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Native Instruments Kontrol S Mk3 review: The ultimate keyboard controller for producers?

I’ve been a fan of these keyboards since the original Kontrol S series was released, but I found better value for money elsewhere due to the very high asking price.

Now, the Kontrol S Mk3 promises to redefine our expectations of a keyboard controller, and I admit, at first look, I’m excited. In this review, I’ll find out if the Kontrol S88, S61, and S49 Mk3 are worth every penny.

Kontrol S-series Mk3 MIDI keyboard controller
Image: Native Instruments

Final verdict on the Kontrol S Mk3 4.8

The Kontrol S Mk3 is a premium keyboard controller in every way.

It’s important to shop around if you aren’t an avid NI software user because, whatever way you look at it, these controllers are expensive, and I can’t help feeling there’s better value elsewhere. But, if you rely heavily on Kontakt instruments and NKS-ready plugins (or want to start), I can’t imagine a better fit than a Kontrol S Mk3.

I wish the S49 Mk3 were cheaper; its price is too close to the S61 Mk3 to make it a sensible option.

What I like

  • Direct integration with Kontakt.
  • Polyphonic aftertouch.
  • Smooth workflow.
  • Premium build quality.
  • Excellent screen.
  • Extensive software bundle.
  • Perfect partner for NI and NKS-ready software.

What I don’t like

  • No Maschine integration.
  • As good as it is, it’s still very expensive.
Buy Kontrol S Mk3 at: SweetwaterAmazon

Why you should trust me

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned as a musician over the past 20 years is the value of time. No magic formula guarantees instant inspiration or creativity; some days, it comes easier than others.

James Nugent, author and contributor at Higher Hz

But, at some point, we need to think about maximizing productivity in the available time, whether striving for progress on a personal project or a work commitment.

While there’s no magic formula, there are things we can do to enhance our workflow and save time by cutting out any tedious processes to focus on creative decisions. More often than not, that starts with a great controller.

Having worked in various roles as a musician, I’ve learned to prioritize a smooth workflow and find the best controller for the task, whether orchestral media scoring or multi-genre music production.


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Keyboard feel 4.8

The S88 has fully-weighted hammer-action keys, while the S61 and S49 have semi-weighted keys.

I’m more impressed with the keyboard action on all three models than I have been with any prior Native Instruments controller. The fully-weighted keys of the S88 aren’t a perfect recreation of an acoustic piano; they are the ideal compromise for music-makers who want a realistic feel but also like to play synth, organ, orchestral sounds, etc.

The semi-weighted keys of the S61 and S49 are also excellent. The original Arturia KeyLab 61 was my favorite controller with semi-weighted keys for years because the keytops and action felt premium, not too light, and cheap like some others. However, the Kontrol S Mk3 has that same premium feel while being incredibly responsive and expressive.

The reason for such an improvement in this area is that Native Instruments collaborated with Fatar to create an entirely new keybed explicitly designed for the Kontrol S Mk3.

Assignable controls 4.8

Assignable controls often make or break a MIDI controller, but in this case, Native Instruments has gone for the less-is-more approach, and it works.

Another thing I like about this range is that every model (S88/S61/S49) has the same controls.

Touch-sensitive rotary encoders

There are eight rotary encoders under the central display screen that you can assign to any parameters you wish. But, if you’re using Native Instruments or third-party NKS-ready plugins, the encoders auto-map to the parameters of whichever plugin you open.

Kontrol S Mk3 rotary encoders and display screen
Image: Native Instruments

Pitch/mod wheels and ribbon controller

Like most things on these controllers, the pitch and mod wheels have been completely redesigned. Gone are the wider, cheaper-feeling wheels of previous models, and in their place are slimmer wheels with built-in RGB lights and a premium feel that you’d expect from a high-end synth.

The ribbon controller is now above the pitch and mod wheels rather than below, making it easier to combine with the wheels without needing both hands. It’s also easier to assign the ribbon controller with a dedicated page.

Polyphonic aftertouch

I could discuss this below in Production tools, but since you can assign the poly aftertouch to any target/parameter, I’ll drop it here.

I know some people think that poly aftertouch is overkill and awkward to use, but with a bit of practice, it brings ultimate expression, and I love it.

It’s better than the mono aftertouch on previous models, not only because it’s polyphonic but also because the improved keybed makes it far more accurately responsive to pressure.

Kontrol S Mk3 feel and aftertouch
Image: Native Instruments

I use a lot of orchestral sounds with keyboard controllers, and I prefer to control the expression/dynamics of those instruments with faders. If you prefer faders for specific tasks, you might need to add a separate expression control surface.

