Hands-On with Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series Keyboards

NI's big gear secret (and the most leaked over the past week?) has been officially announced. We can now reveal details from our hands-on session with Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards & Komplete 10  
Towards the end of August, 2014, myself and one of our top (and most trusted) writers for AskAudioMag.com, Hollin Jones, were invited to a top-secret viewing by our friends at Native Instruments. If you've been following the recent leaks (and have read the headline), you'll know that we're of course talking about NI's new keyboard controller, designed to integrate perfectly with Komplete 9 and 10.
Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, before reaching NI HQ UK, based in the über-trendy London area of Shoreditch, I'd kinda guessed that a Komplete keyboard controller was the likely new product, especially considering the role hardware has to play with Traktor and Maschine. However, knowing that didn't prepare me fully for what the Komplete Kontrol S-Series would be capable of.
Here's my brief preview/overview of the new Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards...

It's a Keyboard and More


Hollin and I spent over an hour with NI's Johannes and Nadine who had flown in from Berlin to show us round Komplete Kontrol and the new instruments in Komplete 10. The S-series keyboards come in 3 varieties: 25, 49 and 61 keys and happily, despite the size differences, all models share the same functionality. At first glance the S-series is minimal. These keyboards are not packed to the hilt with unnecessary knobs and buttons. But, as we discovered when getting hands on, there are enough encoders, buttons and displays to make browsing, controlling and modifying parameters in Komplete easy and effortless. As we came to see, a lot of thought has gone into making these keyboards the ideal controllers for Komplete users.
Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboard
As you'd expect the hardware construction, look and feel is right up to Native Instruments' Maschine and Traktor standards. Though not designed primarily for performance, this baby packs a lot of features (and good quality Fatar synth action keys) which live musicians, as well as us studio ones, will enjoy. Yes, you have to hook it up to your Mac or PC, but the point is to be able to quickly browse and discover Komplete sounds and instruments you might never find using a mouse or trackpad. The capitative encoders are auto-mapped for each instrument and patch too, and the LED displays are responsive and easy to read, in turn making designing sounds, or making existing and custom patches your own surprisingly quick and fun. 
I was also particularly impressed with the arpeggiator, the fact it can be used as a mappable MIDI controller for any DAW (with its own transport controls), and the innovative chord and key modes which, thanks to the clever lights above each key will give musicians (like myself) who struggle learning scales the chance to improve their keyboard skills. After all, that's what it's all about, right? Playing music and enjoying making music. And that's what I feel Komplete Kontrol brings to the table, which will be especially exciting for Komplete users. But it's not just Komplete users that'll benefit. We've heard there will be deeper integration with Maschine too... and you can expect other interesting features like a step sequencer, thanks to the fact that the brain for the keyboards are inside the software. Bring on the updates!

In-Depth Review Coming Soon

Needless to say we'll have a full, in-depth review of Komplete Kontrol S-Series coming soon on AskAudioMag.com from Hollin Jones, who is currently putting a 61-key unit through its paces. In the meantime, you may like to immerse yourself in the official Native Instruments press release and find out exactly what's new and hot with the Komplete Kontrol S-Series Keyboards.

Official Press Release

Berlin, September 2, 2014 – Native Instruments today announced the KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards. The keyboards represent a hallmark in the history of Native Instruments, providing advanced innovations in hardware/software integration and uniting the KOMPLETE Instrument portfolio under one purpose-built keyboard controller and software interface. KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards are available in a choice of 25, 49 or 61 keys and come equipped with premium Fatar keybeds for a luxurious playing experience. They will be available online and at retailers worldwide October 1, 2014.

Daniel Haver, CEO of Native Instruments, comments: “In the last two decades our software instruments have shaped and defined diverse musical styles and genres. The KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards finally bring our original vision to life, and elevate the experience of sounds to a whole new level. Only now the diversity of all KOMPLETE instruments and sounds becomes truly accessible in a single instrument, in ways that no controller or keyboard ever did before.”

The KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards signal a new era of control for the KOMPLETE Instrument portfolio. The all-new KOMPLETE Browser™ unifies the powerful instruments in KOMPLETE, delivering tag-based access to all KOMPLETE Instrument presets from one plug-in interface. Instead of browsing by instrument, users can now search by sound, opening the breadth of the KOMPLETE Instrument range faster and easier than ever before.

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. Each instrument was carefully mapped by NI sound designers to arrange the most relevant parameters on pages laid out on the keyboard’s display. The need for complicated mapping is eliminated, bringing producers closer to the act of creating music and allowing them to stay in the creative flow.

A first-of-its-kind Light Guide™ shows key switches, zones, and more on multi-color LEDs positioned just above the keys. For example, key switches for KONTAKT Instruments such as ACTION STRIKES are illuminated in one color, while keys used for performance are lit with another. This puts the instrument’s layout on the keyboard at a glance without having to look at the software. The lights also provide performance feedback – scales, chords, and arpeggios light up across the keyboard as they are played.

KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards also deliver Smart Play™ features to accelerate workflow and stimulate new ideas. Chord mode lets producers play complex chords with single keys. Chord Set mode provides ready-to-play progressions that can inspire and augment original compositions or add new flavor to remixes. The integrated scale mapping features deliver fast access to new melodic possibilities – notes of the currently selected scale light up on the Light Guide. Many widely-used musical scales can also be mapped to the white keys. ‘Wrong’ notes can be automatically re-mapped so melodies are always in tune. The arpeggiator works seamlessly with every KOMPLETE Instrument. And the eight controller knobs manage parameters such as direction, rate, rhythm, patterns, and variations.

