Native Instruments Komplete 6 (Mac/Win) Review - EMusician

Native Instruments Komplete 6 (Mac/Win) Review

VIRTUAL-INSTRUMENT AND EFFECTS BUNDLE TAKES A MAJOR LEAP FORWARD
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FIG. 1: Absynth''s modules are arranged in three vertical oscillator channels, with a horizontal master-effects channel at the bottom.

This latest upgrade of Native Instruments'' (NI) Komplete series continues the tradition of delivering all of the company''s virtual-instrument and effects software in a single, attractively priced bundle. Komplete 6 includes the synths Absynth 5, FM8, and Massive; sample-based instruments Battery 3 and Kontakt 4; the all-purpose effects rack Guitar Rig 4 Pro; and the be-all and end-all of synth, sampler, and effects construction kits, Reaktor 5. The bundle price is lower than the cost of either Reaktor or Kontakt together with any one of the other products, or as Native Instruments likes to put it, “kompletely insane.” Individual product updates are free, and regular low-cost upgrades make it painless to stay up to date with Native Instruments'' newest software.

This year brings a 50-percent price reduction and some significant changes to the lineup. Virtual instruments Akoustik Piano, Elektrik Piano, B4 II, and Pro 53 have been discontinued, although Elektrik Piano is included as a Kontakt 4 instrument. (You can purchase Kontakt 4 versions of the sampled pianos in Akoustik Piano separately or as a bundle.) The legacy versions of the discontinued instruments still work on all current systems, including Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. I used a 2.66GHz quad-core Mac Pro running OS X Leopard 1.5.8 for this review.

Komplete 6 brings three major upgrades to the table: Absynth 5, Kontakt 4, and Guitar Rig 4 Pro. I''ll give special attention to the first two, and EM editor Mike Levine will cover Guitar Rig 4 Pro in detail in the sidebar of the same name.

All seven products in Komplete 6 are provided in standalone, as well as AU, VST, and RTAS plug-in formats for Mac OS X and Windows. The accompanying sound library offers upward of 7,000 presets and includes 60GB of sample content. The synths share the categorized sound browser introduced in NI Kore 2, whereas Kontakt, Battery, Guitar Rig Pro, and Reaktor offer browsing tailored to their individual operation. Kore 2 users have access to all of the Komplete 6 presets from within Kore, but it can take some work to keep these two databases in sync.

Synthesis
Softsynths FM8, Massive, and Absynth come close to covering the bases in synthesis techniques. Both FM 8 and Absynth are also provided as effects plug-ins for processing external audio. FM8 is an enhanced version of Native Instruments'' first emulation of the Yamaha DX7, the FM7. You can dive down to the operator level on the Expert page to design your own FM8 sound from the ground up, DX7 style. Alternatively, you can pick one of the 960 factory presets and control its essentials from the Master page, add Effects on the effects page, throw in some arpeggiation, and tweak it further, as well as morph it with three other sounds on the Easy/Morph page. You''ll find a full review of FM8 in the September 2007 EM. Massive, reviewed in the May 2007 EM, is the newest NI synth. It is a subtractive synth that features anti-aliased wavetable oscillators with an adaptable scheme for morphing through the waveforms in the wavetable. You can continuously adjust the feed to the second of its two filters between the source mix and the output of the first filter. The signal path offers many other options, including a variety of feedback routings, branch points, and effects permutations. The audio-rate Modulation Oscillator and drag-and-drop effects routing for envelopes, LFOs, and step sequencers provide lots of motion. Although designed especially for basses and leads, Massive is capable of far more, as its library of more than 600 presets makes clear. Absynth, released in 2000 by developer Brian Clevinger''s Rhizomatic Software, garnered an immediate cult following as the go-to synth for strangeness, especially in long, evolving sounds. I''ve been a fan since I reviewed Absynth 1, and it''s gotten better and better during its four generations as an NI product. Version 5 expands the sound library; adds effects, a new filter, and filter feedback; and introduces a powerful mutation paradigm for designing new sounds without lifting the hood.

