2 major version upgrades to what is arguably one of the most widely used and influential software instruments on the market, and not a review in nearly three years? I mean - come on, people!
Then again, writing an even half-way comprehensive review in the space allotted here is impossible, so I won't even try.
Quite a few people still complain about the fact that the Kontakt “sampler” still does not sample. Fair enough. However, calling it a just sample player wouldn't really be very fair either. In fact, the entire concept has evolved so far beyond a traditional sampler that I think the best comparison nowadays is rather more the “instrument design environments” like Reaktor or SynthEdit.
The Kontakt Scripting Language together with a staggering amount of internal FX and sample-mangling/processing capabilities means you can take your basic raw samples in any direction you like – striving for the utmost in real-world instrument emulations, or making sure the sound that goes out the speakers have almost nothing to do with the sound of the raw samples.
Add to this the per-instrument GUI customization (introduced in Kontakt 3 and greatly enhanced in Kontakt 4) and more than ever before, you now have a feeling that each Kontakt patch acts as a discrete, solid instrument with at least the same diversity and level of real-time control as stand-alone plugins usually offer.
On paper, the changes in Kontakt 4 might have sounded a little underwhelming compared to the huge leap forward that was Kontakt 3. However – especially with the release of 4.1 – some usability enhancements has really transformed the product, and begs the question “why wasn't these very obvious features included years ago”?
First up, Kontakt f-i-n-a-l-l-y has a half-way decent database/patch browser allowing you to categorize all your Kontakt instruments in a meaningful way (although you have to “batch resave” (convert) all your instrument files to Kontakt 4 format first). Currently, the browser has its share of performance problems, most of which I expect will be addressed in upcoming updates. (However, working with the database on a discrete sample level could remain a very sluggish business, if you read between NI's own lines...)
Secondly, Kontakt 4.1 recently introduced intelligent background sample loading which means projects containing several huge Kontakt instruments now take seconds rather than minutes to load. It may then take a while before playing such a project becomes smooth and crackle-free, but the feeling of increased responsiveness is tremendous – as is the experience when loading single instruments for live play, or quick patch-browsing.
The amount of work that has gone in to re-designing Kontakt's instrument library is quite impressive – they have really gone to town on the old content from previous versions to make use of the new GUI possibilities, and the new additions are just the things that I were sorely missing – a decent choir, some mellotron tapes, and orchestral solo strings. Having gone from a haphazard collection of odds and ends in version 2, the library now feels coherent and fairly complete. Two recently killed-off NI products are “compensated” for by the inclusion of all instruments from the Elektrik Piano library, and a decent number or Hammond organ variations (which are usable but sadly don't hold a candle to B4 II.)
An amateur/casual musician could spend a long time making amazing music without ever leaving the confines of Kontakt and its included library.
Native Instruments' Kontakt is marketed as a "software sampler" product. But be forewarned that here we have a sampler that can't sample, perform any form of waveform editing, or even do sample drag-and-drop from a VST host.
Perhaps in the early days of VSTi's these kinds of limitations in a software sampler were acceptable. That certainly isn't the case now. I think we all expected that Kontakt would certainly be rounded out with these critical capabilities by now. After all, what good is a sampler that can't even sample? If Kontakt provided proper drag & drop of sampled material the lack of sampling and waveform editing might not be so crippling. But as things stand, Kontakt is really only good for loading and playing sound libraries or fully-edited, ready-to-use samples. It is certainly not a "VST sampler" as NI claims.
Kontakt is extremely and gratuitously complicated. Its interface is a vast hodgepodge of components that are supposed to in some way emulate a "rack system". This metaphor is not effectively put to use in Kontakt. The user interface is exceedingly hard to use, and requires many hours of head-scratching to learn even rudimentary operations. It's a bloated and very CPU-intensive interface.
Kontakt sounds very good and provides a wide range of effects treatments. But the effects are hard to use and route because of Kontakt's extremely overwrought, poorly thought-out interface.
I urge Native Instruments to give Kontakt a major facelift. The interface needs to be scrapped. Take a look at Image-Line's DirectWave if you want to see how to do an attractive, useful softsampler user interface. I-L has crafted an incredibly cunning, concise tabbed interface for DirectWave, where all of the settings are intuitively laid out and the most important ones are on a single pane (!!) Usability matters, and on this score Kontakt 2 gets low marks.
