For quite some time, Native Instruments Komplete has been the go-to instrument/effect/sound bundle when you want to maximize your industry-standard products-per-dollar ratio. That remains true with the latest version, Komplete 10 Ultimate.
Native Instruments now offers innovative keyboard controllers made specifically for use with its virtual instruments—the Komplete Kontrol S25 ($499), S49 ($599), and S61 ($699), with 25, 49, and 61 keys, respectively.
Similar to how Maschine brilliantly brought phrase-based beat production under one integrated hardware/software umbrella, the new Komplete line enhances the value of the Komplete 10 Ultimate bundle with the Komplete Kontrol software. Komplete Kontrol works as a standalone program or a plug-in within a DAW and comes with Komplete 10 whether you buy one of the Kontrol S keyboards or not.
However, when you add a Kontrol S controller, you get a flawlessly integrated keyboard that lets you quickly load, play, and edit all the sounds that the Komplete bundle has to offer.
KOMPLETE 10 ULTIMATE
For the past couple of updates, Komplete ($499) and Komplete Ultimate ($999) have kept their prices steady while adding content and/or plug-ins—this top-notch bundle has only gotten better with age. Komplete 10 Ultimate stuffs 75 products—all of Native Instruments’ instrument and effect plug-ins—and more than 17,000 sounds totaling 440 GB of content onto a portable USB 3 drive, which is meant for installing the bundle onto different computers if you need to over time. The plug-ins must be installed to your computer’s drive, but thankfully, you can install the sound libraries to an external drive.
Komplete 10 Ultimate ships with six brand-new instruments: The Reaktor-based Rounds, Kontour, and Polyplex instruments take advantage of the new performance features of the Kontrol S keyboards, and three new acoustic pianos—the Gentleman, the Maverick, and the Grandeur—make up NI’s Definitive Piano Collection. Other recent additions include Drum Lab, Session Horns, and Supercharger, which come with either bundle option, and Action Strikes, Molekular, and Rise & Hit, which are only included in Komplete 10 Ultimate.
Fig. 1. The new Grandeur Definitive Piano Collection instrument shown within the Komplete Kontrol host, with the Komplete Browser and Perform Panel Arp showing. The three new piano instruments include up to 18 velocity zones and about 20 presets that were meticulously sampled from three distinct pianos (see Figure 1). The Gentleman is an oldtimey upright piano, the Grandeur is a lavish concert grand, and the Maverick is more of an allpurpose grand piano. Each one sounds marvelously detailed, with the same generous interface where you can alter articulations and nuance. You have control over the Tone (EQ, depth, transients, and a compressor/tape effect), Anatomy (velocity curve of the keys, key release, and the level of noise from the hammer, damper, pedal, etc.), and Space (26 reverb types, as well as room size and mic distance).
In contrast to the simple yet elegant Definitive Piano Collection, the three new Reaktor-based synths offer a lot more complexity if you dive into their advanced editing views. On the other hand, by sticking to their default, simplified views, you can take advantage of their amazing sound sets quickly while still making meaningful edits.
Fig. 2. The new Polyplex rhythm kit synth has colored cells that reflect on the Kontrol S49’s Light Guide keys. Polyplex is the easiest to grasp (see Figure 2). It’s a tool built for quickly constructing drum and rhythm kits and then making beats. It gives you eight sound slots—each one layering up to four samples—and several dozen presets to fill them; most are completely modern-sounding, floor-ready drum kits, but there are many sound effect, vocal, and synth stabs thrown in as well. In addition, you can randomize a whole new 8-note kit or randomize each sound slot, one at a time.
Each instance of Polyplex holds eight sounds, assigned to an octave of white keys in an onscreen keyboard or on the Kontrol S keyboard. You can rifle through sounds, find your favorites, and build a monster set of 64 total sounds at the ready. Or use the different kits to create alternate setups that you switch between during a track, recording the kit switches into your DAW, if you like.
