Native Instruments has, for many years, been trying to push the hardware/software integration envelope, and to some pretty great success. The Maschine controllers and their included software integration have been top-notch, combining elegantly designed hardware and effective software. The various Traktor controllers have opened up features and provided a great system for using a very powerful application. Now they are entering the keyboard game with the Kontrol S-series of keyboard controllers, releasing high-end MIDI controllers with direct ties into their Komplete line of softsynths, samplers, effects processors and sound banks. Please see here for our Komplete 10 announcement.
First let’s get their words out, see what they have to say, and parse afterwards.
Native Instruments announces KOMPLETE KONTROL S- Series keyboards
New KOMPLETE KONTROL keyboards add unprecedented control to the KOMPLETE Instruments portfolio and seamlessly integrate with the new KOMPLETE 10 and KOMPLETE 10 ULTIMATE production suites
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 BrowserTM 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 MapTM technology automatically maps all key parameters for each KOMPLETE Instrument to the touch-sensitive controller knobs – all clearly visible on the keyboards’ Clear ViewTM 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 GuideTM 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 PlayTM 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 KontrolsTM 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.
Pricing and availability
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 €.
First and foremost, these keyboards are expensive, and are obviously not geared toward entry level users. In a market that has been quickly becoming a race to the bottom price and quality wise, Native Instruments’ decision to go for a more expensive product is commendable. They believe these keyboards are worth a premium for all of the features they have added to a pretty much established design. Adding in an arpeggiator is cool, but putting key/scale modes into a keyboard is unheard of. Since I haven’t touched one I can’t speak to how weird it is, but it definitely throws me off that the keyboard will play different notes than what I’m hitting (as a non-keyboard player, I loved the hardware – lots of cool stuff- Ed).
These are definitely for people who are already baked in to Komplete and the Native Instruments ecosystem. If you are already a heavy Komplete user then these might very well be for you. From my research, however, the Native Map technology does not work if you don’t own Komplete already, so if you own Reaktor and Absynth, or Kontakt and Battery, then you won’t be able to take advantage of this technology. Keep that in mind.
These keyboards walk a very fine line between trying to be performance oriented and giving tools for production. The touch strips off to the side look cool, and have some great features built in, but they give up a whole lot of tactile control that almost every keyboard user would be used to. It removes the muscle memory of grabbing a wheel and requires you to make sure you’re grabbing the right strip, and that it’s at the right position, etc. Sitting at a desk, this is great. On stage, it might not as awesome of an idea. Although, the wheels are generally the weakest link (as I have found out with older, cheaper MIDI controllers) and can be the first part to go. The LEDs behind the keys seem so much more useful for live performance as well, but I can’t see them being as useful in a studio while you are drafting things out.
The screens look great, as expected, but there are other controllers that offer screens, which are editable and can be used with other tools. The Remote SL line, the Nektar Panorama, and Axiom Pro line all come to mind, which also come with a lot more tools and bundles. We don’t know how much control we will be given of the Kontrol S series keyboards, so it’s obviously all speculation, but NI is not known for playing nice with others. Obviously there are sacrifices for all of those other options, and Automap isn’t the best alternative in all ways, but those keyboards are also less expensive.
If you are completely baked in to Komplete (see what I did there?) they might be worth the investment to better manage your collection. It might not be a perfect replacement for Kore, but it will probably be a more streamlined, solid version of it. I’m definitely curious how these keyboards work in conjunction with Maschine, but until we get our hands on them, or someone else can show us the nuts and bolts, we can only speculate.
Another Puzzle Piece
Everything from this point on is complete speculation, so take it with a grain of salt. Native Instruments has slowly been moving toward being a complete solution for the aspiring or existing producer. Out of context, I don’t see the point of these keyboards. They look absolutely beautiful, if probably finger print magnets, and I expect nothing less from NI. But they are very expensive, and I’m not sure where they fit into the market.
But if you add in a DAW solution in a year, they suddenly start making a lot more sense. These keyboards don’t make any sense without a DAW. Once it is added in, though, the whole picture becomes a lot clearer. And convincing existing Komplete users to buy into this experience will only make them more likely to move their DAW. These keyboards are obviously geared toward existing or hopeful Komplete users. I wish I could say more, but Peter Kirn over at Create Digital Music has a far better breakdown since he actually got to put his hands on them. Read it right here.
So what do you think? Obviously this is a DJ blog, but since that line of DJ and producer is fading, is this something you’d be interested in? Is it worth the money? Are the features exciting and “game changing”?