Computers and Music: Review of the Kontakt 5 Player

Screenshot, Kontakt 5.

COLLEGE PARK, Md., February 23, 2014: One of the truly vexing question facing any composer building a home studio for the first time is where to expend a limited budget on a core sample engine. Samples from companies like EastWest and Vienna come with their own high quality sample engines. Yet there is a host of third tier companies – like Spitfire, which we covered late last year – that do not have the resources to create their own sample engines. These opt instead to host their beautiful work on the Native Instruments Kontakt Player.

The list on NI’s website of participating companies is mouthwatering in itself, leading composers to ask: To Kontakt, or not to Kontakt?

The Kontakt 5 Player bears a heft price tag of $399.00. Potential users should not be deceived, as there is a limited free version that can run certain third party samples for a short period before timing-out. It is useful for a limited time but does not contain all the tools. The full version of Kontakt, however, comes with a battery of effects and filters as well as a foundational sample set drawn from some of Kontakt’s finest participating libraries.

These libraries are divided into Band, Choir, Orchestral, Synth, Urban Beats, Vintage, and World categories. In their own they do not constitute a remotely complete collection for any potential genre, but they do some high quality samples scattered throughout. For instance the collection of guitars is quite useful, especially the “Akkord Guitar” samples which offer beautifully recorded strummed guitars with adjustable patterns, while the rock and solo guitars offer adjustable cabinets and even pickup variations.

The classically oriented samples are perhaps the strongest groups, with the choral samples surprisingly usable and subtly moody while the solo woodwinds are highly playable with useful key switches. A highlight is the lovely Bass Clarinet sample, which alternates between long notes, certain dynamic effects, and various tonguing techniques. It is very convincing. The string ensemble is also a lovely sample, with sus, Fp, Sfz, Stacc, Trem and Pizz samples all convincing and playable. This would be a particularly useful tool for aspiring film composers.

Screenshot illustrating Kontakt 5 packaging and contents.
Screenshot illustrating Kontakt 5 packaging and contents.

Also included is a less than convincing selection of synthesizers and prefabricated beats. By contrast, the collection of vintage instruments includes an entire folder of absolutely beautiful Mellotron samples sure to satisfy the prog-inclined. Another particularly useful folder is the world instrument selection, including everything from evocative duduk samples to screaming bagpipes to a vibrant steel drum instrument.

Kontakt 5 also includes a battery of filters, effects, and modulators that can be applied to these software instruments or future third party additions. Do you want to run your Harpsichord through a cabinet with a compressor in the acoustic space of a cathedral? Kontakt lets you go there.

There is no denying that Kontakt 5 is an incredibly fun toy to have as part of your software suite. But should you purchase this product?

Whether you are a classical or film composer, rock musician, or sound designer, the tools included in Kontakt 5 will be of great use to you. The sample sets, while adequately large and in certain cases very lovely, will likely not satisfy a composer with more comprehensive needs. That being said, each category of samples could act as companion to a more comprehensive sound library, or as the foundation for expanding a library.

Finally there is the tantalizing sample editor, which allows you to peek inside and modify the individual notes of a number of software instruments. This, along with the ability to map and create your own software instruments, makes this a highly customizable package. Those who like to peek under the hood will not be disappointed.

If you are looking for a complete library, you might consider spending 100 dollars more and purchasing NI’s aptly named Komplete 9, which includes Kontakt 5 and every type of sample imaginable (including the kitchen sink.) For those who have only enough money to buy a single package, a more focused purchase—such as an orchestral composer purchasing EastWest’s Platinum Instruments, which are cheaper and more varied with equal quality—might be a better idea.

For composers who think that they might be able to spend several hundred dollars more, the Kontakt 5 library opens the door to an entire world of high quality NI and third party instruments, assuring that your sonic needs can be found and met.

Ultimately it is difficult to grade this otherwise high quality product, as it will be a godsend for certain composers and a limiting environment for those on more restricted budgets. We suggest that a potential buyer download the free version of Kontakt 5 along with the sample library. That way, you will be able to see if this is the right fit for you.

Ease of Use: 3*** out of 4 stars
Customizability: 3*** out of 4 stars
Filters and Effects: 3*** out of 4 stars
Quality of Included Software Instruments:  3.5***1/2 out of 4 stars
Comprehensiveness of Sample Library: 2.5**1/2 out of 4 stars
Potential and Expandability: 4**** out of 4 stars

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