For deeper editing, the advanced view lets you swap and edit samples in each slot. You can reverse them; tweak the envelope, LFO, or EQ; and apply up to four effects from a list of 18.
Fig. 3. The new Reaktor-based Rounds synth with the Perform Panel Scale showing.Fig. 4. The new Kontour synth shown in its editing view. The instrument includes a Motion Recorder, as well. Rounds includes two synth engines: a 2-oscillator, analog-style synth and a 3-oscillator FM synth (see Figure 3). The novelty of Rounds is in the dizzying Voice Programmer, eight blocks of four cells/sounds each that cycle through in a rhythmic sequence. You can distribute the 16 patches per instance throughout the Voice Programmer and adjust its rhythms.
Kontour takes phase modulation synthesis to beautiful new levels of texture. You can painstakingly edit sound using the advanced view or enjoy its default view, where many of the key parameters are consolidated into just four controls (see Figure 4). Those four controls also have a Motion Recorder with modulation. Use the preset modulation curves or record your own.
I quickly fell in love with the gorgeous detail of Kontour’s sound, which reaches from decidedly organic to frightfully alien. Digging into its edit view paid dividends in ear candy. For example, a simple pad sound can split into fantastic layers of satisfying noise when you fiddle with the comb filter, cabinet distortion effect, different envelopes and mixers, and so on.
Komplete 10 Ultimate’s new Reaktor-based synths offer a world of sonic exploration unto themselves and further exemplify how much you can do with the overall package. We can’t cover every piece of the Komplete 10 Ultimate package here, but the six new additions live up to the quality standards of the other industry favorites, such as the Kontakt 5 sampler, Guitar Rig 5 Pro amp and cabinet suite, and Reaktor 5, Absynth 5, and Massive synths. If you need any one of those plug-ins, you might as well consider the Komplete 10 bundle: For all the high-end dynamics processors, cinematic scoreworthy instruments and sound libraries, Komplete 10 Ultimate is still the best value that it’s ever been.
KOMPLETE KONTROL SOFTWARE
While you’ll get the most out of the new Komplete Kontrol software host with one of the Kontrol S keyboards, it comes with the Komplete 10 software packages on their own, so you can take advantage of its most obvious perk: the Komplete Browser. This takes the familiar NI browser that you find in some single programs like Maschine, Reaktor, or Kontakt and applies it to the entire Komplete sound and instrument patch library.
Fig. 5. When called up from the Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboard, the Komplete Browser looks like this. The Komplete Browser lets you search both the Komplete Library and the file tree of your computer desktop for compatible files (see Figure 5). Within the Library, you can search the factory content and your user presets in the same manner—all the instruments, certain types of instruments or one specific instrument. You can filter the options with keywords from a text field and/or by drilling down to particular patches by Types (Bass, Drums, Guitar, Synth Lead, etc.) and Modes (Arpeggiated, Chord, Monophonic, Synthetic, etc.).
Komplete 10’s effects plug-ins and patches aren’t available from the Komplete Kontrol program, because Komplete Kontrol is only for playable sounds. So you can load Komplete 10’s effects from your normal DAW plug-in menu. Both Komplete Kontrol and the individual Komplete 10 plug-ins are available in AAX, AU, and VST formats. Note that on a Mac, the Komplete Kontrol software will only work as a plug-in at 64 bits.
The Perform Panel has two sections—Scale and Arp (arpeggiator). These work with either a Kontrol S keyboard or with any incoming MIDI notes. However, the Kontrol S keyboard provides enhanced features (covered in the next section). Both the Perform Panel and the Komplete Browser are collapsible, saving display space.
In Scale mode, Komplete Kontrol will only play selected notes, regardless of what MIDI note comes in. (Wrong notes are rounded up to the nearest Scale tone.) Choose the Root Note, then select from 15 Scale Types (major, minor, major pentatonic, blues, Japanese, flamenco, etc.).
