Review: Kontakt 2 Version 2.0.2

Complex, robust, and effects galore. (August 17th, 2005)

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Product Manufacturer: Native Instruments

Price: MSRP $579 US

The Good

  • Full featured sampler-based virtual instrument. Extensive (15GB) sample library has great sound and effects potential.

The Bad

  • User interface still a bit too Windows-like. Steep learning curve.

When Apple bought eMagic they got the powerful EXS-24 software sampler and soon made it available only within Logic 6 Pro. This was a loss for most other digital audio users. Native Instruments (NI) responded with a beefy Kontakt software sampler that plugs into everything, including Logic. The new version, Kontakt 2 (K2), has a few profound enhancements that overshadow the competition, including massive out-of-the-box sound libraries, and the built-in language that controls this sample-based sound workstation.

Complex with Many Effects

Kontakt 2 is a complex application. It has its own internal mixing rack (similar to Reason without the cords), effects galore, like the convolution reverb, and 15 GB of samples. New to soft-samplers is Native Instruments 's groundbreaking Kontakt Script Language (KSL), a built-in development language that fits in much of the same space as the Logic Environment, as far as programmability is concerned. You use KSL to create MIDI sequencers, MIDI note correction and, most importantly, it can be used to tie events such as piano pedals to sound generation.

Sample Libraries

The sample libraries run from synth extractions to the Vienna Symphony Orchestra Kontakt Edition (VSL). There are also 30 specially edited sample libraries optimized to work with KSL. VSL is a major subset of the renowned libraries that are very costly. They sound really good and Native Instruments turns them into a truly useful set of instruments, perfect for film scoring and song sweetening. Only the Synful virtual orchestra plugins (which use a different technology) surpass this VSL in realism, but they aren't sample based.

The Steinway piano library is a welcome sound set that works with KSL to tie pedaling to the sustain effects, so that it sounds very realistic. This piano instrument competes with Steinberg's Grand product and can easily fill in for a miked concert grand in a mix. The key to its realism is the interaction of several layers of high quality samples triggered by KSL. The convolution version uncovers the drawback of this effect; it can grind lesser CPU's into a stutter while the basic piano sound sails right through! There are also over 3300 convolution reverb impulse response files thrown in.

Electronic Elements

In addition to the coverage of natural and audio-based instruments, K2 adds a lot of electronic elements to the desirable synth samples in their arsenal. Consider that Pro53 analog filters taken from Native Instruments' popular synth plugin can now used to tweak samples. Native Instruments also added the Flexible Envelope; a many-staged sound shaping feature that allows you to add a desirable Absynth-like animated movement to your sounds. Essentially K2 can do almost any sample-based sound and with its power comes the inevitable complexity that Native Instruments does its best to corral.

Versatile

K2 plays many other sample formats and will render them in stereo or up to six surround channels. Only your Mac's audio I/O gear and CPU speed limit its very high quality sound engine. K2 works just fine in Logic 7 and GarageBand 2 as an Audio Unit, but it can also be used standalone or with Cubase SX as a VST plugin. Native Instruments engineers have done their best to be efficient; K2 has been G4 / G5 optimized. The only possible flaw is the Windowish look of the product, understandable given its cross platform targeting. Still, the product is logically laid out given its power.

Highly Recommended

K2 is an excellent product that can supplement any digital audio workstation product, including the comprehensive Logic 7 Pro, when it's sound libraries and new features are taken into account. When I was discussing K2 with fellow audio-geek, Dave Biedny, he observed that software-based samplers have finally made their hardware counterparts obsolete. K2 covers a lot of sonic terrain, so this recommendation comes with a caveat: "Hours upon hours of playtime required."

by Peter Mengaziol


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