Native Instruments KOMPLETE 12: Review [Part 1]
Less isn’t more, more is more…
KOMPLETE isn’t just a brand, a name given through whimsy. KOMPLETE is a mindset, a name given by a desire to include everything a musician could ever want. From the outset the scale of the software is apparent. Just look at the figures. 60+ products, 26,000 sounds and the ability to create and make more. KOMPLETE 12 it is fair to say, is a bit of a monster.
The 220 gigabytes of data are but a term until you start the installation process. If you are anything like me you will want 100% installation prior to making any noise, so heed my warning, put time aside for the install, updates and library configuration. I would say from start of install to the end of installation took about eight hours. There are 80 items on the download list ranging from 100MB to the enormous 23 GB Kontact library.
So, let’s break KOMPLETE down in to its 4 main parts: Synthesisers, Instruments, Effects & Expansions.
1. REAKTOR 6: Play, Patch or Build
The User interface of Reaktor 6 is a simple file system which can be a little overwhelming when you first load but within a short space of time is actually quite organised with a high degree of flexibility and useful multi-view options. At the initial screen you are offered links to documentation and tutorials to get you off the ground.
The play option takes you to a blank rack screen with a left sided browser console. Here you can choose between a multitude of synths, drum machines and sound effects. The Play section really lets you get a feel for the variety of sounds and helps you get used to the navigation system. Here each instrument has a large array of pre-sets which you can tweak. If you change the settings on any preset you can save them for later use. The rack style UI allows you to make tweaks and adjustments using knobs, faders, dials and switches. The modular format allows an entirely different level of depth. This panel displays the electronic inputs and outputs for each module that makes up that particular synth. You can add modules into that framework to create even larger libraries of tones and sounds.
Patch is the next level in synthesiser building. Here you can take over 30 individual blocks and connect them to create weird and wonderful sounds. Patching is where you will learn about ordering your modules to get a better understanding of how synths are built. There is every control and effect type you would find in all analogue synths each of which can be duplicated until your CPU gives up. The patching console is dipping your toe into a world of crafting your own unique sounds from complex layered synths to booming kick drums. This is a playground for a sound geek and if you are a novice to Reaktor 6 definitely the place to start when learning about modular synths.
Modules in the patch section range from an oscillator to generate a tone of a particular wave form to more complex filters and effects including clocks for arpeggiation and sequencers for step programming. Patch best replicates old school analogue modular synthesis but without the need for a huge room of racks and dodgy cables.
Build places us in the dark heart of the sonic beast that is Reaktor 6, gathered among the digital wires, capacitors and potentiometers of a virtual world waiting to be connected. Here in the build we go a level deeper than blocks and look at how the blocks are created. We can tinker with existing blocks or create our own. This is the nervous system of Reaktor 6, each patch a connection to a filter or oscillator or modulator where you can determine a host of component connections and their corresponding values. The depth here is staggering and a could be a little daunting for the synthesiser novice. You can create custom interfaces and upload your creations to the Reaktor online user library where other Reaktor 6 synth and effects creators share their own blocks, synths and effects.
If you have experience in electronics or electrical engineering or are handy with calculus you can even build units through mathematical functions. Reaktor 6 has the depth to swallow you whole and spit out an 80’s retro analogue synth. All the out of the box synths used in the Play panel were built from scratch in Reaktor 6. Again, ALL the standalone synths you can buy individually for real money, where built in Reaktor 6. That’s how powerful it is.
2. TRK-01: Sequencer
TRK-01 is a simple yet powerful sequencer geared towards dance music. Split into three parts kick, bass and sequencer you can tweak and adjust pre-sets of kick drums and user loaded samples and apply a range of adjustments. The kick panel has A and B channels for combining two distinct sounds. Both channel A and B have four signal outputs Sample, Synth, Rumble and noise each generating a unique voice of which any two can be combined simultaneously. The kick panel has an envelope per channel and a mutual Low pass filter. While the Bass channel has an aux envelope, low pass filter and amp envelope. The Bass panel also has an oscillator, modifier and filter.
The bottom panel is a 16-step sequencer for both Kick and bass and while looking relatively simple, the output is immense. Helping to create dynamic bass and kick lines for dance music which can be a difficult task in a standard DAW. TRK-01 allows you to quickly create complex rhythms using your user loaded samples or pre-sets taking a lot of the hard work out of dance music creation.
