Buying new MIDI keyboard for Cubase. Wondering about Komplete Kontrol S61

I have been aware of Native Instruments and Maschine for years but never really looked very seriously. I guess I was put off because they seemed to have their own closed ecosystem. If you liked the NI stuff, it looked great, but I always wondered if it made much sense for a person who wasn’t really devoted to the NI plug-ins.

I have been using an old Yamaha synth as my MIDI keyboard. It works fine, but the display has been broken for years, and it doesn’t really have any other controls that would interact with the DAW. I use the MIDI keyboard mainly for composing in Dorico and don’t do much MIDI work on Cubase. I use Cubase mainly for editing live recordings.

However, now that I have upgraded both Dorico and Cubase, I am thinking about replacing that MIDI synth with something that can integrate better with the DAW. I know there are a handful of MIDI controllers in the $400-700 range that could be a step up for me. I think it is time I understand Maschine better, because that appears to have deeper integration than most of the other products.

I have several questions:

  • The S61 has two screens that serve many purposes, one of which is to browse through instruments and presets. I guess the deepest integration is with the NI plug-ins. But they can supposedly support other popular VSTis. How well does this work for the Steinberg plug-ins shipped with Cubase?
  • When browsing Steinberg VSTi presets, do they sound, as they do with NI presets?
  • Does this save much time or is mostly hype?
  • Any other thoughts about this keyboard/controller? It really isn’t much more money than other keyboards and seems to have a lot more integration.

For MIDI Controllers, I have the NI KK S61 as well as an Ableton Push2 and a Novation Launchkey37. For DAWs, I use both Ableton Live and Cubase.

I know this is a Cubase forum, but I started with Cubase in 2000 and maintain a license since the upgrades are not too expensive and I sometimes think I might go back to using Cubase. I actually just upgraded to Cubase 12 Pro just to see if I’d get re-interested in using Cubase again, but I don’t think I will. It feels exhausting working in Cubase vs Ableton Live.

For the S61, you can only browse instruments that are NKS compatible and Cubase GA5 and Halion SE are NOT NKS compatible. Products like Arturia Pigments and u-he Hive2 ARE NKS compatible, but the integration is less than perfect. So the S61 is really only good for NI/KK instruments and audio effects. I don’t think that’s a powerful integration story.

I have Ableton Suite 11 and it comes with a lot of great instruments and audio effects. These have kinda replaced my large collection of in Native Instruments/Komplete Kontrol instruments and audio effects that come with the S61 MK2. The Ableton Instruments and audio effects sound great, and are much faster to “bring up” when inspiration strikes.

I’ve literally been on a quest to stop using my Komplete Kontrol instruments and just use the Ableton Suite of instruments and audio effects, with the Push2 and Novation Launchkey 37 MIDI Controllers as MIDI Controllers. The S61 is a nice keyboard and MIDI controller, but having NI/KK stuff in the mix of tools is all too much to manage. I’ve thought about selling all of my NI KK stuff.

Since I got Ableton Live and their Push2 controller, I spend most of my composition, mixing and mastering time on the Push2. Since I use mostly Ableton Live as a DAW, I think the ideal 61 key keyboard would be the Novation 49SL MkIII 49-key Keyboard Controller. It’s tightly integrated with Ableton, I only need 49 keys, and I don’t need the mountain of instruments/effects that I got with the NI KK product.

One more point… Cubase’s Media Bay, NI Komplete Kontrol, u-He Hive2 and Arturia Analog Lab V, instrument browsers are much better at tagging sounds with characteristics, types, etc. in order to reduce the search time when looking for a new sound. Ableton really needs to really up their game in being able to search for sounds based on type, characteristic, etc. If that’s important to you, then NI’s Komplete Kontrol or Arturia’s Analog Lab V will suit you better.

I hope this helps.

