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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 alone. The integration features require either Komplete 9 or Komplete 10; those users are able to download the separate Komplete Kontrol software. 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. (I’ll cover Reaktor and Maschine integration separately; in Maschine, 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]

  • Tony Scharf

    Burned Kore user hear. Just want to take another opp to fly both middle fingers and NI. I won’t buy this product.

    • foljs

      Well, it’s not like they don’t have other series of software-hardware combos (Maschine, Traktor, etc) that have been going strong for many years.

      And it’s not like digital hardware is forever either. Anything can be discontinued if it doesn’t sell enough. If you want something “for the ages” don’t buy computer peripherals and controllers.

    • Dave O Mahony

      With you 100% Tony! F*** Off N.I. not another penny – ever!
      But also as a N.I. user who upgraded all the way since Komplete 1 (including the insane Komplete Kare), how you treated us with Kore finally made me spend my software budget on hardware and now I have a Eurorack modular so I (grudgingly) thank you for that!

    • Martin Wheeler

      What NI did with Kore (sell it as being the ultimate control centre of the entire DAW-verse, convince their customers to spend _months_ organising and keyword-tagging their patches, and then just kill it shortly afterwards …) is a level of absolute bullshit uncommon even in the music tech industry. But the way they then treated their customers ( constant lies, mass deleting of forum posts and whole accounts from people who dared to complain about their duplicitous bullshit, coupled with an absolute fuck-you disdain for the people who pay their wages) was beyond belief. Customers of companies like Waves and Avid tend to have a good deal of frustration and anger in them, but, outside of the Gibson/Opcode debacle, I have rarely encountered a situation where it seemed that many NI customers were on the verge of booking a flight to Berlin with the intention of going down to NI HQ and punching someone. The fact that so much anger remains years later reflects the depth of feeling on this. At the time, I, like many, vowed that I would never buy anything from NI ever again. But I did. I needed to (re-) buy NI software because Kontakt is a standard, and Reaktor is Reaktor. And now, I have to say that if this thing does what I think it will, I will be sorely tempted to buy a piece of NI hardware again. Damn. But NI _REALLY_ better have their act together this time, as the slightest hint of any more Kore-like bullshit will surely bring the wrath of a thousand social media upon their heads.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, look, it isn’t Kore. I’m not saying you should buy it, but it’s a different product, and NI has gotten through several generations of Traktor controller hardware since then on top of two generations of Maschine.

      I use this stuff, too. If it isn’t working for me, you can bet I’ll say so.

      I’m not certain on this hardware yet. I think the inability to use some of the features outside of Komplete Kontrol is a major drawback. I’m going to talk about some of the other keyboards on the market – because, at the end of the day, this is still a keyboard (even with those interesting ideas) and look at whether you really want a Korg or Nektar in place of this, depending on your use case.

    • sloopy_jon_b

      “Just a keyboard”…that you still felt the need to post about five times in the run up to its release. It’s just the NI kore level hype machine bullshit that pisses me and probably everyone else off. It would be great if you did highlight some other companies competing products with the same vigour as it would restore some semblance of independence. But not doubt the new NI keyboard will come out on top.

    • Tony Scharf

      Well, I’ll tell you the hardware looks uninspired. Really…it’s just a keyboard with some generic knobs on it. There is so much they could have done with this concept that they arent because (I would guess) there aren’t many actual keyboard players running around NI. They make a nice drum machine and a nice dj controller, but they know dick about keyboards.

      Keyboard controllers have become universally terrible because the kids don’t buy them. Older guys like me who still actually know what a triad is and how to play spend money on expensive workstations because its the only way to get a half decent keybed and full size keys (the only exception is the Arturia controllers which are actually well built and I would trust on stage). Isometric grids and shit are nice, but they do zero for my inspirational process.

      The way I see this is “hey, NI made another shitty keyboard that’s even shittier because it’s tied in tightly to their sales and marketing whims which have burned me in the past. No fucking thank you”.

      NI doesn’t care about keyboardists because there aren’t a hell of a lot of us left. That’s fine and it’s their choice. I am just not going to trust my dollars going into any of their product echo systems again.

    • Martin Wheeler

      Peter, I realise that this isn’t Kore, and am aware that NI has brought out products since Kore that have not involved quite the same level of user shafting ( and I’m also very sure that if it isn’t working for you, you will say it ! ;-) … but obviously for many of us it inevitably raises the spectre of the Kore debacle, and the associated righteous and justified anger ! But, as I said, if it’s level of integration ( esp with Reaktor ensembles, and the colourkey keyswitch thang with Kontakt ) is what it seems to be, i’ll probably end up biting my righteously angered tongue, holding my noise and giving the bastards more money. But if ever …

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Oh, it raised the spectre of Kore for me. And it’s the first thing I told the team when I saw it. I think I felt a chill run up my spine.

      As I say in the article, though, it’s both a relief and a frustration that it’s not Kore. That is, narrower focus – good. But… part of the original idea behind Kore, whether the implementation was successful or not, was as I understood it the ability to set up performance presets and work through them.

      This feels at times like a glorified preset browser, without covering the use case that originally motivated Kore – people trying to take the sounds they find and assemble them in ways that lets them play.

      And while Kore’s attempt to host plug-ins may have been part of what sank it, I’m not sure that it makes any *more* sense to pretend to live in a world where you only use NI instruments. ;)

      If I sounded defensive in comments, it’s partly because people apparently couldn’t see through the red in their own eyes to pay attention to what I’d tried to say in this hands-on.

      But I’ll be clearer in the final review.

    • heinrichz

      I still have a Kore in my closet, it was a faulty piece of hardware because of its crappy display and the software while intriguing ultimately felt a bit clunky so that project was probably over ambitious for that time. Overall too complex and complicated when simplicity is really the better form of sophistication. Simplicity and good workflow seems to be also the main goal behind the new NI controllers and as a musician and sound designer i have to commend them on that.

    • slop_jon_b

      Check this out from IMS business report 2014

      Native Instruments turnover rose from 21 million in 2008 to a whopping 110 million in 2014.

      I remember a while back Peter defended NI saying something along the lines that they are a small company and we should let them away with their digressions. They are now no longer a small company and have grown a massive turnover by all manner of customer pissing off tactics. Time to get your proverbial out of their proverbial Peter and start providing unbiased commentary on their products. Anything else and it just shows you up along side them. It is obvious they don’t need you’re support anymore.

      Anything else is just proverbial licking for a few advertising dollars.

      http://www.internationalmusicsummit.com/img/stand_alone_files/file/original/ims-business-report-2014-vfinal-12.pdf

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      You don’t make money by pissing off customers. Where do you think the money came from, if not customers?

      Anyway, it’s obvious while you were pouring over NI’s financial numbers, you didn’t read what I wrote here. I went comprehensively through the features. This has nothing to do with their turnover or how big the company is. And I’m not making any excuses for them. I describe the stuff I like, I describe the stuff I don’t like. I don’t expect anyone else to agree. But it’s not “bias” if, for instance, I don’t necessarily want drum pads stuck on every keyboard.

      And now you’re making up things I said in the past.