Furthermore, two touch-sensitive Touch Kontrols™ tap into a new paradigm in software instrument control. They can mimic the behavior of pitch and mod wheels, and physical objects like springs and bouncing balls for interesting modulation curves – far beyond the capabilities of conventional mod wheels. Keyboard functionality such as key splits and Touch Kontrol behavior also function when using the keyboards as a standard MIDI controller, opening these control innovations to instruments outside the KOMPLETE universe.

KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards were designed to integrate seamlessly with the 10th generation of NI’s acclaimed instruments and effects suites, released October 1st, 2014. Registered users of KOMPLETE 9 and KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE will receive a free download for the KOMPLETE KONTROL software, giving them the same functionality on KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards as KOMPLETE 10 and KOMPLETE 10 ULTIMATE users.

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 €.

Additional information on the new KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series is available at:

Rounik is the Executive Editor for Ask.Audio & macProVideo. He's built a crack team of professional musicians and writers to create one of the most visited online resources for news, review, tutorials and interviews for modern musician and producer. As an Apple Certified Trainer for Logic Pro Rounik has taught teachers, professional... Read More

Discussion

BenB
Would you think that keyboard could replace my current MIDI controller keyboard? It's just a general MIDI keyboard, no internal sounds at all. It's a Novation ReMOTE 61SL. Like, could I map controls from filters and mixer controls to controllers on the keyboard itself, in a custom manner, when not working with an NI instrument track? I map things in Logic Pro X 10.0.7 a lot. Or are these strictly dedicated to NI instruments only?
Brian
It's some really beautiful gear, komplete with Native Instruments overpricing.
Those touch strip controllers are an insult in my opinion and reason enough to not buy.

$150 less and add normal tactile pitch and mod wheels. Then I could fully get behind this. I wonder how sales are gonna go.
Rounik
Hi Brian,

I wasn't sure when I first saw the touch strip controls either as I prefer tactile controls... however, just 3 minutes into the specific demo showing me how the touch strips can be programmed and have different response modes had my jaw dropping. You gotta play with it, or at least see it, to see how cool it is... and how the possibilities of the touch strip are way beyond what a regular pitch and mod wheel can do.

Hollin Jones is testing it out in depth and will write a full review very soon...
BenB
I'd add that my Novation ReMOTE 61SL sells for $500. So you're spending $200 more for the NI native functions. I don't consider that overpricing. As much as I use NI instruments now, I'm going to be replacing my ReMOTE with this one for sure. I consider it a pretty fair price.
Rounik
Hi Ben, the Komplete Kontrol S-Series can work just fine as a regular MIDI controller keyboard by switching it into "MIDI" mode. Of course, the S-Series is like other controllers in that it isn't a synth and has no on-board sounds of its own... but while it is the perfect companion to NI's Komplete, you can map controls and par maters in Logic, Ableton... etc :)
Bob
"We've heard there will be deeper integration with Maschine too"

What have you heard? I'd love it if Komplete Kontrol and Maschine Studio were designed to work in perfect harmony and be a complete studio solution. What's your take on this? Your expectations?
Rounik
Hi Bob,

I'm limited in what I can say at this time until NI have made official announcements. But, I think it's safe to let you know the folks at NI are aware of (and passionate) about brining high-level integration with Maschine and Komplete hardware and software.

I'd expect, in the near future, that everything will work together, providing a streamlined workflow and ability to control Maschine using Komplete Kontrol... hope that's not too vague? :-)
Ryan
I am wondering if you guys can include the following information in your future, full, in-depth review?

I'm seriously considering the 25-key version as well as cross-grading to Komplete 10. You mention that all the Komplete patches are tagged, pre-mapped to the controls and the lights specify different key-switches and zones, etc.

I use a lot of third party software with Kontakt and Reaktor such as plugins from Impact Soundworks, Heavyocity, Sample Logic, Twisted Tools, etc. Will these libraries be tagged and mapped as well?

Will it be easy to map controls for Spectrasonics plugins and other complex libraries?

How is integration with Studio One 2.5?

I have no doubt that NI has created a wonderful controller for Komplete. My concern is applying it's features to other products. If you could include some insight into this in the future review it would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you. :-)
Rounik
Hi Ryan,

Thanks for your comments. To answer some of your questions in advance...

1. 3rd party instruments: I believe some will also have pre-mapped controls and tags. But, I'm not sure at this stage whether we can test this as all Kontakt instruments will need to be updated and at time of review not all of these updates are available yet. It's also important to note that you can easily build your own maps and create/add your own tags :)
Rounik
Oops. hit the "submit comment" too soon!!

2. map controls: Yes, it's as easy as mapping MIDI in any DAW software.

3. AFAIK, there's no direct "integration" with Studio One. You'll need to configure the KK as a MCU controller for the transport controls to be recognised in Studio One. I don't think at this stage you'll be able to select tracks, but you will be able to control plug-ins and switch between them. This makes it as good as any 3rd party MIDI controller in my book when it comes to working with Studio One.

Hope this helps in the meantime.

Thanks,
BenB
NI has a support page detailing DAW support for various brands.
http://www.native-instruments.com/en/support/knowledge-base/show/2765/important-notes-about-komplete-kontrol-host-integration/

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