Native Instruments A-Series Keyboards
Low on price, high on quality!…
Native Instruments new A-Series keyboards look set to deliver the invaluable gift of Komplete Kontrol accessibility to a whole new generation of musicians, but as well as their affordability they are very likely to appeal to more than just the budget conscious, Read on….
The Legend of KK…
There would be little argument among blind musicians who already own or have used a Komplete Kontrol keyboard with accessibility mode, that it has been a major game changer in terms of music access. For the first time blind and visually impaired users have been able to easily browse, load, edit, create, compose and play their music in a way previously only dreamt of in previous years.
Although the first generation of Komplete Kontrol keyboards have been out and about in the big wide world since 2014, it was not until 2016 that us blindies got our eager fingers on these keyboards, following the addition of speech feedback by two insightful Native Instruments employees in a hacker-thon event, Tim and Karl I salute you chaps, and at the very least think you deserve a knighthood, your Majesty if you happen to be reading this!
KK The Next Generation…
The second generation MK2 was released in October 2017, and although it introduced an all plastic construction, improvements were made with more buttons and controls, dual screens and an arguably better feeling keybed.
Despite these obvious design enhancements, one criticism that has been levelled at Native Instruments from the outset, is that the price could be considered as somewhat high from some perspectives for what after all some still view as just a controller keyboard.
Whilst I do not personally subscribe to this argument, for many of us Komplete Kontrol has very much become the central core of our music world. , Native Instruments have nevertheless taken this onboard and squared up to the challenge of building a budget version of the Komplete Kontrol keyboards,and have done so retaining pretty much the same functionalityas the aforementioned models but without the price tag.
Birth of the A-Series…
Picture the scene if you will, As is often the way, it was a long night at the keyboard maternity ward. Adrenalin compensated for tiredness when the on duty technicians announced that it was going to be triplets. Expectant and Eager recipients tentatively paced the corridors outside, unlit celebratory cigars in hand, hoping for news. Then finally with one last intake of gas and air, and a final big push, out came the shiny A-series 25, 49 and 61 key newly born Komplete Kontrol keyboards!
Putting aside my momentary creative writing whimsy, the three new keyboards are certainly something Native Instruments should be justifiably proud of, not only have they brought to market an affordable entry point into the Komplete Kontrol eco system, but done so whilst still delivering a product that feels solid and robust in construction and frankly belies it’s price point.
Sure, the keyboard , does not sport aftertouch, has only one pedal socket assignable to either sustain or expression, no fancy hi-res screens, no touch strip and no led key lights. This is where the bad news ends, and honestly was the news really that bad?
In some respects we could argue that the A-series is very much the machine for our niche community of users, we have no need of dual hi-res screens or pretty multi colour led key lights, and the exclusion of aftertouch, double pedal sockets and touch strip are features I feel sure many people will be able to live with.
Design & Build…
The keyboard has a contemporary design, yet still manages to maintain a sense of retro. I can only describe it as a rectangular slab of hhigh tech with it’s clean sharp edges and angles, that sit on a gentlle wedge shaped base section. It is pleasing to the touch and if I could see it I’m sure it looks great too, I’m told it sports NI and Komplete Kontrol on the rear fascia above the sockets, and also has Komplete on the top panel.
The all important keyboard is actually pretty impressive, I realise this is a very personal topic for many keyboard players, but the A-series offers a quite firm keybed far superior to others in a similar price range from the likes of Alesis and Novation in my humble opinion.
To me, it does not feel too far removed from an MK2 model keyboard, and offers enough resistance so as not to feel cheap.
The same sense of quality also applies to the overall build and construction, yes it is entirely made of strong, rigid non biodegradable plastic and could quite possibly give a keyboard playing eco warriors moral conscience an insolvable dilemma, but if you keep your A-series under restraint using the inbuilt Kensington lock there is little chance of it ending up in a Whale’s belly, although future generations may still dig one up in a thousand years and marvel at what us poor twenty first century musicians had to work with!
Striking a Chord…
there are in fact more than one noticeable similarities between the A-series and the MK2 keyboards. The Pitchbend and Modwheell for example feel identical aside for a more luxurious rubber coating on the MK2, the springback on the pitchbend has the same tension, as does the free movement of the modwheel.
The buttons on the A-series are solid plastic as opposed to rubberised, and these are pleasingly firm with both an audible and tactile click when pressed, leaving you assured and in no doubt that you ‘really did’ press that button when working in an excessively noisy musical environment.
The rotary knobs and four way encoder are also identical to those found on the MK2 models.
