After reading John's review of various software samplers in the last issue, I thought I'd give my opinion as to what's happening in the soft-sampler scene. NI touts Kontakt as the most advanced software sampler ever, and I am inclined to believe them. Here's why. Having used most of the competition (EXS24, MachFive, SampleTank, etc), Kontakt seems to allow easier and faster auditioning and tweaking of samples, and it provides tons of flexibility.
Kontakt allows you to choose from one of five sample sources (playback engines with different characteristics) when setting up an instrument. One is a "regular" sample player, which works much like you would expect a sampler engine to work. It plays the sample back and changes the pitch without changing the duration. Second is Tone Machine, a granular synthesizer that impresses tonal info onto the sample, independent of speed. It makes some very interesting noises. Next is my favorite (and what I consider the most interesting sampler module included), Time Machine. Time Machine is great for working with tonal audio (as opposed to more percussive, atonal stuff like dirty drums and loops). This module is also based on granular synthesis, but it is designed to alter the time of a sample, independent of pitch. I found this really useful when I was trying to sync a long horn sample to a song, and their tempos differed by 15-20 BPM, and they were in different keys. It allowed me to get it sync'ed quickly, with few digital artifacts. I was pretty impressed with the sound and usability of this module. I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like it before. Recent releases of Kontakt have also included Time Machine 2, a further- developed version of Time Machine. In addition to these sample players, Beat Machine allows you to slice rhythmic material (like a break-beat) and map the pieces across the keyboard. It will also spit out a MIDI file that plays the pieces in their original form. Obviously, this is a lot like ReCycle, but until NI integrated this functionality into Kontakt, I was always bouncing back and forth between applications when attempting to slice and rearrange beats.
Kontakt has a modular design, allowing you to "build" instruments from the available modules. The modules have different classes which consist of a sample source, envelope sections, insert effects, and send effects. Kontakt also includes a sample browser, which allows for easy and fast auditioning of samples. As a long time user of EXS24, this feature was like a breath of fresh air. In fact, one of my main reasons for trying this sampler was the allure of drag and drop sample bank creation, instead of the tedious approach used in EXS24.
The effects sound better than average. They have been broken up nicely into send effects and insert effects. There are a lot of things to choose from as far as EQs, reverb, compression, stereo enhancers, etc. There are no Altiverb-class reverbs here, but they sound better than most. Every sampler geek's dreams should be realized with the wide array of LFOs and pole/pass filters available in Kontakt. I was pretty stoked when I dug into the filter modules and tried the different tempo sync options.
All in all, I would say that there are a few actual innovations in sound manipulation in Kontakt, the most notable being the Time Machine modules. Aside from impeccable stability and sound quality, what makes this sampler so appealing to me as an engineer/producer/ musician is its workflow based on its auditioning capabilities, a drag-and-drop interface, and easy to use diverse sample sources. Kontakt is also pretty easy on the CPU, which is good on my aging G4. I can also use it with either Logic 6 or Pro Tools, both of which I use very frequently.
One major gripe I have is the authentication scheme. You can only install it on two computers, so I have it on a laptop and my tower. I would love to install it at the studios at which I work, but I can't see a way to do that. iLok anyone? Please? As of now, I can't take it with me to work on different systems, and that to me is a major blunder on NI's part. Nevertheless, it is still the best soft- sampler out there, and I use it religiously at home... but unfortunately, only at home.
($449 MSRP; www.nativeinstruments.de)