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Impressive upgrade of Native Instruments' sampler By Frank Moldstad

Native Instruments' KONTAKT 2 is a professional sampler that imports nearly every sampler format and comes with a 15 GB library of first-rate instruments and samples from Vienna Symphonic Library, East West, Zero-G, Sonic Implants, Northstar and Post Musical Instruments.

KONTAKT 2 can operate in standalone mode or as a plugin via Nuendo, Cubase, Logic Pro 7, SONAR and Pro Tools. For this review, I first used it as a standalone and then as a Logic Pro 7 plugin, and found the performance to be identical either way. One advantage of using KONTAKT as a plugin is that you can quickly take advantage of the host program's editing and effects tools, although KONTAKT also allows you to select an external editor while running in standalone mode.

KONTAKT 2 is a deep program that can seem overwhelming when you first begin to explore it. Every function seems to have multiple operations and parameters. But at heart, it's relatively simple. Samples are loaded from the left hand Files menu and dragged into a virtual rack in the center window. Drop down menus on each instrument interface allow you to set audio outputs and MIDI channels. Also on the left are Effects, Filters and Modulators that can be selected and dragged from the Modules menu. A mini virtual mixing board accessible from the Outputs tab in the virtual rack lets you balance the outputs of various instruments and insert effects. Waveforms can be edited in external programs by clicking the Edit button, and saved changes are automatically updated in KONTAKT 2.

That'll get you started, but as you go there's plenty more to discover. The saving grace is that KONTAKT 2 is very well organized. After you learn where things are and what all the buttons do, you'll be whizzing around the interface of this flexible and powerful sampler.

Those who have used previous versions of KONTAKT will quickly notice is that the user interface has been redesigned. At the top is a hide-able new Master section with a metronome, tuning wheel, and global tempo settings. Very handy. Also welcome is a new Multiple Undo/Redo function for instruments with an undo history, which encourages worry-free experimentation. This is accessible by clicking the wrench icon on any instrument header strip. It allows you to Redo, Undo, save and go to the adjacent samples in the strip.

At the bottom of the interface is a virtual keyboard that can be toggled on and off, which triggers notes of the selected instruments. It displays existing zones in light blue, and includes a transpose button that takes notes up or down within a three octave range.

But what does KONTAKT 2 sound like? Well, it doesn't really have a sound per se, because that's dependent on the quality of the samples used. But as a creative conduit, it's got a superb 192kHz 32-bit internal audio engine that was redesigned for this release (imported samples can be up to 24-bit/96k). The engine can handle unlimited voices, with 64-fold multi-timbrality. New performance boosters in KONTAKT 2 include multiprocessor support, which Native Instruments says can double the performance with KONTAKT 2. For Mac users, AltiVec support provides additional performance gains on G4 and G5 systems, and KONTAKT 2 also incorporates SSE optimization for Windows systems. Another performance enhancer is a feature called ?Sample Purge," for removing unused samples from the RAM.

I installed KONTAKT 2 on an Apple Mac G5 with 4GB RAM, and found the program to be speedy and stable throughout. Particularly impressive was the search speed, through the new Multi-Browser (more below), which was nearly instantaneous even though the computer had thousands of sample files to wade through, both KONTAKT 2 and other formats.

There's almost no format KONTAKT 2 can't import and use, from old Akai samples to the latest GigaStudio files. Native Instruments calls this feature Universal Import. In all, KONTAKT 2 accepts 25 library formats and five sample formats.

Contributors to the sample library

The sample library that comes with KONTAKT 2 has been expanded from the previous version, with some exceptional material. All told, there are 1,080 instrument samples filling two content DVDs. The Vienna Symphonic Library's sampled orchestral sounds are among the best anywhere, and KONTAKT 2 includes 453 instrument selections from the VSL library. These range from stringed instruments and tympani to woodwinds and brasses, plus instrument sections.

I was also impressed by the quality of  the Steinway grand piano samples. Zero-G provides some great drum kits and individual instrument samples. Native Instruments kicks in some of its own notable samples, including those from the Pro 53 soft synth and vintage Oberheim synth samples. Selections from Sonic Reality include a terrific pipe organ called Surround Cathedral, as well as 25 other instruments from electric guitars to drums and basses. 

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Related Keywords:KONTAKT 2, Native Instruments, sampler, plugin, Nuendo, Cubase, Logic Pro 7, SONAR, Pro Tools, Vienna Symphonic Library


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