Online Review: Kontakt 1.1, by Native Instruments
    (Mac and Windows).



The package.

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.

Sample browsing.

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.

Kontakt tuning sample.mp3 (560 K).

So many parameters and filters.

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.

Too much.

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.

Compatibility.

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.

Conclusion.

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.

Review production.

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.

Kontakt Review.mp3 (1,7 MB).


Examples.

Here is an online preview of Kontakt sounds and patches:

More detailed product and pricing info can be found at the web site of Native Instruments.


All reviews in AudioMac.net are written by Peter J. Bloemendaal. All rights reserved.

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Review: 04.12.2002