Review: Native Instruments Komplete 11 Ultimate

As the most comprehensive and impressive set of software instruments on the market, Komplete is an unbeatable champion.
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Native Instruments clearly makes the case that more is more. Their Komplete bundle—now at version 11—is jam-packed with most of the products in the developer’s catalog, which is massive and represents just about every sonic category you could imagine. For the price of admission you get access to a world of best-in-class instruments and effects that could keep your creative juices pumping for years.

New with Native Instruments Komplete version 11 is a low-cost entry point—Komplete 11 Select ($199), a slim-yet-capable collection of 11 products—that joins the standard Komplete 11 bundle (45 products, $599) and Komplete 11 Ultimate (87 products, $1,199), which is reviewed here. (Upgrade pricing from older versions is also available.) Although each of the three Komplete 11 editions can be downloaded, Select can be delivered on a USB flash drive, while the other two editions are available on a hard drive. Moreover, Komplete Kontrol keyboards and Maschine products ship with Komplete Select.

Fig. 1: One of the newest pianos is Una Corda, a virtual instrument featuring one string per key and a host of fabric preparations that alter the overall timbre. It would take an entire issue of Keyboard to cover everything included in Komplete 11 Ultimate, and even then we’d only scratch the surface. Instead, I’ll focus on the new additions and updates in Komplete 11 Ultimate, and refer you to our review of Komplete 10 at keyboardmag.com.

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High Koncept

For those of us who primarily play and produce music using a keyboard, Komplete 11 delivers just about every kind of sound we could possibly want or need. Convincing classic EPs, Hammond organ and Clavs? Check. Rich, deeply-sampled acoustic pianos? Double check (see Figure 1). Bleeding-edge, awe-inspiring synthesizers? Triple check (see Figure 2). You get the idea.

Fig. 2: Reaktor Blocks has been added to Komplete 11’s already impressive line-up of powerful synthesizers. Komplete 11 is divided into four main categories—Engines, Synthesizers, Sampled Instruments, and Effects. Depending on the number of products in each category, there are logical subcategories such as Drum and Percussion, World Instruments and Cinematic within Sampled Instruments, for example.

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Form and Function

Fig. 3: Form’s Sound page with two Motion Curves. The four freely-assignable macros along the bottom (Spectrum, Sound, Motion, FX) add to the real-time tweakability. Komplete 10 introduced Kontour, a 2-oscillator synth that offers comb filtering, phase modulation and waveshaping, and Rounds, a virtual-analog/digital hybrid, performance-oriented instrument with multiple phrase sequencers that you can trigger in various ways. New in Komplete 11 is Form, a synth that runs inside Reaktor 6, as Kontour and Rounds do (see Figure 3). Form is a hybrid synthesizer that offers a fresh take on synthesis: It loads single samples as raw oscillators, then lets you scrub and move through user-defined sections within the sample while processing it using a range of DSP techniques. Samples can be up to 30 seconds in length, and with the onboard effects and modulation capabilities, it’s possible to quickly transform ho-hum audio into spectacular leads, pads, basses and effects.

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At Form’s core is a Pitch Synchronous Overlap and Add (PSOLA) algorithm that can be used to create sounds with a granular character, although that’s just one of many colors it can achieve. But unlike a granular synth, Form has no parameter for grain control. Instead, it features Motion Curves, which let you define a sample’s playback direction and speed without affecting pitch. In addition, you can create multiple curves and apply them to different segments of the sample, loop the curves, and flip their direction, among other things, to produce complex results: Once I started digging into the Curve Editor I was hooked. The possibilities are endless.

There’s also an additive oscillator that is designed to “fill in” the frequency spectrum. I found this worked nicely to compensate for audio that was too thin in certain frequency ranges.

To transform your sounds further, five effects are onboard, including reverb, delay, a wave-shaper, and a 2-band frequency shaper that can create dramatic changes to a sound’s tonal characteristics. And thankfully there’s a global effect bypass, which can be a real help when A/B-ing as you program.

As with the other Reaktor-based synths, Form can be delicate, atmospheric, raw, rude, and everything in between. To my ears and eyes, the newer Reaktor-based synths tend to have similar characteristics: Sonically, they’re hi-fi and have a freshness that is thrilling and thoroughly modern. This characteristic punch and polish is even more evident in Komplete 11, which boasts improvements to Reaktor’s DSP.

