Nice Quality, Limited Functionality, Overpriced
I recently purchased this board, and thought I would post a review of it, since there aren't many around just now. I own Komplete 9 which is what I used to test the keyboard. I run Logic Pro X and I used this DAW as my software for plug-in functionality.
This is a very well made keyboard, better than other controllers I have used. The knobs have a great feel to them, and they have haptic functionality, which means that when you lightly touch a knob, it shows the current settings. The OLED displays under each knob, though small, are bright and useful. The buttons also have a nice quality feel to them. As for the much touted Fatar keybed, it is good, but not great. It makes a bit of noise when you are playing the keys hard, and is not that far superior to keyboard controllers costing a whole lot less. The keys are full sized, and definitely superior to low end controllers. The semi-weighted playability is on the soft side.
As promised, the unit does control the Komplete Kontrol Software. But it doesn't control it that well. The software, though quite limited in its v1 edition, is free if you own K9 or K10. Browsing from the keyboard functions as promised, but it takes a lot of various pushes of buttons and rotating of switches. I think that using a mouse on the computer is actually more efficient, though I am always looking for an alternative. Unlike Maschine, where you can almost fully rely on the hardware, you have to be looking at the computer screen to see where you are navigating. The KK does not have a dedicated screen that shows the instrument selected, the presets, and so on. Again, this means that you are going to have to interact with a computer.
The software is very limited. Billed as a means to inspire creativity, it does very little in this arena. For one thing, if you find a patch you really like, there is no way to add it to favorites or otherwise save it. In order to save it, you have to go back to the computer and create a user patch. Otherwise, when you change patches, anything you did with the knobs on the keyboard are lost.
In Logic, the KK software was buggy. It refused to load itself onto channel one, but would do so on subsequent channels. From time to time, the keyboard would simply freeze, and none of the navigation controls were available. It didn't do this with the stand alone software, but for most users, the plug-in is what is going to be more important.
Another big problem is that the keyboard only controls certain parameters of the selected instrument. For example, when I selected one of NI's pianos, there were only a handful of pre-mapped settings available. More troublesome is the fact that NI didn't even bother allowing control of patches within the given instrument. If you choose the Berlin Grand, for example, you cannot control the various patches within the instrument. In order to change the mic setup or the reverb, you have to back to the computer. Not very intuitive.
The other big problem with the pre-mapping is that the keyboard doesn't show you where you are when you change from one page or pre-maps to another. Take a complex instrument like Absynth. Sure, there are 17 pages of pre-mapped parameters available, which seems like a great deal. But when you switch between pages on the keyboard, the software doesn't take you to the respective page within the software. So, you might be trying to change an oscillator setting, but can't see it on the screen, because you are not on the right screen within the instrument. It certainly would have been nice if by changing the parameters on the keyboard, the software would take you to the page within the instrument so you could see what you were doing.
The arpeggiator is one of those hyped advertising gimmicks that in reality is 50% useless. The arp function, one of the main reasons I purchased the board, does have a sophisticated arpeggiator, though hardly more so than any mainstream DAW. The big problem is that when you begin recording the arpeggiator into a DAW, in my case, LPX, the board does not send the arp information to the DAW. So, you might perform a wonderful, varied arp pattern, but it will only record the base notes, without any arp data. When you play back the arp, the keyboard only arpeggiates based on the last settings, so all the various nuances and changes that you can perform with the knobs are useless in a recording setting. How does this help creativity if you can't record what you created?
The lighted keys are a pain. In a performance setting where the user doesn't know how to play very well, they may be of some use, but I would imagine that most performing keyboardists know how to play in the first place. Also, you can't turn them off via a dedicated button on the keyboard, you have to go into the computer to do so.
If you own any NI instruments that you purchased separately, forget it. You can only use this keyboard with its pre-mapping on K9 or K10. The included controller editor app for the board is small and nearly useless. Yes, you can program the board to control third party instruments, but unless the third party instrument has a learn function, you have to manually input cc controls and commands for each and every function. Clearly, NI wants you to only use their own software. Too bad even implementation with their own software is as limited as it is.
All in all, the Komplete Kontrol S is a nice keyboard, but given its limited functionality, definitely overpriced. NI will likely add in some new features via software and firmware but as it stands now, I don't think it is worth the stiff premium NI wants. There is no software included, not even Komplete Kontrol. You have to own either v9 or v10 to get it. With the KK software, I can control Komplete sufficiently well from an inexpensive controller, and because the control on the keyboard is relatively limited, it is not really that much more tedious to use the mouse to tweak settings.