      Killing Kore was one of the smartest things NI ever did. I’m sorry. It was a buggy, non-functional product that was a victim of its own overreach (as I say here). I was sorry to see it go because I liked some of the ideas behind it, but it was clear it was an untenable product and it wasn’t working.My only real regret is that I optimistically supported the thing when it was a mess.

      For that — and not for my blow-by-blow of the S25 — I deserve (and expect) criticism.

      I’d like to think I learned from that experience, and the success of Maschine and Traktor Kontrol suggest NI did.

    • sloppy_jon_b

      “You don’t make money by pissing off customers”

      Ryanair?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      – has customers who apparently are willing to sacrifice other amenities on price.

      You’re suggesting that NI making greater revenue is some kind of proof that they’re doing something wrong. That’s… an interesting perspective.

    • sloppy_jon_b

      No, you stated “you don’t make money by pissing off customers” to which I gave a single example of where you can.

      NI has also pissed off customers as is evident in what people have stated above and also the fact that the top comment is:

      “Burned Kore user hear. Just want to take another opp to fly both middle fingers and NI. I won’t buy this product”

      When this self same argument was brought up before on your blog, you continued to defend them with the reply that they are a small independent company and we should support them. I’m stating that this is no longer the case. Even in the worst of the Kore debacle where it was obvious everyone had bought a door stop, you still defended them. Therefore in my eyes you are biased towards NI, whether consciously due to them taking out adverts or unconsciously due to them taking out adverts.

    • sloopy_jon_b

      It is a well described phenomenon and one where legislation was brought in to protect consumers from.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I stand by my reporting. I sweated yesterday to chronicle some of the very features I didn’t like, that I thought were worth criticizing in the above article.

      It’s clear I already lost credibility in your eyes and you didn’t read what I wrote, and that’s a shame, but there’s nothing I can do about it.

    • sloopy_jon_b

      Just relax with the 5 posts in one week hype stuff for what at best can be described as an overpriced midi keyboard with preset selection from a company that has burnt it’s core ( pardon the pun ) customer base. If I was working for NI marketing ( I’m not because I heard that they take advantage of “I want to work for NI in Berlin” and go for unpaid interns and if you do get a job the pay is dismal for a company with a turnover of 120 million ) I’d come out with an apology statement about Kore and an offer of a 500 euro discount on Komplete to anyone who bought it. It will cost them the price of the download bandwidth, they will regain lost customers and have €500 in the bank.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I got burned because information was leaking out in advance of our embargo, so I was keeping up.

      Don’t worry. Today is all about KORG.

    • squaretooth

      Kore didn’t become a “door stop” when it got discontinued. It still works.

    • Tony Scharf

      Killing the product may have been smart, but the way they did it wasn’t. They were assholes about it. Basically, they said ‘thank you for investing in our echo system. Your investment is now worthless. here is a $50 coupon to our own store. Don’t complain, or we will take that away, too’.

      Kore had it’s issues with 3rd party plugins, true, but it was the perfect and only solution to certain live performance situations with the NI setup. It was the easiest way to hook a keyboard to a laptop and have that laptop behave like a workstation keyboard. I could press one button on the controller to switch sound sets between songs and it worked reliably.

    • squaretooth

      NI let Kore users download all the Kore expansions for free and even updated Kore twice since discontinuing it, bringing it to have 64bit support. They also offered crossgrade prices for Maschine.

      Kore was far from “perfect”.

    • 123

      Right…echo system

    • Darby

      Kore was a buggy non-functional product? Sorry to hear yours was. It is the core (no pun intended) of my work and is used in every cue I do. I cannot remember the last time I had an issue with it or the hardware and I have heaps of non-NI plugs working in it.

      You really need to temper your commentary to reasonable limits because your universalist language captures all usesr and that includes the many users like me who still have Kore solidly and reliably integrated into their workflow. And I’m not a hobbyist.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      No, I was surprised by the previous mention of Kore to hear how many readers were still using it. That’s good news, at least.

      One issue with Kore was the open-ended hosting environment meant it was very possible to create different scenarios that caused problems.

      The degree of bugginess definitely was relieved in a long series of updates. (Hey, I used it, too… I just gave up on it in the end.)

    • slop_jon_b

      Fire fight that post for them Peter!

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      What does that combination of words even mean?

    • slop_jon_b

      I just get the impression that you are going around firefighting the negative comments. It smacks of a shill.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      By answering questions? People asked some specific questions and had particular comments I responded to.

      Anyway, now I’m wasting my time feeding the troll.

    • slop_jon_b

      Not convinced Peter, sorry. In order for me to believe that you are unbiased, then I would need to see that you do not receive any money from NI. I don’t think you are going to disclose this information.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Think again, I’ll “disclose” whatever you want.

      This is not a paid post, period.

      CDM is an ad-supported site. I don’t directly handle ad accounts, but you can see who has advertising in the banners; I see a couple of products in the mix, in fact, that compete directly or indirectly with this keyboard.

      But you know what? I’m confident enough in the accuracy of my reporting, and that I am clear about introducing ideas that are my own opinions, that I think that doesn’t matter. I think you can form whatever opinion you like.

    • Martin Wheeler

      I’m as pissed off as anybody with NI over Kore, but ( seemingly contrary to the slop guy) I’m more than happy that Peter covered this, don’t see his article as being biased towards NI, and most certainly don’t see it as a paid infomercial ! I don’t agree with everything Peter has said here concerning Kore either, but am not in the habit of accusing anyone who I might disagree about something with as necessarily being in the pay of the enemy ! ;-) I take a look at CDM most every day, and am seriously thankful for all I have discovered / learned here over the last few years. I often disagree with Peter, and sometimes say so … but that is a just a healthy, normal relationship ;-) So i’ll save my anger for NI and wish long life to CDM.

    • Jaybeeg

      Turnover does not equal profit. That’s total sales. And a consumer hardware/software company that does $110 million/year is not huge.

      Companies are going to make mistakes. Kore was a mistake and they killed it. That doesn’t mean you should spend the rest of time eviscerating NI because they made a rational business decision.

    • sloopy_jon_b

      Kore an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. $50 voucher and no apology. The days of rational business decisions that burn long time supportive customers are long over and someone should tell that to NI’s marketing team. Then they can start making rational post arrival of the social internet 2014 business decisions.

      The proper way to do it is that if you f**k up bad, then you have to come out and admit it and treat your customers correctly. Otherwise we just get on forums and in the same way that us core “fan boy” users put you up there, we sure as hell can take you back down.

      Marketing 101.

  • chaircrusher

    1. Does it give you control over NI Effects?

    2. In a VST host, would you be able to load multple Kontrol S plugins and switch between them?
    3. Why doesn’t NI release something like this Kontrol S plugin to use without the hardware? I’d love to be able to search by attributes across the whole Komplete line — something I can do somewhat in Maschine — without the hardware. I’ve already given NI a ton of money over the years, fork over!

    I’ve worked with a lot of different computer-based sound hardware, and NI always makes high quality stuff, suitable for the demands of the studio and playing out. $699 isn’t that much to pay for a quality controller that looks as though it could survive being dropped during load-in.

    If, for example, a keyboard player in a band wanted to use NI stuff on the road, and not have to stare at a computer screen to switch sounds during/in between songs, this would be absolutely perfect.

