Native Instruments Komplete 8 Ultimate by PaPi61
Released right after the summer of 2011, Native Instruments' (NI) Komplete 8 (K8) comes with a whopping 27 bundled products, 50 for the "Ultimate" edition. All of that at a retail price of $559 and $1,099 respectively. Upgrades from earlier versions of Komplete start from $229 for the standard version and $561 for Ultimate. A dramatically slimmed-down "Element" version packs a little over 3gb of K8 material and some 1,000 patches and it's specifically targeted to those musicians who want quality ready-made sounds but have no time for sound creation or even patch editing. Element retails for $59. All but Komplete 8 Ultimate come on DVD's. The latter, however, installs from an included USB hard drive that will make things hassle-free.
Reviewing each product in detail would require an incredible amount of time and it's not within the scope of this review. I will not deal with installation and authorization issues either, since most people on this site are familiar with NI products. I will briefly go through the material and tell you what I think of it. I will start with the products included in the standard version and then proceed to cover the additions in Ultimate.
KOMPLETE 8 standard edition:
KONTAKT 5 - This software sampler is now a de-facto industry standard, not only for its awesome capabilities, but also for the availability of high-end third-party libraries. Kontakt is very intuitive and a lot simpler to use compared to a hardware sampler. Virtually everything is drag&drop and the multi-sample patch that used to take half a day to compile with old hardware sampler is now really a matter of minutes. Even if you don't intend to sample anything, Kontakt's editing features are a breeze and let you work fast and efficiently with pre-recorded material. It is true, however, that Kontakt's filters are nothing to write home about (and yet better than the older ones), and that's why it's not particularly indicated if you want to use it as a synthesizer with samples as raw material (if that is what you're into, Camel Audio's Alchemy is a much better product for that purpose.) Kontakt 5 comes with a huge 43 gb library that contains high-quality sounds, albeit a bit "generic" and never breathtaking. If you come from an earlier version of Kontakt, you will not notice many innovations, because most of these are "under the hood." The new filters and new effects are the most obvious novelty. For a complete list of what's new in Kontakt 5 CLICK HERE.
REAKTOR 5.6 - More than a synthesizer, Reaktor is a platform to create your own synths. I confess to never having gone deep inside it and only limiting myself to using pre-made synths, either those included with the software or some of the thousands made by users that are available for download. Quite frankly, I don't have the time to create my own synths, a nice interface etc. Not to mention that it's really not that easy. Even simply checking out pre-made Reaktor synths and sifting through thousands of patches seems like a daunting task. But it's a very good application to have, or even indispensable, if you have the time to create or simply tweak synths.
GUITAR RIG 5 PRO - NI's classic effect suite (also pretty much an industry standard) gets a minor facelift, now with 17 virtual amps and 27 cabinets. It's my go-to effect package, which I don't necessarily limit to guitar and bass. For a list of what's new in GR5 PRO CLICK HERE.
ABSYNTH 5 - Absynth is a monster synthesizer that lets you use several synthesis methods (or a hybrid of them) coupled with sample manipulation, like Alchemy or Omnisphere. Unlike these two, however, Absynth is a lot less intuitive to use and it has a definite "cold" sound that might be perfect for some patches but totally inadequate for others. I use it as a sort of "atmospheric rompler", never actually creating anything from scratch, just tweaking patches (my go-to synth for actual sound creation is Alchemy. IMHO nothing is easier and faster to get the job done.) Absynth 5 comes with a "mutation" button, whose randomization factor can be dialed up or down. In theory, it's a quick method to create original sounds from presets. In practice, most of the "mutations" are completely useless.
FM8 - This is my favorite Komplete synthesizer. Consider that in the 1980's I was very much into DX7 patch creation and FM8 allows you to load all your DX patches. Surprisingly, they translate very well. If you're not familiar with FM synthesis, learning with FM8 is a heck of a lot easier than learning with a DX7, SY77 etc., no matter how good your software editor is.
MASSIVE - This is Komplete's Virtual Analog synth. I'm not into dance or electronica, so to me it has a limited appeal. But I know that it's a killer synth for bass and leads. Besides, I have other analog synths which I'm more familiar with, either hardware or software.