Billed as semi-modular, Absynth''s signal path has 12 module slots arrayed in three vertical oscillator channels of three slots each, with a 3-slot horizontal master-effects channel at the bottom (see Fig. 1). The top oscillator-channel slots provide the source audio, with options as diverse as a single or dual oscillators, modulation (FM, ring, fractal), standard and granular sample playback, and external audio input. The proceeding two slots hold processors chosen from 19 modulator, filter, and waveshaper effects. The first two master-channel slots have access to the same selection of processors, whereas the third slot holds one of Absynth''s infamous collection of special effects: Pipe, Multicomb, Multitap, Echoes, Resonators, or Aetherizer (new in Absynth 5). You can bypass slots to save CPU; the simplest patch (the default new sound) comprises a single oscillator.

The Aetherizer is a granular feedback-delay effect, and the new Cloud filter is based on the same technology. In short, they granulize the input with varying grain sizes and timing, pitch-shift the grains, and route them both back through the process and to the output, which is equipped with bandpass, lowpass, and comb filters, as well as its own feedback delay. The resulting grain cloud may slightly aerate or completely decimate your sound (see Web Clip 1).

Absynth''s Mutator takes the notion of one-click sound design to a new level. You select attributes in the browser (producing a list of matching presets), choose which module slots to effect, and set amount sliders for mutation and randomization, and then you click the Mutate button. The current preset is morphed based on the sounds in the matching presets list. Absynth lets you retry the mutation until you''re satisfied, and it keeps a history of your mutations. Mutation is not as precise as tweaking a preset, but it''s a fast way to get usable variations.

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FIG. 2: Kontakt 4''s larger instrument GUIs make for cleaner layouts and more controls.

Sampling
It seems that every virtual-instrument manufacturer has its own approach to drums-and-percussion software, and Battery is a formidable contender. It is a cell-based, percussion-oriented sample player (no slick kit graphic, room miking setups, or built-in sequencer) in which you configure a color-coded pad matrix to trigger the cells, and then load each cell with as many as 128 samples for layering, crossfading, or velocity switching. Each cell has its own trigger-mode, grouping, articulation, echo, and humanize controls, as well as separate tabs for playback, sample mapping, waveform and loop editing, modulation, and effects processing. The 12GB sample library is categorized in the browser by both type (acoustic, electronic, percussion, etc.) and source (previous Battery generations, artist kits, user libraries, and so on). Battery 3 is an excellent (and cost-effective) tool for managing both percussion and sound effects. Check out the details in the online version of the Komplete 4 review.

Kontakt is one of a few go-to software samplers on the market—virtually all major sample libraries include Kontakt versions. Kontakt 4 is the second significant upgrade since EM reviewed Komplete 4 and Kontakt 3 in August 2007 and March 2008, respectively. Kontakt 3.5, a free update reviewed online in September 2009, can access 32GB of RAM using its built-in memory manager; fully integrates Kontakt Player, letting you access KP instruments directly from its browser; implements MIDI Learn for all knobs and sliders; and offers true multiprocessor support in standalone mode.

Kontakt 4 ups the ante with 10GB of additional sample content, including the new Choir collection, solo strings from VSL, a concert organ, and a Mellotron. The convolution reverb comes with 300 additional IR samples. Instrument control panels are larger, providing access to more controls (see Fig. 2), and the Kontakt Script Language (KSL) offers more options to create those panels. Furthermore, the GUI is redesigned to accommodate more sophisticated control panels from third-party instrument developers. Database management is much improved with an attribute-based browser and pre-tagged library (a vast improvement over the previous Quick Load system). And proving it''s the little things that count, you can now stretch the GUI at will rather than select just three preset sizes (yes!).

The most significant new feature is Authentic Expression Technology (AET), which lets you impose the spectral characteristics of one sound on another and morph between them in real time (see Web Clip 2). Not only does that let you creatively manipulate the harmonic flavor of a sound, it also allows for more transparent velocity transitions than crossfading offers. You''ll find “Master Classes” on Kontakt effects processing and AET in the April 2010 issue and on the KSL in the February 2008 issue.

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FIG. 3: Reaktor instruments and effects of all sizes and descriptions are in plentiful supply in the factory library included with Komplete 6.

And Beyond
Reaktor is the unsung hero in Native Instruments'' stable. Creating instruments and effects in Reaktor is difficult and time consuming, but it comes loaded with dozens of factory softsynths and effects (called Ensembles), and they''re no harder to learn and use than other Komplete 6 elements. Many NI products evolve from Reaktor projects. The Kore instruments The Finger and Reaktor Spark are just two examples, and the underlying Reaktor Ensembles, which are included with the Kore versions, have more features.

