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Software Review: KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE from Native Instruments, Part 3

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KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE is a bundled package of instruments and effects for modern digital music creation, composition, production, and sound design. There are three different versions of KOMPLETE 9: KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE, KOMPLETE 9, and KOMPLETE 9 ELEMENTS. Each contains a variety of instruments and effects that provide value for your musical creation. I will look at the KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE bundle which contains the most products and I am breaking it down into three reviews.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

In Part 1 I looked at all the things that either have not changed since the last release of ULTIMATE, or are new products that have been added to this release and that I have reviewed in the past. In the second review I looked at two synths, SCANNER XT, and MONARK, as well as BATTERY, a drum sampling tool that has been upgraded to version 4. Now in this final installment I will look at VARI COMP, ENHANCED EQ, PASSIVE EQ, DRIVER, and RC 24 and 48.

As its title exclaims, KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE is truly the ultimate collection of instruments and effects from Native Instruments. It comes with 65 full products containing 16,000 sounds that will take up 370 GB of hard drive space. In fact, it is so large that it is shipped to you on its own hard drive. It provides a complete creative suite suitable for just about any kind of audio production.

VARI COMP

VARI COMP is a two-channel compressor meant to be all-purpose and easy to use. A compressor is used to reduce the span between the softest and loudest sounds in a recording. This gives you the ability to make your sound more polished by maintaining a higher average loudness and controlling the maximum levels of your recording.

A compressor can be used for a wide range of applications. For guitars and basses it can be used to smooth out the individual strokes, for drums it can add punch and definition, it can make vocals more balanced, and in an overall mix, it can add balance among the various sounds.

The sound of VARI COMP is based on high-level gear usually found in boutique-style studios. It is modeled on Manley’s Variable Mu Compressor and can be used on both mono and stereo tracks, with an automatic joint stereo set-up (the same compression amount is used on both the left and right channels). It also has the option for a side chain input, as well as a Dry mix knob for easy parallel compression.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

VARI COMP

The interface contains a menu bar at the very top used for saving and loading presets. On the right side of the main interface you can select between compressor modes, either Comp or Limit. When set to Comp, the compressor works like a compressor with a ratio of about 1.5 to 1 with a soft knee; this means that it gradually kicks in instead of going to 100% when the threshold is reached. If driven hard the ratio can reach as high as 8 to 1.

In Limit mode, the compressor acts like a limiter. The ratio is a lot higher, hitting around 12 to 1, and the knee is significantly harder and so it hits full effect when the threshold is reached. In both cases, the setting set by the Threshold control changes to exact ratio and knee settings in both modes. Generally, lower Threshold settings give a softer knee, but a higher ratio.

Other parameters are Input, which controls the input gain; SC Gain, which controls the gain of the side chain signal; Output, which controls the output gain; Dry, which controls the dry mix; and Threshold, which controls the threshold level at which the compression kicks in.

VARI COMP is really well designed and easy to use. The sound quality is great, the footprint seems very small, the layout is very user-friendly, the presets are very useful, and the manual, while small, is pretty useful for those who might not be familiar with compressors.

ENHANCED EQ

ENHANCED EQ is also an effect modeled on a boutique-studio sound standard. Its goal is to provide warmth, body, and definition at the bottom end of your mix and to crisp up the midrange.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

ENHANCED EQ

EQ is short for equalizer. An equalizer is an audio processing unit used to alter the frequency content of an audio signal. It can be used as a subtle effect, to help mix tracks, or it can be used as a creative tool to radically manipulate the spectral content of a sound.

In the musical world equalizers are very common and are built into many things – stereos, mixing decks, guitar amplifiers, even MP3 players. Sometimes EQs are fixed, only able to alter the gain of the bands; sometimes they are parametric and allow you to alter many parameters such as frequency, bandwidth, and gain.

There are also several variations of EQ bands, including Bell, a symmetrical selection of frequencies around the central frequency; Shelf, in which the amplitude control affects all of the frequencies above or below the central frequency, depending on whether the shelf is a high shelf or a low shelf; and Filter, which filters out and removes a set of frequencies. These are commonly found on subtractive synthesizers.

