NATIVE INSTRUMENTS A SERIES KEYBOARD CONTROLLERS
Native Instruments winds back the colour on its A series to give you the black ’n’ white essence of Komplete Kontrol.
Review: Preshan John
Native Instruments’ S Series keyboards are the bees’ knees. What’s not to love about a controller with two hi-res colour screens and deep pre-mapped integration with your favourite VIs?
The problem is, hardware features come at a cost. Even Native Instruments knows this. That’s why the new A Series makes perfect sense — a range of keyboards with obvious cost cuts compared to the S Series yet with the same Komplete Kontrol modus operandi we know and love.
A Series is available in 25-, 49- and 61-key versions. They’re bus-powered via USB and have a semi-weighted keybed and basic DAW transport controls. The smallest 25-key A Series board goes for just over $200. We received the middle child A49 for review.
I enjoyed the fast action of the keybed which is both heavier and springier than the Arturia KeyLab Mk II we checked out last issue. Pitch and modulation wheels are the real deal, rather than the flat ribbon sliders used on Maschine. There’s a healthy resistance to the mod wheel that works a treat when adding delicate expressiveness to orchestral sections and synth leads. I’d have liked a deeper indent but the rubber finish is grippy enough.
The puny OLED screen is a far cry from the big ’n’ bold counterparts of the S Series but it’s actually very functional — more on that later. The sparse centre panel has a single row of eight touch sensitive endless encoders (the same as the S Series). The buttons are loud and clicky as opposed to the softer rubber buttons on the S Series. Nevertheless, they are solid and brightly backlit.
The integration between S Series Mk II keyboards and Komplete Kontrol software is on point, and colourful. Thousands of NKS-supported virtual instrument presets are displayed on two large colour displays, and Light Guide illuminates keyboard splits and articulation controls in different colours.
The A Series has a distinct lack of colour, but is still surprisingly easy to navigate, even without those big screens. Using the joystick to browse Komplete Kontrol presets on the tiny, yet hi-res screen, was still swift. You have the option of sourcing a preset by instrument, patch or type. Once selected, all NKS-supported instruments will have their parameters pre-mapped to the encoders letting you dive right into playing.
Of course, without the larger screens, you won’t know which parameter a knob is assigned to until you touch it, calling up its function on the small screen.
It may be delivered differently, and there may be less visual feedback, but the same Komplete Kontrol hands-on functionality carries over from the S Series. Things like adjusting track levels in supported DAWs, transport and automation control, arpeggiator, quantisation, playback and loop settings. For the most part you can easily do all of the above with the A Series controllers without glancing at your computer.
A comprehensive Komplete Kontrol software package accompanies any purchase of an A Series keyboard, including Maschine Essentials, The Gentleman upright piano, Reaktor Prism, Scarbee Mk I electric piano and more.
As a generic MIDI controller, it’s hard to fault the A Series. It delivers a fast, comfortable keybed with a host of quality controls at a very reasonable price. Throw in the software and Komplete Kontrol integration and it’s near on a steal.