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Review of Kore

Native Instrument's new Flagship provides new sonic possibilities with plugins

updated for Kore 1.1

When I started making computer based compositions I had one drum machine with 15 sounds and one synth with 100 presets.  My "library" of sounds was easy to manage.  I had a hand written piece of paper with the 100 presets written on them and i replaced the names as I made new patches.  As synthesizers multiplied in my studio, I got deep into editor librarian software o manage the tens of thousands of patches.  Soft synths hit and things changed.  Synths and samplers went soft.  The world has not looked back.  And the more soft synths we get the more unmanageable finding sounds becomes.  If i were to make a list today of all my presets it would cover all the walls in my house.




Finally there is some relief in a product called Kore by Native Instruments.  At first I was skeptical.  I did not want to invest in it unless it could really do the job and above all, not crash in the middle of compositions.  Early adopters were not a happy bunch.  I was particularly wary of the claim that it could load 3rd party AU and VSTi plugins.  But I have so much NI stuff, I figured it had to at least work with those.  I also justified it thinking that eventually they will make it work, if it does not work now.  

To my surprise, Kore works here as advertised.  I am definitely digging the benefits.  The above pic shows a lot.  There you see in a Kore performance 10 softsynths instantiated.  I've used Kore heavily, for many long sessions running inside Logic 7.2 on my Mac G5.  I've also used it on Cubase SX3 on my PC, where it works equally as well.

  • I have been able to audition and use sounds I would have never found without using the Kore database. 
  • I have been able to create new, incredibly big sounds by stacking softsynths in a rack.  We are talking big, huge sounds here.  Stack up an FM7 with a Pro 53 and listen--its amazing.  For those of you who have a lot of software instruments and know how to program synths, to work with Kore is to work with the most vast and complete synth one can imagine.
  • I can find my own sounds much easier.  I just have to name it so I remember what it sounds like.  I don't even have to recall what synth/or sampler made it.  If I put the project name in a database field, I can call up all the sounds in the project.
  • Since version 1.1, I have been able to use Kore on both my Mac and PC simultaneously

If you are still running an earlier version of Kore, update to 1.1.  You will be thrilled at the changes.



Native Instruments Kore Plug-In Host and Controller
Kore will change the way you produce and perform. As the world’s first Universal Sound Platform, it integrates all your software instruments and effects into a single, unified interface. Kore gives you total control of your sound and instant, hands-on access with a real analog feel.



Standalone or Plugin

Kore works standalone or inside your sequencer as a plugin.  In standalone mode you can access both the Performance level and Sound layer of Kore; as a plugin, you can only access the "Sound" layer of Kore. As a plugin, it is a "host within a host". You can load any VSTi, DXi, RTAS or AU into it's sound layer. As many as your CPU allows. So, in both the Performance and Sound layers you can host multiple plugins, create busses, use sends and mix the output.   

However, there are some differences between standalone mode (Performance) and plugin (Sound) mode.   A critical difference I have been able to find is that in the Sound mode the output cannot use multiple outs--it can only output to the stereo output assigned in the host sequencer.  In Logic, Kore cannot be instantiated in multi-channel mode.  It would be nice to be able to send each plugin in Kore to a dedicated bus in the sequencer, but you can't have everything.  NI writes in its setup guide that they plan to add multiple outputs in a later version.   So you will have to add instrument specific effects as inserts inside Kore, or create internal busses for the job.  These functions work well, and all your VST/AU/DX/RTAS effects that are available in the host sequencer are also available inside Kore.  I was leery, so i tried using both a UAD effect and a Waves effect in the same sound inside Kore.  No problems, I am happy to report.

Another difference in Performance mode, in addition to loading individual soft synths and effects, is that you can load Kore sounds, each of which has its own mixer and may be comprised of several synths working together.  Think about that.  Lets say, for example, you have 4 Kore sounds each made of 4 synths.  Each Kore sound has its own mixer with sends and returns.  You can load all 4 Kore sounds (16 synths!) long with the 4 mixers and 4 sets of sends and returns in standalone mode.  Whew that's deep!

As of Kore 1.03, in Sound mode you could only load one Kore sound, which again can be comprised of as many instances of different plugins as you desire.  In the Kore sound you also get 1 mixer and whatever sends, returns and inserts you created in it.  However, as of the 1.1. update, you can now add multiple "single" Kore sounds into the sound layer.  You can also audition single sounds before you "apply" them to the sound layer, which is a very nice an unexpected feature. 

