Having ended up without any hardware synths I’m finding that I’m a bit tired of having to manually map synth controls to external controllers. I used to have an NI Kontrol S25 which has automatic integration via NKS, allowing me to load up any Arturia synth in Ableton and it would give me pages of controls, instantly assigned to the dials of the S25.
Are there many other controllers that do this that people would recommend?
Would it be possible to use my ancient, loft-bound Maschine Mk1 controller, perhaps? Maybe that would only work if I used Maschine software
Basically, I guess I’m asking: what controllers are people using with Arturia V Collection (or other NKS soft synths)?
I did absolutely love the Kontrol S25 and the way it integrated seamlessly with the Arturia synths via Ableton was an absolute joy! I don’t especially need a keyboard though so a pad controller like a Maschine could be ideal. I’m just not sure which models work directly with Ableton. My Mk1 has great pads but I’ve only ever used it in control mode which essentially just blanks out the screens and puts it in “dumb controller” mode. I don’t seem to be able to find much information about them being used for NKS integration outside of Maschine software
Hey Pete, here’s what I’m doing. I accidentally ended up on NKS because I didn’t really know what it was beforehand. But my VST collection is essentially NI, Arturia and uhe stuff. I eventually got Komplete, and I knew going into it there could be issues with NI because of the lengthy wait for them to sort the whole M1 thing out. That drama led me to choose a Novation Launchkey for Ableton, given that this particular keyboard is well known for being tightly integrated. My theory was that more control over the DAW was preferable over a specific software manufacturer, and if I wanted to sell or move on - my keyboard would still work. So with that said, here’s what I’ve tried out so far…
With a bit of setup - you can get some integration with the NKS stuff but I imagine it’s nowhere near as tight and nice as you get with one of those NI keyboards, especially the ones with the 2 screens on and all that good stuff. For example, with Kontakt 7, if you load a patch in it shows the names of the parameters you mapped on the first load. But when you reload the session, it renames them to #0#1#2 etc. Not ideal, but sometimes OK if you look at the screen and see what’s being automated. I haven’t yet tried renaming manually to see if that saves them.
The Launchkey has a nifty new keystroke option in the custom modes which mimicks you pressing a button on your computer keyboard. I’ve used this to create an “NI mode” for Komplete Kontrol, so for example you can use this to browse presets and page though the pre-mapped parameters. Like Kontakt, where this falls down a bit is if you want to (for example) do some parameter automation in Ableton. Nothing is auto mapped to the VST wrapper (perhaps for obvious reasons, as there’s so many) but again, it seems like you can either use the instrument standalone, or if KK retains the automations, just not bother mapping them in Ableton. I need to test this one in more detail.
I guess in summary, it’s a mixed bag and some of this is down to other controllers, and some of it seems to be down to the way KK and Kontakt play with Ableton in their current form. As a sound source they are brilliant, but there are aspects of reloading projects that seem to be problematic for people. See video here for the Kontakt issue. And comment here for the KK issue.
Like a lot of people I have a big keyboard for more in depth sessions and a little one for noodling about. I have considered an M32 for this, just simply to gain access to the parameters and auto mapping. However, what you gain with the NI keyboard in terms of control over the software (plus I hear they’re just generally nice), you lose in terms of things like the ability to play drumpads and trigger scenes and whatnot.
I can definitely see that line of thinking as regards ensuring the DAW was tightly integrated being the most important thing! I feel like, via a mixture of TouchAble on iPad and UltiM4L on a Beatstep, I’ve hopefully got that aspect covered (although I’ve barely touched either yet, truth be told!)
My main consideration/gap is being able to play a soft synth and have the filter controls already mapped, for example, so that I can play the filter as much as the notes (which, in many ways, encapsulates my whole approach to music, really).