Graphically, many of these synths have a spacious, high-tech look that invites exploration and makes them a joy to program. In contrast, I was struck by how small and fiddly Absynth’s user interface feels relative to these other instruments. Ultimately, however, the collective synthesis capability in Komplete 11 Ultimate is staggering.

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Making Kontakt

An important aspect of Kontakt 5.6 is the updated UI, which has a clean and consistent look with other newer NI instruments. While I appreciate the visual update, I’m disappointed that it’s no longer possible to adjust the instrument’s font size (it was adjustable in previous versions, and now it’s too small when working at a distance), and that there’s not an easier way to move libraries within the browser. You can drag libraries to change their order, but if you have more than a handful of collections, as many users do (especially Komplete 11 Ultimate owners), it can be tedious and time-consuming to organize your content. I’d love the ability to re-order libraries using a list window that allows drag-drop and copy-paste.

I also wish that it handled effects more flexibly. For example, effects that are accessible from an instrument’s Performance view cannot be swapped out with different effects, nor can you easily add effects that aren’t already built into the Performance view UI without opening the instrument’s editor and digging in (and even then the effect parameters won’t be added to the UI). I run into this workflow challenge frequently when using third-party instruments, most of which have custom interfaces that provide varying numbers and kinds of effects.

Criticisms aside, however, there’s a lot to love. Combined with the dizzying array of NI and third-party sample libraries that are included with Komplete 11 Ultimate, Kontakt is a sonic juggernaut that’s unmatched in quality and sheer breadth of sounds. From cinematic sound-design and driving percussion to otherworldly textures and expertly recorded acoustic instruments of all types, the sample content in this bundle is second to none.

Kontent

Five new Symphony Essentials titles, derived from NI’s Symphony Series orchestral libraries, have been added to the already long list of Kontakt collections in Komplete 11 Ultimate. Woodwinds and brass are presented in solo and ensemble configurations, while strings are presented in sections only—violin 1 and 2, viola, cello and bass.

All of the titles were produced in partnership with heavyweight third-party developers known for their top-flight orchestral titles, and this expertise is evident in the quality of the samples and programmability of the Essentials instruments. Native Instruments claims Essentials are designed for “light scoring tasks” that require “fundamental instrumental performance techniques,” which sells these libraries short. These are wonderfully dynamic and expressive instruments that I would happily put head-to-head with my other symphonic collections. While Essentials does lack the multiple microphone perspectives and certain articulations from the “parent” libraries, the brass, woodwinds and strings are capable of covering a lot of musical territory.

Each instrument features a generous interface with a single knob in the center, which controls volume and is tied to your controller’s mod wheel by default. While I appreciate the look, feel and functionality, the knobs don’t actually affect velocity layers, which would allow you to move through dynamics such as piano, mezzo piano, mezzo forte, forte and so on. This is a feature we’ve come to expect from sampled orchestras, and it’s a missed opportunity with Essentials that I’m hoping can be addressed in a future update.

Still, considering that some third-party orchestral collections can cost as much as Komplete 11 Ultimate, the combination of Symphony Essentials and its orchestral siblings Emotive Strings, Action Strings and Session Strings Pro represents serious value and collectively covers a wide range of scoring needs with aplomb.

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Konclusion

If you make music with a computer and you don’t already own Komplete 11 Ultimate, I can think of no better investment than this latest incarnation. The bang-for-buck factor is undeniable, and so is the quality and breadth of the instruments and their presets.

Without diving into programming your own sounds, the sonic possibilities are seemingly infinite. And for those of us who prefer rolling our own, Komplete 11 Ultimate offers a wealth of incomparable synthesis horsepower. This collection goes to 11!

Snap Judgment

PROS Unmatched variety and quality of sample libraries and software synths. Fully compatible with Kontrol Series keyboards, Komplete Kontrol software, and Maschine products.

CONS Komplete 10 users who have separately updated Reaktor, or purchased other products that were not included in Komplete 10, may find version 11 doesn’t offer as much value.

Bottom Line

As the most comprehensive and impressive set of software instruments on the market, Komplete is an unbeatable champion.

$1,199; $399 update
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