A few months back Native Instruments released their new line of midi keyboard series of the Kontrol S25, S49 and S61. For this review we have used the S49 and curiously tried it out. Considering the good Native Instruments reputation of hardware controllers their new line of midi controlers deserves our utmost scrutiny.
The Kontrol S49 looks rather good. A matte black casing holding the 49 keys with on top a glossy square filled with performance and transport controls. With on the left side the octave down and up buttons and two touch sensitive strips for pitch bend and modulation. When you turn on the S49 an abundance of lights catches your attention. Lighted buttons and underneath the dials are led indicators and on the top of the keys are colored led’s to increase the interactive hands-on control even in the dark. The S49 comes with an external adapter so those led’s consume more power than the USB connector can provide for. On the back it also has a power switch, midi in and out connectors, expression and sustain pedal and a hole for the Kensington locking system.
The S49 just like any other Native Instruments hardware feels very solid. A good balance between sturdy plastic housing and weight with solid feeling controls. The keyboard which is the key feature of this controller feels like a solid keyboard as expected by the demanding keyboard player. My friend Marc (a keyboardist) is using the S49 as his main keyboard in his studio.
When you start to use the S49 you will notice instead of the pitch bend and modulation wheel the two touch sensitive strips. It takes a while to get used to but the touch strips react well so it works fine. Advantage is that on the side of the strips are led indicators to indicate the value of the parameters.
The RGD led indicators above the keys can change color depending on the used software instrument. Per key or per octave, indicating splits and context sensitive.
Of course these features are designed with the Native Instruments Komplete (10) software in mind. Since that is a rather large suite of the best software Native Instruments has to offer the options are far from limited.
The S49 is perfect for out of the box performance with the Komplete 10 software. Seamless and intuitive integration like you would expect. Mapping of controls with the right led text beneath. Pretty much every function is mapped to the controller so you hardly will have to use a computer mouse. Using live or in the studio you can more time being create than controlling a computer and/or DAW.
It also is suited for Komplete 9 but you then lack the integration features. So you will have the best user experience by upgrading if you still are using Komplete 9. Upgrades are reasonably price and all in all Komplete series are still good bang for your money.
Note that the full seamless integration is limited to the DAWs: Ableton Live 9.1.4, Cubase 7.5.1, Nuendo 6.0.7 and Logic X 10.0.7. Other DAWs will have partially integrated functions.
What about other software?
It will function like any other midi controller. You can map the controllers to parameters by hand and the light wills not correspond with the software. Native Instruments offer an easy to use software mapping controlling application. That will take some effort to set up the way you want to. Considering the competition like Novation or Akai that uses automap software is something to remember. It is a software feature so there are no technical reasons Native Instruments can implement this in their software. Since there is no common standard in the audio software environment you can’t blame manufacturers trying to create the best experience for their users. It would make sense to come to some kind of global standard so users are able to use their gear as much as possible.
+ Perfect integration with Komplete 10
+ Controls and keys feel solid
+ Direct intuitive control
+ Good visibility even in dark environments
– Missing automap features
– Pitch bend touch strip
With the S25, S49 and S69 Native Instruments offer a range of very good quality controllers. Are you a Native Instruments user this is the controller to have. Are you an all round software user these high quality controllers are quite usable but highly priced.