Kontakt – is it the answer? Is it the reason that everything happens?

Native Instruments today launches a new version of its flagship Kontakt sampler with new filters, effects and processing, improved sound quality, and sound design features. NI also refreshes Komplete – including, at last, a Komplete bundle that really does include kompletely everything. And we see new products covering drum samples and grooves and studio effects, too, as well as a major update to the sound design and processing capabilities of Guitar Rig.

Sadly, that isn’t the Komplete Infinity package we saw lampooned last week, which promised “quite literally every sound that can be possibly be acoustically produced in free space on Earth … ” even including “the sound of one clapping on the North side of a Forest in Tanzania at four o’clock in the morning 60% humidity and low air pressure with a Neumann U87 at a distance of three feet.” But it does include a lot – optionally everything NI makes, bundled on a hard drive.

Here’s the parody ad, wherever it came from (I’m happy to provide credit if someone will step forward):

Okay, not actually this Komplete, but still fairly Komplete. The world of NI sounds, if not in fact the entire planet.

But what we do get is a Komplete I think may come closer to what users have wanted from that bundle.

Aside from Komplete, though, let’s talk Kontakt 5, which in this upgrade promises a whole host of new processing, filtering, and sound design tools, as well as worthy-looking new releases in the studio effects, guitar processing, and sampled drum groove categories.

Kontakt 5

The creator of Massive, the terrific “no, you don’t only have to make dubstep with it” synthesizer, is behind the new Kontakt. As a result, you get:

  • 37 new filters, from Moog-inspired ladder filters to state-variable models to modern formant filters.
  • Adaptive Resonance, which manages “excessive resonance peaks” (I assume by adjusting either gain or the resonance curve or both, but I’ll have to find out)
  • TimeMachine Pro time-stretching.
  • New EQ and compressor algorithms from an upcoming “Solid Mix Series,” plus a new Tape Saturator.
  • Vintage sampling modes from Maschine.
  • Transient Designer, available separately, is now an integrated effect. Ed.: confused here, as NI refers alternatively to Transient “Designer” and Transient “Master.” I’ll clarify. Hmmm… “Transient Lord”? “Dark Sorcerer of the Transients”?
  • MIDI file support for KSP scripting users.
  • 16 internal stereo buses for routing flexibility.
  • New retro synth presets.

To me, it looks like the biggest Kontakt update since the sampler added scripting capability, and a very big deal. It’s really part of the challenge of NI’s product line, honestly – you could easily enough lose yourself in just Kontakt without needing a whole suite of stuff, even before you get into Kontakt’s 43 GB bundle of sounds.

If you are a completionist, though, the new Komplete is looking good.

Komplete 8

Augh! So much software!

Komplete 8 is the obligatory update of Komplete that brings together the latest software releases. The standard version now includes 27 products, adding Kontakt 5, Guitar Rig 5, the West Africa percussion instrument, Studio Drummer, Transient Master, plus 1300 additional presets for Absynth, FM8, and Massive.

More interesting, perhaps, is Komplete 8 Ultimate, which packs all of the currently-available “Komplete instruments and effects” (so, the current active NI product line) onto a USB 2.0 hard drive, with 13,000 sounds and 240 GB of samples.

Clarification: As observed by reader aje of Keyquest Music, the hard disk is a convenience for installation, but not, sadly, a self-contained external means of running the software. As NI words it in their press release:

The hard drive enables a fast and convenient installation process, and also constitutes a compact and robust backup medium for the software.

To be sure, hard disk upgrades are inexpensive these days, but it’d sure be nice to have a version of Komplete you can plug into any machine and use as-is.

This note is interesting, too, suggesting NI sees Massive at the kore (sorry, poor choice of words) of its new strategy:

Both new KOMPLETE versions are optimized for Native Instruments’ groove production system MASCHINE, offering direct browser integration with attribute-based preset search as well as convenient automatic parameter mapping for the rotary knobs on the hardware controller.

So, that gives you a lot of presets. To me, the ease of having things on a hard drive is the real draw. I wonder if we’ll ever see custom hardware/OS combinations for software distribution, but that’s another discussion. (For previous examples, see early custom versions of Final Scratch, Native Instruments’ own Komplete shipping on the Linux-based, rack-mounted Muse Receptor, or, to get really obscure, Emagic’s C-Lab’s work with the Atari Falcon.)

