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New Gear: Native Instruments A-Series Controllers

Click here to check out the Native Instruments A-Series.

September 2018 was a big month for German manufacturer Native Instruments. They simultaneously launched new versions of their flagship Traktor S2 and S4 DJ controllers, the downsized production centre Maschine Mikro and the 12th edition of their professional level software package Komplete. One of the industry's biggest names dropping updates to some of their leading products at the same time, caused a lot of anticipation! While we've been excited to get our hands on the units just mentioned, it's been the range of Komplete Kontrol A-Series keyboards that have been, quietly very impressive.

The A-Series is designed as a more affordable alternative to the existing S-Series of keyboard controllers. The S-Series was NI's take on a top-of-the-range controller. They're fantastic, jam packed with almost everything you could want in a keyboard controller and coupled with great design and build quality. But the S-Series' sometimes went beyond the needs for the average home producer. Enter the A-Series. The A-Series carries over some of the features from the S-Series but offers a more simplified layout and also gets some tweaks to functionality. Let’s start with the nuts and bolts: this keyboard feels great! The keybed is really nice, it's a proper semi-weighted keybed and the design team at Native Instruments believe it to be the best keybed in its class. There are eight touch-sensitive encoders, meaning when you touch one, the small OLED screen will display information on what parameter that knob is controlling and its current value, while the 4-directional push encoder handles navigation and selection functions. The pitch and mod wheels also have a nice weight to them, are very responsive and don't have that cheap "springy" feel. When comparing these elements to the S-Series, you will notice some differences, but they're not massive. For example, the buttons on the A-Series lack the velvety style finish of the S-Series and they're a little noisier too. But overall the A-Series components seem to stack up surprisingly well, no wobbly pots, wheels or anything like that. There's a definite feel of quality, which is fantastic considering they're almost one third of the price of their S-Series cousins.

But building a great keyboard controller is only half the battle. One of the reasons the A-Series stands out is its well-designed software integration. Firstly, the Komplete Kontrol keyboard range comes with the Komplete Kontrol software. This software allows you to browse and preview your instruments and effects in one environment. It might not sound like much, but it's very useful! One reason being the ability to operate as a plugin within your DAW. Another, you can navigate using intuitive sub categories based on tone, instrument and other parameters making it easy to search for sounds. Secondly, control of Komplete instruments, effects and NKS compatible plugins has been mapped out to the controller's surface. NKS (Native Kontrol Standard) is an extended plug-in format that connects software instruments and effects seamlessly to NI's Komplete Kontrol keyboards and Maschine hardware. The list of NKS compatible plugin is growing (check the list here), which is awesome as it helps give us that tactile control over virtual instruments and effects that so many people love.

The third thing we love is that the A-Series comes with Maschine Essentials. Essentials is the FULL Maschine software, plus a 1.6 GB selection of "Essentials" from the Maschine library. In our eyes this gives the A-Series a leg up on a lot of other controller keyboards that often come with Lite or Intro versions of a DAW. These are still useful, but too often get quickly outgrown by anyone who goes beyond an initial interest in music production. Maschine Essentials is a great because it gives you a fully featured piece of production software that will allow you to do many of the things that more well-known software suites will but can also be integrated into bigger DAW titles if you decide to go in that direction. It's clear by the way NI have combined the A-Series with their software offerings that they're working hard to build up the Native Instruments eco-system, where any new piece of hardware or software will integrate seamlessly with existing products.


Maschine production software

Speaking of NI software, the A-Series also includes a few pieces from the Komplete library, so we'd be remiss not to touch on the 12th iteration of Native Instruments flagship software package. Komplete has evolved a lot over the years, with the library growing in every new release. Komplete used to come on a series of install CD's, now every version (except Select) comes on a dedicated external drive! Komplete 12 adds even more options to the range with the Ultimate version now available in Collector’s Edition, which includes the full Komplete offering plus the Symphony Series Collection (for the first time). As far as new plug-ins, Komplete 12 makes updates to the ever popular Kontakt sampling engine with Kontakt 6, adds the TRK-01 Kick/Drum for Reaktor and the big one - Massive X! Massive X is currently scheduled for a release in early 2019 and everyone who purchases an appropriate version of Komplete 12 will receive a download for it once it's been launched. Native Instruments have also included selections from their Expansion sound packs, the first time they've done so. There are more new additions to the Kontakt 12 library so to see the full offering and what’s included in each version (Select/Standard/Ultimate/Ultimate Collector’s Edition) check out the range on the Store DJ website.

Click here to check out the full range Komplete 12 options and bundles.

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