Native Instruments and Akai are in a fight for sales with their latest Advance and Komplete Kontrol keyboards with many users drawing direct comparisons between the 2 products. Both companies offer the same selection of keyboards with NI just announcing a new 88 key version in their range and both choices are around the same cost. The other thing these both offer is advanced integration with your DAW and control over your plugins. But which is the keyboard for you? Well if you are like me you are hard pressed to decide until you actually get hands on with both so I have done exactly this and can compare both offerings for you...
|Akai Advance (61 Key)||Komplete Kontrol (61 Key)|
|Key Options||25 / 49 / 61||25 / 49 / 61 / 88|
|Size mm (HxWxD)||88 x 914 x 293||86 x 1002 x 274|
|Keybed Details||Premium, semi-weighted velocity-sensitive keybed with aftertouch||Fatar semi-weighted velocity-sensitive keybed with aftertouch|
|Custom Controls||8 Endless Encoders, 8 buttons||8 Endless Encoders|
|Banks / Pages||8 Banks (VST controls), 4 Bank (CC Controls)||Unlimited Banks (VST), Programmable (CC)|
|Display Feedback||4" Colour Screen, LED Button Feedback||9 x 2 Line 8 Segment VFD Displays, Light Guide LED feedback for keybed (Plugins, Chords, Arp)|
|Mod/Pitch||Physical Mod and Pitch Wheels||Programmable Mod/Pitch Touch Strips|
|Drum Pads||Yes, Velocity Sensitive & channel/Note programmable||No|
|Arp Feature||Yes - Basic Arp Presets||Yes - Detailed Arp Presets & Control|
|Chord Feature||No||Yes - Advanced Chord Feature|
|VST Integration||Full integration and browsing with over 250 popular VSTs. Manually integrate almost any other VST.||Full integration with Komplete and NKS enabled VSTs. Manual Integtration with other VST.|
|USB Powered||Yes||No (Requires Plug Pack)|
|Preset Browser||Via keyboard LCD screen or PC VIP software||PC Software Browser (controllable from keyboard)|
|Host Integration||Yes - Basic Transport Controls (without feedback)||Yes - Transport (with feedback), Track select|
|MIDI CC Mode||Yes - Switchable between VST/MIDI mode. Offers 8 MIDI CC controllers, 8 buttons, 8 pads||Yes - Switchable between VST/MIDI mode. Control Editor Software allows unlimited presets + pages for 8 encoders|
|Controller Software||Virtual Instrument Player (VIP): VST wrapper that allows browsing of all VST presets from keyboard & manages controller mappings and keyboard configurations||
Komplete Kontrol: Komplete VST wrapper that allows browsing of Komplete VST instrument presets (soon to be upgraded for VST support).
|Bundled Software||Air Music Tech: Vacuum Pro, Loom, Hybrid 3, Xpand!2, Velvet , Transfuser||Native Instruments: Drumlab, Massive, Monark, Reaktor Prism, Retro Machines, Scarbee Mark I, Solid Bus Comp, The Gentleman, Vintage Organs, West Africa|
|Marketing Spiel||The Advance 61 gives you unprecedented playability and unrestricted manipulation of any virtual instrument with our exclusive interactive, full-color display, complemented by performance-friendly hardware controls. Available in 25-, 49-, and 61-key sizes, the Advance Keyboards deftly fuse the power of software instruments with the live playability of a keyboard workstation, so you can create like never before. The dividing line between software and hardware instruments is finally gone!|| The KOMPLETE KONTROL S-Series keyboards augment and advance how you play and compose with a number of unique innovations.
Native Browser – Browse and load your entire library of KOMPLETE and VST instruments from a single, unified interface.
Native Map® technology automatically maps all key parameters for each KOMPLETE or NKS instrument to the touch-sensitive controller knobs.
Light Guide – The innovative LEDs above the keys mirror key switches and sound and sample types across the keyboard for all KOMPLETE and NKS instruments.
Smart Play lets you play chords with single keys or map the keyboard to musical scales, and create melodies at the touch of a button with the advanced arpeggiator.
