Review: Komplete 12 Ultimate
Just when you think NI can’t possibly add more, Komplete 12 arrives with tonnes of useful sounds and a revamped Kontakt player.
Anyone who’s recently had their email or bank website ‘revamped and improved’ will tell you that change isn’t always for the better. Along with new features, layouts and graphic design eye candy, major updates can often sabotage long-favoured ways of working, make certain workflows harder to implement and altogether delete features that you thought were irreplaceable.
Audio software developers are by no means immune to the latter so it’s always with a combination of excitement and trepidation that most of us embark on major updates to our mission-critical audio programs.
My version of Native Instruments’ Komplete was getting pretty long in the tooth so I was happy to upgrade to the the newly-released Komplete 12 version and see what new sonic treats were in store. I chose the Ultimate version that includes some interesting new instruments and effects, as well as 20 expansion packs.
Native Instruments Komplete with its Kontakt sample player and instrument library system has been the biggest platform in this sector for many years. NI’s reputation for rock-solid coding, the wide variety of great sounding instruments and large field of third-party sound library partners means any upgrade needs to be carefully implemented, and the company errs on the conservative side in terms of tweaks to its basic platform.
The new Kontakt 6 player is a subtly enhanced continuation of previous versions and operates in more or less identical fashion while maintaining the old look. I’m totally fine with this lack of new bells and whistles although the ongoing lack of a GUI re-sizing option will irritate some. While the complexity of new instruments requires ever greater processing power, Kontakt 6 has maintained quick load times and efficient DSP usage. There are improvements to routing and modulation set-ups, new time-stretching and pitch shifting algorithms and the player now offers a total of 92 built-in effects modules — enough to keep even the twitchiest sonic tweaker happy.
Under the hood, new features for instrument builders include a tasty set of delay, reverb and wah effects modules as well as a wavetable synthesis module, script debugging and an Instrument Editor, which can load and run Lua scripts to automap samples, duplicate and batch rename groups, and copy settings from one part of an instrument to another.
Komplete 12 Ultimate is NI’s upper-mid level package and comes with a pretty epic array of sounds and effects. I’ll focus on the new offerings here but it’s worth noting that all my old favourites in the basic Kontakt Factory Library have survived here as well as key stand-alone compositional, sonic and beatmaking instruments such as Reaktor, Absynth, Guitar Rig, FM8, Battery and Massive. On a slightly odd note for a major upgrade, the new Massive X will not be available till February 2019 and will be a free download for Komplete 12 owners… hopefully it’ll be worth the extra wait.
NEED TO KNOW
Komplete 12 Ultimate
Virtual Instrument & Plug-In Suite
As well as new sample instruments and sound generators there are some new faces in the plug-in effects racks, namely the Mod and Crush Pack effects series. The Mod Pack consist of the Replika XT [fig-1] delay and three modulation plugs (Phasis, Flair [fig-2] and Choral) that offer a pandora’s box of swirling phase, chorus, flange and vibrato effects. The Crush Pack features Dirt, a classic two-stage stomp box-style distortion effect. Bit crushing and digital mangling are taken good care of by Bite, while Freak [fig-3] offers a range of extreme modulation and frequency shifting effects. All these effects deliver a great degree of tweakability and many sonic possibilities. I find the NI stand-alone plugs to be extremely useful and these are no exception with some really tasty sounds on offer.
The suite of audio plug-ins that come with Komplete 12 Ultimate includes EQ, dynamics, reverb, modulation and drive/saturation plugs and they are quite a formidable set of quality tools for mixing. This probably gets overlooked a little in general discussions about the Komplete packages and is certainly something to bear in mind if you’re considering delving into the NI world for the first time.
