Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Review

Native Instruments is probably best known for their music plugins and software, most notably their flagship studio production package, Komplete. But they also manufacture high-quality hardware too, and their Komplete Kontrol S49 keyboard/controller is a fine example of this.

Unlike most other MIDI keyboards, the Komplete Kontrol S49 has a wide variety of buttons and knobs made for controlling your DAW (digital audio workstation).

The buttons can be programmed to control many different functions inside your DAW, regardless of whether you’re using Logic, Ableton, or any other software.

But most notably, this keyboard is made to work synergistically with Native Instruments’ own plugins, such as Kontakt, Battery, Massive, Reaktor among others.

In this article, we will provide you with a broad overview of the Komplete Kontrol S49 and its features, functions, and design. We will also discuss its uses and who would benefit from owning this piece of hardware.

In addition, we’ll talk about the build quality and materials as well as the overall feel of the keys and various knobs.

The way that the Komplete Kontrol allows you to choose sounds within your DAW using the knobs and buttons makes your workflow much faster and easier.

Because of this, the Komplete Kontrol is better suited for music producers and DJs, especially those who use Native Instruments’ plugins for synthesizers and sample-based instruments.

Using The Komplete Kontrol To Control Komplete

As you probably guessed from the name, the Komplete Kontrol works perfectly with Native Instruments’ ultimate plugin package called Komplete. It includes several hundred gigabytes of sounds and plugins for you to choose from.

The Komplete Kontrol synchronizes with these plugins, allowing you to switch between them and manipulate the sounds seamlessly, by just using the controls that are featured on the Komplete Kontrol S49.

Unfortunately, the Mk 1 version of this keyboard does not come with a full copy of Komplete 10. Instead, it comes with a light version of Komplete which includes ten virtual instruments that you will find in the full version.

This is more than enough to get you started, and when you consider the price of individual plugins, 10 free virtual instruments from Native Instruments is not a bad deal!

Overview

Whereas other keyboards such as digital pianos and synthesizers have in-built sounds that you can play right out of the box, the Komplete Kontrol S49 is a MIDI controller.

This means that you need to use it with a DAW (digital audio workstation) in order to play sounds with it. Because of this, it is less suited towards live performance and more suited towards producers and DJs.

Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Review

Although the keyboard is designed to work with Native Instruments’ Komplete and other Native Instruments’ plugins, it also can be used with other third-party plugins. For example, it can be used with a digital synth plugin called Sylenth, which is not made by Native Instruments.

This plugin allows you to play a digital synthesizer from presets or you can build your own sounds from scratch. When using a plugin that is not made by Native Instruments, however, you will have to program the knobs in order to control each aspect of the plugin.

Their own plugins, on the other hand, have this function automatically. The various knobs on the S49 light up when they can be used to control or manipulate the sounds or various parameters depending on the plugin. The other knobs that are not in use do not light up.

This makes the S49 much more user-friendly and intuitive to use than other more minimal and basic MIDI controllers.

The keys on the S49 feel fantastic to play. They are made from high-quality plastic which makes them feel like the keys of a high-end synthesizer. The 49 keys that this piece of hardware has are semi-weighted, so you get a pleasing feel when playing it.

The Komplete Kontrol S88, which is the biggest model in the S series, features full-weighted keys, which makes it feel closer to a normal piano to play.

Semi-weighted keys in a MIDI controller keyboard is more than acceptable for particular uses of the S49. The keybed is made by a company called Fatar, and they feel tremendous to play. They are comfortable and the weighted keys provide some nice tactile feedback when playing.

The S49 also features RGB lights above the keybed, which is awesome for a variety of reasons. They light up when the keyboard is turned on, and they turn a pale blue once a note is pressed.

They also act as a sort of ready signal, as they won’t turn on until a sound is loaded and ready to play as you’re cycling through the different plugins.

The keyboard also has a scale function, which allows you to choose any scale to play in. This lights up only the specific notes in that particular scale and leaves the rest of the notes unlit. This is not only proving great visual feedback but it is also a fantastic learning tool.

