NORTH CANTON, Ohio. The New Year started out with a bang for this writer. A brand new package from Native Instruments containing the Komplete 12 Ultimate Collector’s Edition arrived for a fair and unbiased product review. A number of other columns and blogs will undoubtedly cover this product’s astounding and robust array of pop-oriented virtual instruments. In this review, we focus more on the classical, new music, and scoring tools users can find under the hood of this immense and extensive virtual instrument collection.
The story behind Komplete from Native Instruments
For those new to the game, a brief explanation may prove helpful. For years, Native Instruments sold a bundled package. It included highlights from both the company’s own virtual instrument products. In addition, it included those of third party developers who create instruments for their proprietary Kontakt player. This series – KOMPLETE – became the foundation of many a production studio around the world.
Those who purchase any of the four versions of Komplete will get, at a bare minimum, the Kontakt 6 player (both a virtual instrument host and development library); the Komplete Kontrol software (for interfacing most effectively with Native Instruments keyboards and controllers); Reaktor 6 (a Max or PD like synthesizer creation environment); and a collection of studio effects and creative effect plugins. Most notable for most users is the included library of virtual instruments for numerous musical genres. It is the focus of this collection.
How complete is Komplete?
Is Komplete really complete? For a professional composer, not by a long shot. But the higher the level of the Native Instruments Komplete package you purchase, the closer you can get to a full suite of tools. The approach here looks like an effort to give composers an “everything but the kitchen sink” suite at the outset. Later these composers can augment the package by adding third party tools for specific stylistic and situational needs.
From the “Select” package to the “Collector’s Edition,” you can compare the contents and pricing of the four available versions of this package at the Native Instruments product comparison website. For those looking to gain a strong foundational scoring and orchestral menu of options, we suggest the “Ultimate” edition. It adds six of the “essentials” version of the Symphony Series (including Percussion, Woodwind, Brass, and Strings) in both solo and section configurations. The “Collector’s Edition” includes the full version of each package. That makes it a clear bargain in the orchestral realm alone.
Taking a Komplete test drive
We tested Komplete 12 on a Mac laptop with 16GB of RAM running Pro-Tools and Logic. We began by combing a number of diverse memory-intensive instruments to test Kontakt 6. It ran flawlessly. We then created a cinematic type track, documented in the video available further down. The computer did not begin to exhibit stress, dropped notes, or crashes until crossing the 2.5GB, or about ten virtual instruments loaded.
One must install the “Native Instruments Access” portal software in order to download and activate each item in the Komplete package, which is treated as a separate piece of software. It is good to first download Kontakt 6 and its factory library. Then, the user can proceed downloading each separate item as needed.
As an experienced user or composer already knows, the entire download and setup process can take a fair amount of time. In addition, a significant amount of free space on the local internal drive is necessary in order to successfully download the instruments.
You can successfully download instruments to install to an external drive as recommended. But these must download to the main drive. So in order to install the Symphony Series String Ensemble, a whopping 31 GB of free HD space must be available!
Availaable tools in various product versions
In comparison to Komplete 11, the number of new tools available in V. 12 depends on how high in the range you make your purchase. The basic “Select” version only includes a few expansion packs and the Rickenbacker Bass instrument. The standard version begins to add a few significant updates such as Massive X (coming in February), Battery 4, Session Strings 2, and an assortment of new audio plugins.
The “Ultimate” and “Collector’s” editions deliver the most bang for the buck. They offer the greatest haul of new tools. Most notably these include Session Guitarist 2; three new versions of Abbey Road drummer; Indian and Cuban “discovery” series instruments; and, perhaps most notably, the Symphony Series of instruments. These provide an intense upgrade to the standard NI library.
The two highest versions of the instrument also include the “Cinematic” expansion instruments, with which we will begin. The general goal of these new additions to “Komplete 12” is to provide professional scoring and sound design tools as a part of the collection. “Evolve Mutations” by Heavyocity, for example, includes a number of strikes, kits, stings, pads and transitions to layer into your next film score. The versatile “Damage” tool offers access to an immense battery of epic drum sequences.
Particularly powerful is the “Rise and Hit” instrument. That proves useful for creating powerful pads, swoops, atmospheres, risers, stings, and transitions. An impressive instrument with a relatively transparent interface, it also comes packed with a number of immediately useful presets right out of the box. (Figure 1)
The new “Play” series and other new tools
Tools such as Analog Dreams, Ethereal Earth (Figure 2), and Hybrid keys are part of the new “Play” series. They show off Kontakt 6’s new wavetable synthesis engine. Additionally, they allow you to mix together two disparate sounds within the different parameters and styles of these instruments. This, in turn, enables you to create fascinating new and immediately playable digital hybrids. This feature may be one of the hidden weapons in the suite.
Kontakt 6 also includes a number of new tools for those creating instruments. Key among these new tools are creation modules. Think of them as templates for virtual instrument creation. Just as important: the robust new debugging capacity.
A number of powerful new loop-based orchestral and cinematic construction kits are also included in the “Ultimate” and higher versions. The idea behind these instruments is to provide the composer with a bank of standard key-switchable rhythmic and musical patterns. From these, the composer can create the bedrock for any piece. The instruments use pre-recorded performances. These play in a loop and are tempo-synced. (Figure 3)
The digital artifacts from stretching or compressing the “Action” instrument at slow and / or very high tempos can be evident depending on orchestration thickness and the overall mix.
The following video demonstrates these instruments in the form of Action Strings, Emotive Strings, and Action Strikes, along with examples from the Symphony Series Brass & Woodwinds.
Available “expansion packs”
Each of the four versions of Komplete 12 also offers new “expansion packs.” They are genre or mood specific troves of presets for various instruments. These expansions add additional presets to instruments such as Battery or Massive, meaning that each installation spreads a wealth of new material around your collection.
The only downside is the apparent lack of clear documentation regarding what the user has installed. That said, dedicated “Maschine” series users will likely recognize many of the new presets in their system.
So what would we like to see in future updates? One area that no version of Komplete 12 addresses is the need for string, brass, and winds special effects. Also needed: rarer bowings, which have become a staple of the modern soundtrack. Given Kontakt’s excellent upgrade to wavetable synthesis, adding a convolution synthesis option would be the logical next step.
Pros, cons and our final Komplete verdict
If there is a downside to Komplete 12, it is this: Users and composers may need to put in many hours to gain even a basic orientation for all the tools, sounds, and options this package offers.
On the other hand, for those looking to take a bold leap into scoring, the promise of this package remains while being expanded. Those who already have their own “complete” studios will doubtless find many new options and sound upgrades. At around $1,700 for the full “Collector’s Edition,” we actually consider this Komplete 12 package a steal compared to the cost of purchasing even half these tools in isolation.
Final verdict: Komplete 12 comes highly recommended.
— Headline image: Komplete 12 packaging. Image via Native Instruments website. Fair use in product review.