ensemble Massive (not to be confused with the new synth of the same name) is among my favorites (see Fig. 2). It's a 6-track drum computer that uses granular resynthesis, among other techniques, to mangle each track's sampled source material. The GrainStates Ensemble from the Reaktor 4 library is another favorite. It also uses granular techniques, this time to create a kaleidoscope of evolving timbres. SpaceDrone is another ambience generator. It starts with 96 noise sources and then uses bandpass filters and panning to spread them across the frequency and stereo spectra. Web Clip 2 combines those three instruments with compression and reverb effects Ensembles in a hands-free ambient collage.
Kontakt 2 is to sampling what Reaktor is to instrument and effects building. It's a full-featured, modular sampler that even has its own scripting language. Kontakt 2 (reviewed in the November 2005 issue of EM) can import presets from most hardware and software samplers and supports all popular audio-file formats.
Kontakt 2's modularity sets it apart from other samplers. All Kontakt 2 instruments start with a Source module that you can configure for standard playback from RAM or streaming from disk, for granular resynthesis using one of three algorithms optimized for pitch-shifting or time-stretching, or for loop slicing and playback (think REX or Acid files). The Source module is followed by racks for insert and send effects into which you drag various DSP modules from the Kontakt 2 browser. The browser also has a tab from which you drag modulators such as LFOs and envelope generators to the knobs you want them to control.
Kontakt 2 comes with a 15 GB library of multisampled instruments. That includes a special edition of Vienna Instruments from Vienna Symphonic Library, a variety of presets illustrating the Kontakt Script Processor (KSP), individual instrument collections, an assortment of presliced loops, and multitimbral setups containing several instruments mapped to different MIDI channels. The KSP presets are especially interesting. For instance, KSP Elektrik Guitar chooses samples from different guitar strings depending on context, which makes it possible to play much more realistic guitar parts from a keyboard.
FIG. 3: Guitar Rig 2 reaches beyond mic-amp-cabinet simulation to include a wide variety of stompbox and studio effects.
The Right Effect
Three top-notch effects round out the Komplete 4 bundle. Guitar Rig 2 is much more than a mic-amp-cabinet simulator, though it offers a lot in that department: eight fully parameterized amp models. It comes with a bevy of effects covering distortion, modulation, EQ, compression, and reverb (see Fig. 3). Two tape decks (one intended for playback and the other for overdubbing), together with a Loop Machine, provide all possible combinations of recording, overdubbing, and looping. All three modules allow you to save the recorded material to disk.
The Crossfader splits the signal for separate processing of high and low frequency bands, whereas the Splitter enables separate processing of the left and right channels of a stereo signal where possible. (Some components are stereo; others, such as cabinets and amps, convert the signal to mono.) Modulators, which you can assign to any component parameter, include LFOs, envelope generators, step sequencers (both analog- and digital-style), and an envelope follower. (Guitar Rig 2 was reviewed in the June 2006 issue of EM. For nonguitar applications for Guitar Rig 2, check out “Making Tracks: Rigged Up” in the January 2007 issue.)
The remaining two effects, Spektral Delay and Vokator, work in the frequency domain — they split the signal into frequency bands using a process called short-time Fourier transform (STFT), manipulate the frequency bands independently, and then convert the signal back to the time domain for playback.
As the name implies, Spektral Delay applies a separate delay to each frequency band. In short, it's a feedback-delay line on steroids. The results tend to be otherworldly and digital, but you can tone them down a bit by using Spektral Delay's Dry/Wet control. (The dry signal is automatically delayed to compensate for the latency inherent in the STFT analysis-resynthesis process.) Each channel of the stereo signal is processed separately and allows predelay processing by enigmatically named effects such as Jelly Roll, Lime Twist, and Horse Tail. (Spektral Delay was reviewed in the December 2001 issue of EM.)
Vokator, as you might guess, is a vocoder, but again STFT analysis is used to analyze the modulation and carrier signals (typically speech and tonal material, respectively) and then put the imprint of one on the other. Because of the symmetric nature of its processing, you can use either input as the carrier or the modulator, and Vokator simply labels them A and B.
Either Vokator input can be taken from one side of a stereo-input signal or from an audio file, and the B input can come from a built-in morphing synthesizer or granular sample player. The output is a mix of A vocoded by B, B vocoded by A, and a direct mix of A and B. For input effects, you get dynamics, EQ, feedback delay, and the special effects found in Spektral Delay. (A review of Vokator appears in the November 2003 issue of EM.)
Komplete 4 gives you a lot of bang for your synthesis buck. The bundle price represents a savings of roughly 60 percent. However, it's a savings only if you have use for many of the components.
If you use virtual instruments in your music and are continually on the lookout for new sounds, it's a no-brainer — Komplete 4 has it all. If your music is more mainstream, and you're looking for usable keyboard instruments, it is still a great deal. For sampling and a wide variety of somewhat wacky instruments, the combination of Kontakt 2, Battery 3, and Reaktor 5 is almost the same price, so you might as well buy the full bundle.
Len Sasso is an associate editor of EM. For an earful and free refreshments, visit his Web site atwww.swiftkick.com.
NATIVE INSTRUMENTS Komplete 4
virtual instruments and effects bundle $1,499
$1,149 (upgrade for owners of two or more included virtual instruments)
$339 (upgrade for owners of Komplete 2 or 3)
GUIDE TO EM METERS 5 = Amazing; as good as it gets with current technology
4 = Clearly above average; very desirable
3 = Good; meets expectations
2 = Somewhat disappointing but usable
1 = Unacceptably flawed
FEATURES5EASE OF USE3QUALITY OF SOUNDS5VALUE4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Huge palette of top-quality sounds. Excellent integration of instruments and effects with Kore hosting environment (not included). Tremendous discount over combined individual prices. Generous upgrade path to future versions.
CONS: Requires a fast CPU and lots of disk space.