    On the other hand, it doesn’t do anything I personally feel like I need. It seems like NI’s ongoing existence as a company depends on coming up with new things musicians didn’t even know they needed or wanted. We were making music before Kontrol-S, we’ll be making music after, but it’s not anything earth-shattering.

    • http://soundcloud.com/yanisko James Yanisko

      it looks like the new ultimate upgrade will have that software part – without the keybaord, based on their screen shots.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, it appears to be a free download for Komplete users without requiring the hardware, and would be useful for browsing – sort of, though this effect question above is a good one.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      1. No reason you can’t theoretically do that, though for now everything is mapped to a keyboard input. Effects don’t show up for me in the library.
      2. Yes, you can switch instances, though right now I haven’t yet got the Instance button working (first day on the job, and it’s not yet release software) — more on that.
      3. Actually, you can use it without the hardware. But there’s not much advantage to it; it’s really just controlling hardware mapping. Now I think the searching you’re talking about is very possible, browser-wise, let me double-check that.

    • LittleMachine

      If you put an instance of Komplete Kontrol in an effects VST slot, don’t you get the FX showing up in the library? Would be nice to know if this works and if they’ve mapped all the FX plugins to the hardware as well.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Komplete Kontrol is only available as an instrument. So … yeah, that’s a definitive no in answer to your question. (and yes, that’s too bad, I would agree)

    • LittleMachine

      Thanks for confirming. Another thing: Since we will ptrobably use Komplete Kontrol as an interface for loading up all the NI instruments from now on, how much does that extra layer of software add to CPU consumption? Do you see any difference from loading up just a specific Reaktor instrument as a VST or doing it inside Komplete Kontrol?

  • TJ

    I really would like a row of Maschine style pads on this for the price. They probably don’t want to mix with or cannibalize the Maschine line-up. It also seems too NI specific as compared to Novation’s Automap controllers.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Why? What is the point of pads stuck on a keyboard? Seriously, I’ve never worked this out, for anything other than triggers – once the keys are there, you’d just use the keys.

      What I do miss is controls for recording patterns, repeat, etc., found on Maschine hardware.

    • http://soundcloud.com/yanisko James Yanisko

      Keys just don’t work for everyone for drum playing…if my Remote SL compact’s pads were any better, I’d get rid of a pad controller completely from my main studio setup.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I never said pad controllers were a bad idea, but that doesn’t mean cramming them onto a keyboard is a good idea.

    • Freeks

      It’s hard to find midi controller without pads in 2014. I would say it’s standard.

    • Edward On-Robinson

      I don’t know anyone who likes playing drums on a piano keyboard. Once you get into pads (and the Maschine pads are very good) it’s hard to go back.

    • http://www.jeffromusic.com jeffro

      And I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a dedicated drum pad controller. Doesn’t make sense to have one on the keyboard and on your drum pad. I have an Axiom and never use the pads on there because I have a launchpad, a push, and a midifighter

    • Edward On-Robinson

      Manufacturers wouldn’t offer them if they didn’t sell. Why you bought a keyboard with features you neither wanted nor needed is a mystery only you can solve.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well… not sure about that. So many keyboards in the price range added pads that customers didn’t really have much choice.

      And this is a dilemma for manufacturers. Sometimes you don’t know which feature points mattered to users and which didn’t. And you definitely don’t know how they used it once they took it home.

    • Edward On-Robinson

      True, but they used to be the exception rather than the rule. If you look back through sales data, sales of MIDI controller keyboards only really took off a few years ago when integrated pads became widely available. That might be due to the rising popularity of computer music, but people were buying MIDI controllers for years before that to use with rack gear. It was just that back then you had to buy a separate pad controller (typically from Akai or Korg) if you wanted to do any finger drumming. IIRC the Roland Fantom integrated the SP-808 style pads on its Fantom workstation, and after that they became ubiquitous.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Right, exactly – so you’d use a dedicated pad controller, and wouldn’t need a keyboard.

      The one thing I think is a bit limiting from the perspective of patch/layout design is that everything is more or less constrained to two touch strips and eight encoders. I actually miss the toggle switches on Kore.

    • Tony Scharf

      Because having extra clutter around is always so great. Having a million little dedicated desktop boxes and a million USB cables and power supplies to remember to take with you is just awesome. Oh, and don’t forget the USB hubs the manufacturer says not to use but you have to because laptops only have one fucking USB port these days.

    • Graham Metcalfe

      I love using the pads on my Korg M3 for playing chords and triggering Karma. Also for adding adjunct percussion hits or rhythms.

    • TJ

      As a drummer I prefer the feel of pads. Playing beats via keys just feels weird to me. So if I could have a smaller controller that combines both it would be ideal. Many controllers today have both so I am a little surprised that NI didn’t include them.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Name one that combines pads in a satisfying way on keyboards.

      I can’t think of a single one that I wouldn’t ditch in a heartbeat for a better dedicated pad controller.

    • TJ

      The Akai MPK series that came out in the Spring is not bad. The pads are MPC style, backlit and responsive. However, I personally prefer the feel of the Maschine pads and the software. If I am at home and space is not an issue, then I agree that separate controllers are ideal. But if I am mobile, producing on a laptop then I would prefer to combine controllers into just one. I would love to see NI do something like the MPK225 that has 8 solid pads on it with Maschine support.

    • Tony Scharf

      Have you ever actually run a set as a keyboard player? I doubt it.

      If you have 8 samples you need to trigger in a song (for example) and you actually play the full range of your keyboard, you don’t want to blow an octave triggering those samples if you don’t have to. Keyboard space can be very tight on a 61 note controller for people who actually play (and the price jump to a 73 note board is not often feasible, let alone the extra space on a tight stage and weight).

      Also, in a live situation, you don’t want to go overboard with splits because it sometimes gets a little difficult to remember where all the sounds are. I usually give myself a little space on either side of my range just in case I slip up there wont be a really clashing sound played. Putting them on pads is a very convenient way of keeping the keyboard space free. In the case of the Korg M3 I used to take on stage, the pads also had poly aftertouch I could exploit for modulation.

      Some keyboard players do more than just trigger clips even in 2014. We are a dying breed, but we do actually still exist.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Okay, so now I’m understanding the use case – you’re mapping samples to the pads. That makes some sense to me. I would still tend to advise someone to get a separate pad controller, but then I could see this being an advantage of the Nektar – because it has a full 4×4 grid and not just 2×4.

      Now, that said – come on, this is all getting a little dramatic. There are obviously loads of keyboard players. Many of them (like me) come first from a piano background. And the reason we have all these keyboards is that it’s a huge market.

      I’m going to have another look at the category, like I said. I have problems with this keyboard and with the Nektar both – still waiting on that KORG, hoping it’s good though I’ve never loved KORG’s keybeds.

      At least these are inching toward better, higher-end keyboard controllers. We’ve waited a long time, and had to put up with a lot of crap. So, yes, I’ll take a look at the whole market.

  • regend

    if i buy this and make a hit record? it will sell like hotcakes. brilliant strategy by NI even though it really doesn’t matter to non-edm and niche music makers. they have had enough fun targeting niche music genre makers and taste makers. they needed to expand to the hobbyists. this is for the mainstream youth.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      What does this have to do with EDM? Or youth? Or – huh? I don’t understand your comment.

