Native Instruments has been a consistent manufacturer of quality MIDI controllers for years. One of the popular manufacturer’s best traits is the constant drive to make products more efficient and user-friendly, especially when using Native Instruments software.
This review looks at the S series smart keyboard controllers (S49, S61, and S88). We will discuss everything these controllers offer and what kind of user they might suit most.
Our verdict on the Komplete Kontrol S
The S series provides fantastic controllers designed with a smooth workflow in mind, especially when using Native Instruments software.
We love them, but they come at a price beyond what we could reasonably call value for money. So, it’s very unlikely that you’d have any complaints, but you’ll pay a premium for the experience.Available at: SweetwaterAmazon
Assignable controls often make or break a MIDI controller. Native Instruments are known to favour a speedy, intuitive workflow, so let’s see what these controllers have to offer.
Rotary knobs and push encoder
Each model has the same set of assignable controls, including eight touch-sensitive rotary knobs and a four-way push encoder.
You can do a lot with these controls, and the push encoder makes browsing sounds/settings a simple task, as we’ll discuss further below. But, the lack of faders will bother some users, especially fans of orchestral sounds.
When playing synth/electronic sounds, tweaking parameters with the assignable knobs is perfect; it will feel like a hardware synth.
But, as many media composers will tell you, robust faders are the best tools for adjusting/automating expression in orchestral instruments.
The included controls are fantastic; a few faders would have been a welcome addition.
Pitch/mod wheels and touch strip
The pitch/mod wheels feel great and somewhat compensate for the lack of faders. They provide enough range, and smooth action, without being too sensitive.
Touch strips often replace pitch/mod wheels on many controllers, and we generally don’t like to see that, but in this case, you get the best of both worlds!
The S series smart keyboard controllers offer Scale, Chord, and Arpeggiator modes.
Scale mode allows you to map the keyboard to a particular scale, making it easier (especially for less experienced players) to use exotic scales.
Chord mode allows you to trigger complex chords with a single key, which can be a massive timesaver for producers of all levels.
The built-in arpeggiator is one of the best features because it opens up a world of melodic lines that can provide the desired result quickly and often deliver unexpected results when you need an inspiration boost.
We love that aftertouch is included in all models; it’s one of the most intuitive ways to add a new dimension to your performance.
It’s not the most common feature in 88-key controllers with hammer-action keys, so it’s particularly nice to see on the S88.
A speedy and intuitive workflow is a must for music production, and it’s an area where these controllers shine.
Dual high-resolution screens
The high-resolution screens not only look fantastic, but they are also incredibly useful. The S series smart controllers provide a tactile, hands-on workflow that many others can’t match.
Generally, the less time you spend with your mouse/trackpad, the easier it is to stay in your creative zone. So, having such a visual/intuitive way to browse instruments, presets, and parameters is an absolute pleasure.
It’s a time saver, but more importantly, it helps you to focus on creativity rather than your computer screen.
As we mentioned, the included rotary knobs and push encoder are fantastic for browsing, selecting, and tweaking sounds.
To make them even more appealing, they auto-map to any Native Instruments sound you use, giving you the feel of a hardware instrument without a lengthy setup.
Transport controls are something that we wish every controller had. It might be a simple feature, but being able to press play, stop, record, and so on directly from your controller is ideal.
Advanced DAW control
These controllers go beyond basic transport controls and provide advanced control over the most popular DAWs.
The advanced controls include Tempo, Mute/Solo, Loop, Metronome, and Quantize.
The three models in this range share the same functionality (for the most part), and that’s a good thing at times.
Unfortunately, when it comes to connectivity, we’d have liked to see some additional connections in the S61 and more in the S88.
Each model provides USB, MIDI In/Out, and two pedal inputs. The pedal inputs can be assigned to sustain or expression.
We think it’s fair to be slightly disappointed in this area.
Now, from disappointed to overjoyed, these controllers come with one of the most comprehensive software bundles we’ve ever seen.
It comes with Ableton Live Lite 10, so you have a DAW to hit the ground running. It also comes with Komplete 14 Select, which includes an incredible range of instruments and effects.
There are far too many to list, but here are a few of the highlights: Massive, The Gentleman, Hybrid Keys, Vintage Organs, Scarbee Mark One, and Scarbee Rickenbacker Bass.
The keyboard feel varies depending on the model you choose. Each model comes with a pro-grade Fatar keyboard, with the S88 having weighted keys and the S61/S49 having semi-weighted keys.
We’ll start with the S88 because it’s the most expensive, so it has to deliver high quality to make it worth choosing over cheaper keyboards with fully-weighted keys.
The first thing we have to say is that it’s probably not the most realistic hammer-action keyboard on the market; it’s very good, but not the best.
However, we see some positives because Native Instruments account for users playing with more than just piano sounds.
For example, when using synth or organ sounds, you’ll find that the S88 keys return faster than many other hammer-action keyboards, potentially making them more versatile.
Ultimately, if you just want a “piano” controller, you could buy something cheaper, but if you want a keyboard that adapts to a wide range of sounds, the S88 is excellent.
The S49 and S61 are a little easier to rate because they feel better than most competitors despite being comparatively expensive; they have excellent semi-weighted Fatar keyboards.
The S series keyboards are some of the best-looking controllers, thanks to their slick black styling. They also have some of the best-feeling controls with super-smooth action while feeling reassuringly robust.
However, as they are reasonably expensive, you might expect a few more premium touches.
We feel this way about the S88 in particular, and when you consider some cheaper 88-key controllers have metal panels or wooden sides, it’s not an unreasonable view.
In short, these controllers feel premium when you’re playing them, which is the most important thing, but not necessarily when lifting and moving them.
Compared to other MIDI controllers
Before committing to the S Series, you should check out some of our favorite alternatives.
Komplete Kontrol S series vs. Arturia KeyLab range
We love the KeyLab range because they are such well-rounded controllers. If value for money is important, these keyboards likely provide more for your money.
Komplete Kontrol S88 vs. M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro
The Hammer 88 Pro isn’t as sleek or refined as the S88, but it has a better keyboard and additional features like RGB pads.
However, while the Hammer 88 Pro is a better choice for the pianist, it’s behind the S88 in other areas.
Check out our M-Audio Hammer 88 Pro review
Komplete Kontrol S series vs. Novation Launchkey range
The simple verdict is that the S series is better than the Launchkey range. But, just as the S series is a perfect match for Native Instruments software, the Launchkey range might better suit Ableton users.
Who is the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S series best suited for?
Any S series keyboard is ideal for music producers who like Native Instruments sounds and effects; it’s the perfect match.
- Dual high-res screens.
- Auto-mapping controls.
- Transport controls/advanced DAW controls.
- Incredible software bundle.
- Assignable touch-sensitive rotary knobs.
- Comparatively expensive.
- Limited connectivity.