[Shell review] My 10 favorite Kontakt instruments
It's been a while... I'm currently messing around in my home studio just having a bit of fun, when I noticed that I have managed to collect quite a few Kontakt instruments. While going over the lot I started wondering if this might make a fun post.
Do note that this is just my personal top 10, in no way should you pick this up as me considering one instrument to be "better" than the others because... that's really not how this works. After all, you normally pick what best helps you to get the results you're after.
Maybe best pick this up as the 10 instruments I most often use, from low to high? I dunno, you make up your own mind about it! 😉
Even so... these are the instruments I really came to appreciate over time so I figured... why not do a review?
#10 Action Strikes
This is my girlfriend's absolute #1 because she's completely addicted to playing the Taiko full ensemble preset ("Action Strikes - instrument"), and she's getting really good at it too! ☺️ My gf is of Japanese origin and she has visited many taiko performances in her teens. So if she really gets in the mood... I'll tell you: you wouldn't be able to tell if you were listening to a real group of percussionists or not... Of course, in all fairness I cannot deny possible bias on my end 💕
Alas... as its name suggests Action Strikes is all about creating a loaded atmospheric sound through percussion. It provides you with a large selection of instruments as well as ready to play presets in order to, well, play them. When my gf goes all out playing the Taiko ensemble she actually switches between pre-made percussion sections as well as manual sounds.
And you get lots of different instruments... mostly different drums of course but also shakers and tambourines.
If you need that quick action drum to put emphasis on your work? Then this is the instrument for you. You can find its product page here.
#9 Versillian Studios Chamber Orchestra
People who have read more of my posts probably know this already but... I have a serious weakness for orchestral setups. Ever since I saw that amazing YouTube video of the Ableton Orchestral Instrument collection (I dug it up: here) I really wanted to have that too. But back then (8+ years ago) that cost even more then Ableton Suite itself! 😮
Alas, things have changed. Ableton included the 'OIC' with their Suite 9 edition and with me picking up on Komplete UC (!) I don't really need anything else. Still...
Versillian Studios Chamber Orchestral 2 is a collection of pretty much every instrument which you can find in an orchestra. You can play those either individually or as a whole ensemble (you can see as much above).
Now, I'm going to be very honest with you guys: in my opinion it wouldn't be fair to compare this instrument with, say, Native Instruments Symphony series nor their Essential series. But that doesn't mean that there's no value at all here, heck no!
I often use this instrument for experimentation... trying to come up with "that sound" and by using VSCO 2 I can easily do this without having to worry too much about required resources. Also... I've more than often used VSCO 2 instead of other "Symphony instruments" to provide me with more background to create "fuller" sounds while I didn't have to worry about my PC being able to cope or not.
Look... the symphony series sets you back around E 1000,- whereas this collection is roughly E 230,-. With all due respect, but "you get what you pay for" holds true here, but once again: do not underestimate the potential of this instrument please! I've been using it for quite a while now and yah... there's a reason it's featured in my review!
You can find its product page here.
This is a bit of nostalgia combined with my fascination for Asian instruments. Kore's North India instrument was one of the first instruments I bought from NI. I used the players back then, courtesy of Komplete Elements 7, and bought individual instruments to further complete my collection. When I started experimenting with the sitar instrument I was sold!
It's not just the sound itself but also the amazing way in which North India managed to capture the subtleties when you played multiple notes, it truly captured that authentic sound. And I dare say as much because... in my teens I followed an Indian ("Bollywood") series which was broadcasted outside regular hours. Hardly any subtitles, very difficult to understand hindi but the acting and the whole atmosphere alone was amazing, especially for that time. Cheesy special effects though but.. who cares? I'm not 100% sure but I believe it was called Mahabharat.
I've heard a lot of sitars back in those days, so when I discovered North India?
Yah, however, this review is about 'India'. This is the full and true successor of North India, every nuance which the Sitar gave me back then can also be found here. Of course, as you can see there's more to enjoy here: percussion, melodic (Sitar, Tumbi, Santur, Bansuri) and whole ensembles are also a thing.
If you want traditional asian / Indian sounds... then this is your instrument.
Product page can be found here.
