Review: Native Instruments Komplete 12
Some things are so vast that we struggle to get our tiny minds around them, like the Universe and NI’s Komplete collection. We komplete the task.
Price £159 to £1,279
Contact Native Instruments
You have to admire Native Instruments. Starting out as a small developer of software instruments, its drive to innovate, its commitment to quality and its deep understanding of what music producers desire has seen the company become one of the major players on the music- technology scene.
While Native has now branched out into hardware – and awfully nice it is, too – at heart, it remains a software developer, with a list of plug-ins that reads like a modern music-producer’s ultimate wishlist: Kontakt, Massive, Reaktor, Battery, Guitar Rig and more… all innovative and brilliant at what they do.
It was some time back that NI decided to start selling its various plug-ins as a bundle, and the excellent value this offered to users when compared to buying the products individually ensured it was an immediate success. Now onto its 12th iteration, Komplete comes in four different versions to suit different budgets and requirements. Select is the baby of the family, with 14 instruments and effects, and more than 7,000 sounds in a 45GB library.
This edition comes free with Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards and some Maschine controllers, or it can be purchased for just £159. While it’s a good route in to NI software, it does lack some of the heavyweight grunt of its stablemates; if you’re thinking of buying Select, then be sure to check with NI’s website that it includes the components that interest you.
To get the full set of core tools and functionality you need at least the Standard edition, called simply Komplete 12. This has 52 instruments and effects and a 220GB library stuffed with over 25,000 sounds and samples. If you want the full bells and whistles, then it’s the Ultimate edition for you, crammed with nearly twice the content of Standard: 101 instruments and effects, and over 45,000 sounds shoehorned into a 600GB library.
But if you’re really greedy for instruments, effects and sounds, there’s the Ultimate Collector’s Edition. This behemoth of a bundle contains everything from the Ultimate edition along with a further 30 expansion sets, bringing its library up to a whopping 900GB comprised of over 90,000 sounds, patches and samples. It’s basically every instrument, effect and expansion library that NI was selling when Komplete 12 launched – so it’s no wonder the boxed version comes on a hard disk.
All of Komplete’s components can be purchased individually from the NI store,
so there’s no need to splash out on the Collector’s Edition just to get something that isn’t included in one of the smaller bundles, nor do you need to buy Komplete at all, if all that you need is one or two of its core components.
I’ve mentioned these core components (or should that be kore komponents?) a couple of times now, and this needs some qualification. At its heart, Komplete is made up of a collection of primary instruments and effects. These are the larger components that exist as standalone plug-ins, and which don’t rely on other plug-ins in order to operate. They are, in alphabetical order, as follows:
Absynth 5: an advanced semi-modular synthesizer that creates distinctive, evolving sounds and textures
Battery 4: a drum sample player aimed at contemporary and electronic music styles, and which interfaces tightly with NI’s Maschine series controllers
FM8: a modern take on classic frequency-modulation synths of the 80s, such as the Yamaha DX7
Guitar Rig 5 Pro: a complete amp, speaker and effects modelling solution for guitar and bass
Komplete Kontrol: a browser, librarian, standalone hosting engine, and optional plug-in wrapper for NI instruments, effects and sound expansions
Kontakt 6: the latest version of NI’s advanced software sampler and synthesizer
Massive: one of the best synths on the market, which provides a deep, rich and flexible model of classic analogue subtractive synthesis coupled with modern features and real-time control
And the Reaktor 6: which is the latest incarnation of NI’s astonishing modular synthesizer and effects-creation tool, and a tool that has been with us since the company’s very early days.
Of these, only Kontakt and Reaktor have seen version updates in Komplete 12 (more of which in a moment), but a new version of Massive, Massive X, is also due to be part of the bundle. This new synth, which will be different from and separate to the existing Massive synth, was not ready in time for the Komplete 12 release, but should be arriving in June. Once released, it will be included in Komplete 12 and provided free to existing owners via NI’s Native Access software management app.
What’s more, if you buy Komplete 12 before Massive X is released, NI will give you a £22 e-voucher to spend in its store, by way of an apology for the delay. This says a lot about NI and why it has such a good reputation. So many software companies these days would have been tempted to just release the unfinished software and patch it later, with no hint of an apology of any sort, let alone a gift to make up for it. But not so NI; like I say, you have to admire it.
Although starting life some 20 years ago as a fairly standard software sampler, little different in terms of capability to the hardware samplers it was superseding, Kontakt has evolved into a powerful instrument development platform in its own right. With customisable graphical user interfaces, scripting support, and advanced playback, synthesis and effect engines, Kontakt provides the means for sound engineers and designers to create complex, unique, sample-based instruments, as well as to package these for distribution to others.
Kontakt 6 has a number of new features that makes it even more powerful and flexible than before. The most significant addition is the new wavetable module, which provides a completely new way to synthesise sounds based on whatever sampled source you’re using. This module is used in the three new instrument packs that come with the standalone version of Kontakt 6, and which are also included in Komplete 12: Analog Dreams, Ethereal Earth and Hybrid Keys. All three are similar in that they allow two sampled sound sources to be merged into a single instrument, with a simple set of eight controls for adapting and modifying the sound.