    • foljs

      “”"if i buy this and make a hit record? it will sell like hotcakes.”"”

      The controller is about getting access to certain plugins and soundsets. Nothing in them is constrained to people making “hit records”. Heck, you can make a hit record with just guitar, bass and drums, or even Fruity Loops. And you can make jazz-fusion-meets-Bill Lasswel-and-nordic-folk music with Komplete if you so wish.

      “”"brilliant strategy by NI”"”

      What exactly is a “brilliant strategy”? Releasing a controller that works with their soft instruments? Doesn’t sound that inspired, actually it’s rather expected.

      “”"even though it really doesn’t matter to non-edm and niche music makers”"”

      What does this has to do with EDM? If you work with electronic sounds, from Jazz to Hollywood soundtracks, you can use Komplete. It also works for pop, rock, funk, hip hop, all kinds of electronica besides EDM, reggae, and whatever. It has multi-sampled pianos, top notch basses, rhodes, orchestral sounds, etc.

      “”"they have had enough fun targeting niche music genre makers and taste makers.”"”

      Again, what you write doesn’t make sense. All kinds of musicians use Komplete, from dance and electronica, to pop, to jingle writers for ads, to film composers…(And even if you consider their products as EDM-oriented, EDM is huge, and is far from being some small “niche”).

      “”"this is for the mainstream youth.”"”

      Again, doesn’t make sense. Komplete (and the controller who provides access to these sounds) has every kind of sound. You can do stuff from fusion jazz to classical scores with it.

      Nothing “youth oriented” specifically.

      Could it be that you take the music they play in their promo video as the only kind of thing people make in Komplete?

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    Not good enough. Lacks controls and if Push has heavily criticized for not loading and mapping plug ins, this one loosing all cool functionality with third party stuff is not cool at all.

  • BrandonR

    Hey Peter, So the rotary encoders are different than the ones on Maschine MK2? Do they all have the same amount of resistance? That’s one of the things that annoys me about the Maschine encoders, some are very stiff while others have almost no resistance at all.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      They’re very, very consistent. I can double-check this, but it seems they’ve been doing more development here – or they’ve just ironed out some manufacturing consistency.

    • BrandonR

      Good to hear. Hopefully they can maintain that consistency with these. My Maschine MK1 controller doesn’t have that problem, but I’ve checked out numerous MK2 controllers and they’ve all had that issue.

      I’m still very skeptical about these in general, but I’m glad to to hear they’re using a quality keybed. I’ve never been able to understand why there’s not a single controller keyboard on the market that doesn’t feel like a cheap plastic toy. The way these things are priced, they’d better have the best build quality of anything out there.

    • Todd Keebs

      Interesting… my MK2 hardware doesn’t have this problem.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That’s interesting, I really haven’t encountered this problem and I’m in a city with a lot of Maschine stock … a lot of it definitely *not* cherry-picked by NI for consistency. Let me investigate…

    • Guest

      Or they sent you a tip-top unit for your review. I’ve seen other companies audition a few units from a batch, pick out a perfect unit, carefully re-pack it as if it’s factory-fresh, and send that off for the reviewer.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ha, I’ve also had the *opposite* happen.

      But I can pry into this question, I’m really not certain, so take the above comment as anecdotal and potentially completely wrong.

  • Todd Keebs

    A couple questions, one general and on specific:
    1 – Is there anything in the Komplete software which indicates the mapping of on screen controls to the keyboard encoders?
    2 – Is the experience of controlling parameters any different than it is in Maschine using the 8 encoders (other than build quality)? Going through numerous pages of encoder banks on the Maschine works OK… but somehow I imagined that a dedicated controller for this type of thing would provide some innovation.

    I’m still waiting for the holy grail of soft-synth to physical controller. This type of solution and auto-map bring it about half way there from one direction and the System-1′s plug-out brings it about half way there from another direction, but there’s still a long way to go before fixing the virtual-to-hardware gap.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      1. No. You just have to page through them. But that’s okay to me; if I’m using the displays I’m making an effort not to look at the screen. By the time I look at the screen, I’d just use the mouse. (One exception – Ableton Push has a cool feature, where pointing at a knob with the mouse activates a controller on the hardware. But that wouldn’t make sense here.)

      2. No, but – remember that the encoders you see on the display *can* be mapped by the patch designers, so the first page is essentially macro controls.

      I think I see your question, here, actually. So, you *aren’t* going through parameters as a random list. The first page you see is mapped by the user.

      As I understand it, even Reaktor patchers will be able to determine what’s on that main page, which is essential. But I’m not far enough into using Reaktor yet to say for sure.

      I’d love a non-proprietary way of doing this, but I haven’t seen any hardware that does it in a satisfying way. I think Push wins points here, too, because whatever you put in a Rack maps those eight macro controls to the hardware/display.

  • Freeks

    There is no real added value for Mashine users. We already have all the preset browsing features and it also works with FX. If someone is into the scales, chords and such then it’s hard not to recommend Korg Taktile. That has all that and then some with a lot cheaper price. Taktiles have pads AND touch pad that is actually very usable when playing scales. Also it has very clever system of changing chord types and inversions on the fly with the touch strip. Does Kontroller S have that?

  • Darren E Cowley

    So, how are the Light controlled? Sysex i wonder?? Looks intriguing!

    • Edward On-Robinson

      Probably OSC, sysex would be too slow and bulky. Hence the lack of stand-alone MIDI functionality.

    • Mutis Mayfield

      Probably NHL like F1

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      No, the following features are all proprietary communication via NI’s host software – not something standard like OSC or SysEx, which means hacking them would be a lot of work. (A friend did it with the Maschine mk1 display, but it isn’t easy.)

      - Lights above the keyboard
      - Touch strip LEDs

      These will be accessible to Kontakt scripting and Reaktor, but not anything else.

      There’s still a lot you can do with MIDI templates as seen in the screenshot, but you don’t get bi-directional communication. And that to me deserves some points off. NI actually even makes hardware (Traktor Kontrol) that allows you to set colors via MIDI note. I’ve used that to turn my Traktor controllers into remotes for Processing sketches, even.

      Is this a big market? No, not even close. But it’s to me a case of unnecessarily restricting something, so worth mentioning.

      That said, I’m expecting some cool Reaktor applications. (That object isn’t terribly intuitive, as you’ll see separately, but it works.)

    • Darren E Cowley

      Thats a shame, i could’ve seen a secondary market for Ableton users but alas no….

  • LoOnyBin G

    shit look dope…but might be to big for me I’m mobile so its gotta fit in a back pack like the mph 25…also i would of like to see a video of the unboxing lol https://www.facebook.com/LoOnyBinG?ref=hl

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      It fits in my UDG backpack. See the dimensions above.

  • http://www.grahammilermusicdesign.com Graham Miller

    Hey Peter! Thanks for the mini-review! Wondering if you know or know if they’ve posted the physical dimensions of the 3 keyboards anywhere? It’s not on the NI site, strangely enough. I’ll be grabbing either the 49 or 61 but I gotta see how much space they’ll take up on my Ikea desk at my home studio.