The factory offerings are highly evolved, professional Ensembles with full documentation. They include synths, sample manglers, groove boxes, sequencers, and devices that defy description (see Fig. 3 and Web Clip 3). Those are augmented by a huge user library of free downloads and a diverse selection of third-party products (see this month''s “Download of the Month” for one example). If you have Komplete, don''t overlook Reaktor; you''ll find sounds and processes you''ll not see in standalone products, including the other products in Komplete.

Komplete 6 brings enough improvements to make upgrading a must, and the upgrade price is the same from any previous version. If you have none of the included products, or have older versions of some, getting on the Komplete bandwagon is well-worth considering. No matter what kind of music you make, Komplete 6 is an outstanding collection of sound-production tools.

Len Sasso is a freelance writer and frequent EM contributor. For a komplete sampling of his music, visit swiftkick.com.

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FIG. A: In this screenshot from Guitar Rig 4 Pro, you see several of the new components including Hot Plex, Control Room, Grain Delay, and Iceverb.

Guitar Rig 4 Pro
Guitar Rig 4 Pro (GR4), the latest incarnation of NI''s amp-and-effects modeling software, offers a slightly darker-looking GUI, three new amp models (two in versions prior to 4.08, which should be out by the time you read this), four new effects, and a slew of new presets. Perhaps the most notable addition, though, is the Control Room component, which contains both cabinet models and an array of mic models, and lets you select which mics to use on a cabinet, how to pan them, and more.

Guitar Rig offers myriad options for just about everything, and Control Room is no exception. It gives you a more flexible alternative to the Matched Cabinet and Cabinets Mics components, although it provides fewer cabinet models (eight) than either of them. It gives you up to eight simultaneous mic choices (way more than any cabinet modeling component in previous versions), including emulations of a Royer 121 and a beyerdynamic M 160—the first ribbon mic models ever offered in Guitar Rig—as well as Neumann U47 and Sennheiser 421 models, among others. (Like other modeling software, Guitar Rig doesn''t contain the actual names of the units being modeled, but gives names that leaves no doubt as to what they are modeled from.) Each mic in Control Room has its own channel strip comprising a pan knob, a volume slider, and mute and solo switches. You can dial up your own mix of the mics to get the tone you want (with no phase problems), and using the pan controls you can set up a pretty wide-sounding track from a mono source (great for rhythm guitar parts that you want to sound larger).

Control Room is a digital emulation of the carefully phase-aligned multi-mic cabinet setups of German guitar-recording guru Peter Weihe. To preserve the phase alignment between mics, Control Room doesn''t offer the ability to move a mic''s virtual positioning, something you can do in some other amp simulators. But you do get global control over Volume, Bass, and Air (room sound), and the tweaking possibilities are quite extensive (see Web Clip A).

The new cabinet models are all Marshall emulations. Cool Plex (which wasn''t in the first release of Guitar Rig 4, but will be introduced in 4.08) and Hot Plex offer Marshall Plexi variations, with the latter offering a higher gain alternative. Both sound quite good and add some subtle differences to GR4''s amp palette. Jump, like Guitar Rig''s Lead 800 model, emulates a Marshall JCM800, but to my ear offers a fuller sound. By setting its gain switch to Lo, you can get some pretty convincing clean tones, as well.

New effects abound, making Guitar Rig even more of a sound-shaping playground than before. These new components mainly tread into sound-design territory, especially Grain Delay, which uses granular slicing, pitch shifting, and modulation to offer up some pretty unusual sounds (see Web Clip B). Twin Delay offers parallel delay lines and makes it super-easy to set up excellent stereo effects.

Iceverb emulates the sonics of an icy cave. It''s pretty cool-sounding (no pun intended) and gives you an unusual color, but it''s more of a special effect than a bread-and-butter reverb. Octaverb has eight different small-room emulations and provides some very nice ambience options.

Version 4 introduces true-stereo processing to Guitar Rig, which makes it more attractive for use on stereo sources of all types. Unlike previous versions, you can opt for mono-to-mono rather than mono-to-stereo input/output configurations.

There is also new support for NI''s Rig Kontrol 2 and 3 pedals (I wasn''t able to test this feature), and a new Master FX module (also to be introduced in 4.08), which lets you set up preset effects chains that can be globally bypassed. Overall, Guitar Rig 4 Pro (especially 4.08 and beyond) is a significant and worthy update, and makes a strong program even better.

—Mike Levine

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Click on the Product Summary box to view the Native Instruments Komplete 6 product page