Online Review: Kontakt 1.1, by Native
(Mac and Windows).
Native Instruments recently came up with Kontakt 1.1: a soft sampler
with tons of parameters to boost your production to new borders. Addressable
through midi, this product gives you the possibility to use samples
as if they were built in sounds in a regular midi module. And even more:
you can add the samples sounds by a wealth of parameters and effects,
that can be attached to every sample you load into Kontakt. Every imported
sample has it's own set of parameter settings. We do not have to express
here further that this gives you endless hours of -what I always describe
as- "sound painting". The demand on the processor is firm,
but not too heavy. You can stack several Kontakts in your VST host application
up to the limits of your computers memory and processor capabilities
(of course). Every instance of Kontakt can play 256 stereo (!) voices.
We think that's more than enough to get you going for quite some time.
Kontakt comes in a box with book with a 115 pages manual per language,
in four languages. Plus 6 CD's in 3 duo boxes. One CD contains the
program install, the other 5 CD's have a firm collection with very
usable and good quality samples. Enough to provide you with a good
start: Synth, Piano, Drums, Bas and Guitar.
Sample groups like choir or violins are not in the package.
But Kontakt can handle a wide range of sample formats (details at
the end of this review), and if you have other modules that work with
those formats, you can use them in Kontakt as well. All together,
the provided samples take 3,18 GB hard disk space. They are of very
good and professional quality.
This is what you get when you buy Kontakt: 6 CD's in 3 duo boxes,
one CD with the program, and 5 CD's with a firm collection of samples,
ready to use in Kontakt. Plus a manual in 4 languages, 115 pages per
language. Plus a nice box of course.
Loading Kontakt with samples is an easy drag and drop job. The left
part of the Kontakt screen is a file browser, that let you dig though
your folders on your hard disk(s), looking for sample files. It is
a good idea to organize these files into category folders right from
the beginning. If you fail to do so, you soon will get lost in a forest
of unclear named folders and files. In the screen shot below, we dig
through a folder with AKAI samples. These files have interesting file
names like "VO4CM0004". Which happens to mean that this
is a Voice, 4 voices, in C minor, version 0004. The only way to know
this is a Voice sample is by reading the name of the folder it resides
in, which is more explaining, or maybe not....: "Voices".
Well, get the idea why we advice to organize...? (By the way: this
has nothing to do with Kontakt, as the supplier of these sample files
is responsible for this terrible file naming convention).
Samples can be loaded into Kontakt by using the browsing area,
at left in this screen shot. The blue auto button near the bottom
lets you preview the chosen sample automatically.
As we discover more and more in Kontakt, we are convinced this professional
baby will never leave the Mac hard disk in this studio again. The
ease of use, the flexibility, the creativity, the very good user interface:
all factors that make working with Kontakt a real great pleasure.
For example: in many sample players, de-tune facilities are not built
in at all, or -if they are built in- very basic. In those cases, you
will have to pre process the sample files to the wanted tune using
another audio editor. Not so in Kontakt: here you can alter the pitch
in real time by SHIFT-dragging the value up or down with a resolution
of two numbers behind the comma.
By SHIFT-dragging the values (red arrow), you can fine tune any
sample just the way you want it to match with the rest of your production.
In real time.
The second instrument is an AKAI violin sample, which has good quality,
but is considerably out of tune compared to the rest of the "song".
You correct this on the fly by shift clicking the Tune button, and
drag values up and down. When you think the tune is OK, you just let
go of your mouse button, and it's done. It's that easy. Very good.
To give you an idea of the tuning we did, we give you an mp3 file
that will torture your ear in the first half, and show the result
of the tuning in the second half.
Each instrument/sample, you load into
Kontakt, can be altered with a load of parameters and filters. By
clicking the blue edit button on the left side of the sample block
(a fingered bass in this case, see screen shot below), the green parameter
block becomes visible. Two little + buttons enable you to activate
basically any combination of parameters and filters you want to work
on the sample they are assigned to. All parameter and filter stuff
you normally would need is there. It would take a fat web site to
describe them all to you. But just to mention a few, to be found in
this very flexible system with group and instrument inserts, and including
send effects as well: EQ, filters (17 filter types in total) , effects,
envelopes, time and tone machines (explained later). All this in a
modular setup, normally only found on expensive hardware samplers.
