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Native Instruments Kontrol S88

Native Instruments Kontrol S88

NI’s latest 88‑note controller introduces a keyboard with hammer‑action polyphonic aftertouch and a lot more besides.

There are a fair few weighted controllers available these days, but until now, there hasn’t been one that features polyphonic aftertouch. Indeed, this is still far from universal even on synth‑action controllers. So it was refreshing to hear that Native Instruments and Fatar have worked in collaboration to create a brand new keybed that provides polyphonic aftertouch for the weighted‑action S88, which is otherwise known as the Kontrol MkIII keyboard.

First Impressions

Unboxing is sometimes challenging with 88‑note keyboards, but the S88 was a lot easier than expected, as it weighs a very manageable 13.5kg. Not bad for a hammer‑action controller, and something that makes it feasible to cart around to gigs.

At first glance it’s very appealing. It feels sturdy, has a single‑shell body with no seams, and a logical layout with buttons grouped by function. This model sports a single large glass display screen, rather than the two smaller screens offered by previous versions. There are eight soft buttons located above the screen, eight soft knobs below, and to the right is the 4‑D Encoder, a multi‑function control that can operate as a joystick, button and continuous encoder.

It’s a relief to see a chunky pair of pitch‑bend and mod wheels to the left of the keyboard, which I find much more practical than joysticks placed above the keys. Of course this is down to personal preference, but for this keyboardist it’s a welcome change. The wheels each have an LED light, which is handy for locating them easily during performances on a darkened stage or in a mood‑lit studio. The knobs and wheels are aluminium, and feel more sturdy and superior to those on the previous model.

Above the wheels is the assignable touch strip, set to CC11 by default but with the option to switch to Pitch‑bend, Control Change or Program Change. Moving this to be positioned above the wheels on the MkIII makes logical sense, as it can be more easily accessed during a performance and is less likely to be triggered accidentally.

For those of you who like to balance additional kit on the edges of your keyboards, you’ll be glad to know that there’s plenty of space for this, with flat areas of approximately 17 x 40cm on the left and 17 x 45cm on the right.

On the back of the keyboard are the power switch and two USB‑C sockets, one to host and one for mains power if needed. There are also MIDI In and Out sockets, which can be used normally or assigned to work as a MIDI interface with your computer. Four assignable pedal sockets are available, of which the first two are set to sustain and expression by default. Having such a generous complement is handy if you need to use soft, sostenuto, damper or any other performance...

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