Production tools 4.9

Kontrol S Mk3 keyboards come with some handy production tools that help you break through a creative block.

Light guide

The light guide (lights above the keys) isn’t a production tool, but it helps the tools below function better, and this is another area that improves on previous models.

Play Assist

Play Assist is where you’ll find chord and scale modes and the built-in arpeggiator.

Chord/Scale modes

Chord modes are similar to what you’d find in other keyboards where you can trigger chords using a single note.

You can trigger simple triads or complex chords that explore more diverse harmonic paths, and what I like most is that the light guide will show the notes of each chord, making it an opportunity to learn and work faster.

You can use scales in a couple of ways; you can utilize the light guide to highlight the notes in the selected scale while being free to play any note on the keyboard, or you can limit the keyboard to notes of the chosen scale.

For example, if you play a note that isn’t diatonic to the current scale, you’ll hear the following diatonic note instead (you can’t play any wrong notes). There are a vast number of common and uncommon scales to choose from.


The built-in arp is relatively impressive. It does the simple things well; you can alter the direction, rate, number of octaves, swing, etc.

You can also adjust the sequence (rhythmic playback), offset the pattern, add repeats, and change inversions; it’s pretty comprehensive.

Komplete Kontrol

Komplete Kontrol is the software that houses plugins and instruments. You can also load loops and samples and have complete hands-on control over functions like truncate and time-stretch.


Kontrol S Mk3 keyboards allow users to load and layer multiple presets quickly.

Workflow 4.7

Much of your work with the Kontrol S Mk3 revolves around the large glass display screen. It’s bright, crystal-clear, and has excellent viewing angles. It isn’t a touch screen, but navigating is easy with a four-way clickable encoder.

Kontrol S Mk3 clickable encoder
Image: Native Instruments

The encoders are touch-sensitive, so you can see exactly what’s going on as soon as you lay a finger on them. Buttons are grouped by function, making for a speedy workflow and a minimalist interface. DAW mode allows you to control everything from transport controls to track levels directly from the Kontrol S Mk3.

Another handy timesaver is the new tabs view for compatible plugins, which allows you to change tabs quickly rather than scroll through every set of parameter controls.

Maschine users will be sad that there is no Maschine integration and all dedicated Maschine buttons are gone. Native Instruments states that the onboard Maschine support was underutilized, but some users will miss it.

Using non-NKS plugins is slightly more tedious; while they will load in the Komplete Kontrol software, the parameter names you see on the controller screen are a little sketchy, as is the arrangement of controls.

As expected, the workflow is better for NI and NKS-ready plugins, but I really like it overall.

Connectivity 4.7

Each model offers two USB-C connections and four pedal inputs. The pedal inputs are Sustain, Expression, and two Assign inputs. The Assign inputs are easy to set up via the settings page on the main screen.

Kontrol S Mk3 inputs and outputs
Image: Native Instruments

Software bundle 4.9

You get an extensive software bundle, including Komplete 14 Select, which isn’t the flagship version but still has incredible sounds.

You also get individual instruments and effects like Hypha, Stradivari Cello (it’s fantastic), Guitar Rig 7 LE, and the iZotope Element Suite.

If you don’t already have a DAW, you can get started with a free copy of Ableton Live Lite.

Build quality 5.0

The new unibody design looks and feels great. The combination of the hard plastic chassis and aluminum encoders is everything you’d expect from a premium controller.

The glass display is another feature that confirms the Kontrol S Mk3 as a premium product.

The ultra-sleek minimalist design is everything you’d expect from Native Instruments and looks better than previous models (which already looked great).

Compared to other keyboard controllers

At this point, I’m convinced that the Kontrol S Mk3 controllers raise the bar for NI, but there are always alternatives.

Kontrol S88 Mk3 vs Studiologic SL88 Grand

If you need 88 keys and extensive hands-on control, go for the S88 Mk3. But, if your priority is a realistic piano feel, Studiologic’s SL88 Grand is better.

Kontrol S61 Mk3 vs Arturia KeyLab 61 Mk2

I love the KeyLab, but the Kontrol S Mk3 probably tops it for workflow. It comes down to what you want more: the speedier workflow or faders and sample pads.

Kontrol S61 Mk3 vs Korg Keystage 61

The Keystage is something different from Korg, and I like it, but if you use a lot of NKS-ready plugins, the Kontrol S Mk3 wins.

Who are the Native Instruments Kontrol S-series Mk3 keyboards best suited for?

The new Kontrol S Mk3 keyboard controllers suit active music producers who create often enough to justify the spend, especially those who prefer Native Instruments and NKS-ready software.

Buy Kontrol S Mk3 at: SweetwaterAmazon