    • http://www.flavors.me/fludlyt Fludlyt

      Here are the dimensions http://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/komplete/keyboards/komplete-kontrol-s-series/pricing/. They put them up on their pricing page.

    • http://www.grahammilermusicdesign.com Graham Miller

      Thanks my friend!

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, and for real-world examples, that’s a 13″ Retina MacBook Pro in the pic. The 25-key for me is great in that it’s backpackable. (Well, okay, not more or less than other 25-key keyboards, but that means if these integration features in Maschine and Komplete do pay off in live scenarios, it’s a potential live rig – maybe with Push or a Maschine controller, for example.)

  • http://batman-news.com Jack Spadolini

    I am a Novation user and I use Abelton, Mainstage, and Logic Pro. Will the Komplete Kontrol Keyboard work for all or any of these softwares? Thanks.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes … and no.

      You can certainly use it as a MIDI template as described above. But unless someone hacks the protocol by which NI is talking to the displays, you won’t get this level of integration in other software. Even then, you’d have to build it from scratch.

    • TJ

      Peter, have they indicated any desire to support third party software similar to Automap in the future? Or is this going to be Komplete only?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      They definitely are not indicating they will support third-party software.

      As I said in my (initial) confusions the lock-in is an area of concern. So you should assume that the capabilities in the MIDI controller mode section are all you get outside of NI software.

    • Tony Scharf

      So, as I said, its a standard shitty keyboard that’s even shittier by being less functional unless your an NI monogamist. No fucking thank you.

    • squaretooth

      No, it’s still much more than a “standard shitty keyboard” even for non-NI plugins. You can make custom MIDI templates for non-NI plugins and browse through them. You still have the scribble strips under each touch sensitive encoder showing mapped parameter name and values, and touch strips with physics controls …etc.

  • Soundwrecker

    The hardware looks totally sweet, but adding another layer between my playing and my DAW seems to add complexity where I’m trying to become more integrated. As it stands I load an instance of a NI VST along with an instrument rack that I’ve already configured and I’m good to go, with great integration. While I am a big fan of beautifully made hardware it is going to be difficult for me to justify dropping these kind of dollars for a new control surface that offers advanced browsing options for VST presets that I already own and use effortlessly.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, in this case, though, it doesn’t feel like an extra layer. It just means you instantiate Komplete instead of separately adding Absynth, for instance, which is actually more convenient.

      So, actually, where I think this solution is deficient is when you *don’t* have Komplete Kontrol as the plug-in — like if I want to use something that isn’t NI software, which I do, occasionally. (Cough.) ;)

  • lumpy

    I feel like NI doesn’t have great marketing on this and never did with the Komplete line.

    As someone who uses Reason and Logic, Traktor DJ on my iPad and thinks Maschine looks pretty cool, I still don’t get what Komplete is, or what this keyboard is for. It’s some plug ins for Ableton live that I can only play with this keyboard? A standalone program that I play with the keyboard? Peter Kirn is excited about it, so it’s probably cool? A lot of people are mad about Kore (what’s that?) so they don’t want it? Why do I want any of this? I had hoped the video on NI’s site and this article would help, but I still don’t get it! It’s making me feel kind of dumb, as I usually have a good grasp on this sort of thing…

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      You try marketing a category that includes the synth Massive, the patching environment Reaktor, some pianos, and things like sampled ethnic percussion and horns.

      There are different use cases. One person who needs all those things and quick access to sounds – someone doing film and TV scores on short deadlines. And they’ll likely put down a couple grand without a second thought, because they’ll make that and then some tonight if they hit their deadline.

  • heinrichz

    in other words i can use this with my Maschine Browser as well, witout the Komplete Control sftw layer added? That would make me very happy indeed.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yes, though see the comment above – I’m awaiting software to test this. (Keep in mind that this is a hands-on test of something that isn’t shipping for nearly a month.)

    • heinrichz

      gotcha

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Not so sure about that, to be honest. See NI’s announcement for details: http://www.native-instruments.com/en/products/maschine/production-systems/maschine-studio/new-in-maschine/

      “MASCHINE 2.2 gives you full keyboard functionality within the MASCHINE environment. Press browse on your KOMPLETE KONTROL keyboard and the KOMPLETE Browser pops up on your computer screen, letting you select and load a sound directly into a sound slot in MASCHINE. Watch scales, chords, and arpeggios light up across KOMPLETE KONTROL’s Light Guide™, see the color of your sounds in MASCHINE directly on the keyboards, and get perfectly-mapped parameters instantly with Native Map™.”

      That sounds like an additional layer to me…

  • Steven

    Peter, when the Kontrol software is inserted as a VST in Ableton Live, is it possible to use the controller’s performance features (scale, chords, arp) to control other tracks in Live, or will the performance features only work with Komplete plug-ins instantiated in the Kontrol software?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      That’s an excellent question and I didn’t yet get time to test it, but I believe that as with Maschine, you can route MIDI from the virtual MIDI out. It’s an extra step, but possible. Let me … go work that out.

  • Bot

    For some like myself, this might be important : SYSTEM REQUIREMENTS : Windows 7 or 8, Intel Core 2 Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2. Mac OS X 10.8 or 10.9, Intel Core 2 Duo.

    Still happily on XP for PC duties and stuck on 10.6 for my old iMac.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Sorry to say, but neither Apple nor Microsoft is making it practical to support these now-defunct operating systems.

      Now, that said – this is why I raise as a concern the fact that this hardware doesn’t work as standalone MIDI hardware, because that rules out not only your use case, but others, as well, now and in the future.

      And yes, if you have a standard driverless MIDI controller, it’ll work with any OS, anywhere.

  • squaretooth

    Looks like Komplete Kontrol software host will also be available for all Maschine users for free as well. I would imagine the same also goes for users who just have Komplete Elements:

    “The KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series are the ideal complement to your Maschine setup. The Maschine 2.2 update will offer perfect integration with KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series. Upgrade and get the power of KOMPLETE KONTROL inside Maschine – only available with Maschine 2.2. Free for all Maschine 2 software users. Coming in November.”

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ah – November / Maschine 2.2. Okay, that hadn’t been announced when I last talked to them.

      I know that Maschine integration is a priority, so I’m keen to see how this works. As I understand it, you’ll get the Browser, Arp, Scale/Mode. So I’m planning to use the 25-key keyboard with Maschine to test, as I said. (Now, I’ll have to see if in the end I really think people will want that versus *some other MIDI controller* and Maschine, but it’s at least an interesting idea.)

    • heinrichz

      I’m very much interested in the Maschine integration and looking forward to get more info.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      Me too. And, as a still happy and satisfied user of Komplete Elements (which comes with Maschine, basically, and sports the same version numbers on the players than what you’d have on the full Kontakt, Reaktor and Guitar Rig versions), I would love to know if all this would also work with that “small” Komplete? I have no plans whatsoever investing in Komplete 10/any edition, but it could be a great addition to an existing Maschine setup.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      On second look at NI’s announcement for Maschine 2.2, I must say it doesn’t look too promising. I admit it is always somewhat pointless trying to guess functionality that we don’t know about yet.

