Welcome to my Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 review. Here we have a MIDI controller keyboard that is aiming far higher than any other MIDI controller keyboard. It is intended to be a full control system for the Komplete range of VST instruments. It has a lot of great features and really does do a lot. It’s just a shame about the high price tag and the awful customer service.
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PROS & CONS
- OLED displays under knobs are useful
- Buttons have high-quality feel
- Good construction quality
- Keys have a good feel to them
- Unites all of Komplete’s libraries under one umbrella
- Light guides are helpful
- Touch strips are great
- Somewhat overpriced
- Saving custom sounds is not quick and easy
- Knobs only control certain parameters of each instrument
- Software has limitations
- Arpeggiator could be better
- Won’t work with 32-bit DAWs
- Bad customer service
- No semitone transpose buttons
- Some features not compatible with other VST instruments
Using the Komplete Browser, you can search through the sounds of all your Komplete instruments. By typing in keywords, you can find the exact sound you are looking for really quickly. While you are searching for sounds, the Komplete Kontrol keyboard continues to function fully, so you can play and manipulate sounds as you browse through them.
Automatic Parameter Mapping
Due to the Native Map® technology, you don’t need to give any thought to how the controls on the keyboard are mapped to the instruments. The sound designers at Native Instruments have mapped them all for you, so as soon as you load up a particular sound you have each button or knob instantly set to control the appropriate parameters. The LED label below each control lights up to show you which parameter is currently mapped to that particular control.
Here’s something you don’t get on many keyboards, even today: lights that illuminate in particular colours at the top of the keys to show you what those keys represent. For example, here’s what it can do with the following instruments:
- Rounds – shows the remote octave in arpeggiator mode.
- Studio Drummer – shows the drum sounds for your drum kit.
- The Giant – shows the notes in a particular scale, with the specific notes of a particular chord illuminated brighter.
Touch Strips Instead of Wheels
Many keyboard players are used to using the pitch bend and mod wheels to create expression in their playing. On Komplete Kontrol, they are replaced by two multi-purpose touch strips. You can use them just like the wheels, by sliding your fingers up and down. However, there is one significant advantage to having them as strips instead of wheels. You can instantly shift to a different position on the strip, which you cannot do with a wheel.
When in arpeggiator mode, you can create an entire performance just by pressing one note at a time. The controller knobs are automatically set to control the various parameters of the arpeggiator, such as rate, direction, patterns, rhythm, and variations. You can then export your performance as a MIDI sequence for editing later on.
This feature works well with the note illumination feature mentioned earlier. When you have a particular scale selected, the notes from that scale are lit up across the keyboard, helping you make sure you hit the right notes every time. You can even set it to re-map notes that aren’t in the scale. This could be great for live performances where nerves could cause your fingers to slip onto the wrong notes.
Being able to play whole chords with one finger is a feature that I’m sure many beginners will appreciate. Load up a chord set which will have chord progressions that are all set for you to play. Again, as with the scales feature above, the keys are illuminated according to the chords.
Yes, while it’s true that Native Instruments have a huge range of their own awesome VSTs (just take a look Komplete 10 to see what I’m talking about), it is also compatible with VSTs made by other companies. Actually, it’s not just compatible, it’s fully integrated, so you can browse and tag them using the Komplete Browser.
Although the eight control knobs on the Komplete Kontrol keyboard are automatically assigned to the most relevant parameters for each instrument, sometimes it is nice to have the option to customize things. But it still stops you making mistakes, so if you accidentally map the same parameter to two different control knobs, it will spot this and correct it for you.
PROS & CONS IN DEPTH
OLED displays under knobs are useful
The control knobs are multi-functional, so they get automatically mapped to the most relevant parameters for whichever instrument you are currently playing. Of course, you can also customize which parameters they are assigned to. Either way, it’s useful to know which knobs control which parameters, so it’s great that they have OLED displays under each one that not only tell you which parameter it is assigned to but also show you what position it is in.
Good construction, nice feel to buttons and keys
If you are going to have a keyboard as the central point in your studio, it’s no good if it’s poorly made and likely to break. So it’s great that the Komplete Kontrol keyboard is solidly built. It is clearly designed to stand the test of time and last you for years to come. Also, with a nice feel to the keys and buttons, it’s going to be a pleasure to play. That’s important if it’s your main instrument that you’re going to be using on a daily basis.