Kontakt 6 also has five new effects processors including Replika Delay, based on the standalone Replika and Replika XT plug-in; and Cry Wah, a wah-wah effect modelled on the classic Cry Baby wah pedal. On top of this, there’s also a new Creator Tools package (NI appears to have momentarily forgotten its compulsion of replacing Cs with Ks there!), a standalone suite of tools that assists in the creation and packaging of Kontakt instrument libraries.
Kontakt’s update is more incremental than revolutionary. The new synthesis module and effects processors are welcome and the new libraries contain a rich, exciting and varied range of sounds, but at its heart the software remains unchanged… which, with something as mature and well designed as Kontakt, is definitely a good thing – no change for change’s sake here.
Reaktor is a tool that defies easy explanation. NI describes it as a “modular DSP lab”, which is as good a description as any. On the surface it’s a plug-in that can be used as an instrument or an effect, and into which you can load different instrument and effect patches – referred to as Ensembles – each with its own custom-designed (and often highly innovative) user interface. But when you peel back the surface layer, what you find is a sound designer’s nirvana, with the tools to allow you to build bespoke ensembles from pre-defined processing components, referred to as Macros.
The sheer depth of sonic possibilities that all of this inspires becomes clearer when browsing through the onboard Ensembles, which include a mix of classic analogue-style synths, along with some other truly mind-bending instruments and effects, capable of producing utterly unique and inspiring sounds.
This latest incarnation, Reaktor 6, comes with some significant advances, principally the latest Reaktor Blocks framework. These are prebuilt collections of macros presented as instrument components – oscillators, filters, VCAs and so on – with front-end user interfaces designed to fit together with other Blocks. By avoiding the need to delve into the minutiae of macro assembly and patching, Reaktor Blocks masks the underlying complexity, allowing you to focus on actually creating instruments and effects. To all intents and purposes, this means you can use Reaktor in the same way as you would a classic modular synth, patching and routing the synth modules in whatever way your imagination and ingenuity suggest.
There are some new goodies for those who do want to delve deeper into Reaktor, too. There’s been a general tidying up and optimisation of the builder interface, with improved structure editing and overhauls to the navigation and property panels. A new Bundled Wires feature allow the connections between components to be grouped into multicore-like cables, making patching tidier and easier to follow. Alternatively, with Scoped Buses, you can do away with some of the wires altogether, using instead a kind of wireless connectivity feature between different elements within an Ensemble.
Finally, the new Table Framework provides a central data storage and lookup system that allows flexible and efficient data sharing throughout Reaktor, thereby completely opening up a whole range of new possibilities.
Many of the instruments bundled in Komplete 12 are built as Kontakt or Reaktor patches, and so need to be loaded into one of these plug-ins in order to be used (Komplete 12 Select contains Player versions of these two plug-ins). The bundle contains far too many instruments to detail here, so pop along to NI’s website for full listings, but there are some standout noteworthy highlights.
Polyplex, a drum and percussion instrument for Reaktor, isn’t new but deserves a mention due to its amazing capabilities. Its concept of an eight-part drum-sample player is simple enough to grasp, but what impresses is the way it generates drum sounds. Each part is comprised of up to four samples, each of which has a set of parameters that determines how the sample will be handled and played. Each parameter or group of parameters can be randomised, radically altering the part’s sound, often to great effect. Using the preloaded samples creates impressive results, especially after a few randomisation passes, but loading your own samples into the instrument opens the door to creating some truly unique sounds.
Sticking with drums and percussion, Komplete 12 includes a number of intricately sampled live drum-kit instruments for Kontakt (exactly how many is dependent on the edition of Komplete, but all are available as individual instruments in the NI store, too). As well as providing a simple interface through which to audition kit parts and modify its characteristics, each instrument also includes a library of professionally produced patterns that enables you to assemble authentic and convincing drum parts in super-quick time.
There’s a modern-sounding Studio Drummer kit, as well as a series of Abbey Road kits, each focused on a particular decade (50s Drummer, 60s Drummer and so-on). These were sampled at Abbey Road using the kits, mics, preamps, processors and techniques typically used during the decade in question.
Moving on from drums, the Kontakt instruments on offer in Komplete cover a wide range of musical needs. In amongst the extensive library, there are a number of Scarbee instruments focused on classic acoustic and electric instruments. The company’s Jay-Bass and Pre-Bass instruments, constructed from detailed samples of Fender’s seminal Jazz and Precision Bass guitars respectively, are particularly good and have various performance controls built in that help the results sound very convincing.
For more dramatic work, Komplete also bundles the huge Session Strings 2 and Session Horns libraries (additional Session libraries are included in the Ultimate edition, and are available from the NI store). These exquisitely sampled instruments are fabulous for creating orchestral scores and passages – it’s like having a full orchestra at your beck and call.
Arguably, Komplete’s most innovative instruments are the Reaktor-based ones, and worthy of specific mention here are Rounds, TRK-01 and Flesh. The first of these is a curious mix of analogue and digital sounds controlled by an integral step sequencer that creates complex shifting sounds and patterns. In contrast, TRK-01 is a much more conventional beast, being simply a kick-and-bass pattern sequencer. It’s an effective workflow for some genres of music, allowing you to create tight grooves and syncopation in the bottom end of a track, and its ability to sculpt both the sound and the pattern of kick and bass from a single interface is very cool, too.
