Literally every sound you’ll ever need
While thinking of things to include in this article, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a fellow gear-nerd. We were discussing various brands of guitar amplifier, including a high-end American brand favoured by Carlos Santana. Said brand had recently released its updated flagship series, and despite its astronomical price tag, it was under serious consideration due to the fact it could produce literally any sound you could ever want to coax out of your guitar.
“I could buy this amp and then quite conceivably never need to buy another amp again” I said.
“How boring,” remarked my friend, “Where would be the fun in that.”
You see, for a large number of musicians, the thrill is often as much in researching, testing, trying out, falling in love with and eventually buying a new item for your arsenal. Buying one thing that does it all completely removes that thrill. It’s the gear equivalent of growing up and becoming a boring old man who favours practicality over everything else. And he’s right, where is the fun in that.
That’s not to say it counts for every situation though. Take the studio, for example. Here, you know you need a safe, reliable, decent quality set of sounds which you trust to produce the goods every time you call on them. That’s where Native Instruments Komplete has always excelled. It doesn’t cater for the whim-chasing youngster who tries out every bit of gear in the shop. It favours the player who’s tried it all, twice, and knows exactly what they want and wants it right now, in pristine quality, thank you very much.
Komplete 10 (now upgraded to Komplete 11) builds on that legacy with more plugins, a bigger library of sounds and a new, easier way of navigating around it all. There’s also the small matter of a series of dedicated controller keyboards, designed specifically for Komplete, adding to what was already a pretty commanding offer from the German software house. We’ll look at those in another post, but first we’ll share our Komplete 10 review.
First things first
Due to the sheer size of the install package, and to save your broadband download limits, NI has provided the entire 440gb worth of content on it’s own dedicated USB 3 hard drive. USB 3 is vital in these circumstances, due to the data transfer speeds available as opposed using standard USB 2. You need a drive which will transfer that information to your computer or controller quickly, particularly important if you plan on transferring the enormous sound library onto a separate hard drive. We’ve learnt through experience here – if possible, install the applications direct from the external drive to your computer, rather than through any USB hubs you may have. The gargantuan sound library can go on an external drive however. And, also from experience, once you’ve chosen a location, don’t start moving the files afterwards or you’ll be pulling your hair out when things start getting lost. The install process is straightforward but, make no bones about it, you’ll be waiting a good while before you can use the software or plugins. Best to make yourself comfortable…
Also worth pointing out is the need to, if possible, install and use the 64 bit versions of your favourite DAW. We used Ableton Live for this review and, while the plugs all work separately on the 32 bit application, if you want to make use of the excellent Komplete Kontrol bridge plugin as a VST or AU within your DAW, you’ll need to be running a 64 bit version of Live. If you’ve got more than 4gb of RAM on your machine, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t do that anyway though. There’s a simple guide for making Komplete and Live play nicely together here.
Keys to the library
Once it’s installed, if you haven’t fallen asleep, you’ll be drawn towards the standalone application called Komplete Kontrol. It’s here that you’ll first encounter Komplete’s new library system, which breaks down the different sounds, plugins and effects into logical categories and tags, which we’re all quite used to now. It makes perfect sense too. You can choose every sound here either by instrument type, or by the plugin which creates the sound. So, for example, looking for a vintage organ tone, you may be thrown sounds from Absynth, Vintage Keys or Massive, but they’ll all appear in one simple list so you can scroll through at your leisure. Alternatively, if you know that Reaktor is the holy grail of your sound, you can filter to only include sounds from here.
The speed of scrolling through and loading different presets is directly linked to the speed of your computer and the data transfer speed of any USB hard drives you’re using, but assuming they’re not too out of date it shouldn’t slow your workflow down too much.
The best compliment we can pay here is that it is all hyper-intuitive. It works really well, so auditioning sounds is a breeze and doesn’t distract you away from what you’re trying to achieve with myriad menus and screens. And there really is so many sounds here that you’ll almost definitely find what you’re looking for without too much faff.
Pitched at the level it is, with its not inconsiderable price tag, Komplete 10 is clearly aimed at players at the higher end of the scale. It certainly doesn’t look or feel like a toy, and the sounds it produces are of exceptional quality. If you’ve dreamed of adding a string section to your music but bundled plugins sound too artificial, or have the sound of a grand piano in your head but can’t nail that elusive jazz-club tone, Komplete is for you.
There are tonnes and tonnes of sampled acoustic instruments, through to meaty synths and basses, via incredible audio oddities which will spark no end of creativity. Some of the soundscapes on offer via Rounds, for example, are just begging to form the backbone of any number of world-class ambient noodlings.
Looking deeper at some of the 17,000 included sounds, we find the full version of NI’s Guitar Rig software, favoured by Steph Carpenter of Deftones, old favourites like Massive, FM8 and Kontakt and newer products like Kontour, a phase modulation synth; Rounds, which mixes analogue and digital sound engines; and Action Strikes, which delivers powerful string stabs that elevate film scores to new levels of tension.
Battery 4 is on board, providing the engine for drums, with sounds provided by a huge library of Abbey Road sampled drums kits from every era of popular music. Piano and keyboard players are also in for a treat, with the new definitive piano collection, the Alicia’s Keys sound library and a selection of vintage organs and electric pianos.
The only criticism that can be levelled at Komplete 10 is that it starts making you question your other gear. When the sounds it produces are this good, you start wondering if you’re active monitors are maybe in need of an upgrade, or if you need to start swotting up on the more arcane functionality within your DAW to make the most of everything Komplete provides you with.
In the best possible way, if you buy Komplete, you may never need another software package again. That is really the highest kompliment we could give it.
View Komplete 11 Ultimate over at the Dawsons website.