RETRO MACHINES Mk.II - This is a collection of vintage synthesizers for use in Kontakt (yes, it's a Kontakt library.) It includes 16 classic synths (which, of course, are not named for fear of copyright infringement lawsuits...) and it comes with a "vintage" arpeggiator. Sounds nice but not earth-shattering, especially if you have some of the better analog emulations, like OP-X PRO II.
REAKTOR PRISM and SPARK - These are two Reaktor synthesizers. The first is a sort of additive synth with a twist combined with pretty advanced FX. Spark is a more traditional subtractive synth also with sophisticated ring modulation and some nifty FX which I find particularly good to create "growling" or "aggressive" sounds.
REFLEKTOR, THE FINGER, TRAKTOR'S 12, TRANSIENT MASTER - These are FX collections, all but Reflektor clearly tailored to the dance music crowd. Reflektor actually had something interesting for me.
BATTERY 3 - This the standard NI "drum machine", and it's not been updated (except for maintenance patches) since Komplete 5. Personally, I find it very cumbersome to use and its GUI is dreadful. Comes with some good drum sounds, but it's just too much of a hassle to use.
STUDIO DRUMMER - This is a new drum package and when I saw the first ad for Komplete 8, I was very happy because I thought this would be the replacement for Battery, which I've never liked. Boy, was I in for a major disappointment! Studio Drummer is just a Kontakt library with some nifty scripting that allows you to load MIDI loops and micro-manage your drums. IMHO it's very limited and definitely not in the same ballpark as EZ Drummer, let alone more sophisticated drum software like Superior Drummer, Stylus RMX, BFD2 etc.
ABBEY ROAD 60s DRUMS - Kontakt library with some vintage drum sounds. Whether you find it useful or not depends very much on what you're writing. I can tell you that these drums definitely sound 1960's, so if that's what you're after, it's actually a pretty good emulation.
WEST AFRICA - This is a weird ethnic library for Kontakt. It comes with loops of percussion and melodic instruments from the African continent, as well as one-shots. Most of all, it's a great showcase for Kontakt 5's amazing scripting abilities. You can control the loops, replace them with variations, add one-shot and mini-loops on the fly while playing and control the whole thing with a standard keyboard controller. It's extremely fun to play with but of very doubtful practical use.
RAMMFIRE - This is a guitar rig module and it emulates a certain amp and settings of a certain heavy metal guitarist I've never heard and I don't particularly care to know who he is (no offense intended, metal-loving readers. Just not my cup of tea.) If you're not into metal, it's useless. If you are, I'm the least-qualified person in the world to tell you how good or bad it is.
SCARBEE MM-BASS - Scarbee is responsible for some of the nicest Kontakt libraries included with Komplete 8. This one covers disco- and funk-style bass. Personally, while I find it very good, I believe it to be of very limited use. Unfortunately, the better/more useful bass libraries are only included with the Ultimate version (which is an additional reason to fork out the extra money...)
SCARBEE CLAVINET/PIANET, MARK I, A-200, VINTAGE ORGANS - IMHO these are the best Kontakt libraries that come with the standard K8. They're excellent emulations down to the tiniest details and extremely intuitive to use. I don't use the clavinet and the A-200 much, but these are now my go-to Rhodes and Hammond.
BERLIN CONCERT GRAND, NEW YORK CONCERT GRAND, VIENNA CONCERT GRAND, UPRIGHT PIANO - Oh boy, where do I begin... OK, I know where, here: Based on the old Akoustic technology, these pianos are simply awful and a colossal waste of space. They can call it New York, Berlin or whatever but it's basically always the same crappola: hard, mallet-like attacks with funny sustain and a ridiculous (or maybe non-existent?) pianissimo layer. I don't know if they work for pop music in a mix (and then you might as well use something a lot smaller, right?), but if the piano is even a little bit exposed, spotting the fake becomes painfully obvious.
KOMPLETE 8 ULTIMATE additions:
RAZOR - Razor is another Reaktor synth based on additive synthesis. It's particularly targeted to the creation of more "atmospheric" patches or soundscapes. I haven't delved into it yet, but if the presets are an indication of what this thing can do, it's really promising. Think of a Kawai K5000 on stereoids, without the absurd complexity.
EVOLVE MUTATIONS 1 and 2 - Originally, these were Kore soundpacks targeted to the film scoring crowd. IMHO they come with very predictable and cliche' loops. Even worse it's material that you've heard a million times over in TV soundtracks. They both load in Kontakt.