1 Like

I have a KK S61 Mk2 keyboard and use it extensively with Cubase Pro. I really like the DAW controls on the S61. Transport and jog functions are all perfectly integrated and are my main method of controlling Cubase. The graphical mixer is quite frankly fantastic as well and I use it all the time. The keybed and overall build quality are excellent, and that’s probably why you see so many of these boards in studios. The integration with Maschine is surprisingly useful too, though inevitably not as comprehensive as a dedicated Maschine controller.

But the major downside, as mentioned above, is that plugin integration is limited to NKS-compatible software - that’s all of NI’s stuff, and lots from other companies, including Arturia, Spitfire etc (not Steinberg, unfortunately, although of course most plugins can ‘learn’ to respond to the S61’s encoders). Even here, the most useful function is probably the audio previews during browsing, which I can’t imagine doing without now. The light-up keys are also useful, especially for multi-timbral sample libraries, such as large drumkits.

In addition, the superb arp and scale functions of this keyboard only work within Komplete Kontrol (ie, with NKS instruments). A simple workaround for this is to open a KK instance within Cubase and route the MIDI from that to another, non-NKS, instrument.

You may struggle, as I do, with the placement of the ribbon controller directly below the wheels, where it is easily touched inadvertently. And sometimes on my system the board isn’t recognised as a DAW controller by Cubase. The trick here seems to be to switch the keyboard on before you boot up Cubase. If you find connection has been lost altogether between the board and your machine, as occasionally happens, you can usually restore it by booting up Komplete Kontrol standalone.

4 Likes

I appreciate both of those reviews. I guess a more basic question is, are there any controllers out there that have deeper and more useful integration than the KK S61?

Do you think it is likely that NKS will ever be added to the Steinberg instruments?

If you are going to use NI products, having one of their controllers is very handy, and it will work with Cubase very nicely out of the box.

Arturia is the same, if you use more of their software the Keylab comes in around the same price.

Novation has a nice offering, but they don’t have instruments so, it works really well with Live, but also nicely with Cubase via the script provided in C12.

Those are the big 3.

All of these have MIDI Remotes inside of Cubase… except the ones I made of course, and ExampleCompany.

image

1 Like

There’s the Nektar Panorama P series of keyboards that has deep Cubase integration: Nektar Panorama P4 and P6 ▷ Advanced MIDI Keyboard Controllers

I have the P6, and am happy with it - I like the build quality and feel of the keyboard. Even though I have the deep Cubase integration that comes with it installed (and it works), I happen to use a CC121 as my DAW controller, so I’m really only using the P6 as a MIDI keyboard and am mostly ignoring the deep integration features.

1 Like

These all look like great products, but they cater to different types of users. If I was really into a whole lot of DAW-based composition, especially highly electronic music, I think the NI stuff would be very attractive. For what I do, the Nektar seems to be the product that is most like me. I appreciate all these discussions and recommendations.

I probably should have mentioned that I use a Behringer X-Youch. I use the faders and pan controls. I use the X-Touch transport control a little less because it isn’t in a great location on my desktop for that. I haven’t mapped any of the other controls on the X-Touch. I do think I would use more of the control on the Nektar because they would be very close at hand.

(The great supply chain disruption of 2022 seems to still be going strong. Looks like the Panorama is sold out, at least at the retailers I checked. I was, however, able to snag a customer return from a reputable retailer at a nice discount.)

Hi. I’m going to be a bit forward and say I’m not sure you’re looking at this the right way. If you’re looking for something to control Cubase, I think the answer will depend on what kind of control you’re looking for. The NI keyboards, and I own the KK S88 Mk2 and love it, are best at controlling NI software, but are also great at integrating with Cubase for a smooth workflow, but I’m not sure they’d be my first choice if I didn’t own Komplete Ultimate.
If you aren’t using a lot of NI instruments, then other controllers might be better suited for your purposes. Are you mainly looking to map lots of rotaries, sliders, and buttons to control parameters within Cubase? If so, I have to say, Cubase 12 is a bit of a game changer. I also have a Roland A800-Pro and was actually thinking of getting rid of it or replacing it, but with C12’s new MIDI mapping, it’s given my controller a new lease on life. If you just want a few controllers, then something like the Korg Nanokontrol might be good for you. If you want a keyboard with your controller, then maybe a Novation Launchkey, Arturia Keylab, Akai MPK, Alesis, or M-Audio Oxygen might be what you want.