There are loads of controller choices on the market for your DAW and the features we see in these controllers (host integration, auto-map controls, patch browsing from the hardware) is nothing new and in some cases (Kore, Novation Automap) the solutions presetned to us in the past have not been the "complete" solution everyone had hoped. There are always some tough challenges to make these controllers work with the differences in DAWs and peoples workflows. So what's changed in 2015 and how will these work for users now and into the future? As a heavy DAW user and owner of Ableton and Push I have had a good insight into the added value these tightly integrated solutions can offer and decided to see for myself which would work best for me. Your experience could differ but this should give a honest comparison between these 2 products.
Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol S-Series
The KKS was the first to hit the market and was purely aimed initially at users who own the Native Instruments Komplete 9/10 bundles and in fact was pretty much useless without owning one of these bundles as many users soon found. The big marketing push was the fact the Komplete keyboard integrated very closely with all of the instruments in the Komplete bundle and also offered auto-mapping of controls and browsing capabilities to find sounds. For users who were very centered around Komplete this was a brilliant keyboard but for users who also had a lot of other VST instruments it didn't offer much for them until now.
Akai then released the Advance which promised the same kind of integration and browsing features as the Komplete but the big draw card was this would work with ALL VST plugins (including the Komplete bundle which Akai were making very loud statements about) and also incorporated a browsing LCD screen directly into the keyboard. This combination keeps users at the keyboard when searching for sounds instead of having to use their PC.
Shortly after the release of the Advance there was an announcement from NI that the KK software would also soon offer similar VST integration which now brings up the direct comparisons between the 2 keyboards. Which one does one choose?
Both options will retail about the same price with the Komplete Kontrol having a slightly higher price tag over all options. The 61 key version will retail about $1000 AU with the Advance being about $50 off this mark. Both options offer free content to get you going and both options include the Free controller software
The Advance will ship with some free VSTs to add to your collection from Air Music Tech
These cover some very nice synth and hybrid sample based instruments which add a lot of nice flavour to your collection and adding up the retail cost of these it's pretty good value for a free inclusion though personally these are not titles I would have sourced otherwise.
Komplete Kontrol was initially launched with the requirement for users to already own Komplete 9 or 10 with bundles available to purchase both Komplete and the keyboard. It wasn't long after the Advance hit the market that the keyboards started to ship with an available download for "Komplete Select" which is a selection of 10 instruments from the Komplete bundle. The big standouts in this bundle are of course Massive and Monark with The Gentleman being a very nice piano and Retro Machines offering some neat classic synth sounds. This package only adds value to non Komplete bundle owners as all the titles are covered in the Komplete Ultimate bundles.
Ease of Installation
The Akai Advance requires registration of the keyboard via the Akai website before you can proceed to download the required Virtual Instrument Player (VIP) software. Upon registration you also receive registration serials for the free VST instruments. The download is about 1GB which includes everything. The instruments are required to be registered with the Pace iLok authenticator so if you have never worked with this before you will have to create an iLok account to register the instruments.
While my experience was pretty smooth (I have iLok for other instruments and have a very systematic way of installing these things) other users have had some hiccups with installations so best check if you have some troubles on the Akai forum.
Komplete Kontrol installation was a little more confusing for a simple fact that everything in NIs range is called "Komplete... Something" I was not sure what was reference to the Komplete Kontrol keyboard, what referred to the Komplete Kontrol software and where I could get the software without installing "Komplete Select" since I already had Komplete 10 Ultimate. For a while I was Kompletely lost and it's not normal for me to be lost at the installation end.
I finally found out that you needed to download the "Komplete Select Installer" and then choose within that the products to install. I also saw that as an owner of Komplete 10 I could download the KK software without using the select installer but I could not find out how so I simply selected only to install Komplete Kontrol. That was ok and after it installed and I installed the keyboard driver I proceeded to boot up the keyboard and get stuck in only to find that every plugin said "Plugin not found". This was due to the fact I had moved my VST.dlls into different folders after installation and NI have a tool to help address this issue since most of us move those DLLs around into sub folders.
After installation I hen needed to follow some steps to get the keyboard working with Ableton Live correctly which was all straight forward stuff for someone with a little experience in control surfaces but the steps are well explained.
In both cases I was able to get the software and drivers installed and running within about an hour and without any headaches.