In Chord Mode, each single note can trigger 2-, 3-, or 4-note chords. You can create chords around specific intervals using the Harmonic Chord Mode setting or work diatonically by selecting Chord Sets.
The arpeggiator has two modes: Arp and Note Repeat, the same beat-oriented feature from Maschine and the Akai MPC series. Note Repeat lets you choose the note value, swing amount and gate percentage for the repeated notes.
There are five Arp types for varying the order of notes played, and 22 note-values for the Rate—from whole notes to 128th notes (including dotted and triplet values). In addition to swing and gate values, Arp has eight Sequence settings that apply rhythmic variations to the arpeggio, an Octave rage of 1-8, and a Dynamic percentage which scales the velocities of incoming notes.
You can use the Scale and Arp modes simultaneously, which makes for really interesting results when you input the notes of several chords into the arpeggiator at once. All told, it’s an extremely capable arpeggiator and a great tool to apply to any Komplete sound.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S49
Although Komplete 10 Ultimate’s possibilities already seem endless, you can use them in a more streamlined way with one of the Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards. We received the Kontrol S49 for review: Aside from the number of keys, there is no functional difference between it and the S25 or S61.
The keyboards have semi-weighted Fatar keybeds with Aftertouch, a USB port, MIDI I/O, and two MIDI-assignable footswitch jacks. However, with all the power needed for the LEDs and displays, the Kontrol S-Series requires AC power. Also, the MIDI I/O ports only become active when the controllers are connected to a computer over USB, so that limits your ability to use them with a MIDI module onstage without a laptop.
Immediately, one notices that the Kontrol S-Series is not stuffed with every assignable control type possible. Most MIDI controllers these days include mini channel strips of knobs, sliders, and buttons, as well as drum pads and whatever else can fit, but the Kontrol S is different. Eight encoders, each with a 3-line display, and two arrow buttons with an accompanying display are all you have to tap into Komplete’s instruments.
Using NI’s Native Map technology, every Komplete instrument already has its parameters mapped, so when you load them, the arrow display tells you the preset that’s loaded and how many pages of eight parameters you can step through. For example, if there were 64 controls mapped, the arrow display would show “1/8” and then “2/8” if you step to the next page, and so on. The display under the appropriate knob shows the name of the parameter with the specific value.
To have this level of preset mapping available to the largest software-instrument bundle in the world is incredible. If there were a number-one reason to pair a Kontrol-S keyboard to Komplete, that would be it.
Of course, the downside to all of that is if you want to use a Kontrol S-Series as a master MIDI keyboard for your DAW and other plug-ins, you have a limited control set. In addition to the keys, you only have the eight knobs, two footswitch jacks (footswitches not included) and pitch-bend and modulation touch-strips that can receive MIDI assignments. You can create as many templates as you want in the free Controller Editor software or use your software’s MIDI Learn function. But a Kontrol-S keyboard will serve you best if you’re using Komplete instruments as your main sound sources.
The Kontrol S-Series does offer some advanced host integration features, depending on your DAW: Ableton Live 9, Apple Logic X, Steinberg Cubase 7.5, and Nuendo 6 work with all the available host integration features, such as using the Kontrol S backlit arrow keys to navigate and select DAW tracks or recognizing the transport controls.
After some initial setup, I got the Kontrol S49’s host integration functions working in Ableton Live 9.1.6. Then I set up eight MIDI tracks, all with different instruments loaded into Komplete Kontrol, and I was able to swap between the tracks and record parts in an 8-bar loop, quickly putting together the basis of a song mostly from the keyboard itself. Although I used my mouse to solo and mute tracks, among other tasks, the Kontrol S49’s host integration definitely saved me time.
DAWs that don’t support the full integration features but offer Mackie Control will at least allow you to use the Kontrol S’s transport buttons. Of the major DAWs, that only excludes Avid Pro Tools 11. Nonetheless, every host will allow the Kontrol S keyboard full control over the Komplete Kontrol plug-in.
