We’ve been tight lipped at Pro Tools Expert HQ for a couple of weeks, as we were invited to a private viewing of the new Native Instruments KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards. When we got the cryptic invite from NI a few weeks earlier we thought, well this is Komplete 10 and some Maschine derivative. We were wrong about the latter.
On arrival at the NI London HQ we were ushered into our own private viewing room to spend several hours with two of the NI team to have an in-depth look at the new Native Instruments announces KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards.
To be honest our first thought was “does the world need another controller keyboard? Even one spelt with a ‘K’!” How many more ways do we need to control our stuff? If NI are to jump on this bandwagon (forgive the pun) then it has to offer something more than the rest.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards - Quality Keybed
For a lot of brands the keyboard controller market is a rush to the bottom, lots of features and cheap. Now no one should complain about that, but when Native Instruments surveyed users about what they wanted from a control keyboard, they told us the top answer was a quality playing experience from the key bed. So KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards have a very, very nice action to them, not fully weighted, but reminiscent of keyboards like the Roland D50, nice amount of weight and bounce when you hit the bottom. This is where some of the money has been spent on the Native Instruments KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards - Integrated Workflow
We may all love the modern world of DAWs and VIs, but the immediacy of hardware keyboard is often lost. Many companies have tried to come up with systems like Hypercontrol, or Automap, to name two, but in most cases there’s a lot of messing around and seldom do they give rock solid integration with our VIs.
Native Instruments KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards are aimed at those who work with Native Instruments products and for these they offer very tight integration.
Native Map™ technology automatically maps all key parameters for each KOMPLETE Instrument to the touch-sensitive controller knobs – all clearly visible on the keyboards’ Clear View™ display Native Map™ technology automatically maps all key parameters for each KOMPLETE Instrument to the touch-sensitive controller knobs – all clearly visible on the keyboards’ Clear View™ display.
Most of the work that happens with the keyboard and software integration is managed by the KOMPLETE KONTROL software. This will ship with Komplete 10 and Komplete 10 Ultimate, it will also be a free download for registered owners of Komplete 9 and Komplete 9 Ulitmate.
For example on a very basic level you get to run through patches just like a real synth. Even better the new software does a lot of the hard work for you, so when looking for basses it does not distinguish between the source such as Kontakt or Massive, rather that happens in the background and you just audition the sounds until you find the one you like. This may sound simple, but audition sounds based on their timbre rather than their source is as far as we are concerned a step in the right direction. We saw it in action and there is something very nice about using the entire suite of Native Instruments KOMPLETE KONTROL instruments in an homogenous way - trying to figure out if it’s Massive or Reaktor that is needed is frankly hard work for most of us.
Moving from simple to complex. The knobs on the Native Instruments KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards are mapped to the source you are using and the small screens below each controller give feedback about what will happen when you tweak the control. It is super tight integration into Komplete.
The coloured lights are more than a gimmick too, Light Guide™ shows key switches, zones, and more on multi-color LEDs positioned just above the keys. They offer visual feedback from the instrument you are playing. For example if you are using a percussion library in Kontakt that has the keyboard split into regions, then the colour coding matches the colours in Kontakt, it might sound like a silly gimmick, but in action it really does help with workflow. The lights can be used to denote different things. During our chat with NI we asked if they could be used as a step sequencer, like an 808 or 900 - not yet but watch this space.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards - DAW Control
DAW control on the KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards is based around the simple HUI protocol, so don’t expect to be able to mix an album from this keyboard, it offers simple transport controls when used with DAW like Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase etc.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards - Performance
We spent some time playing with the keyboard, checking out the action and also the ribbons on the left. These can be used for simple modulation and pitch bend but can also be programmed to offer far more complex performance tricks - one we saw was an instrument that had the modulation split over several points. Again watch this space to see how these ribbons get implemented in different instruments.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards also offer Smart Play™ - best described as an arpeggiator on steroids. It can offer both basic arp tricks but also offers complex chord patterns, which are smart too, so they make sure you don’t do weird chords (you can if you want of course, if you’re in a Jazz band). Even better the controls on the keyboard allow you to modify and control those patterns.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards - Our Verdict
From what we saw during our time with Native Instruments, then for those using Native Instruments Komplete as the core of their music production then the KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards are well worth looking at.
The keyboard feels nice and all the new features are more than just gimmicks, in our time with them both the simple and complex parts of these keyboards helped improved workflow within Komplete.
So in answer to our question, do we need another controller keyboard? Well if you’re a Komplete user then this may well be what you have been waiting for, it plays well and the integration is excellent. It’s not cheap, but don’t let that put you off. If you want to start using software like a hardware keyboard then this may be what you are looking for.
Find a dealer that has the KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards connected to a system running Komplete - we think you’ll be impressed.
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards - Price And Shipping
KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards are available online and in retailers October 1, 2014. Preorder is also available.
- KOMPLETE KONTROL S25 is available for $499 / 499 €.
- KOMPLETE KONTROL S49 is available for $599 / 599 €.
- KOMPLETE KONTROL S61 is available for $699 / 699 €.