Do I need to say (write) more?
The little + buttons open a large world of audio creativity where
you can alter samples and instruments just the way you want them to
behave, thus enabling you to match them perfectly into your composition
or production. It will take you some learning time before you will
be able to master this creativity machine. It took us a couple of
evenings to roughly dig through them all, and even then we feel that
we didn't see it all. Very challenging!
The parameter section (the green part in this screen shot) opens
a wide world of alterations you can do to loaded samples. The possibilities
are almost endless.
Just another example of parameter user interfacing in Kontakt.
Time and Tone.
Kontakt has a built in real time time stretching machine: the Time
Machine. It allows real time manipulation of length, pitch and formant.
We've heard and seen other time stretchers before, but this one is
top quality. The Tone Machine "enriches" the loaded sample
with a playable pitch, and maintains the length of the sample throughout
the keyboard. Wow, this is good. We know of some soft samplers that
have to pre process sample files (adding the pitch and stretch information
to the file) before you can use them in a soft sampler. Not so with
Kontakt: it does this time job on the fly. This is very good. Both
Time and Tone work with professional quality, which by the way goes
for all processing in Kontakt: all audio handling in Kontakt is top
quality, making it a good tool for audio professionals.
We've said it before: Kontakt contains too much to describe it all.
We'll just give you some of the main features here, to give you a
good idea of Kontakts strength: graphical breakpoint envelopes, integrated
loop editor, analog modeled filters, visually displayed modulation,
wave shapers, delays, reverbs, the already mentioned time and tone
functions. To mention just a few. Strong is too that -when a module
is not active- it does not take processor power, unless like some
other VST instruments we've tested, who use processor power even when
they are "sleeping". All this, plus a very intuitive and
elegant user interface, make Kontakt a must have. The only way to
discover that Kontakt really is a must have, is buying it and start
working. You most certainly will not regret spending money on Kontakt,
we can assure you. If you would like to see some trials: on NI' web
site, a demo version can be downloaded in the
Kontakt section, both for Mac and PC.
Supported sample formats.
Kontakt can handle an impressive list of (nearly any) sample formats.
Here they are: AKAI S-1000/S-3000, Gigasampler, SF2, HAlion, EXS,
SDII, BATTERY, REAKTOR Map, LM4, AIFF and WAV, from 8 up to 32 bits.
The support for EMU files (EIII, ESI, and EIV) is planned, according
to the info on NI's web site Well, this all should do it ;-). A free
Mac and PC update for registered Kontakt users will add the Direct
From Disc extension. This feature will enable Kontakt to play samples
directly from the hard drive. Sample size will no longer be limited
by the amount of physical RAM - an instrument can be as large as available
hard drive space. All instruments utilizing this technology will load
many times faster than RAM-based instruments.
Kontakt can be used as a plug-in with VST 2.0, DXi, DirectConnect,
and MAS. In the studio or during a live performance, Kontakt can be
used with less latency than a hardware sampler with ASIO, offering
32 outputs and -as stated before- up to 256 stereo voices per activated
Kontakt unit. Kontakt can operate as stand alone application as well.
The Kontakt soft sampler can be considered as a new soft instrument,
unique in its kind. It gives you tools. normally not even found on
the expensive hardware samplers. The modular approach, the tons of
filters and parameters, the unique tone and time machines, the tight
integration with your operating systems finder, the professional audio
quality, the individual and group setting, the send functions....
this all makes Kontakt a very strong peace of software, that will
enable you to tune your production exactly the way you want it. By
offering all this through the VST Instruments technology, NI has made
this sampler usable for a lot of musicians and studio technicians,
as long as they use VST aware software like Cubase and Logic. Kontakt
considers VST as the best environment fot their plug ins, but other
environments are supported as well (see compatibility).
The pricing is affordable, even more when you consider the big bag
with quality and samples you get. We at AudioMac.Net cannot do otherwise
than give Kontakt a well deserved 10.
Here is the small review production we
did while testing Kontakt. All instruments are samples played through
Kontakt. All effects like the drum room reverb on the drum kit, broader
reverbs on the choir, and chorus, flanger and ensemble on most of
the other instruments are taken from the built in effects of Kontakt.