You can load as many instances of Kore as you want in plugin mode. Want more Kore sounds and mixers in your song?  Just instantiate another Kore on another track in your sequencer.  Given that you can also add your sequencer's plugins outside of Kore, I think using it as a plugin actually is more powerful and flexible. 

Kore is multi-timbral.  You can select the MIDI receive channel for soft synths or choose Omni when you want to layer sounds.  There is no problem using just one instance of Kore for many different instruments on many different MIDI tracks in the sequencer. 


Database Functions

The Database and library are straightforward to use.  Those that have run editor librarians before will have no trouble.  You can assign attributes to any Kore Sound and once saved, the preset is logged in the database.  NI provides over 11,000 single sounds for its own softsynths in the NI Komplete 3 package.  As I had the Komplete 2 package, the entries for Battery 2 and Reaktor 5 and others are grayed out.  I can still use Battery I and Reaktor 4, but I will have to manually add their presets to the Kore Database.  Same for other synths.  If I want my MiniMoog V presets accessible in the database, I will have to call up each preset in Kore and save as a Kore Sound.  This, of course, is a daunting task. 

I erroneously thought that Kore would find all my presets with Native Instruments extensions (like .NKI for Kontakt, etc.) but, sorry to say, that is not how it works.  It only categorizes Kore sounds.  So you have to do the loading and saving game to make Kore's database access all your presets. 

If there is a marketing "gotcha" to Kore, it is when you see all the grayed out presets for synths you do not have, you will be tempted to get or upgrade to Komplete 3 or higher.   I just did the upgrade myself.  I was disappointed to find out that Kore 1.03 and Komplete 4 still were showing lots of grayed out Komplete 3 presets and not showing the Komplete 4 presets.  Argh!  Finally NI fixed the problem with Kore 1.1.  Now it properly lists all the provided presets for the upgraded synths in Komplete 4.  I am happy to report the database is now up to serious speed.

You can make Kore presets from any softsynth or plugin effect in your collection that Kore recognizes.  I have brought over the best of my presets from my custom libraries.  Ms20, M1, Ethno and MX4, Atmosphere, Guru, Basstation, MiniMoog V the list goes on.  I was even able to get my Emu Esi 32 and EOS samples and presets and my Logic EXS mkII sounds in by converting them to Kontakt format first.  My library is now huge, yet it remains navigatable and searchable and fast. 

Oh, and you know what is cool? You can use Kore in all your sequencers.  Logic, Cubase, DP or if on windows Sonar, Cubase, and whatever else lets you use VSTis.  Anything you have in Kore is accessible to all your software.


The Kore Controller

Kore comes with a hardware controller, which as of the 1.1. update, no longer needs to be plugged in by USB to use Kore.  Hooray!  There was an issue defined on the NI forums from users pleading NI not to use the controller as a dongle.  NI listened and acted.  This allows you to run Kore unplugged, and an more than one computer at the same time.  (The Kore license allows you to authorize Kore on 3 computers).  The Controller can also function as a USB 2.0 audio interface.  (no mic pres though).  You don't have to use the audio interface features if you already have something else.  I think it has value for those gigging live, and perhaps for those with mixer based rigs and rigs with limited i/o.  There are 3 footswitch inputs, a coax digital out, left and right balanced outs, left and right unbalanced inputs and a headphone out.  I have used it just to test it out and it sounded fine, but I don't intend to use it as I already have an audio interface. 

The controller has 8 knobs, 8 switches, transport buttons (which do NOT control the host sequencer, only Kore's clock), an audition button, knobs for i/o volume, a cursor keypad and a jog wheel.  The wheel, knobs and buttons only control Kore.  I am hoping NI improves the usefulness of the controller to allow it to control the sequencer as well. 

The device is a good build.  Solid.  Attractive.  The display is clear (red backlight) and the knobs and buttons feel positive. You can adjust their sensitivity which is a good thing, as out of the box they are very touchy.  Oh, there is a small backlight knob which turns the display off (which will extend the life of the display).  Nice touch.  Configured properly, the knobs and switches not only send control information to Kore but can be used to automate your Kore sounds in the host sequencer.  You can access your Kore library from the controller, which could be nice live.  I don't see any huge benefit to this in a computer based environment as it is much faster to find stuff on the big screens. 


