Ten years on from its launch, Komplete is bigger and better than ever. Bruce Aisher gets to grips with the latest version of NI’s flagship software bundle.
It seems strange to talk about software developers having long and illustrious histories. Native Instruments may be just a baby in comparison to hardware veterans like Moog and Roland, but the company is now approaching its twentieth birthday, having launched with Generator way back in 1996. The company is rapidly joining the ranks of firmly established industry mainstays, with a product portfolio to match.
Generator was a modular software synthesiser that served as a development system for many of NI’s later stand-alone instrument plugins and eventually mutated into Reaktor, which is the processing backbone of the company’s new Monark monosynth. Since the release of Generator, of course, NI has developed into one of the powerhouses of music software, expanded into digital DJing and even moved into hardware.
This brings us neatly to Komplete 9, the latest iteration of NI’s cost-saving über-bundle. As NI’s product range has expanded, the idea of a ‘complete’ bundle has become less practical, so Komplete is split into two option: the standard version features 33 products with a 120 GB footprint and includes NI staples such as Absynth, FM8, Massive, Battery and Kontakt. However, for those who quite simply want it all, there is Komplete 9 Ultimate, weighing in at a monstrous 370 GB. It includes 65 instruments and effects and is deemed so large that it’s delivered on its own NI-branded USB hard drive.
Let’s start by looking at some recent additions to Komplete in its ninth outing.
Monark (included in both versions of Komplete) is NI’s brand new and much-publicised Minimoog clone – though they only allude to its true heritage by look, not name. Before continuing, it’s worth knowing that the synth is in fact not a self-contained plugin, but rather exists only as a Reaktor ensemble. This is disappointing, as it makes DAW integration and preset management slightly more involved than it otherwise might be. In part, this might be due to the involvement of Vadim Zavalishin – the man responsible for bringing us many of the features introduced in Reaktor 5. It’s his innovative DSP code which is responsible for Monark’s filter, something that’s key to recreating the sound of the original Minimoog’s 24dB/octave resonant low-pass classic (though Monark itself does also include additional filter flavours).
Unlike many of NI’s other virtual-instruments, Monark features an extremely trimmed-down feature set, which stays very true to the three-oscillator design of the original. What you don’t get here is a whole host of extra modulation options or banks of effects. In fact, I found this extremely refreshing, and this is perhaps heightened by the fact that the synth does sound absolutely great. There are a few additional settings available in the ‘B’ edit window, but these mainly provide subtle tweaks to the underlying sound engine.
It took a certain amount of guts for NI to release (amidst much, much marketing bluster) a synth that appears so limited in scope and that can only play one note at a time, but it does a brilliant job of capturing the allure and usefulness of the one of the most important synths of all time – no mean feat. Monark is also available separately for €99.
Another of the star players in the NI line-up is Battery, the company’s drum sampling plugin. It’s been over six years since the last version of Battery was introduced, and in that time NI has introduced Maschine (which is represented in Komplete Ultimate with the inclusion of the Kontakt-based Maschine Drum Selection). So, the big question has been whether Battery would even be updated; some people speculated that NI would quietly discontinue Battery to focus solely on Maschine as their flagship drum sampler. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
The most obvious difference between Battery 4 and its forebears is the copious use of colour within its newly designed lean and clean interface. In fact, it’s clear immediately that working with new version is quicker, more intuitive, and frankly more fun. The updates to the plugin are mainly about GUI and workflow, but alongside new effects, algorithms and routing they do make quite a bit of difference in use.
Even if you don’t initially want to get your hands dirty with sample creation or editing, there are 70 new kits to get you going and an excellent sample tagging system which makes library management much easier. The range of import formats has also been expanded.
In sonic terms the selection of effects has been expanded to include the bus compressor and EQ from the new Solid Mix Series (more on these shortly) as well as tape saturation and many others. Better time-stretching has been implemented in the form of the Time Machine Pro algorithm, first seen in Kontakt 5 (another Komplete inclusion). Audio routing is also far more flexible and now provides bussing and processing groups via drag-and-drop as well as instant rendering for in-cell bouncing of effects and processing.
Overall, this is great reboot of a popular drum sampler which should tick plenty of boxes for most users. It’s not the biggest update you’ll ever come across – and there are plenty of features which die-hard fans have been demanding for a long time and which still haven’t been added – but it should be enough to keep most users happy.