Guitar Rig 5 Pro

I’m glad I didn’t have to write NI’s press release. Guitar Rig includes more guitar rig things. It has more guitar things in its rig than it did before, covering the things that they added to the guitar thing.

What’s new:

  • New amp models, “Van51” and “HotSolo+.”
  • New effects: a new “classic” compressor model, “vintage” plate and spring reverb, studio-grade convolution based on Reflektor, 8-band filter bank, “stereo tune” chorus, “Resochord” harmonizor.
  • Convolution-based speaker emulation with “Control Room Pro,” which adds 27 cabinets, 16 mics, combinations of eight cabinets (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me relative to real world sound, but sounds interesting, at least), and mic placement and room sound controls. Since where you put mics and speakers in rooms has such a profound impact, this has been a kind of holy grail of guitar modeling; it’ll be interesting to hear how it stacks up to rivals.
  • Sidechaining with modules. (Invent guitar dubstep!)
  • Effect chains can be combined into macros NI calls “Containers” – very cool.

I’ve always been a fan of Guitar Rig for creative sound design, not just, you know, guitars, so this looks like a terrific combination of ingredients to me.

New Effects: Solid Mix, Transient Master

The effects developed for Guitar Rig are also being adapted into studio products. The Solid Mix Series is a 4-band EQ and compressor with sidechain capabilities, and a dynamics section and stereo compressor. Really, it’s somewhat surprising that these didn’t appear previously; it finally gives NI an entry in the bread-and-butter signal processing category for producers. (Aside from some intended for use in Reaktor, or presets based on those, I can’t think of a straight-ahead product from NI that did that.)

Transient Master is basically a dynamic-reshaping envelope follower.

Studio Drummer

Sampled drum kits meet a groove player in the newest drum product from NI. It’s an old idea – simulate what a drummer does by combining sounds with patterns – but the twist here is integration with Kontakt. The actual drum samples sound interesting, too, based on Pearl, Sonor, and Yamaha kits sampled at Berlin’s Teldex Studios and an 18-mic array for 17 GB of velocity-layered samples. That means I could see some people using the samples minus the grooves – and you do get some modern-sounding kits. Otherwise, we’ll just have to hear what the 3500 rhythmic patterns sound like.

In fact, my only real complaint is that the interface to me looks absurdly like the interface in Cakewalk’s Session Drummer. (Heck, they have almost the same names.) The sample content is very different – Cakewalk’s offering even includes electronic drum machines, which gives you the odd experience of looking at an acoustic kit and hearing a LinnDrum.

Anyway, that was just my first impression. Upon looking closer, you can see that the Studio Drummer UI has no rug, and parquet hardware floors instead of hardware floors.

Enough of nit-picking the UI. NI has cowbell and tambourine. Advantage: NI.

Putting it all together…

Pricing and availability, in short:

Komplete: US$559 ($229 update)

Komplete Ultimate, US$1099 ($559 update) with hard drive

Kontakt 5, US$339 ($119 update)

Guitar Rig Pro: US$199 for software, US$449 with pedalboard controller; US$79-only software update

Solid Mix Series: US$229 for the set or $119 a la carte effects

Transient Master: US$119

Studio Drummer: US$169

Everything’s available in September, and all the software is now included in Komplete.

Yes, that’s a lot of software. I hope my few months in Berlin this year prove to be this productive. I’d better chug the Club-Mate.

The word on the street I’ve been hearing is that a lot of users are curious in which direction NI is headed. A lot of users are, understandably, frustrated by seeing Kore discontinued after NI had pushed it as a central strategy, and because they worry about their own personal investment of time in tools. We also saw a shareholder reorganization in May, which returned the company to self-owned status. With the original founders and executive team now also in full ownership of the company, that could give NI freedom to focus on their priorities, and it comes at a time that they’ve seen significant sales growth. (Despite a rough economy, and past claims that music software doesn’t grow the way hardware does, I’ve heard several makers say they’ve seen healthy business right through the global recession. You can probably thank the passion of musicians for that.)

I’ll be interested to see this latest generation of NI software, and more of the company’s direction.