3. MASSIVE: Wavetable Synthesiser
Massive and Reaktor 6 in many ways are Native Instruments flagship software products. Massive is a synthesiser using wavetable synthesis. With 3 oscillators each reading multiple stacked waveforms of different types Massive can create incredibly wide dynamic sounds just by cycling through the wavetable position. Massive has 3 oscillators, a modulation oscillator, a noise generator, 2 LFOs and FX including phaser, flanger, chorus and delay. By far the most impressive function within Massive is the Macro panel. Eight automation dials that can be assigned to every dial in massive, the user can set a bespoke range and control all the assigned functions via the one macro dial. This creates an enormous amount of depth and sonic possibility.
Another level of detail
Massive has a central console that allows you to control various functions such as the oscillators glide, pitch and vibrato settings. Voicing of individual pre-sets and tones including switching between poly and monophonic. How sounds are triggered letting you choose a legato option that slides between tones or a trill which lets you produce short flurries of two notes.
You can set the range for pitch cut-off, wavetable position and panning globally from the voicings panel. Like Reaktor 6, Massive also lets you alter routings between blocks that makeup the pre-sets, here you can rearrange the position of amps, LFOs or effects to change and sculpt your sonic landscape. By adding MIDI control to your setup and using in conjunction with the macro console you have access to unparalleled control of Massive’s array of dials and effects unleashing even more sonic potential.
Massive is a versatile synthesiser which can be used by anyone. A novice can dive straight into the myriad of pre-sets and tweak away. They can save their work as new pre-sets or overwrite existing ones. A more advanced user can build from the ground up layering and adjusting down to a component level of detail. The Macros panel alone gives a level of live automation not seen in other synths and helps Massive stand out in a crowded field. Allied with a MIDI controller and utilising the central console Massive is head and shoulders above the competition and is justified as one of the best regarded soft synths around.
FM8: FM Synthesiser
FM8 is, when compared to Massive and Reaktor 6, a relatively simple but hugely powerful programmable FM synthesiser. Unlike Subtractive synths where a bright waveform has elements removed to create a different tone FM synthesis is about altering the frequencies with additional oscillators. FM8 has up to 6 oscillators each with a wide variety of programmable functions. Each oscillator has a selection of waveforms, adjustable amplitude, input field for ratio and a very versatile envelope modifier.
There is a plethora of effects which can be added including overdrive, tube amp, cabinet, phase, flange, chorus and a psychedelic delay that allows you to change the pitch of the delayed tone. There are hundreds of pre-sets programmed by music producers, DJs and software engineers. FM8 is an immensely powerful synthesiser that has a very user-friendly interface and easy to user browser. FM8 produces some beautiful sounds and has a clear, pristine interface.
Absynth 5: Synthesizer
Absynth 5 is a synthesiser developed for more unusual and evolving tones. With what NI call an Aetherizer, this is a highly detailed grain slicer which can then be reassembled in many ways. The Aetherizer has a panel of options allowing you to alter, duplicate and randomize different voicings. Added to Aetherizer is the cloud effect and super comb. The cloud effect is similar to the Aetherizer in that it can create grainy delays but is ideal for one patch. The Super-comb which can create metallic style sounds with deep harmonic tones. Absynth can also be used as an effect within your host DAW. This means you can use the Aetherizer to effect external audio.
There are 8 distinct views in Absynth 5. Two browser views allowing you to navigate both pre-sets and search via attributes. There are 6 panels were various functions within Absynth 5 can be adjusted. Some of these such as envelope and wave have a beautiful user interface where changes can be made directly to wave patterns to create unique sounds. There is a patch panel where 3 oscillators and up to two effects per oscillator can be added and adjusted.
Absynth 5 is yet another synth with an incredible amount going on under the hood. The sound mutation effect allows you to choose a desired output and have a pre-set voice to evolve into that desired output. Sound mutation also allows you to create random sounds from a pre-set by adjusting the amount of mutation you can create sounds that are further removed from the original. Absynth 5 is a synth with a frightening level of detail and has a steep learning curve for any new user. However, with time and practise Absynth 5 is an incredibly powerful sound crafting synthesiser.
Raw power within
Native instruments bread and butter lay in their extremely powerful and versatile synths. The word powerful can be bandied around an awful lot without really being applicable but Native instruments synthesisers are substantial in content and vast in the oceanic sense in both scale and possibility. With KOMPLETE 12 Native Instruments have packed some of the music industry’s most popular synths into one package.
Here I have only scratched the surface and intimated the possibilities that lay within these stupendous synthesisers. You could literally write a 100-page manual for FM8 alone such is the scale and depth of the creative possibilities. Reaktor 6, Massive and Absynth 5 alone are worth the price of KOMPLETE 12 but as we will see there is a whole lot more to come…