      But they state clearly, which Komplete versions will be supported (that is Komplete 9 and 10 regular and Ultimate, i.e. most likely not Elements, which is a bummer for me). And they show at least one of the “integration” features, that is you can open the Komplete Kontrol browser from inside Maschine. Errr… What’s the point with that? Maschine already has a great browser that can do everything that you might need to also browse Komplete. So why introduce this extra layer? That is not what I would call integration. It’s bolting on redundant functionality, so you can sell it as a “feature”.

      Obviously, NI is trying to tie Maschine and Komplete closer together by giving Komplete license owners a Maschine license too. But, well, that sounds like another redundant attempt. For me, it would make more sense to “tease” existing Maschine users to purchase the full Komplete by giving them access to all the neat functionality in Komplete Elements, which comes with Maschine already.

  • ctx

    Scale thing is of questionable usefulness, and it seems like you can’t program your own chords and play around with progressions which is sort of the one useful aspect of such a feature in my mind, but ok… But then the scales and the chords and the arp don’t even work at all with third party plugins? It can’t be powered over USB… for what? They need to do better than a scribble strip and RGB LEDs over the keys to justify a power adapter for it, especially for people who want to take the small one on the road.

    The browser is on the computer; if they were going to require the power adapter they could have at least fit one of the Maschine screens on there. Speaking of stuff you have to do on the computer, I saw in a demo from an NI guy on another site that you can’t switch the physics modes for the faders on the keyboard? Aren’t these supposed to be performance controls? Not even an on/off toggle? My experience with Lemur is that this kind of simple physics stuff is really of little practical use anyway, the sort of oh-neat feature that you play with for an hour and then never … touch … again.

    I think NI gets a lot of undeserved crap, but everything I’ve seen about these keyboards makes me think they are the worst product they’ve done in many years. I mean go look at the feature set, usability, and price of a Taktile or Panorama or something and compare with this, and it’s just shocking that someone would approve this product for release.

    Hopefully the redeeming quality of this thing is the keybed but realistically, I’m skeptical that more than a fraction of the audience cares if the keybed is any good or not. There have been an awful lot of controllers with keybeds somewhere between garbage and mediocre sold (pretty much all of them, frankly) and nobody really seems to mind.

    Ok, rant’s over, but even Peter’s eternal optimism is doing little to convince me that this thing doesn’t suck from every angle.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Taktile I need to get in, but yeah, I’d consider that a compelling alternative.

      Panorama I’m writing up now, so — actually, putting the three together makes some sense.

      Panorama has some other issues – software and driver setup is not as easy as it should be (usability, really?), and I think their proprietary keybed is way too springy.

      If you’re faulting me for focusing too much on the keybed element *of a keyboard* I don’t think it’s my eternal optimism that’s the problem.

      If you think that it’s a huge deal that these arp/chord/scale features shut down when you leave Komplete Kontrol software, you’re right, which is why I say that’s a huge deal above.

      “I saw in a demo from an NI guy on another site that you can’t switch the physics modes for the faders on the keyboard”

      – actually, that answer isn’t quite right. In Komplete Kontrol, bizarrely, yes, it’s a global preference rather than per-patch. (I need to make a table of which is in which category.) But in MIDI templates, as seen in the screenshot above, it’s *per template* – not global.

      “they could have at least fit one of the Maschine screens on there” — ha, what? Now you’re definitely being an eternal optimist. Cost? Size? I mean… no.

      Now, otherwise, I agree with your criticisms. I think too much shuts down outside Komplete Kontrol, in MIDI mode – they just have to find some way to make the arp and scale/chord work without only launching that software. The software itself is more focused than Kore (good), but needs to be fleshed out as far as performance presets, splits, etc. And I think too many other features (light functions, touch strip physics) are constrained to global presets in software, when they’d make sense per-patch or with onboard hardware controls.

      But my goal here was getting through as much of what this can and can’t do in a first test.

    • https://twitter.com/Xcelllence The Xcellence

      Good morning, Quick chime in, I just bought the Korg Taktile a couple days ago, it’s pretty nice, I wish the faders were a bit longer and the pads could be better, but being able to play chords with the pads is a cool feature. NI features shutting down outside of it’s program is worrying, I too hope they change this in the near future.
      Also, I’m kinda surprised they didn’t come with more updates for software, like a Absynth 6, Massive 2, Reaktor 6, FM9, etc, considering how heavily the keyboard relies on Komplete with this release. I’ll still be getting K10-Ult since I waited from Komplete 7 to do so.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I’m curious – how are you using the faders?

      I never really felt the desire to mix on a keyboard, though using them for timbral controls makes sense.

    • https://twitter.com/Xcelllence The Xcellence

      The faders would be helpful with various controls to help out with mixing. I find it better than using my mouse to especially controlling more than one sound at a time. But not having faders isn’t a total deal breaker, it’s just that I’m used to seeing them on pretty much every keyboard out nowadays lol. And given the vast functionality of Kontrol S with Komplete it would only help imo.

    • heinrichz

      yes FM9 is past due.

    • ctx

      Thanks for the response and clarification about the physics controls.

      Mostly just wanted to reply to note that I wanted to rag on what I perceive as a very poor product from NI a bit, but I wasn’t trying to be hostile towards you. I do think your reviews tend to focus on the good things and gloss over the bad, but it’s not really a criticism and just what I’ve come to expect over the many years I’ve been reading (and many more I’ll hopefully continue to read) CDM.

      Anyway there seems to be a lot of hostility in the comments on this article so I just wanted to clarify that in case I also came across as such. :)

      A comparison article between the Korg/Nektar/NI offerings (and any other interesting ones that might be out there) would be great, I think!

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Well, thanks for that! I agree – let’s do the comparison!

      And I don’t think one right answer will come up. Komplete Kontrol, because NI made so much of the functionality reliant on the host software, is pretty useless if you don’t use Komplete all the time. Nektar is likewise probably best-suited to Logic or Reason users. So I don’t think we’ll have a single winner, but we should have a robust comparison – and I do like the build quality on all three better than some of the keyboards we’ve had in the past. At least this category is finally less boring – the heated comments suggesting that this is at least a story worth covering. If it had been a dull topic, no one would have commented at all.

    • squaretooth

      You can definitely “program your own chords and play around with progressions”. It has the “chord set” feature for that.

  • wtf

    Komplete Kontrol without Aftertouch?!?

    • wtf

      …for this price? Are you kidding me???

    • squaretooth

      It has aftertouch.

    • wtf

      Thanks a lot for the information and your hands-on article. With aftertouch built in, it’s definitely more interesting. But since I’m already user of Maschine Studio, I don’t think, that Komplete Kontrol is a “must have”. Maybe I’ll get it in one of these sales.

  • Lindon Parker

    OK so basically, unless I’m reading this wrong, this is an Arturia Keylab with less on-board controllers (e.g. pads) and no stand alone MIDI capability for $200 more? I am a Komplete owner, but I still went the keyLab/Trigger Finger route rather than this and Maschine, saving myself $700 dollars…Sure I have a lot more mapping to do by hand….andiI have no nice flashing lights on the keyboard…

  • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

    Wow! Expensive!!!
    Can you use the combination of keys and shift as switches? With the leds it could be nice.
    What kind of usage do those leds have for the moment?

