Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series MIDI Keyboard Review

KOMPLETE is one of those brands with which Native Instruments started its work with. Full potential of rich capabilities of virtual instruments KOMPLETE haven’t been discovered until recently, because it is just impossible to manage all the tiny controllers on the computer with a mouse while playing on a MIDI keyboard. You can assign to control different parameters to physical controllers, but you should remember or sign each controller and change presets manually when you switch to a new virtual instrument playing NI Komplete Kontrol S keyboard. It is an old and very common problem. Many leading manufacturers tried to solve it with varied success. Let’s recall, for example, Novation Automap.

Native Instruments seriously took this issue and conducted a survey among users of Komplete to understand what they need from a MIDI keyboard which they connect to KOMPLETE. The most popular answers among users of Komplete are: professional mechanics of keys; full integration of keyboard and virtual instruments; a design and workmanship equal to world best brands.

After 5 years of development, the product finally saw the light. By analogy with TRAKTOR KONTROL, it was called KOMPLETE KONTROL. The German spelling of words, related to English ones, is a long-standing signature schtick of Native Instruments.

NI Komplete Kontrol S devices represent MIDI keyboards with controllers to control instruments and effects of the KOMPLETE collection. The KOMPLETE KONTROL S keyboards are designed to work only with versions of KOMPLETE 9/KOMPLETE 9ULTIMATE and KOMPLETE 10/KOMPLETE 10ULTIMATE.

Here what says CEO of Native Instruments Daniel Haver about the KOMPLETE KONTROL devices: “In latest two decades, our software instruments have shaped and defined different musical styles and genres. Keyboard KOMPLETE KONTROL S-series finally realized our original vision to life and enhanced a creative process to a whole new level. Now all the diversity of the KOMPLETE library is truly available in the same device as it is not on any other controller or keyboard.”

Specifications

Overall Build and Features of NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S

The presented series consists of three similar devices – NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88 – which differ only by the number of keys. The numbers in the model names indicates the number of keys: 25, 49, 61 and 88. Thus, in younger models of the KOMPLETE KONTROL there is no deliberately limited opportunities. All three devices are fully functional, and this is very important! In addition, for convenience, all keyboards use full-sized keys. There is applied a synth action mechanics with the function of aftertouch by known Italian manufacturer Fatar. This elastic mechanics of short-stroke keys is very comfortable tactilely and responsive. Fatar is a provider of keys for professional synthesizers KORG and many other brands.

As all DJ controllers by Native Instruments, the case of the devices NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88 is made of firm plastic. In the senior models, there are decorative metal inserts on the sides of the top.

MIDI keyboards take power from external 15V adapter which is included. Even if you plan to use NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S keyboards as a standard USB MIDI device, it is obligatory to connect a PS. An offline mode without a computer is also possible with the MIDI input and output. You can connect a sustain and damper pedals.

You should install the VST/AAX/AU plug-in Komplete Kontrol to work correctly with the KOMPLETE libraries. Of course, the system should already have the installed library KOMPLETE 9/KOMPLETE 9ULTIMATE and higher. Further, depending on the type of sequencer, you should produce a specific configuration is described on the manufacturer’s website.

In our case, the test sequencer is Cubase / Nuendo. You have to add a Mackie Control device and set the device Komplete Kontrol DAW-1 to the MIDI input. It is important to note that the controller uses the Mackie Control Protocol. This is a more modern bi-directional Protocol that is much faster and more accurate compared to MIDI.

In Ableton Live you should also select Komplete Kontrol DAW-1 in the preferences window MIDI / Sync as it is shown in the screenshot. This will allow buttons and rotary controllers available on the MIDI-keyboard to work correctly. No more settings are necessary, everything is ready to run!

Initially, working with KOMPLETE in the project of the sequencer is nothing special is no different from any other virtual instrument. You create a track with a mouse that is assigned to a virtual instrument Komplete Kontrol. The further work becomes much more interesting.

The plug-in shell of NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S keyboard combines all the installed instruments of the KOMPLETE series. The basic idea is a fast and convenient search by tags, regardless of the affiliation of an instrument. It is not important whether a tag name is presented in a preset name. All sounds and instruments of KOMPLETE are indexed in a single database and available for selection, including custom presets. After selecting one of the timbre, you can move buttons for the rest only with a MIDI keyboard.

The Komplete Kontrol instrument can also be activated by clicking on the MIDI-keyboard the BROWSE button.

By default, it is activated a slightly modified form of shell of NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S with a graphical display of installed instruments of KOMPLETE series. Through the icons you can be quick on the uptake among available tools and select a desired preset. If there is nothing suitable for you, you can make a search by tags in the entire KOMPLETE library.

A big part of navigating in the KOMPLETE library is implemented directly from the device. On the right side, there is a navigation unit that includes the illuminating buttons and jog wheel. With opened Komplete Kontrol on the screen, the buttons and controller move the cursor on the instrument interface. If the screen displays the project window, the buttons allow you to switch on the existing tracks.