CHECK YOUR INSTRUMENTS
Amongst the other headliners for the Komplete 12 release are the three new wavetable-based instruments. These all use a simple visual interface that utilises well-curated presets and the ability to blend sounds together in a basic A+B layout. Analogue Dreams delivers pads, leads, basses and percussive tones with a distinct ’80s tinged flavour. Ethereal Earth [fig-4] offers synthetic flutes, gongs and other world-music instruments which have undergone various kinds of digital transformation. These sounds can veer into soundtrack territory and the combination of earthy mids and glassy digital highs is quite effective. Hybrid Keys [fig-5] explores non-standard tonalities based on various acoustic, electric and toy pianos and keyboards and is again an interesting and very playable instrument. These three new instruments do a very good job of offering new sounds that feel distinctly modern yet vaguely familiar, while keeping the interface deceptively simple. Expect to hear these new sounds in a lot of film and tv compositions in the next few years as well as on a wide variety of contemporary music styles.
String arrangers, beat makers, and keyboardists who want to make guitar sounds won’t feel left out either. [fig-6] Session Pro Strings 2 offers a well articulated 22-piece orchestra with the interface weighted towards rhythmic and melodic phrase looping. There’s a lot of rhythmic options on hand and it’s quite a deep toolset allowing the quick assembly of driving rhythmic beds and complex arpeggios. This is a great tool for creating pace and momentum in string arrangements and the sounds hit the spot nicely.
fig-6TRK-01 helps solve the problem of getting your kick and bass to play well together. It’s a purpose-built drum and bass engine featuring two independent step sequencers that drive a plethora of kick and bass sounds. The interface offers quick and intuitive sequencing, sound dialling and modulation effects with big punchy bottom end results. This instrument excels at 808 and heavy synth bass-inspired beatmaking and will be at the heart of many a dance and electro track in the coming years.
Electric Sunburst [fig-7] is the latest in NI’s quickly growing guitar and bass sample instrument stable and offers electric guitar sounds that range from clean country to indie grit to full tilt metal. A bit like Session Strings Pro, there is a deep library of tempo-synced picking patterns to flesh out a rhythm track and get fresh ideas going. There’s a wide range of tweakability here with a lot of control over amp settings, pickup selection and mic placement to keep you busy. Who knew playing electric guitar on a keyboard could be so fun!
The new Scarabee Rickenbacker Bass is also worth a mention, giving MIDI-based programmers another classic electric bass option alongside the existing Komplete bass offerings.
Thrill [fig-8] also deserves a mention for its kooky X/Y interface and excellent range of atonal and downright scary sounds. Low-budget horror sound designers and soundtrack composers will drool over this, and a little Thrill dropped in under a crescendo definitely raises the stakes in many a musical context. Simply grab your X/Y marker and move it around to explore various blends of orchestral, digital and ambient textures and atonalities. ‘Playing’ the marker is a quick and easy way to generate atmospheric dynamics that would otherwise take hours to build and orchestrate.
Finally there are the 10 expansion packs which, I have to say, I found a little underwhelming as the focus on contemporary dance, trance and R ’n’ B type sounds wasn’t up my alley. Having said that, for those working in these specific genres, these packs will hit the spot. Those with Maschine hardware will find a bunch of extra features to unwrap and the packs are great if you want to quickly narrow down your sonic options to fit into a contemporary electronic musical niche. For more inventive writers and producers it’s probably better to assemble your own sounds, and with the Komplete 12 Ultimate package there will never be
a shortage of those!
The bottom line with the Komplete 12 release is that it continues a slow and steady build of instruments and features. There’s no jaw dropping new look or methodology but the sheer quality and range of sounds and sound engines remains the star attraction. From organic and digital drum kits, exotic world instruments through orchestral samples to retro keys, sampled acoustic and electric guitars, horror soundscapes and bleeding edge digital synths there is something for everyone. While the Komplete universe continues to grow, the basic nuts and bolts of the sample player and library system remain rock-solid and the addition of quick and easy animator modes in many of these instruments helps keep Native Instrument’s platform at the forefront of modern DAW-based music making technology.