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ah, that’s an interesting idea. I thought you couldn’t but — you could, with some clever programming. I thought the transport/menu buttons didn’t send MIDI, but they do (pre-mapped to Mackie Control).

      The problem is, you can’t control the LEDs, which I think is a major oversight.

    • http://flexyvoid.com/ Yanakyl

      Super fast reply, thanks!
      Maybe they’ll wait & see what people ask most before implementing some features. Cool thing of leds with multiple colors is the same keys could have many uses also for crazy layers and split with a nice visual feedback.
      Not for the moment though and anyway my next buy is a mixer…

  • Derek Morton

    NI if you are reading… please make sure Random is added to the arpeggiator modes. I think Peter was being a bit diplomatic when saying it would be a nice feature, I do not think I have ever seen an arpeggiator without random, its pretty much an expected feature and its a bit silly that its not there, but perhaps its because the software is still in development. thank ya

  • Mr Fork

    Too much hate going on here. I appreciate your review of this product Peter. I’ve been taking a look at it among the many options out there for controllers. I’d have to say I wasn’t as initially impressed by the limited number of controls on the device. I’m wondering how things are going to work for sound design. If it’s pretty much going to be the same as maschine then I already have one of those and the only thing I’d really be gaining is the keybed. I’d appreciate it, as things progress, if you could show how the sound design works on it. Also I’d like to know how the keybed feels compared to other controllers on the market. Thanks again for the work you put in to reviewing this.

    Mr Fork

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Thanks. ;)

      Well, this is a standard Fatar keybed, if you’ve used any of those. It feels consistent, you get a fair amount of resistance, but what it isn’t is overly springy as some synth keyboards can be.

      I’ve used this keybed before a lot and really love it. Actually, what I don’t have is a list of which keyboards have made use of it and which haven’t – I should work on that.

      Sound design – not sure what you mean. You get a first page of controls that are pre-mapped in the library, then you can page through all other controls on the other pages. If you’re a Reaktor sound designer, or make heavy use of that library, it’s huge. On the other hand, if you use a lot of third-party stuff, it’s kind of useless, because the mappings don’t work for that. That’s where something like Push shines – any plug-in running in the DAW works. Or the Novation, though I’ve always found Automap to be kind of a pain. Or, if you tend to use Reason, Logic, etc. and can take advantage of their pre-mappings, the Nektar Panorama.

      A round-up is definitely in order.

    • Mr Fork

      Great information again Peter. Thank you. Sound design I guess I should say synth patch design. I’ve been waiting for someone to bring out a hardware interface for vsts that gives you some of that same feel that you get when working with hardware synths. Control over ADSR for amplitude and other modulation envelopes, oscillator types, those kinds of things like you’d see on something like the Bass station 2. Even if it’s something you have to manually map for each vst you use I’d still go for it. I was hoping that this would do that even if only for NI products. It sounds like that is not the case here.

      The push you can configure to go through multiple pages of parameters but there’s no way to organize the pages that I can tell (I have a push). I agree with you on Automap. I love the concept but it’s a pain. Well anyway. Thanks again for your review and for your reply.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      I think it’s more or less the same problem – as with Push, you can organize the first page, but maybe not after that.

    • unspecified consumer

      Regarding an interface for sound-design-level parameter control:

      Making anything approaching a comprehensive controller for softsynths can’t be done on a small scale (e.g. affordably.)

      To do it right, assuming that is even possible, you’re into a huge, Waldorf Wave-esque hardware device that would cost many thousands. This is why you end up with all these meager entries (eight knobs, no buttons and no sliders?) – Because to make a high-quality, non-cheap-plastic controller with enough physical controls and displays to even start to approach the old school Oberheim/Prophet/Memorymoog 80s model of dedicated knobs per-function – Mr Fork’s “same feel you get when working with hardware synths” above – is not economically viable in the current climate.

      This is why no one has attempted it in an uncompromising way; It would be a huge design nightmare and prohibitively expensive (not exactly the stuff of big profits, and definitely the total antithesis of NI’s whole ethos.) Komplete Kontrol is not for serious editing; It’s for coarse-grained tweaking of a tiny selection of parameters.

      The sad part is that there are a significant number of people out
      there who want and need a top-notch controller suitable for their softsynths. I’d be clicking “add to cart” the second one became available.

      And yes, Automap sucks.

    • kobe

      you have a point but maybe they can let the manufacturers of each software synth or DAW create their own ‘official’ mapping. that’s totally economically feasible as it’s not on their dime, & the other companies have plenty of motivation to have a piece of hardware with specialized mapping for their own products.

    • Mr Fork

      Actually I believe it is viable and would be relatively affordable. By “feel of hardware” what I’m going for is direct control from the hardware. I’d even do some menu diving if needed. In the general scheme of things what you’d need is encoders, faders, and buttons along with a software that could do the mappings correctly similar to the idea of automap. If you think about those components there are several affordable controllers on the market and upcoming such as the novation launch control xl and the livid ds1. That’s pretty much all those controllers are. Knobs, faders, and buttons. Novation twitch is another one. If you took that same hardware and changed up the housing and layout a bit to give it a familiar synth layout then the only thing remaining would be the capability of the software to grab the parameters and be able to assign them to the respective buttons. Of course with the way some soft synths such as massive are built when it comes to modulation you’d have some features that you’d end up going to the screen for regardless but there are a fair number that could easily work with this kind of setup.

      The other issue would be visibility of the parameters you’ve mapped. Which is why I thought the scribble strips on the new NI keyboard might just work. You could list out all your parameters and have a pretty easy flow to it even with menu diving. And if they allowed you to custom map you could set it up the way you want.

      Either way it’s looking like the NI controller won’t do what I want for patch design but that really isn’t a shocker as there currently isn’t anything out there that does what I’m looking for yet. Thanks again Peter K.

  • ultramike

    Peter, I don’t think you are biased at all and I really enjoy this site and your reviews. Keep up the great work!

    • Chris R Gibson

      ++1, your reporting and information is ALWAYS appreciated here Peter ;-)

    • kobe

      agreed. for some reason musicians (esp professional-ish ones) can sometimes be extremely opinionated, which can make them total haters at times.

  • praveensharma

    Nice preview peter! I use Komplete all the time but the price range vs. lack of physical controls are a no go for me : I can’t imagine controlling a complex synth with that thing – I feel like at that point you are better off mapping just the essential controls you use for performance to any midi keyboard. Still looks sexy though!

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    All and all, a very inferiour product o Push or even Maschine.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      What is your point? These keyboards cover a completely different use case than Push or Maschine.

    • Sin Sentido Comun

      Well you are paying for the integration really. (You can get a nice kb controller otherway).

      And the integration is really lacking and very limited. So not good value at all.

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      But that’s exactly what is yet to be proven – particularly considering Maschine, to which you are referring specifically. I haven’t got a lot of hope either, but I’d rather wait and see it, before judging on a brief preview and a press announcement.

  • Sin Sentido Comun

    A quesiton peter ¿Does the keyboard sends the MIDI out from chord, arp and scales functions to the daw so you can record them?