And then there’s Flesh. This instrument is only included in the Ultimate editions of Komplete, but is one of the most astonishing, bizarre and wonderful things I’ve ever seen created with Reaktor (which is really saying something!). It sequences and loops various sounds and samples, which you can then control in different ways via its quirky control panel. It can build the bed for an entire track just by holding down a key or two and adjusting the controls – it’s simply fantastic!
While instruments may make up a majority of Komplete’s content, we can’t overlook the stack of effects plug-ins included in the bundles, too. The biggest and most expansive of these is Guitar Rig 5 Pro, an all-in-one solution for guitar and bass with loads of amp and speaker models, and a pile of guitar-focused effects and stompboxes. This has been part of Komplete for some time now, but it does get a bit of an update in Komplete 12 in the form of the Rammfire amp model, based on Rammstein guitarist Richard Z Kruspe’s rig. There’s also the new Tracktor’s 12, a set of 12 effects taken from NI’s Traktor software for DJs, opening all sorts of new creative doors to guitarists.
Another Komplete stalwart is Solid Effects, a bundle of three plug-ins modelled on analogue processors found in high-end SSL E- and G-Series mixing consoles. Of these, the EQ and Bus Comp are good emulations of the original hardware, but Solid Dynamics, while a decent processor in its own right, isn’t the best SSL emulation I’ve ever heard and is a far cry from the genuine article. Staying with dynamics there’s the VC 160, VC 76 and VC 2A. These are based on classic VCA, FET and optical-compressor hardware (respectively), and give a wide range of compression styles and sounds that will suit most situations.
While there are many other conventional effects in Komplete 12, it’s the ones built into Reaktor that tend to be the most arresting. Take, for example, The Finger and The Mouth (the latter being in the Ultimate editions). These amazing processors take an incoming audio signal and use it to trigger and synthesise completely new phrases and sounds, while also letting you mangle and warp the incoming signal at the same time. The real-time control features built into them are a dream for remixing or jamming, or you can use them just as tools for creating unique sounds and effects with ease.
Komplete’s core plug-ins are all industry-leading examples in their particular fields, and the instruments and effects built on them rank among the finest and most innovative music-making tools you’ll find. On top of this, the included sound libraries are unceasingly impressive in their range, versatility, authenticity and quality. Yet despite the sheer volume of stuff jammed into Komplete, its pricing is exceptionally reasonable and would represent good value even if it only included the instruments and effects or the sound libraries; by including both, even the top-of-the-line Ultimate Collector’s Edition is something of a steal (albeit one you may have to save up for!).
Even though I’ve focused mainly on the Standard edition, Komplete’s size and range means I’ve done little more than explore the foothills of this huge mountain range of top-drawer tools and sounds; when it comes to the Ultimate editions, the sheer scale and scope borders on the overwhelming. Of course, quality and quantity aren’t meant to go together – where you find more of one, you tend to encounter less of the other – but Native Instruments has long since thrown such conventional wisdom out of the window, and Komplete 12 stands as a mightily impressive testament to that fact.
Do I really need this?
The answer is very probably not. This is a huge collection of just about every instrument and sound you could ask for, so the chances are you will want to cherry-pick certain titles and collections to tailor to your own sonic needs. However, such is the pricing structure, you will almost certainly be better off just opting for one of the four bundles on offer, considering the savings to be made.
- Kontakt 6: latest version of NI’s highly respected advanced sampler
- Wavetable module: new synthesis module in Kontakt delivers new sonic potential
- Reaktor 6: an update to NI’s super-versatile instrument and effect creator
- Reaktor Blocks: a modular framework for simplifying ensemble creation in Reaktor
- Instruments: a vast range of conventional and off-the-wall instruments
- Effects: a suite of top-quality effects processors covering most requirements
- Content libraries: large and expandable collection of sounds, samples and patches
- Consistent quality: plug-ins, instruments, effects and libraries of a high quality
- Komplete 12 Select: £159/free for registered owners of Komplete Kontrol S-Series keyboards and selected Maschine hardware
Komplete 12 £479/£159 for owners of Komplete 2-11/£319 for owners of
Komplete 12 Ultimate £959/£319 for owners of Komplete Ultimate 8-11/£799
for owners of Komplete Select/£479
for owners of Komplete 8-12
Komplete 12 Ultimate Collector’s Edition £1,279/£799 for owners of Komplete 8-12/£479 for owners of Komplete
This includes the best of Steinberg’s instruments and sample library content. It includes HALion 6, a sample-and-synthesis workstation, Groove Agent for handling drums and beats, a wide range of different synths and a 100GB library of sound, patch and sample content.
Waves instrument and FX bundles
Waves produces a vast range of well-respected plug-ins and processors, and sells many as bundles as well as individually. Some focus on just effects or just instruments, while others mix both.
Get the latest news, reviews and tutorials to your inbox.Subscribe