Oddly, Native-Instruments themselves provide a much better sampling product than Kontakt - Battery 3. Not only is Battery 3 is good for general-purpose sampling, but it also has a fairly good UI. It even provides sample editing, but still no sample drag-and-drop to/from a VST host. Priced at about 1/3 Kontakt, it is a much better value too.
I'm not sure what NI was thinking when they built Kontakt 2. I know people use it, but I just can't see what it's good for, except maybe loading canned sound libraries.
Kontakt got some low marks in my ratings because NI sells this product as a "sampler" although it is really no such thing. I suggest that NI rename this product - something like "The Kontakt Kanned Sound Player" might be more appropriate and less misleading to customers.
Huge improvements in usability with K2.1.
Unlike bduffy in his review, I loathed earlier Kontakt versions as it was too damn hard to learn, unless you had a week spare - which I don't.
But now life with v2.1 is easier
Please consider this a review from a non-samplist who needs authentic sounds on tap.
New colours! Skinnable racks!
These make racks so much easier to understand at a glance.
But it's still not possible to move instrument racks around (hard to believe but true).
This was always Kontakt's strength. Great sound quality. Does it all. Can't say more.
Can't comment on the myriad sampling features.
The FX section is supposedly good and, hey, there's a good convolving reverb thrown in. But I don't care for Kontakt's FX. The presets are mostly facile, and tweaking them doesn't do much better. My own FX collection is much better, especially CamelSpace. I think even Vanguard's FX are more useful. I suppose it's fair to say Kontakt's FX are okay in a general way.
The Import is cool, and this is one of K2.1's great features - but - it still doesn't import those great Wusik presets (NI prob think Wusik is beneath their dignity!)
The outs and the mixer are a zillion miles better in v2.1. I actually like it now. While the mixer and outs used to be Kontakt's worst feature prior to 2.1, it's now very good.
Oh - and the Browser is great. Very easy, and much better than Halion 3's browser (with its eternal "can't find samples" messages) And Halion's browser is very fiddly compared to Kontakt's.
DFD is a treat too. NI have this right.
It's possible to rack up 16 big instruments with the new DFD streaming feature, and still playback okay. Big plus.
NI have the gall to charge for a video tutorial.
Legalised theft! They deserve to be shot for this disloyal greedy act.
The main reason to buy Kontakt is the samples, especially now VSL is supplied (except for solo strings - major omission!)
But expect to buy more samples as you go. And don't think you don't need Colossus either. You do.
There are not enough samples in the world to feed a dedicated samplehead - but Kontakt's are definitely on the very nice side of nice.
Crap for me. I couldn't find how to register in the Forum. My user id got caught in some stupid self repeating loop (lord knows why). The point is that there isn't an email where I could ask "how do I get in the Forum please - help"
So NI support is fairly poor IMO.
What's value for money when all samplers except VSampler all cost a packet.
Kontakt can't be considered VFM as much as "if you need a sampler you have to pay big bucks - end of story"
But good keyswitching makes it all worthwhile.
Can't say I've noticed it crashing SX3 - or at least any more than anything else causes a crash in an overstuffed plug environment.
Best of the bunch - but still has some way to go.
Needs better FX.
Needs better support
Needs better tutorials
Needs more GUI skinnable options
Needs a budget sample range (how about a $50 Red Rickenbacker bass set with keyswitching, huh?!)
Needs more flexible racks
I love K2.1 because it has such great sounds.
I've been meaning to review Kontakt for some time now; it's only been my sampling workhorse for 4 years now! :lol: I've been a little reluctant to because my final chapter with Kontakt is yet unwritten, as the upgrades to Kontakt have really changed the software that I initially purchased so much that I'm thinking of leaving Kontakt. But more on that soon.
After demoing as many samplers as I could, I decided on Kontakt. Kontakt had an excellent feature list and format support and I really liked the dedicated browser, instead of HALion's and VSampler's page-by-page method. I liked how everything could be in one place, and the GUI was just gorgeous, living up to Native Instruments' reputation. Some people thought the fonts were too small, but I never had a problem with that.
