by Joel Steudler
Native Instruments Kontakt 5 is a robust and versatile softsampler that operates as either a standalone or as a plugin within your DAW. It delivers tremendous value for its price, but how much you get out of that depends on your musical goals and willingness to delve into the guts of the sounds you are working with.
SAMPLER VS. SAMPLE PLAYER
There are a lot of sample playback engines on the market. NI’s Kontakt Player (which is a separate but related product) is among a strong pack including EastWest’s Play engine, Vienna Symphonic Library’s Vienna Instruments, Best Service’s Engine 2, and a whole lot of others. You can get good mileage out of simply buying instruments that come with their own playback engine, but what you will miss out on is the deep customization and sound creation power that a full sampler offers.
Kontakt 5 performs all the functions of its little brother, the Kontakt Player, and goes far beyond that. It offers a full-fledged suite of tools for you to edit existing instruments or create your own from raw sounds. You don’t have to be an expert to benefit from these tools. It is easy to pick up the basics, and there are many resources available for those who wish to learn the deeper intricacies. Once you realize all the ways you can improve the instruments you own, or tailor them to your workflow, you may find it hard to go back to more restrictive sample players.
It is worth noting that not all libraries that work in the full version of Kontakt are available in the Kontakt Player format. Many developers do not go through Native Instruments due to the costs involved in obtaining the license. The full version of Kontakt offers access to a far wider variety of sounds.
KONTAKT VS. OTHER SAMPLERS
There was a time when Kontakt was the de facto standard format in which sample libraries were developed. It supplanted Gigastudio, the original king of the softsamplers, and for a while it was nearly the only game in town (particularly if you worked with orchestral sample sets). Increasingly of late, though, developers have shifted to their own proprietary engines like Play and Vienna Instruments to deliver their content. Despite this move, Kontakt has retained a massive cast of providers who offer top notch, cutting edge libraries which are unavailable in other formats.
Kontakt isn’t the only softsampler available. Users of Logic have EXS24 at their disposal, Steinberg offers their Halion sampler, and other competitors dot the electronic landscape. However, none have nearly as broad or deep a community of developers as Kontakt can boast. This advantage translates into both more options for the consumer to choose from when looking for new sounds, and more resources for those learning how to create content.
KONTAKT VS. YOUR HARD DRIVE
Kontakt 5 comes with 43GB of instruments. Even in this day and age, that can be a big chunk of real estate on your drive. If your computer is current, you likely scoff at such trivial amounts. But if your machine is a couple years old that space may not be as easy to come by. Are those instruments worthwhile to have?
If you are a beginner just starting out in producing sampled music: absolutely! The Kontakt library covers all bases, and if you purchase Kontakt 5 as part of one of the Komplete bundles, you’ll have even more sounds at your disposal. Orchestra, choir, world instruments, rock bands, synths, and more are all represented in the sprawling library. The instruments all have many parameters you can tweak and are of uniformly good sound quality,
If you’ve been working with sampled instruments for a while, you probably have better examples of much or all of what K5 provides. None of what it offers could be considered ‘best in class,’ which can make it a frustrating decision trying to figure out if it is worth having 43GB of dead space on your drive. You may find a few useful patches interspersed throughout the library, an esoteric bit of this or that which your arsenal lacks. In my case, I rarely find myself reaching for anything in the Kontakt library, but I’ve also nearly bankrupted myself buying sample libraries.
UPGRADING VS. YOUR BANK ACCOUNT
If you are using Kontakt 2 or 3, don’t hesitate to move to 5. Seriously. It is stable and full of good things that will make your life better. The decision is a bit murkier if you are considering whether to move up from Kontakt 4.
There is really only one killer new feature in K5 that K4 doesn’t offer: the Time Machine Pro sampler mode. NI has drastically improved Kontakt’s time stretching algorithm and made it much more useful and musical. Presently, few developers have incorporated this into their instruments… but they will. It is a big step up from previous versions.
Otherwise, no other new features stand out as indispensable. For developers and tweakers, NI has included a host of new filters and post processing effects in the assortment that one can use to edit/create instruments. While this is welcome, it is hardly a compelling enough justification to open your wallet.
The upgrade price is fairly inexpensive, but every penny counts. You may be able to hold off upgrading until either developers start utilizing Time Machine Pro in compelling ways, or Kontakt 6 comes out with something to get excited about.
CONCLUSION VS. RAMBLING ON AND ON
Kontakt 5 is stable, full-featured, and widely supported. It is hard to imagine a softsampler offering more functionality or a wider assortment of sound libraries that will run on it. Upgrading may not be essential if you are running K4, but eventually someone will harness the Time Machine Pro and demand your attention.
Highly recommended for beginners.
Recommended with caution to upgraders.