The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 MK2 is a 49-key Midi keyboard that includes a pair of high-resolution screens for browsing patches and viewing controls. It’s pricey, but it’s the best keyboard and software combination for more experienced dance music bedroom producers. Highly recommended.
First Impressions / Setting up
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk2 is a four-octave keyboard controller meant to be used with a laptop running a DAW. It’s got eight rotary knobs onboard, two high-resolution displays, transport controls, scale and arpeggiator buttons, a four-way multi-purpose rotary knob, and two mod wheels plus a mod touchstrip.
It ships with Komplete Kontrol software, which is like a “sound librarian” that lets you manage and browse through all the patches and samples that are available in your collection of compatible soft synths and plugins. It also ships with Komplete 12 Select, which is soft synth and samples suite made by Native Instruments that includes the popular Massive and Monark synthesisers. Maschine Essentials is also part of the software package, giving you drum sounds from the esteemed Maschine library as well as the full Maschine beatmaking app.
The idea behind bundling them is that the Komplete Kontrol keyboard gives you hands-on, physical access to the commands and sounds in the Komplete Kontrol software, basically giving you a turnkey “synth studio in a box” solution regardless of which DAW you produce in.
Since we teach production in Ableton Live, this review will focus on using the Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk2 using Live 10.
The Kontrol S49 Mk2 has semi-weighted keys and a FATAR keybed that feels great to play on – you don’t get the cheap plasticky feel that some Midi keyboard controllers give. Each key also has a light near the top: the lights change colour depending on what function you’ve got them set to. By default they glow brighter when you press on a key, but you can change the lights to show which piano keys belong to a particular scale you’ve chosen for example (more on that in a minute). You can also use them to denote which parts of the keyboard belong to one synth sound and which belong to another if you use a soft synth that has the “split keyboard” feature.
One of the cool things about this keyboard is that you can pick a scale that you want to work in, and it disables all the other piano keys that aren’t a part of that scale. For example if you want to produce a tune in A minor, it removes all the black keys and makes them unplayable until you change the scale.
Another neat feature that you won’t find in many Midi controllers is the onboard arpeggiator. This lets you play a series of notes repeatedly even if you’re just pressing one piano key. You can even get in deep and adjust the arpeggiator settings, changing its behaviour, rhythm and sequence.
Komplete Kontrol integration
The keyboard has two displays onboard that can show a variety of parameters: if you’re using Komplete Kontrol, you can sort and browse for sounds using the screens and you can navigate and make changes using the knobs and buttons. You can even audition sounds as you scroll through them using the chunky browse encoder.
Provided you’re using Komplete Kontrol, this is the single biggest benefit of using this keyboard over others as it can be time consuming just looking for the perfect patch to tweak and use in your production.
This alone has saved me so much time and effort, and it really encourages you to use the Komplete Kontrol app not only for browsing, but to stay organised with all your patches because you’re able to sort through them using tags.
Apart from working tightly with Komplete Kontrol software, the Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk2 also integrates nicely with Ableton Live, although in a more fundamental way. You can play, stop, and set Live to record by pressing the transport buttons on the keyboard, as well as other basic commands like turn the click track on/off, enable / disable loops, quantise a set of notes, and so on.
One of the more fun Live integrations comes is in the ability to control Live’s mixer using the knobs. You press the Mixer button on the right side of the keyboard, and this shows the mixer on both displays.
You can adjust the volume of either tracks or returns by turning the knobs underneath them, and you can use the buttons at the top of the displays to select tracks or returns.
The big rotary knob acts as a four-way switch as well, letting you navigate your Session View project up, down, left and right. You can also turn it clockwise or anti-clockwise to scrub through your track in Arrangement View.
The Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk2 is a solid update to the original, and brings tighter integration with NI’s own Komplete Kontrol software thanks to the new displays. There are tons of other keyboard controllers out there, but this hardware / software combo is tough to beat. The only thing keeping it from a perfect five-out-of-five would be its price tag that’s prohibitive to bedroom producers on a budget, though Native Instruments has addressed that with the streamlined A-Series keyboards it released this year. Despite that, the Komplete Kontrol S49 Mk2 comes highly recommended – if you’re a piano player and want greater control and expression, check out the Komplete Kontrol S61 Mk2 and the Komplete Kontrol S88 Mk2.