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.Read more