Saturday , March 2 2024
A selection of sampled percussion and melodic instruments based on Afro-Cuban music styles integrates into the latest versions of KONTAKT 5 or the free KONTAKT PLAYER.

Software Review: DISCOVERY SERIES: CUBA from Native Instruments

DISCOVERY SERIES: CUBA provides you with a selection of sampled percussion and melodic instruments based on Afro-Cuban music styles that integrate into the latest versions of KONTAKT 5 or the free KONTAKT PLAYER. The instruments contained here were built to sound authentic and be easy to use. They let you provide an atmosphere of a Cuban ensemble even if you are not fully familiar with the style.


Like its DISCOVERY SERIES predecessors WEST AFRICA and BALINESE GAMELAN, CUBA is a collection of multi-sampled instruments from a particular region. Based on traditional techniques, this library is designed to add authentic Cuban flavors to your musical productions. The goal of this set of instruments is to offer you an incredibly accurate, easy-to-navigate way to find the styles you need, and to show you how the various styles relate to one another in real life, while capturing the essence of each instrument and its individual grooves.

The CUBA library is divided into four sections. The percussion ensembles have Cajon, Hand Percussion, Rumba, and Salsa patterns. The single percussion selection includes bongos, Cajon, conga set, conga single, and timbales. The melodic ensembles have a full backing band with a selection of pre-programmed patterns, as well as a lead trumpet that you can play on top.

All of the instruments have two control pages accessible from the tabs at the bottom of the instrument interface: the instrument/ensemble page that contains the options and pattern controls, and the mixer controls and effects page. At the top of the instrument are two preset areas, one for loading and saving mixer presets and the other for loading and saving the instrument settings.


When you first open an instrument you will see the instrument/ensemble page. What it looks like will depend on which instrument you have loaded. There are four main areas. I described the presets above. Then you have the instruments themselves, designated by pictures of the instruments. Most of these have options accessible by clicking on the picture. There are up to three controls on an instrument; for example, on the piano you have the choice of a grand or upright; controls also may include tuning, and tap volume for hand percussion instruments. There are also key-maps which show the layout of the keyboard, and pattern controls where you can load and edit patterns for playback.

The mixer page is where you can mix the different instruments to get the exact balance and sound you want. On the left side of the mixer you will have up to six instrument channels. Here you have a send level to the reverb effect, a pan to control the position of the stereo field, a solo to mute all other channels, a mute to silence the current channel, a level fader to control the output level, and channel select for additional options and effects for that channel.


On the right side of the mixer are the reverb and master channels. The reverb channel lacks the send or pan controls that the instrument channels have, but other than that, it works the same way. On the master channel, instead of a pan control, you have a width control which affects the width of the master channel – how far to the left or right an instrument can be panned. In place of the Solo and Mute buttons is a stereo field inverter. This switches the left and right channels, effectively changing the listener position.

The area at the bottom of the mixer is where you will find effect controls and additional options. The contents will change depending on the channel selection: EQ, which allows you to alter the tonality of a sound; and Instrument Effects to control the width, drive, and output if your KONTAKT has multiple outputs set up, or if you want an instrument to bypass the master channel.

There are also controls on the master channel to handle compression and tape saturation. The reverb channel has a convolution-based reverb effect which accurately simulates real spaces (or equipment) by using an impulse response sample, which is kind of like a sonic fingerprint. CUBA includes “Club,” “Room,” “Stage,” “Studio,” and “Plate.”

What is nice about most of the NI instruments is that they also come with patterns. The authenticity of a style of music is not only based on the sound of the instrument, but the way it is played. That is why CUBA comes with a built-in pattern sequencer, and a collection of authentic preset patterns to get you started.


A KONTAKT Instrument can hold up to 12 patterns. These are assigned to
MIDI keys C1 to B1. You can trigger the pattern either through the host (e.g. when your DAW starts to play), or by key when you press one of the patterns on your keyboard. On screen you have a transport control that allows you to select the triggering method, sync with the host tempo, select tempo, and edit the pattern, and performance controls giving you the ability to change the playing style.

The Pattern Editor will display the currently selected pattern in up to five tracks. These are different based on whether it’s a percussive or a melodic instrument. For percussive, at the top of the window are the timing controls. The clave, the basis of Afro-Cuban music, is played with three accents in the first half of the bar and two in the second or vice versa. The time which is either cut time, common time, or 6/8 time. Below the timing controls are the instrument tracks, of which there can be up to five, with a solo and mute button which control the pattern playback.

Below the instrument tracks is the control area. For the percussive instruments the Groove editor is activated when you select one of the tracks. This allows you to move where the player places a beat relative to the exact beat grid. The Edit Pattern menu allows you to copy, paste, or clear either patterns or pages.

A page is the section of a pattern that is currently visible in the Pattern Editor. Because a whole pattern could be too long to display all at once, some patterns are split into Pages so that they can be more easily read and edited. A pattern can have up to four Pages. You switch Pages with the little control next to the Edit Pattern button. Inactive pages are greyed out. The Pattern Browser allows you to browse through pre-programmed patterns.

The patterns are grouped into folders by style. These folders are displayed on the left side of the browser.


The Pattern Editor of the melodic instruments has a similar basic layout to the percussion instruments’ editor, but with some major functionality differences. The instruments are still laid out as tracks with solo and mute buttons. There is also still a Pattern Browser, which works exactly like the Pattern Browser of the percussion instruments. Here there is no page editor so you cannot directly edit the notes of a pattern, but you can deactivate parts of it. The musical key of a pattern is set with the Select Key control at the bottom left of the Pattern Editor.

DISCOVERY SERIES: CUBA is really a well-thought-out and well-executed instrument package. The fact that it covers basically a single style should not really limit its usefulness because along with providing the Afro-Cuban music ability, it lets you take the individual instruments and use them within a wide variety of musical genres from rock to folk to country and even jazz.

The sounds are amazing and the progressions are impeccable. I really like the fact that you can use this as a stand-alone or just drag and drop into your favorite DAW. It really makes it a versatile instrument. Two things I can find to criticize about CUBA: It does not appear that you can create harmonic progressions, and within the melodic ensemble your only choice is the trumpet that can be played on top of the backing band. It seems to me that there should have also been an option where it performed as part of the band as well. A minor thing, but, at least to me, it stuck out.


On the up side is the fact that you get really excellent sound, you have a lot of patterns, you can edit patterns, you get a lot of percussive instruments that can be used for a wide range of music and cinematic sound design, you get MIDI file export, there’s a mixer, and much more. DISCOVERY SERIES: CUBA is an outstanding instrument and I highly recommend it.

About T. Michael Testi

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

Check Also

Cosmos from Impact Soundworks

Software Review: ‘Cosmos’ Music Software from Impact Soundworks

The newest music software from Impact Soundworks offers a wide range of unearthly sounds from the cosmos for film, TV, game production, sound design, or your own musical compositions.