My First Impressions of the Native Instruments M32 Komplete Kontrol Keyboard

Discussion in 'GEAR Talk Forum' started by TigerTheFrog, Mar 15, 2019 at 7:52 AM.

  1. TigerTheFrog

    TigerTheFrog Senior Member

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    I think this keyboard will make a lot of people very happy and be a big win for Native Instruments. However, it may not be for me.

    Here are my immediate reactions. This is most definitely not a review. My hope is that some people will respond to this by showing me if I am doing something wrong.

    I should start by saying I currently use an NI S49 with an Arturia mkII as a supplementary keyboard, mainly for keyswitching, and to play additional notes. It has pads too. The MKII is a useful point of comparison, as they have the same list price of $129 and the mini-keys are pretty much the same size, the M32 just has 7 more of them.

    When I plugged it in the first time, my computer actually talked to me. It said there was an upgrade. So I downloaded the new firmware and installed it without any problems. I wonder if the M32 will continue to talk to me in the future, and, if so, what it will say.

    Tip. When you launch Komplete Kontrol, it will recognize your M32 automatically. The browse button and knobs will work, etc. But it’s possible that in some cases it won’t recognize the piano keyboard. If this happens, you need to click the dropdown arrow next to the magnifying glass and then go to Edit/Preferences/MIDI and check the box for M32. Not a problem for experienced users, but maybe a problem for noobs to KK.

    You can’t plug in two Komplete Kontrol controllers at the same time. Maybe there is some way to do it, but it seems to me that the Komplete Kontrol experience is different depending on what controller you have plugged in, or at least what series of controller you plug in. For example, my first gen S49 handles the Cubase transport, and this one doesn’t do that yet. And as you can see below, the UI operates in a very different way.

    UI compared to previous Komplete Kontrol keyboards. My first gen S49 was immediately intuitive from the first moments. When you load KK, it tells you to push the “browse” button, and when you do, a new window pops out from which you can turn the knob and select instruments, turn the knob and select patches. The 8 knobs then let you control your loaded instruments.

    Anyway… this is almost completely different, and it took me quite awhile to make it work. (Probably many of you are familiar from the A series.) When you push the browser button, nothing happens on your screen. In the teensy-weensy viewing window it says “File Types/Instruments.” If you turn the knob, you can select between Instruments, Loops, and One-Shots by clicking the knob. If you select instruments it will say “Products - All.” If you DON’T click this you can turn the knob and all your instruments and libraries are displayed in alphabetical order. You do your searching on the dinky screen, not on your computer monitor (or on version two KK controllers, on your much bigger screens). I’m of two minds about this. If you’re looking for a library whose name you know, it is actually faster. KK with my S49 shows you pictures of all my libraries and they are organized. I have a lot of libraries from AAS and they are all in the same place. I don’t know their names, so I always select a few and experiment. To use this I would have to know in advance a specific library like “Octagon."

    On the other hand, if you click on “Instruments” and then click on “Products-All” (most would do this, right?) it will show you “Types” and then “Characters.” Then you will be in sorting mode and seeing the “Results.” At this point, there’s no getting back to “Products-All.”

    If you want to go back at any time to “File Types-Instruments,” make sure the Browser button is lit, and then click Shift and push the big knob to the left. You’re welcome.

    Perhaps this is a good time to mention that there are two buttons above the big knob—Browser and Plug-in MIDI. Often the instrument won’t work or the browsing won’t work until you remember to change these buttons, something that isn’t necessary on my S49.

    The M32 as a Standard MIDI Controller - You can do MIDI learn on 4 pages of 8 knobs. The big knob doesn't work.

    My judgment on browsing with M32. In my opinion, the experience of Komplete Kontrol is overall easier and better using a keyboard, mouse, and the up/down keys to browse presets. But it’s not either/or, there are some things about the M32 I like better, so if I keep it, I’ll use a combination of both.

    Suggestion for NI. Having used KK every day for years, I don’t need (or want) to read the 120-page manual, to look for the new things. All I need is a brief “Read Me” file that tells me what’s different on the M32 from previous NI controllers.

    Portability and iOS compatibility. The first thing you notice about it is how light it is. It feels sturdy and light at the same time, a real achievement for NI. But it is too big to fit in most backpacks and doesn’t work with iPads or iPhones without additional power. NI may have decided that the market for serious iPad musicians who also work on desktop is too small, but they could easily have made this work everywhere with millions of devices by allowing optional battery power. That said, you can plug this in at home using an Apple Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter and it works with my portable iPad charger.

    Keyboard. Spinal Tap's amps go to 11, and this small keyboard starts on F. It’s surprising how much it adds to have 7 extra keys. If you’re playing anything in C, it is cool to be able to go down to F. Everything about this revolutionary step by NI is great and will be appreciated by everybody who buys it.

    I wish I could give such high marks to the keyboard itself. There is no comparison to the Arturia mkII, which is more playable and has more control over velocity levels. The action on the M32 sits in the middle between the stiffer push of the Arturia and an iRig. I think NI could really help with this if they add the option to adjust the velocity curve into Komplete Kontrol, something all NI controller owners would appreciate.

    Maybe the thing that bugs me about this keyboard is that it plays super quietly compared to other small keyboards. Unless you play really hard, I don't think you will get to 127. It definitely made my wrists sore. NI seems to know this, because a prominent feature of the M32 (Shift-Octave Button) is to be able to set a fixed velocity level--which makes it play REAL LOUD.

    The touch strips. Unlike the Arturia, they are at the left, where they belong, but my inpression is they aren't as sensitive.

    FYI, like the Arturia, the M32 lacks aftertouch, but that is to be expected at this price point.

    Having said that, if this is somebody's only keyboard, they may have no cause to ever be disappointed with the action, particularly if they are a beatmaker and/or don't know how to play piano.
     
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2019 at 8:45 AM
  2. Alex Fraser

    Alex Fraser Senior Member

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    Thanks for this.
    Having considered the M32 for a while, I've done a flip and decided to go "all in" and get the A61.
    Busy reconfiguring my desk to make it happen...
     
  3. OP
    OP
    TigerTheFrog

    TigerTheFrog Senior Member

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    Nov 18, 2016
    Brooklyn, NY
    If you are going for the A61 (good move over the M32) I think you should consider pulling together another $100 and get a first gen S61 used. The light guides will rock your world--most people see them as the very best thing about KK. Also, the A61 doesn't have an input for a modulation pedal.

    I actually prefer the first generation of the S controllers over the mkII. The knobs are bigger and I love the touch strips (I know this is a minority opinion), which you can program in the KK software to do all kinds of cool things. And I don't see the advantage of having little screens on my controller when I can have big ones on my computer monitor.
     
  4. Alex Fraser

    Alex Fraser Senior Member

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    Jun 21, 2017
    Thanks for the tips, something to consider for sure. Strangely, my main consideration for the Mk2 is having the mod wheel above all else. My workflow is so reliant on having one.

    Like you, I'm not fussed about the little screen and expect to ignore it in favour of the giant iMac screen in front of my nose.

    Hmmn, maybe a visit to eBay is in order... ;)
     
  5. OP
    OP
    TigerTheFrog

    TigerTheFrog Senior Member

    986
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    Nov 18, 2016
    Brooklyn, NY
    I would suggest a look at reverb.com. The bad thing with buying a controller used is the cost of shipping. The best place to get a used s-series might turn out to be from your local music store.
     
    Alex Fraser likes this.

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