  • Kjim

    Thanks Peter. Now, where is your review of Analog Rytm? Please post soon your review of the Analog Rytm. I would really like to read it. (I cannot make up my mind about that thing. …Mono samples? Really?) Sorry for going off topic (kind of). And thanks in advance!

  • Jared Helfer

    Thanks for the write up. It’s so hard to parse this information from Native Instruments themselves, and most of the articles I see are just reprinting the press release and are, in effect, useless. :)

  • lunjoc

    Aftertouch?

    • squaretooth

      It has aftertouch.

    • Meoff

      “No” aftertouch…

  • Guest

    I’m not even going to get into NI’s history, but $500 for a 25-key ‘board? Seriously?

  • Sebastian

    I’m not going to get into any of NI’s past, but $500 for a 25-key ‘board? Seriously? I don’t care how good it feels for that price. I would expect to pay no more than $200 for 25 keys. I realize the displays add cost, but do we really need touchstrip pitch/mod “wheels?” And now that I think about it, how much can the displays really cost? I can buy dot matrix displays of about this size for less than $10, and I doubt they cost NI that much. Great product I’m sure, but with no real included software I think I’ll stick to my Novation 61SL.

    • kobe

      i totally agree but i think they’re stuck here because maschine is so damn expensive and maybe they don’t want to cannibalize that market and user base by coming out with a much cheaper alternative of sorts. plus money.

      but then people like you compare it not to maschine necessarily but to any other cheap midi keyboard, which is completely reasonable and makes a lot of sense. so, yeah.

  • Anne Grey

    Is no-one going to mention the fact that this ‘all new Komplete 10′ is coming with the same primary version number for Absynth (5), FM8 and Reaktor (5) as ‘Komplete 6′ did, and the same Kontakt (5) as ‘Komplete 7′ did?.

    I guess there’s not much love for the users of those more, ahem, serious apps? Looks like a bit of an Apple move, to add more (pre-created) preset, autotuned, autochorded, automated stuff for teens, dabblers and hobbyists, but pretty much ignore the older establishment of users…

    It’s a bit alarming that now that all of the competition has given up creating alternatives (including obviously the hardware alternatives) to Kontakt due to it’s ubiquity, NI appear to be abandoning what was essentially the only sampler left. No wonder music is stuck in a rut when the selling point for software like Komplete is how many chugging gigabytes (have we hit terabytes yet) of pre-authored shite it comes bundled with.

    • unspecified consumer

      Absolutely right, Anne. The only thing I would add is, if you’re looking for a serious sampler alternative to Kontakt, try MachFive. It’s actually way, way better for pure creativity (as opposed to just being a vehicle for playing 3rd party libraries.)

    • Anne Grey

      Thanks for the suggestion, I wish I could take that advice and go off check out another decent alternative, but, I actually bought it about a year or so ago after watching endless video demonstrations of the great Ircam stuff….. on paper it is better than Kontakt, and certainly the stretch/freeze type sampling tools sound better, however, after about 3 days use where Machfive crashed out of whatever Daw was hosting it, or crashed and vanished when running standalone, combined with the UI that appears to be running at 5 frames per second about a minute behind where you click on the wave editor (on a very fast mac pro) I never once booted it up again.

      Kontakt has an appalling gui (probably due to it’s Reaktor ensemble roots that NI simply aren’t interested or capable of improving on) but it does at least seem to work without ever crashing. Having said that I haven’t booted Kontakt in about 2 years either, since returning fully to hardware samplers :)

    • http://vrpr.org/ Henry

      But that is what Komplete has always been about. If you want to make your own sounds from scratch (sampling, FM or whatever synthesis), you can always do that with those individual instruments, and nothing stops you from doing that. Komplete carries the concept in its name, I’d say. It is for people who don’t want to go out and make their own field recordings to build beats from or program Absynth or FM8 sounds from a simple sine wave.

      Whether that is good or bad for music “in general”, I don’t know. For the more niche genres, probably. For film or commercials music makers, it is apparently a great deal.

      Apart from that, yes, it would be nice to see NI develop their “core” instruments further, fix errors and what not. But on the other hand, I am quite sure that there are still myriads of both hobby and professional music making people out there that haven’t even come close to exploring the depth and the possibilities of Kontakt, Massive, not even speaking of Reaktor.

  • Anne Grey

    wow peter, you are deleting messages simply for pointing out the version numbers in Komplete 10 are the same as Komplete 6 from literally years ago? This site has lost any right to respect.

    • ctx

      Looks like your post is still there to me. Make sure you sort by newest instead of the default “best” (which will put your post further down the page).

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Ha! Uh, no, I’m not. (Actually, I’m not sure that would make me lose respect for me so much as make me think I’d lost my mind. Out of this thread, why would I target that particular comment? That’d be … fairly random.)

      I haven’t deleted any comments on this thread. If it seems a comment was deleted, probably a bug / something wasn’t submitted / something was caught (incorrectly) by an automatic spam filter.

  • Fernando

    I like the controller. OK, the aesthetics are not my cup of tea (& I would prefer Kubrik white to black ;-) but it has a lot going for it. And, despite the whole Kore fiasco, I’d be willing to go with this, which is really a far more developed and comprehensive music making solution.

    But, as someone who is heavily invested in Kontakt, along with owning Massive, Reaktor Prisim & Spark, Skanner XT, Retro Machines plus quite a few of the marquee Kontakt Sample libraries, the upgrade price to K10 Ultimate is a joke. Way too expensive to make it worthwhile.

    If the upgrade price was more realistic, I would be tempted to jump on both K10 and the 61 key controller. But, as it is, I’ll pass.

  • mercury

    We need a new VST standard. If you look at the top 30 synths of all time, you will see that they are mainly analog, FM, wavetable, etc, about 5-6 different types of synthesis available. Each of these generally has its own similar set of controls. For ex, most analog synths are fairly similar in their interfaces. With a proper VST standard, a synth could be tagged as analog or FM, etc, and we could finally purchase a MIDI controller with 20 knobs, 10 faders, and 10 switches (just an example), load a VST synth and have everything automapped…if that were to happen, we wouldn’t need true hardware synths for much longer. It’s not a sound thing at this point as much as it’s an interface thing.

    Would a Jupiter be the same with 8 knobs?

  • Ben Freedman

    May I ask…. I’m getting back into recording after being out for a decade or so…. How will this integrate with the more popular software sequencer/DAWs out there? Can I record midi tracks using the full power of this keyboard, or do I need to switch it into MIDI mode to do that? In the unit’s main mode, with the Komplete 10 software, can I use something like Performer to record multitimbral tracks, or will I need to be switching back and forth between the unit’s Komplete mode and MIDI mode?

    Thanks!

  • Tracks To Wax

    Great article Peter. I’m thinking of getting an S49 and spent some time trying it out at BPM in the UK. I’ve written a short article which may be useful for people thinking about getting one. http://minimaljames.wordpress.com/2014/09/16/bpm-2014-kontrol-s49-review/

  • Solaris

    Thank for the in depth analysis . About “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.

    But the software can’t output midi data received to another vst or hardware (in love for example ?)

  • Judity

    I appreciate this in-depth review. Like many people, I’m objective to the price in comparison to the features. I hope to read more reviews to get a good understand of what this keyboard offers.