The overall weight of the 25 key A-series model reviewed here is somewhat lighter than my original first generation S25 I have here in the studio, however the dimensions are very similar. This weight difference I suspect extends to the 49 and 61 key versions, and I think is actually a positive point for gigging keyboard players actively trying to avoid a hernia. In the case of the 25 key model, it makes the advent of a highly portable rucksack studio a very feasible reality.
The soft Option…
The A-Series keyboards come with a collection of software instruments to get the novice user up and running quickly, with products such as MONARK, THE GENTLEMAN , REAKTOR PRISM , SCARBEE MARK I, KONTAKT 6 PLAYER and Factory Selection, REAKTOR 6 PLAYER and Factory Selection, REAKTOR BLOCKS WIRED and GUITAR RIG 5 PLAYER and Factory Selection which all gather together and provide a great introduction to the world of sample libraries, software synthesis and audio Fx respectively.
Naturally you also get the all important Komplete Kontrol software, which for the as yet uninitiated is effectively the central hub which brings all the software instruments and FX plug-ins together and allows you to browse and edit them in your host DAW.
It should be pointed out that the all important accessibility mode has not yet landed on the A-Series on either MAC or Windows, however rest assured the guys at Native Instruments are currently beavering away to bring this to you as soon as possible following beta testing, having said this there is nothing to prevent the more adventurous from diving in and using the Komplete Kontrol pre-hear feature to navigate and load sounds.
I have been both surprised and impressed with the overall quality of the A-Series keyboards, Native Instruments have clearly taken a good look at both the first generation and MK2 models, listened to their critics and read from people’s wish lists and come up with a range that pleases the pocket without compromising any significant features or build quality.
These keyboards will address the needs of Komplete Kontrol newcomers and at the same time appeal to seasoned users who might prefer to keep their main rig safely in the studio, whilst they use a less valuable, yet equally capable A-Series model for absorbing those unavoidable on the road knocks.
The very appealing 25 key baby of the bunch is lightweight and portable enough to stuff into a rucksack, along with a small form computer of choice to legitimately enable you to create music when travelling.
Finally, do checkout the links below for more information. I have also written a button layout description located after the links to help you find your way around the keyboard, should you happen to welcome one of these units into your home!. This can also be found in the community KK dropbox.
The A-Series Komplete Kontrol keyboards are available now directly from Native Instruments, or from other retail stockists.
See Native Instruments Website for localised pricing for your country.
Native Instruments Product Page:
How we made the A-Series Keyboards:
Andrew Huang explores the new KOMPLETE KONTROL A-Series :
Komplete Kontrol A-Series Layout
Version 1 by Chris Ankin November 27, 2018
Top left side of the keyboard is a two row cluster of six buttons
Top row from left to right are
Shift, Scale, Arp
Second row from left to right
Undo/Redo, Quantize/Auto, Ideas
Underneath the top bank of controls there are a second cluster of six buttons
Again from left to right top right
Loop, Metronome, Tempo
Bottom row from left to right
Play/Restart, Record/Count-in, Stop/Clear
On the lower section of the unit directly to the left of the keys are the sprung pitch bend wheel and modulation wheel
Immediately above these are two buttons which are
Octave Down/Fixed Velocity, Octave Up/Key Mode
There is no touch strip on the A-Series units.
Moving right across the keyboard positioned midway between the two left most banks are four buttons in a vertical row
Consisting of two larger buttons directly underneath one another, and the third row consists of two smaller buttons
These are top row
Left arrow button, Right Arrow button
Above this group of buttons you can feel a small inset area of plastic, this is the LED display screen for the device
There are then the traditional horizontal row of eight rotary knobs
Finally on the far right of the keyboard at the top are three adjacent buttons which from left to right are
Underneath this is a large rotary dial style multi-directional knob, which can also be depressed
On the rear of the unit looking from left to right are
one assignable sustain/expression pedal socket
one USB type B socket for power (there is no dedicated power on/off switch on the unit)
Also on the rear the words N.I. and Komplete Kontrol are emblazoned on the panel above the sockets.
The word Komplete is also printed on the top left of the keyboard fascia.
(c) Chris Ankin
November 30th, 2018
The author accepts no responsibility for subsequent purchase decisions made as a result of reading this article,or Any inaccuracies found within this review. All opinions or product functions stated are based soly on information perceived as a blind user whilst using the product in combination with information gathered from official factual sources on the web or product manual.
About the Author
Chris Ankin has worked previously as a freelance review contributor with articles published in Sound On Sound, Home & Studio Recording and ST Format Magazines.