#7 East Asia
If you enjoy the Asian sounds of "India" but would still prefer more recognizable sounds then this is for you. As you can see above East Asia combines the melodic power of three great Asian nations: China, Japan and Korea (in alphabetical order) and gives you a large collection of their traditional instruments.
From the Chinese Guhzeng (also a personal favorite of mine!), the Pipa and the Dizi we go right to the Japanese Koto, Sho and Shakuhachi only to complete the series with the Jing, Sogo and Buk which originate from Korea (note: I only mentioned some of the instruments).
And that were only melodic instruments.. as you can see in my screenshot it also provides percussion from all three nations as well as whole ensembles.
I actually shared a full review of this instrument on the old forum, you can find it here.
Perhaps needless to say, but this instrument also have my gf's "seal of approval" ☺️
You can find its product page right here.
As mentioned above I have a soft spot for orchestral setups. In addition I also heavily favor soundscapes and/or "pads". Combine these two and you get Arkhis. Arkhis is roughly comparable to the Straylight instrument; that one is ideal for quickly setting up pads and soundscapes. But while Straylight doesn't necessarily focus itself on a specific arrangement Arkhis is all about orchestral.
Don't expect the same kind of control which you'd get with, say, the Symphony series but at the same time Arkhis can provide you with some real good sounding orchestral scores... or "pads" as I like to call them myself.
Fun fact: whenever I mess around with Arkhis I always rely on the combination of my Push & Maschine because... combining those can be perfect for controlling Arkhis. I once wrote a guide about it, which is still on the old forum.
The Arkhis product page can be found here.
I've had this instrument for quite a while now and yet I'm still not fully sure how to describe it. Even so, Glaze is all about vocals and it manages to bring those together in some rather unique ways. If you need "melodic vocals" with a massive amount of controls but without having to do full studies before you get any good results then this might be just the thing for you!
Product page here.
Pads, pads, pads, pads, wonderfull paaaadddds! Errr... too much Monty Python for me, I'll now lay off the spam 😅
Aaaanyway, more seriously: Straylight is all about soundscapes and sound pads... and it does an amazing job. Basically Straylight allows you to create pads unlike you've ever done before. It doesn't "just" use samples, it process them through a granular engine which results in some really specific sounds.
Oh, but that's not all... it also combines said granular sound with a "normal" sampled sound (which can also utilize its own share of effects of course) and the result is something quite dynamic. Well, if you want it to of course. Straylight is all about quickly generating soundscapes and then, well, charging them with more dynamics.
If you want to create an eerie background scape for use in your sci-fi movie then this is the instrument to get. Or maybe you want something more, well, softer? "Both worlds", found in the Pads category is what you want...
True story: I've been using Straylight for quite a while now and when Pharlight was released I was a bit skeptical.. surely this was nothing more than using the Straylight engine while merely adding another sample collection to it? I got Pharlight when I upgraded to Komplete 13 and initially I wasn't too sure that I'd be keeping it. Fast forward to here and now and Ashlight has also become part of my collection 😏
And now we get to my all-time favorites... I'm sure some of you can already predict one entry 🤗
#3 Electric Sunburst (deluxe?)
If you're into metal then you'll want this! 🤘
But truth be told there's much more to Electric Sunburst than metal. This is all about playing electric guitars, either by using pre-made riffs (this is the main focus of 'Sunburst') but if you want more and merely utilize the sounds for your own riffs and/or melodies then 'Deluxe' will give you a choice between "automated play" or creating your own melodies.
You don't have to distort your guitar play and then run it through a trashcompactor but... nothing stopping you if you want to! 😎
This is one of those instruments I mess around with very, very often. Of course it doesn't help that I was a bit of a metalhead in my teens and this brings back so many good memories!
I actually shared a "first impression review" on the old forums, here ya go.
For the record.. I have both (got both almost immediately after they got out) and I can honestly say that to me it's not an issue of one "superseding" the other. There is some overlap, fair enough, but at the same time 'deluxe' does not cover all of 'Sunburst'. Both are keepers for me but... I cannot help mention bias on my end. I really love these two!
#2 Voices of Wind series
Now we're getting to one of my all time favorite instruments, so yeah.. obviously I was going to overdo it a little bit.
