Review: Native Instruments S88 Mk II
Hammer-Action MIDI Controller
For anyone who’s invested in the Native Instruments ecosystem, the king of keyboards is undoubtedly the new S88 MkII. It’s NI’s answer to many a musician’s demand for a full-sized hammer-action keyboard controller that plays like a grown-up piano.
Like its smaller unweighted synth action siblings, the S88 MkII is a purpose-built dashboard for driving NKS-compatible instruments via the Komplete Kontrol platform. You’ll see from our review of the S49 MkII in Issue 125 that the S Series boards are a dream to use thanks to the blazingly fast workflow and those beautiful colour screens. Deep DAW control is available for Maschine, Logic ProX, Ableton Live, GarageBand and more.
The primary point of difference on the S88 MkII is the weighted Fatar keybed which promises an improvement over the S88 MkI. It certainly feels ‘posh’ with a soft, weighty and refined touch. Key travel is noticeably shallow and the action is firm but smooth.
Firing up The Gentleman in Komplete Kontrol (a delightful Native Instruments upright piano) I had my first proper bash at the S88 MkII. The sensation is entirely different when you’re hearing what your fingers are doing. The degree of responsiveness and delicacy in each key strike makes up for the relatively short travel and the resistance of each key is very natural. In fact, through headphones or nice monitors, the combination didn’t fall much short of delivering all the tactile nuances of playing a real piano.
Of course, while the action is fantastic for piano instruments, it’s not the best for others. Playing Hammond organ slides or technical lead lines feels a bit wrong, for no other reason than it’s designed to work best for piano.
Weighing up the options, it seems to me that the S88 MkII is near on the perfect controller if you’re seeking a piano-like experience above all else. You’re also getting loads of NKS control and a comprehensive Komplete 12 Select software bundle with 14 instruments — including The Gentleman, to get instant enjoyment out of those keys.