This is an area I have always been interested in, but never put in the time to learn how to be productive mapping the VST functions to hardware controls. It is Cubase 12 that has pushed me to start down this path. I bought a Panorama, which looks like it should be at least a good starting point. As I learn more, I might decide to swap that out for some other keyboard controller. Inded, a year from now, there might be even better options on the market.

Let me know how that Panorama works out for you! I’ve never invested the time to properly investigate its deep Cubase integration and use all of the control elements of the keyboard (except for the drum pads a few times), but if you find some aspects of that integration useful, I’d love to hear about it and learn how to get more out of my P6!

I have installed the Panorama P4 with the Cubase integration. It actually works quite well. The integration with faders and pan controls is automatic and prominent. You can directly control the Cubase EQ. On the VSTs, the QC controls are mapped to the hardware. I haven’t found any way to select VSTs on the reverb bus or master bus. There is probably a way.
I probably wouldn’t use the surface for those things unless I was recording automation, and then it would be very useful.
Now the bad news. These units were out of stock everywhere I checked. I found one from a major music website that was represented as a customer return fully functional. But the motorized fader is broken, which is obviously why the customer returned it. So I an probably going to have to return it.

As a MIDI keyboard, it seems to have longer latency than I had with my Yamaha synth. My Yamaha went MIDI out from the keyboard into a Focusrite interface. The Nektar is going over USB. I haven’t investigated this yet, but as it sits, I can use it for step entry, but not for real time playing.

Oh, that’s strange! I have my P6 hooked up via USB, and there is no noticeable latency whatsoever. Maybe make sure you’ve got the latest drivers for everything, and aren’t going through a USB hub? It’s a fast enough protocol that there shouldn’t be any noticeable latency if everything is working properly. Also, sorry to hear you got a defective keyboard :frowning:

You know what invariably happens when somebody says something like this? Right. it was user error. This unit requires two USB cables to be connected in order to power that motorized fader. So there was nothing wrong with the unit. but the monkey on the other side of the keyboard.

I am indeed running through a USB hub. I’ll buy a longer USB cable tomorrow so I can connect it directly to the computer. That should help a little. And I have not experimented with buffer sizes on my Focusrite audio interface. That’s probably where most of the latency is coming from.

I should point out that this integration works without needing to create any of the scripts that are a powerful part of the C12 upgrade.

Glad you figured this out! A nice side benefit of having that second USB connection to power the motorized fader is that you can just pull that USB cable if/when the noise of that fader motor ever becomes an issue.

I connected USB directly to my PC (no hub) and created a new project. Latency is very low, and completely manageable. It is possible that in my earlier testing I had selected a patch with a very slow attack.

1 Like

I don’t know the quality of the S61 MK2 but I have an NI S88 MK2 keyboard which has a very good feel and I’m very happy with it and its deep integration with NI VSTs. It also has a Mixer part which is very nice when you don’t have a surface controller with motorized faders. And I also have Maschine MK3, the 2 partners are the best. MK3 is great for Midi setup too.
For VSTs from other brands that do not have the NKS format, you can create your own NKS presets and sound samples for Komplete Kontrol, it’s not very complicated but can take time for a complete VSTi. But to create some user presets with this format, it’s very fast. With Komplete Kontrol, you can customize pages and parameter names, add tags for searching presets, and even change the images on the keyboard screens!
I also use Cubase Pro 12 and no problem with
I also have a Nektar Panorama P1 and I’ve always complained about a lack of fluidity with this controller, I don’t know why.
I do not regret my purchases NI

1 Like