Unites all of Komplete’s libraries under one umbrella
If you are using Komplete 10 or [easyazon_link identifier=”B00N1YQPJ2″ locale=”US” tag=”google02a0-20″]Komplete Ultimate[/easyazon_link], it’s great that it can all be controlled from the one piece of hardware. It’s really like having many instruments all in one. There’s certainly no need to have a studio full of many different keyboards for different sounds, or even traditional acoustic instruments.
Light guides are helpful
As I’ve already mentioned, the different coloured lights above the keys are really helpful if you are a beginner. For example, if you select particular scale, it can light up the keys for that scale. Similarly, if you want to play chords it can light up the notes of the chords brighter than the other lights so you can clearly see where you need to put your fingers. Experienced keyboard players won’t need this feature, and may even think it is a bit of a silly gimmick, but for beginners, it could make a real difference. Personally, I just love the way it lights up. I think it would look really cool in a live situation, even though this is probably more of a studio keyboard.
Touch strips are great
Sure, if you are used to using a standard keyboard, you will probably want to use the pitch bend and mod wheels for your expression while playing. It could be a bit strange at first trying to get used to using the touch strips instead. However, ultimately they are better because you can do more with them. You can do sudden changes as well as sweep up and down. That means you could quickly change to random pitches at any moment, or you could turn the vibrato effect on or off quickly.
I suppose it depends on what you are intending to use if for. If you just want a good, standard MIDI controller keyboard, the price of the Komplete Kontrol is a bit high. What you are paying for here is a controller that is designed specifically for using with the Komplete VST instruments, as well as some of the other features like the lights. But if you are just planning to use it as a regular MIDI keyboard, there are much lower priced keyboards out there.
Saving custom sounds is not quick and easy
One user complained that you can’t just quickly save the sound you are currently working on. You need to go into the software and create a custom patch. If you are playing around with the parameters of an existing sound, then you switch to a different instrument, your modifications are lost. Sure, this is good that it is protecting the original sounds from having their settings overwritten, but it would be nice if there was a quick way to save a custom sound.
Knobs only control certain parameters of each instrument
Although it’s great that the control knobs are automatically assigned to parameters, sometimes it can be a bit limiting. For example, if you load up the Berlin Grand piano, if you then want to change the reverb or the microphone setup, this cannot be done by the controller, it has to be done by going into the software.
The software has limitations
Although it is great that you are able to change parameter settings from the keyboard itself, if you are switching between parameter pages via the keyboard, this is not reflected in the software. It just stays on the same page. It’s a bit of a shame that they didn’t manage to get that level of synchronicity between hardware and software.
Arpeggiator could be better
You are supposed to be able to export your arpeggiator notes as MIDI for working on later. However, it doesn’t seem to export all the arpeggiator information, only some of it. Another significant problem is that when you load up the arpeggiator each time, it does not load up the previous settings you were using.
Won’t work with 32-bit DAWs
This seems to be only designed to be used with 64-bit DAWs, so if you are using a DAW that is slightly older, it won’t work. One user tried to use it with Pro Tools 10 and had no luck. It seems like a rather fundamental oversight to create a product that is not even the slightest bit backwards compatible.
Bad customer service
As I said in my reviews of Komplete 10 and Maschine Mikro, Native Instruments seem to have really bad customer service. It’s such a shame that a company that aims so high with its products doesn’t really deliver when customers run into problems. You can have the best products in the world, but if you provide bad customer service, you will just upset people and leave them feeling bitter and disappointed.
No semitone transpose buttons
You know what, I was also disappointed that my Akai MPK Mini MKII doesn’t have transpose buttons, but it’s not so unexpected in a cheap tiny keyboard like that. But with a keyboard as highly priced and feature rich as the Komplete Kontrol, it seems like a fundamental feature to miss. For those of us that like doing key changes in our music, it’s a really useful feature to have.
So, there are clearly a lot of good and bad points with the Komplete Kontrol keyboard. I really wanted to like this and give it full marks because it looks so good, and because what Native Instruments are trying to do here is awesome. Having all the instruments you would ever want in software form, then being able to control it all using a dedicated controller keyboard that lights up and looks great. It seems like a dream come true. Unfortunately, with poor customer service and several significant flaws with the product, it falls a bit short of the mark.
I hope you found my Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 review helpful, but if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will reply as soon as I can.
All the best,