The M32 seems like a really good shout. Having noticed that you get the Maschine software with it (which would, in theory, open up my old Maschine Mk 1 controller) I’ve decided to take the plunge and see if it suits me. I considered the A25 but having spent most of my time using QWERTY keys as my melodic keyboard I don’t think the mini keys will be any kind of hindrance (they don’t call me Ol’ QWERTY Bastard for nothing )
I think it might actually arrive today, which is pretty crazy, so, if that proves to be the case, I’ll let you know what the integration is like!
M32 is great for the price. Build quality is solid but the screen is tiiiiny. Browsing is also a bit different than on the bigger Komplete controllers, but it is a great portable keyboard for NI stuff.
I love the M32. My setup is fairly large, so I have the KK 61 mk2 on the left side of my setup, and an m32 propped up just for parameter control in front of a monitor.
Though, with a smaller set up- the M32 is really quick and fun.
Another super useful feature is its integration with DAWs(ableton in my case) I have mine around my groove boxes and synths so I can hit Play, Stop, and Record without needing to go back to my mouse & keyboard.
Adding to the chorus of M32 praise. I don’t even use Komplete Kontrol, and it’s still the best keyboard I’ve ever owned. The quality of the keybed is such that it actually spoiled me; I can’t use any other mini-key MIDI controllers now because they feel like wet cardboard in comparison.
On the subject of KK: I’ve always resisted it because I didn’t like the idea of an extra plugin sitting between DAW and instrument, and NI’s fiddly browsing UI didn’t do it any favors. It’s the only way to get the auto-mapping, right? Do you get used to it in your workflow?
Even without using the dedicated controllers back in my Renoise phase, I loved KK.
It was cool to have most of the plug-ins and libraries I used all in one place while I could preview presets when looking for the right sound. I also liked manipulating the UI knobs vs interacting with the UI of the plug-ins directly(especially for the arturia instruments)
Although I have Reaktor and a load of other NI stuff, I never got around to getting KK, which does sometimes feel like a potential oversight. I like the idea of crafting custom Kontakt banks of my own and I’ve long admired the quality of things like the Abbey Road Drums/Drummer releases. Totally off topic but I remember there being some upgrade paths that were much more cost effective than buying as a new user. I wonder if anything I have qualifies me for them…
Edit: my autocorrect is so insistent upon NI having a product called Realtor that I sometimes think they’re perhaps missing a trick by not having one
I currently use it pretty much as a preset browser. I feel like I need to explore a bit more how it acts in a track if you load it with effects and then try to automate or modulate stuff. My gut feel is it would quickly become a bit of a mess. I guess the advantage of it is a very quick way to browse through multiple sounds, and (top tip) you can very quickly get access to expansions just by typing their name in the search box.
It sortof feels like in Ableton it’s essentially a very visual instrument rack. Thinking about it, another potential advantage of this is that if you load multiple effects into the chain, you can page through that in one window, rather than clicking to re-open the effect interface.
Komplete is a bit of a beast. I was unsure going in and it is a bit crusty in places compared to other modern UIs, but for the most part it’s a treaure trove. Not sure I’ll ever get to the edges of Standard!
Small update. So as of the moment, I’m still investigating the differences and pros/cons for the non-NI controller I use. As mentioned, the slight issue with Kontakt not remembering parameter names is an issue NI are aware of, and when this happens I tend to think of it as a bonus if this can be fixed.
Following @PeteSasqwax’s other comments, I thought I’d have a crack at using Komplete Kontrol instead of Kontakt to see how that behaves in Ableton (VST3/M1 native in case that’s useful). KK does have one advantage in that any parameters you touch in the software automatically add themsleves to the KK device in Ableton and the names are not forgotten on reload, which is a big advantage/time-saver. The only slight hiccup I’m seeing with this one is that when you re-load your project, you have to remember to click re-enable automation, otherwise the parameters you changed will either not move or reset themselves to zero. A little searching shows this is a known issue, but I’ve asked for an update to see where this is at. If that is solved somewhat, I can see me flipping over to KK for most things (and that would make the M32 a great 2nd controller for casual jamming) but I want to road test it extra carefully first.