The ENHANCED EQ is a three-band EQ with different control sets per band. It is modeled after an analog EQ famous for its tube-amplified, smooth sound, which is very popular among many professional engineers and producers. Even though the ENHANCED EQ is ideal for processing instruments or single channels in your mix, it can also lend itself to many situations.

The main interface has three frequency bands, each with its own character and control sets. On the right side is a master Output Gain knob that controls the output level of the EQ and compensates for any boosts or cuts applied to any of the three bands.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

ENHANCED EQ

To the left of that you have the three bands: Low Frequency, High Frequency, and High Cut. Both the low and the high frequency shelves contain three knobs. On the low frequency band, these control the starting frequency for the shelf, provide a boost to control the increase in amplitude for the band, and provide a cut to control the decrease for the band.

On the High Frequency area the knobs control the central frequency for the band, provide a boost for the amount of amplitude gain to the band, and provide a control to set the band around the central frequency.

For the High Cut area there are two knobs. The top one controls the starting frequency and the bottom controls the amount the amplitude is reduced.

The ENHANCED EQ also is easy to use and works great. It appears to be somewhat modeled on the Pultec EQP1A and while the sounds are similar, they are not exactly the same. Overall, I really liked the capabilities that it brings and the results that it provides.

PASSIVE EQ

Much like the ENHANCED EQ, the PASSIVE EQ is also an equalizer and shares many of the same qualities, but the PASSIVE EQ is a stereo, 4-band parametric EQ with lowpass and highpass filters. It is modeled after an analog EQ famous for a smooth and natural sound greatly desired by professional engineers and producers. It uses tube amplifiers and has a true stereo topology which make it both sweet-sounding and flexible.

The PASSIVE EQ goes further than the analog hardware version which it is modeled after (the Manley Massive Passive EQ) in that it adds mid/side processing and stereo lining options to the system. These add to the equalization process while keeping the character of the original.

With the menu bar at the top, the main interface is much more detailed than with the previous two plugins. The PASSIVE EQ has a dual set of controls, one for each channel. Both channels feature four parametric EQ bands, as well as input gain, and lowpass and highpass filters. In the center and on the top is a switch for the channel mode. You can use the EQ in either Stereo mode or Mid/Side Mode.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

PASSIVE EQ

In Stereo Mode, the EQ processes the left and right channels separately according to the settings to the left and right of the interface. In Mid/Side Mode, the left side of the EQ processes the sum of the stereo channels (the mono information), and the right side processes the difference between the stereo channels (the side information).

Also housed in the middle is the Gain control which is designed to be used to match the level of the bypassed signal with the processed signal; the Low Pass controls which handle the cutoff frequency and the steepness of the lowpass filter; the High Pass controls which controls the cutoff frequency of the highpass filter; and the Link switch which toggles the linking of the above controls between the two channels.

On each side of the center column are four bands: Low, Low Mid, High Mid, and High. You can control whether the band is on or off, alter the level and frequency of the band, set the shape to a bell or a shelf, and link it to the opposite channel.

Once again this EQ is quite remarkable in that it can handle high levels flawlessly and has a great sound quality. The fact that all three of these, PASSIVE EQ, ENHANCED EQ, and VARI COMP, were designed and developed in collaboration with Softube, a Swedish group specializing in software emulations of professional audio hardware, makes the interface and usability very consistent.

DRIVER

DRIVER is a creative distortion and filter effect that provides powerful distortion, smooth filtering, and extreme modulation. It is a creative tool for deep sonic manipulation developed by the creator of MASSIVE.

The smooth filter section provides a palette of sounds. The distortion and audio modulation sections transform DRIVER into a sonic weapon capable of everything from light saturation to complete destruction. You can run it as a plug-in in any DAW, and DRIVER is flexible enough to use on any track needing fresh musical color or complete destruction.