Even though it's always a little intimidating learning a new sampler, I found it pretty easy to get up and running with Kontakt. The way it worked seemed to make sense to me, and it did a good job of importing my soundfonts, AKAI and Gigasampler patches. Kontakt was my pathway to a larger, better sampling world and I was really enjoying it. Kontakt wasn't working very well in SONAR at this time, but we're talking about the very first incarnation of DXi, so it was a very buggy format. Luckily, I switched to Cubase during this time, and Kontakt worked FLAWLESSY in Cubase. Sadly, that would change soon.
The manual that came with Kontakt was pretty basic and incomplete. There are things you can do with Kontakt that simply aren't listed in there. I'm not sure if the manual is updated now, but you usually have to go online and look up addendums and tutorials to find out about newer features. They probably should have offered at least a newer, inclusive pdf download so the information could be read offline, all in one place. Luckily the NI Forums are great for asking and learning.
The library that came with v1.0 was not very well received by anyone. Personally, I did not care; I was buying this strictly for the sampler, but it doesn't reflect so well on a cutting-edge company like this when the samples are 3rd-rate. Smartly, NI released a wonderful library with Kontakt 2 - a good consolation considering the upgrade price!
Now here's where things get tricky. What I've found over the lifespan of Kontakt is that the race to incorporate new features and meet the myriad of demands from the market has really messed up what was initially a very stable piece of software. Like I said earlier, Kontakt v1.0 up until v1.1 worked very smoothly in Cubase. But with each successive update, basic features would start disappearing and eventually the interface would start behaving oddly. It seemed to me that whenever they tried to advance Kontakt as a standalone, Gigastudio-style application, the VST version got buggier. Soon I could not use the mousewheel anymore (haven't been able to for over 2 years now), a crucial time-saver for browsing samples and stacked instruments. Kontakt now stole the spacebar from Cubase, forcing me to click around just to stop or play, and I experience weird mouse-slowdowns - to this day - when loading large instruments, closing the UI or clicking on folders in the browser.
I wrote NI copiously reminding them that basic functions are missing/corrupting. I got mystified responses; well mannered, but not useful. This is with one $79 upgrade already under my belt; to this day, I don't know why this upgrade (which didn't fix anything) was paid.
So a year or two later they released Kontakt 2 to the tune of $200 CAD. Now the sampler is so radically different that I can barely use it. I would think that it would be great if you've never used K1, but for now it's very confusing. Not to mention the new Kontakt Mixer has not been hooking up properly with the Cubase mixer. As of this writing, a new 2.1 update was just released that is resulting in most stereo outputs winding up as dual-mono in the VST Mixer. And still, after all this time, my mouse still slows down and some nice, basic features are still missing. So I will probably move on to something else, if I can find something that will match the features.
That's not to say "don't get Kontakt", I'm just warning any potential buyers: the emphasis has been on adding new features, not stabilizing Kontakt. But this is working very well for many users, and I'm sure if I'd started on Kontakt 2 instead of spending years with Kontakt 1, I'd be a lot happier. It is a very, very powerful sampler, lots of fun to work with, plus Kontakt has succeeded in stealing the market from HALion, and is now a standard issue format for sample libraries. I really like the draggable FX in Kontakt 2, the keyboard shortcuts are excellent and overall the K2 interface looks even better and is more clear and easy to work with.
So definitely make this the first sampler you check out. But I would take special note of customer feedback and see what people with similar setups are using.
I cannot BELIEVE that no one has yet to review the big 2.0 release of Kontakt. Well, to be honest, I am not qualified ;-)
Let me just say this:
1) this version BLOWS away the 1.x versions. Complete rewrite.
2) the amount of power under the hood is almost beyond belief. Outstanding effects. Intuitive interface.
3) Rock sold on my WinXP machine, both VST and DXi versions. And now working solidly on Receptor as well (as of 11-18-2005).
4) the content is pretty good. It won't rival some of the dedicated libraries (East West, etc) but then again this software will READ many of those libraries natively (no pun intended) since they are "Kompakt instruments". You DO have to be careful not to overwrite the NKI files with K2 versions (which are not readable in Kompakt).
5) for programming geeks, the scripting language offers unequalled power and flexibility. This can be used in VERY musical ways (such as the "Holy Grail" that PMI has added to some of their piano libs).
6) this is THE software sampler to beat. There is a lot of competition, and this one beats them all. It is expensive to buy by itself, though. Personally I think the Komplete package is a much better deal if you have the money.
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