SESSION STRINGS PRO - If you liked the old Session Strings, you're in for a treat, because this new version is something like twenty times bigger. Session Strings gives you something most string libraries ignore: chamber strings. You don't always need a large symphonic section, chamber strings are more intimate and better suited to a lot of things. Compared to the old version, Session Strings Pro (SSP) is a lot more controllable: the Animator (sort of a string arpeggiator) is now fully-programmable, bow noise can be introduced at will, there are way more articulations (although not the more "exotic" ones like "col legno"), you get two ensembles with many different microphone positions and the round-robin is a lot more sophisticated and authentic. Unfortunately, you still get mixed strings and not separate sections (violins, violas, cellos, basses), but I understand that it's a deliberate choice, since SSP is not meant to be used for classical mockups or soundtrack work but rather as background strings for pop music. And that it can do very well.
SOLID BUS COMP, SOLID DYNAMICS, SOLID EQ THE MOUTH VC 2A, VC 76, VC 160 - As you can imagine, the good/useful effects only come with the premium version. On the other hand, they have to entice you to buy the more expensive package, so that's understandable. This is very good stuff, certainly not top-drawer like Waves, but more than usable.
ABBEY ROAD 70s DRUMS, 80s DRUMS, MODERN DRUMS - More Abbey Road Kontakt libraries. All very good and accurate emulations of the real thing. My personal favorite is Modern Drums.
MASCHINE DRUM SELECTION - OK, useful if you have Maschine. If you don't, nothing to write home about.
SCARBEE FUNK GUITARIST, JAY-BASS, MM-BASS AMPED, PRE-BASS, PRE-BASS AMPED - Like I mentioned before, the better/more useful bass packages come with the Ultimate edition. Scarbee really is good. I'm definitely a fan.
GEORGE DUKE SOUL TREASURES - OK, I really wouldn't know what to do with this. Sure, extremely nice loops, well executed, well recorded etc. But who would actually use these loops besides George and an amateur who wants to brag with friends that he got George Duke to play in his latest production?
BALINESE GAMELAN - Another former Kore soundpack rehashed as a Kontak library. Could add some color here and there.
ALICIA'S KEYS - Well, obviously the only USABLE grand piano had to be an exclusive of the more expensive package. Unlike the other junk pianos, Alicia is based on a newer technology and sounds much better. Nothing really exciting though, first of all because of the instrument choice (OK, it's a measly Yamaha C3, I wouldn't even bother sampling that...) and secondly because it's nowhere near the quality of Ivory II, EastWest Pianos or VSL's Boesendorfer Imperial. If I need a quick piano patch for pop music, IMHO the one in HalionSonic does a better job than Alicia and uses a lot less resources.
I can't believe I made it through the whole thing (and it took me a lot longer than I thought...) I think I deserve an applause, even if you don't share any of my opinions. heh
OK, now the bottom line. Do I recommend Komplete 8? Of course! Who wouldn't? For $559 you're getting Kontakt, Reaktor, Absynth, Massive, FM8 and Guitar Rig Pro. These alone are worth the price and they're all industry standards. As for the rest, it's averagely good, with something outstanding (the Scarbee stuff), something good and usable (Kontakt 5 factory library, Retro Machines, Prism, Spark etc.), something weird (West Africa), something perplexing (Studio Drummer, Rammfire, Battery etc.) and even something totally dreadful and unusable (the acoustic pianos.) Now, the million-dollar question: is Ultimate worth the extra money? I'm not sure I can give you a definite answer. If the price were something like $800, I would tell you to go for it without even thinking about it. I upgraded from Komplete 7, and even if I'm a professional and this is a write-off, I still had to think about it. After all, the only Ultimate item of real interest for me was Session Strings Pro. And paying over $500 for that seemed a bit excessive (considering that I had the old version and the upgrade to SSP was only $199.) Eventually I went with Ultimate for several reasons: firstly because I hope Komplete 9 Ultimate will be a better package and my upgrade fee will be more reasonable and secondly because the idea of installing everything off a USB drive instead of wasting hours shuffling dozens of DVD's looked awfully good. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
Bang-for-buck score for Komplete 8 = 10
Bang-for-buck score for Komplete 8 Ultimate = 7
(Averages out at about 8.5, rounded up to 9)