DRIVER has controls that are common on many filter and distortion units, as well as some unique features. The top half of the interface contains the tonal parameters. These are the filter and distortion controls. The filter is a 12dB state variable design with zero feedback technology. The feedback path is a distortion unit that reacts dynamically to the audio input and is able to create wild feedback distortion effects.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

DRIVER

The controls let you adjust amplification, resonance, frequency, distortion, and color for drastic changes to the distortion. LPF/Notch works with the frequency and resonance controls. Output sets the final amplification of the processed signal.

The lower half contains parameters relating to modulation. There are two sections here. The envelope follower responds to the changing amplitude of an incoming audio signal and creates a dynamic control signal that loosely mimics the incoming audio. The Smooth and Release parameters allow you to fine-tune the responsiveness of the envelope follower. The envelope amount slider determines the intensity of the effect.

The Audio Modulation (AM) side lets you choose between modulation methods. The Audio method uses a raw audio signal as the modulation source, and the OSC method uses a sign oscillator as a modulation source. Depending on which you choose, you can control the input, clip cut, lag, frequency, rate, range, and distortion.

DRIVER gives you some really cool abilities to mangle your sounds with overdrive and then filter things out for a lot of flexibility. Through its wide range of controls there is quite a lot that you can accomplish creatively to get some great sounds.

RC 24 & RC 48

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

RC 24

The RC 24 & RC 48 reverb plugins are two more products developed in collaboration with Softube. They are based on emulations of the classic Lexicon models 224 from 1978 and 480L from the mid 1980s.

The RC 24 is listed as a Character Studio Hall reverb that shapes the texture of tracks while preserving their harmonics. The RC 48 is listed as a Royal Studio Hall reverb and it captures the versatile, luxurious sound of a true studio legend. This sound is heard all the time on countless game, TV, and film soundtracks and even more gold and platinum records. It has been said that this sound has helped shape two decades of popular music.

Each reverb is broken out in to three sections: the global controls, the common controls, and the parameters. At the top are the global controls. The RC 24 has on the left the ability to choose the type of hall – room, small hall, or large hall. Next to that is the Wet/Mix switch which determines how the effect should output the reverberated signal. On the right side is a Wet/Dry knob that adjusts the balance between the original, unprocessed (“dry”) signal, and the processed (“wet”) signal. The only difference with the RC 48 is that the types of hall are Hall and Random Hall. The latter adds random modulation to some of the delay taps. These random variations in time make the reverb effect more realistic, closer to real-life variances in acoustics.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

RC 24

Below the global controls are the common controls. On the RC 24 you have Spectrum, Options, and Levels. The RC 48 also has a Pre Echoes page. The Spectrum page visually illustrates the current effect of the reverb on the incoming signal; the options page provides various options for controlling the reverb; the Pre Echoes page allows you to add up to six echoes that reproduce the original signal at various levels and delay times; and the Levels page allow you to monitor the input and output signal levels in real time.

The bottom half of the screen contains the parameters for the reverb. The top part contains sliders that control Predelay, Shape, Size, Bass, Mid, and HiCut, and the bottom for the RC 24 has two knobs for controlling modulation and crossover. On the RC 48 you have four knobs that handle Diffusion, Spread, Crossover, and RevDamp. There is also a toggle switch that switches between Reverb and Effect.

The RC 24 and RC 48 are both winners. They give you the ability to bring back that analog sound that in many ways made the sound of the late ’70s and ’80s and beyond. There are a lot of great options that actually make these units move beyond what one was able to create with the originals.

KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE

RC 48

Each and every one of these plugins make the upgrade more and more worth it. Sure, you could buy these separately, with the REVERB CLASSICS bundle at $199, the Premium Tube bundle at $199, and Driver at $49, but then you have spent almost $450. If you are updating from KOMPLETE ULTIMATE 8, the upgrade is only $399 and from any other version (2 and on) it is only $649. With these six added to all of the other products in KOMPLETE ULTIMATE 9, it’s easier to justify the purchase or the upgrade. If you really want have the ultimate music production toolkit, then I very highly recommend KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE.

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About T. Michael Testi

Photographer, writer, software engineer, educator, and maker of fine images.