This is especially useful for those who aren’t trained on the piano and do not know the notes in every scale. Also, the notes that aren’t in the scale actually sound as ones that are, so in this mode, you cannot play a wrong note.

This is amazing for playing solos, even if you’re not a keyboard player!

You can also use a mode that lets you trigger chords just by pressing one note. This is another function that is incredibly useful for those who don’t play the piano or keyboard instruments. It makes playing chords whilst playing an accompanying melody so easy.

Functions And Controls

The S49 has many buttons and kobs which can do a variety of different functions, depending on the plugin you’re using.

With each Komplete plugin, you have the ability to tweak many different parameters much like you would on an analog synthesizer. You can control such things like filters, resonance, cutoff frequencies, and more.

The huge amount of control that the S49 gives you in terms of tweaking and customizing sounds gives you almost limitless possibilities. This is great for finding new sounds that no one is likely to have made before. The S49 is such a good tool for innovation for these reasons.

Native Instruments have done a good job at using as few buttons as possible to control a wide range of things. For example, the scrolling wheel can be used to scroll through your Komplete library.

Once the wheel is pressed, this acts as a left mouse click and selects the part of the library that you’re hovering over. Once a sound has been selected, you can use up and down arrow keys to select different presets.

This simple interface makes finding differents sounds and presets quick and easy. This is the main benefit of using the S49 rather than other MIDI controllers, as it’s far quicker and easier than finding sounds and presets within your DAW.

This is perfect for those who value their workflow and need to produce quickly.

On the left side of the interface, you have various controls for your DAW, such as record, play, stop, fast-forward, and rewind. Again, these controls make recording much quicker and easier, allowing you to do everything you need without having to click around within your DAW.

The S49 also features an inbuilt arpeggiator with tonnes of different parameters that you can scroll through on the screen. This is incredibly comprehensive for a MIDI controller and you don’t find these functions very often in these sorts of products.

It gives you the option to choose various parameters such as rhythm, sequence style, gate, and swing. By using the onboard controls, you can adjust these parameters on the fly.

Instead of modulation and pitch wheels, the S49 features touch strips. This feature can take some getting used to, but they work just as well as a physical pitch wheel. The only drawback is that there’s less tactile feedback when using them compared to a physical wheel.

They also light up when they are used and the lights change depending on the amount of pitch bending or modulation.

Hardware & Connection Specifications

  • MIDI in/out
  • USB to Host
  • Kengsington Lock
  • Sustain/EXP pedal connections
  • Weights approximately 15 lbs

Important Information To Note

It is important to consider that the Mk 1 version of the Komplete Kontrol S49 does not come with Native Instruments’ Komplete software package. The S49 Mk 2, however, which was released 2 years after the first one, does in fact come with Komplete 12 Select software.

This includes 14 premium instruments as well as some effects. This includes sounds such as classic organs, synthesizers, sample instruments, and percussion instruments.

Here is a full list of software instruments and effects that are included within Komplete 12 Select, which comes free with the Mk 2 version of the S49:

  • Massive - Synthesizer which combines analog architecture with wavetable synthesis
  • Monark - A software version of the classic analog monosynths
  • The Gentleman - Classic upright piano sound with a balanced, lush tone and wide dynamic range
  • Drumlab - 38 drum samples including acoustic drums combined with synthetic layers to give your percussion a punchy electronic edge
  • Phasis - A collection of timeless phase effects
  • Reaktor Prism - A versatile polyphonic modal synthesizer that includes basses, lead tones, and large organic soundscapes
  • Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass - A sample of that classic Rickenbacker bass tone, approved by Rickenbacker
  • Scarbee Mark 1 - An iconic electric piano sound
  • Retro Machines Mk2 - A collection of 16 vintage instruments from the 70s and 80s
  • Vintage Organs - A collection of classic organ sounds based on high-quality recordings from 50s and 60s tonewheel and combo organs
  • West Africa - A vibrant collection of African percussion instruments, including an intuitive pattern sequencer
  • Solid Bus Comp - A compressor inspired by a legendary bus compressor from a famous British console
  • Replika - Two studio-quality delay effects
  • Kontakt + Reaktor Players

Another important difference between the Mk 1 and Mk 2 versions of the S49 is the inclusion of physical modulation and pitch wheels in the Mk 2.