Intriguing Possibilities

NI thinks they have a revolutionary product here for composers and sound designers.  I can enthusiastically embrace their concept.  The database does make for finding sounds easier, and its often better to try to find a sound by category and having all the presets of all your plugins show up when looking for a bass, for example.  People using hardware synths have enjoyed such search capabilities for years, and its great someone has done it with plugins.  But the biggest possibility has to do with sound itself, and those you can create easily with Kore. While of course you can always make complex sounds in your sequencer without Kore by simply cloning MIDI data to several tracks, there is something about the interface that is inspiring.  As you build a sound, you can have all your elements right there in one window, like a work bench with all the tools you need. 

Think about what is going on here.  Imagine of hardware synth with FM, analog modeling, sampling and 50-100 other unique synths, with 100s of effects of super quality.  Lets say you invested in a separate Mac just to run Kore as a massive synth.  I think it could beat out even the most powerful hardware synth on the market in terms of sound and capability.  Compare what a $8,000 Korg Oasys can do with sound and what Kore can do in standalone mode on a dedicated computer, with a full complement of software instruments.  Possibilities for Kore are BIG.  Granted, they are not all real yet, but considered in that light, I can not help but be intrigued.

I run Kore 1.1 on both my Mac and PC at the same time.  This has huge benefits.  While working on a song in Logic on the Mac, I can run Kore standalone on the PC, like a huge multi-timbral soft synth, devoting all of its CPU to Kore.  This has given me the freedom to tweak up outlandish sounds I would never attempt.  I can run several Reaktor 5 ensembles and pipe in the audio out my emu 1820m into my Motu 828mk2 and record them in Logic, or I can build a 32 channel softsynth with 32 synths and trigger them via external MIDI.  Kore receives and will sync to MIDI clock, so stuff that uses the clock, like arpeggiated sounds, intakt loops, and BPM based sounds all work on the remote computer.



Kore takes CPU resources as you might expect.  Those with cheap laptops may have trouble.  When you start stacking up heavy soft synths and samplers you are going to get hit, with Kore or not.  That's life in 2006.  You can always bounce tracks to audio in the sequencer.  When you hear some of the beautiful soundscapes you can create with Kore, you may be doing a bit of that.  Interestingly, it seems that my PC outperforms my Mac in terms of CPU usage with Kore.

I wish the display on the controller was bigger, at least big enough to show all of Kore's Mixer.  I can imagine running Kore on a bigger more professional controller.  Imagine Kore working on a controller like the keyboard and screen of the Oasys.  Another drawback--unbalanced audio inputs.  That could hurt those who want to use Kore as a standalone FX box live, and also those who want to use the inputs as hi quality dedicated sampler inputs.  There are no turntable inputs, mic pres, or instrument level inputs.  Not a huge deal, as most of us have something we can put in the chain to make the unbalanced line ins work. 


What Newbies need to know

Kore does not come with softsynths.  It works with those on your system already.  It is a "host" for software instruments and plugin effects.  A host is nothing other than a container.  Kore is not for brand new newbies.  You should have a solid working understanding of the sequencer and of how plugins work before you plunge into it, as Kore will take you deep into that realm.   Let me say it again, Kore could prove frustrating for those who don't have the computer resources to run a lot of plugins at once.  I would not want to run it on a cheap PC laptop.  I suggest a powerful computer to dig into the benefits of Kore.   

Kore is not the program to help you learn how to program synths. You still have to do the programming on each individual synth.  Kore just lets you combine these sounds in one interface. 

Other than that, Kore is no more difficult to understand than your software mixer.  Its kind of like a mixer within a mixer as it is a host within a host at the plugin level. 


Who should get Kore?

Those who have a huge library and a lot of instruments, a strong DAW, and want to push their sound into new frontiers.  Sound designers should not wait.  Get Kore up to speed as soon as you can.  The longer you wait, the more work it will be to save your sounds as Kore sounds.  I think it is an excellent platform for sonic exploration and creation.  Composers who work hard on their sound will appreciate the more artistic way of finding instruments. 


Summing Up

I am left in the positive ballpark.  My expectations were not high for the 1.03 release but NI exceeded them. With the 1.1 release, Kore has again exceeded my hopes, which were much higher.  I know I will use Kore in every song from this point on.  I doubt I will use it for every software instrument, but certainly will when I want to build a big sound, or to access those hard to find synth sounds.  As I continue to build the database with my existing synths, Kore will become more valuable.  I have already done a lot of work and my favorites sounds are now all in Kore



Native instruments Kore Forum


Threads at Studio-Central

Discussion of Kore

Why was KORE given a good review on here?

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