This collection is all about female vocalists (and beautiful logos IMO) and the voices can be used in a wide variety of ways. Legato, staccato, sustains but each vocalist also provides a collection of unique phrases and custom sounds.
Sorry, but that logo had to be shared one way or the other 🤗
I have a huge soft spot for orchestral setups, but I am also sometimes a little bit obsessed when it comes to vocals. And ironically enough it was the SoundIron company that indirectly started it all.
But... Voices of Wind... Adey, Audrey, Connie, Juliana, Kimba and Phoebe (no, I don't think she's a witch (Charmed, huh? 🙄)) are vocalists who lend their voice for this amazing series. You can either use these voices individually or... as shown in my instrument screenshot: you can also set up a ensemble where you can even customize where each vocalist needs to be within the virtual room with the microphone:
This takes vocal usage to whole new levels, I can tell you that!
As you can see we have the classic "Ah, Ee, Eh, Mm, Oh and Oo" phrases here which will provide you with enough material to background any kind of scene. The final encounter in "Neon Genesis Evangelion" saga between Shinji while piloting Unit 1 and Kaworu? Or that iconic moment when Gendo tells Rei to get the Lance of Longinus in order to best the 15th angel... you can recreate that with this instrument (and a little tweaking).
Now, there are different ways go grab this and I cannot suggest either one because it depends on what you'd want out of this.
Part of the "VoW series" is included with SoundIron's Vocal Suite 2 which is available on this website. With the vocal suite you'll get Voices of Wind: Adey, Audrey and Kima next to some other really amazing instruments. If you're after vocals but don't want to purchase a whole speech synthesizer then... this might be a good alternative.
But to complete the review: the product page for the Voices of Wind series itself can be found here.
#1 Komplete Symphony Series
I'm well aware that I'm now "cheating" a little bit because in the last 2 items I included a whole series vs. one instrument (then again... technically... not so much in #2). Even so, this is by far my all time favorite because - from my point of view - simulating an orchestral setup has never sounded better to me than with this collection.
But before I go on I want to emphasize the fact that the Essentials Collection should NOT be underestimated. Sure, "Symphony" is the flagship product, and there's a very good reason for that, but if you focus on sound quality and general control then... essentials can get the job done as well. Honestly.
Truth be told.. I own both but eventually removed Essentials, but one part of the reason for that decision has been shared earlier: the VSCO 2 instrument. Not to mention the Ableton OIC, but... with all due respect.. but it's not Kontakt. And the removal also helped to reduce space on my storage. 😉
That's the name of the game when it comes to the Symphony series. Actually.. this holds true for all of the Komplete instruments: as soon as you're dealing with a Pro or Deluxe or whatever version then the focus is usually on more control, not necessarily "better sounds" which I always considered extremely fair (yes, I am biased, but I can also honestly say that I actually tried those comparisons for myself).
And then I'll also have to be honest again by saying that even though this is mostly about control... that control is just the thing to bring out the nuances within your score and that has its effect as well.
As shown in the above screenshot you can use the instruments within an ensemble or solo (this does not apply to the strings section). Actually, the ensemble also holds partially true for the percussion. There are ensembles but you'll need to make choices.
But this series you guys... Symphony was one of the main reasons why I eventually decided "screw this, I'm going
home.. errr: collectors" and it's a decision I still stand by to this very day. My computer can handle a lot of stress but if I'm going full out then it definitely helps to freeze a few tracks (it probably doesn't help that I'm mostly using Maschine to play all this, even within Live 🤔).
This series though is definitely something else. I've mentioned this before a few times but I am honestly convinced that when I'm messing with this stuff then the only reason you'll be able to tell that things are "not real" is the way I play, not the quality of the sound itself.
Thanks for reading, these were my top 10 favorite Kontakt instruments. Once again: I am not claiming that one is "better" than the other because.. it just doesn't work that way. But what I am claiming here though is that each of these instruments excited me when I bought them and now, several months (or years!) later I am still very much excited to put them to good use!
I hope this review may have inspired some of you as well!
(oh dear, now I have to provide those dreaded tags, lol! 👨🎓)
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