The Mk 2 also features a horizontal touch strip in addition to the two wheels. The touch strip on the Mk 2 is situated below the two pitch and modulation wheels.

Additionally, both the Mk 1 and Mk 2 models of the Komplete Kontrol S49s are rather expensive compared to other MIDI controllers available on the market.

It can be especially costly when you consider that these controllers need to be used with a computer and DAW software (both of which are expensive), in addition to the cost of Komplete if you have the Mk 1 version. 

These expenses add up, which makes these controllers quite a large investment. For these reasons, the Komplete Kontrol range is better suited towards professionals rather than hobbyists or amateur musicians and producers.

Another important thing to mention is that the Komplete Kontrol range can just be used as a regular MIDI controller, and does not have to be used solely with Native Instruments’ plugins. It works with other third-party plugins providing that they are NKS-supported.

NKS is Native Kontrol Standard, which means that other developers can create plugins and effects that are compatible with Native Instruments’ hardware.

This integration of various plugins, samples, effects, and software instruments from a wide range of sources allows for a seamless workflow.

NKS is a system that organizes presets and parameter mapping, and it has been adopted by such popular developers as Soniccouture, Arturia, and u-He.

Although the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol range does support many different DAW software including Logic, Ableton, Garageband, Cubase, and Nuendo, it does not, however, support Pro Tools, Reason, Bitwig, Studio One, FL Studio, Reaper, and many other popular DAWs.

This could be a dealbreaker for die-hard users of these unsupported DAWs.

The Mk 2 does not come with a power adapter, as it is efficient enough to run on USB power alone. This is unlike the Mk 1, which uses an ordinary AC adapter to power it.

The Mk 2, however, still does include a power jack, but this is only required if you’re using the hardware MIDI outs without the aid of a computer. For this, you will need to purchase an adapter.

The Mk 2 version of the S49 also features a set of two high-resolution display screens. These are a huge benefit to the unit, as they provide some much needed visual feedback, especially when scrolling through sounds and different presets.

These high-res screens essentially eliminate the need to use your computer screen at all. Everything you need to see is right there in front of you.

Another addition to the Mk 2 version of the S49 is the mixer button. This opens an interactive mixer upon the display screens, allowing you to manipulate the levels and van the various tracks within your DAW software.

You are also able to mute or solo tracks in this mode, which is especially useful in live performance with the use of software such as Ableton Live. For these reasons, the Mk 2 is far better suited for performance than the Mk 1.

Final Thoughts

Both the Mk 1 and Mk 2 versions of the Komplete Kontrol S49 are high-quality, professional standard pieces of equipment, but the improvements made on the Mk 2 make it a much more worthwhile investment.

Not only does it come with Komplete 12 Select software, but the additional features such as the two high-resolution display screens and extra buttons and controls make it the far superior product.

One of the biggest criticisms that have been made of the Komplete Kontrol keyboard range is that while they are ideal for using Native Instruments’ plugins, they are not the best all-purpose MIDI controllers.

This is despite the fact that they have introduced NKS which supports a huge range of third-party plugins from many popular developers.

The Mk 2 features much more useful functions such as the mixer view on the dual screens. This can be an extremely powerful tool for producers to use in the studio.

However, it may be seen as a drawback because there are other controllers on the market that are better-suited towards live performance. 

The Ableton Push, for example, is more effective at triggering samples and loops on the fly, which makes it more appropriate to use on stage.

If you’re a fan of the Native Instruments ecosystem already, then investing in the Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk 2 is a no-brainer, especially for use in the studio. Despite the cost, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better tool with more functionality and integration on the market.

David Williams
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