One more novel twist is the LED feedback from the pitchbend and modulation touch strips. The strips can be assigned to any parameter depending on the preset, but their behavior mimics traditional pitch-bend and modulation controls. Both will jump to any spot you touch with great responsiveness, though the pitch strip will spring back to the center, while the modulation strip will remain at the last spot touched. In the software preferences, you can set the speed and ballistics of the springiness of the pitch strip.
With the Kontrol S-Series, NI introduces Light Guide, a color-coded light system for each key that is customized for individual Komplete instruments and for the Komplete Kontrol Scale and Arp features. A multi-color LED sits above each key, and at their most basic state, they are half-lit when inactive, and fully lit when a note plays.
Many Komplete instruments have their own uses for Light Guide. In Battery, for instance, the keys are color coded to the drum cell colors. In Polyplex, not only are the eight drum cells color coded, but the eight keyboard keys that hold the different kit setups are shown in red; you see immediately which kit is active and can easily switch between them or use the Octave buttons to position them on the keyboard where you want them. In Rounds, there is a separately colored zone for switching the different Voice Programmer sequences, and key zones get their own colors in instruments such as Kontakt.
Light Guide also lends a hand to Komplete Kontrol’s Scale and Arp functions. A Key Mode feature to the Scale only works when you’re using a Kontrol S-Series keyboard. In Standard Key Mode, Light Guide lights up only the keys that are in that scale, with the root notes illuminated to stand out. Hitting a darkened key will trigger the next note up in the scale. There’s also an Easy Key mode: Whatever scale you’re using, the root note is mapped to middle C, and you only play the white keys. (Black keys don’t trigger anything in that mode.)
With the Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards and companion Komplete Kontrol software, Native Instruments has done for its Komplete 10 Ultimate bundle what the company did for beat production with Maschine; created a beautiful harmony that binds the advantages of software with dedicated hardware.
Sure, the Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards cost more than many other MIDI keyboards of their size. And you can use any of those to control the Komplete instruments and effects. But you will be missing out on the convenience and time savings of a fully integrated system that the Kontrol S controllers provide.
And it’s pretty amazing that you can purchase Komplete 10 Ultimate and the Komplete Kontrol S49 for less than the price of many keyboard workstations.
STRENGTHS Excellent integration between software and keyboard controller. Light Guide keys. Powerful Scale and Arp functions. Encoder/display pairings step through all available plug-in parameters.
LIMITATIONS On Macs, the Komplete Kontrol plug-in only works in 64-bit host applications. The Komplete Kontrol arppegiator doesn’t output MIDI notes. The Kontrol S controllers’ MIDI In and Out only work when connected to a computer.
Komplete 10 Ultimate: $999 street
Komplete Kontrol S49: $599 street
RAPID-FIRE SOUND DESIGN
The Komplete Kontrol arpeggiator has tons of great options, including plenty of Rate note values. While the highest of those values, 128th notes, seems kind of ridiculous at first, they can be really cool for creating unexpected sounds and effects. Combining it with the Scale Chord Mode takes you even further.
To see how powerful this can be, choose a basic preset, such as an acoustic piano or plucked string instrument. Turn on both the Scale and Arp from the hardware or software buttons. Set the Scale Chord mode to Harmonizer and choose a 3- or 4-note chord. Set the Arp Rate to 1/128 and your master tempo to around 120. Now press one key and see what you get. You may be surprised by how alien your sound has become, like a vintage 8-bit arcade sound or some kind of alarm or laser beam. Changing the arpeggiator Type on-the-fly can alter the effect drastically.
To take it to extremes, add more notes by holding down three or four keys, and also increase the Octave setting. It’s interesting what adding just one additional octave or another note can do. Play around with the different Sequencer settings. If you find that adding octaves and changing the Sequencer are reducing the rapidity of the notes and making them more recognizable, add distortion, flange, filter, or other effects to your DAW track, or simply try another sound.
Markkus Rovito is a musician, DJ, and journalist based in San Francisco.