One of the main and interesting features of the NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88 keyboards is a touch jog wheels, located in the center of the device. Under each wheel, there is provided a miniature screen which displays an adjustable parameter. If you touch any knob, a name of the controlled parameter is changed to its numerical value. So, you can see the current value without having to twist the controller.

All the knobs of any of the selected timbre are already assigned for the most popular options, usually it is a filter frequency, attack, envelope, etc. If there are more than eight of adjustable parameters, then with the buttons located to the left of the knobs, you can browse through the following group of settings.

All this allows you to instantly adjust a selected timbre, thus to clearly see and hear exactly what and how to change. You can adjust a performing sound and quickly find out if a selected timbre suits or not, without any settings. It allows you to fully focus on a creative process and not be distracted by the creation of the mapping and remapping of the controllers. So, you will have a feeling like  you have a real hardware instrument.

Another unusual and striking feature of the keyboards of NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88 is a backlight. Above each key there is provided a led indicator showing with different colors the zones and different modes of operation. It helps to quickly navigate without looking at the monitor. In many instruments of KOMPLETE, a coloured lighting allows you to see which notes are responsible for the change of articulation or purpose of effects. In the MIDI Mode you can assign different color zones, including instruments not included in KOMPLETE. There are 16 different shades of color. For live performances, you can assign different colors samples, loops, instruments, etc. Backlighting eases playing instrument in more advanced modes of scales, chords and concords.

On the left side on the keyboard, there are the buttons of the transport panel with backlights. It also includes the SHIFT key. While holding it, there become available additional functions and editing modes. For example, there is a curious mode SCALE. This is another very interesting possibility of KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88. By clicking on the SCALE button, the keyboard goes into scale mode. In this mode, it is precluded the possibility of sounding dissonant notes which are not the part of a particular scale or concord. In this case, the backlight is on only above the notes which are included in the concord composition. The other notes don’t play at all or play the notes of the selected scale type.

There are available many scales: shole-tone, pentatonic, blues, flamenco, gypsy, quarter, etc. There is a mode Chord Generator, in which the press of a single key generates the chords in a selected key.

The keyboards KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88 provide a powerful and fully configurable arpeggiator mode. Interestingly, in this mode, except playback of a preset melody with an arpeggiator, the backlighting indicates which notes are exactly sound.

All these possibilities are aimed at facilitating creativity for beginners and amateur musicians. For those who see a keyboard instrument for the first time and do not know the notes – it is an ability to play something meaningful, in complex harmonies.

The next unusual feature of the keyboards KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88 is touch strips. Instead of the traditional pitch wheels and modulation, here are used touch strips with position indication. these controllers basically perform the function Pitxh Bend and Modulation, but the company has plans to add more features to the stripes in the future. For example, in one of the modes the strip is divided into 5 parts. And the second one gradually increases and decreases, shows the amplitude of the LFO. Start and stop the LFO occurs by pushing the strip with your finger. This frees the second hand to change something, for example, to twist the frequency knob of the filter. As Native Instruments develops both keyboard and KOMPLETE, in the future we will see new applications of these new units on control. All these emerging functions of the keyboard will be updated with the installation of new firmware.

It should be noted that NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S keyboards can be without a sequencer. A special application of the same name KOMPLETE KONTROL can run in standalone mode. KOMPLETE in combination with the new keyboard turns into a synth. But every synth can offer 400 GB of sounds and direct integration as a VST-plugin in the sequencer.

Five Reasons to Buy

  1. The keyboards KOMPLETE KONTROL have full-sized keys with a synth action mechanics with the function of aftertouch by Fatar.
  2. The MIDI keyboards take power from external 15V adapter which is included.
  3. Each key has a led indicator with different colors which show the zones and different modes of operation.
  4. There are touch strips for Pitch Bend and Modulation.
  5. The devices can run in standalone mode.

Final Verdict on NI KOMPLETE KONTROL S

Native Instruments has once again managed to surprise and truly delight with a successful in all aspects product. All the expectations and aspirations of users has been fully justified. In the keyboards KOMPLETE KONTROL S25, S49, S61, S88, we see a perfectly realized concept, behind which, of course, is the future of software products. The devices themselves are of good build quality and are made of high quality components. The cost remains humane and not insane. It is safe to say that the manufacturer finally managed to overcome the problem associated with the difficulty of controlling the virtual instruments with the controllers on the keyboard. Of course, we are talking only about working with the KOMPLETE libraries, however, this is a significant victory!

It is very important that the KOMPLETE KONTROL shell uniting all the instruments is not tied to any sequencer and can work in any convenient and familiar field for user: in a traditional sequencer Cubase / ProTools / Logic, Ableton Live or offline mode without linking to any sequencer. The KOMPLETE KONTROL plugin interface is bringing together the entire KOMPLETE library. It is clear and very simple. There is no need in a long study of the manual.