The Best Native Instruments Plugins

Best Native Instruments Plugins

Native Instruments is a music software development company that should be familiar to anyone into music production. The Berlin-based firm has produced a wide range of cutting-edge instruments and effects plugins, many of which are used in state-of-the-art recording facilities as well as modest hobbyist studios. Here’s a rundown of some of the best Native Instruments plugins currently available.

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Top 10 Native Instruments Plugins

  1. Kontakt 6 – Sampler
  2. Battery 4 – Drums
  3. Reaktor 6 – Synth
  4. Massive X – Synth
  5. Monark – Synth
  6. FM8 – Synth
  7. Guitar Rig 6 Pro – Guitar
  8. Driver – Effects
  9. Reflektor – Effects
  10. Transient Master – Effects

Native Instruments Plugin Reviews

Kontakt 6

Native Instruments Kontakt Player 6

Pros:
Cons:
  • No longer has library conversion utility
See price @ Native Instruments

Kontakt has long been the industry-standard as far as sampler plugins go. With Kontakt 6, you still have access to the biggest collection of sampled instruments available, along with the same powerful and highly customizable user interface.

Best features and specs

Kontakt 6 features a fully-mature sample creation and playback engine. It includes three new instruments that update its sonic potential significantly. It even has a new wavetable synthesis module, making it as much a full-fledged synthesizer as a sample player.

Even the effects have been enhanced to provide more room for creative expression. Along with the familiar lineup of signal processors, Kontakt now includes Choral, Flair, and Phasis, which Native Instruments users will recognize from the Mod Pack.

User impressions

Users generally consider Kontakt 6 an essential tool for creative sound design and sonic experimentation. Although the new features add to the plugin’s sound-crafting potential, the interface can get quite complicated.

What we think

Kontakt 6 isn’t really a huge step up from Kontakt 5. It looks and feels almost the same, but it does have some welcome new twists under the hood. Despite the similarities with the previous version, we find Kontakt 6 pretty much untouchable for creating new sample material and tweaking existing libraries. 

Bottom-line

Kontakt 6 is still every bit the powerhouse sampler as the earlier versions. Although undeniably deep and complex, it can be as simple as you need it to be. With the new features and effects, it could easily handle the bulk of your sampling needs. 

Battery 4

Native Instruments Battery 4

Pros:
  • GUI has gone through a massive overhaul
  • Workflow is more intuitive
  • Building kits is faster than ever
  • More sample playback options included
Cons: 
  • Some users prefer Battery 3’s layout
See price @ Native Instruments

Battery is arguably at the top of the heap as far as drum plugins go. With version 4, Native Instruments adds an array of cutting edge features that enhance its sound creation and performance capabilities significantly.

Best features and specs

Battery has always been known for its power, efficiency, and ease of use. Version 4 has been completely redesigned for an even speedier workflow, with access to the most important features provided right on the main page.

Native Instruments clearly put a lot of work into optimizing Battery’s workflow. You can do most everything within a couple of steps, including dropping in samples, assigning MIDI controllers, changing routings, and sidechaining.

Welcome additions include effects such as Solid EQ, Solid Bus Comp, and Transient Master, and an enhanced time stretching algorithm.

User impressions

Most Battery 4 reviews mention how fast it is to set up custom kits. The color-coding system also speeds up the workflow considerably, and makes it easy to recognize samples at a glance.

Some users do feel that Battery 3 is better laid out than version 4. Even so, many find Battery 4 to be a worthy upgrade.

What we think

We’ve always loved Battery’s combination of power and efficiency, and we found that this version offers pretty much the same experience. The new sample modes add a wealth of tonal variations, and features such as the Time Machine Pro algorithm and improved waveform display make this the drum plugin to beat.

Bottom-line

As excellent as Battery 3 was, version 4 is a significant step up. Whether you need a quick-and-dirty drum sample player or a powerful and creative environment for creating custom drum sounds, Battery 4 is indispensable.

Reaktor 6

Native Instruments Reaktor 6

Pros:
  • Authentic-sounding analog emulations
  • Includes the Blocks modular platform
  • Eurorack compatible
Cons: 
  • Still a CPU hog
  • Blocks are monophonic
  • Doesn’t support Retina displays
See price @ Native Instruments

Reaktor 6 is a virtual Swiss Army knife for synthesis and beat making. It gives you access to loads of ready-made synths, drum machines, and sequencers, and lets you design your own custom instruments as well.

Best features and specs

Version 6 is arguably the most impressive and most authentic sounding Reaktor version yet. The anti-aliased oscillators sound amazing and the Zero Delay Feedback (ZDF) filters are about as close as you could get to analog designs. The new Blocks engine is especially exciting, allowing you to explore modular synthesis in a convenient software environment.

User impressions

Reaktor’s sheer power and cutting-edge sound design capabilities still garner the most praise.. no surprise there. But many users were also impressed by the sonic quality of the oscillators and filters, which sound better than ever. With this new version, many users feel that Reaktor finally measures up to the best analog emulations on the market.

What we think

We’ve long been fans of Reaktor’s sound sculpting potential, and we were gratified to find that version 6 offers more of the same power and functionality. In fact, we feel that this is a pretty significant upgrade in almost every way. From the revamped library to the gorgeous GUI and the innovative Blocks feature, Reaktor 6 still leads the pack when it comes to sound crafting.

Bottom-line

Like all its predecessors, Reaktor 6 takes a lot of time and effort to master. You really need to sit down and dig deep to unlock its full potential. But if you like designing your own instruments as much as you like tweaking readymade synths, there really is nothing else like it.

Massive X

Native Instruments MASSIVE X

Pros:
  • Several new enhancements to Massive
  • Plenty of routing and modulation options
  • Just as aggressive as the old Massive
Cons:
  • Fewer wavetable oscillators and filters instances
  • UI takes some getting used to
See price @ Native Instruments

Take Native Instruments’ hugely popular Massive and revamp it for advanced sound design, and you get Massive X. A new and improved modular system that carries on where Massive leaves off, X features extensive modulation options and an excitingly fresh and brash sonic character.

Best features and specs

The high point of Massive X is the completely overhauled oscillator section, which greatly expands the range of sounds you can produce. More than 170 wavetables are provided, and you have a selection of 10 different modes to scan through them. Longtime Massive users will recognize the biting, aggressive quality of the sounds, but there are many other fresh and exciting flavors on tap as well.

Massive has always allowed users to route signals and modulations in inventive ways. X adds even more routing options, providing a powerful and versatile platform for sound design.

User impressions

Massive X is nothing short of a virtual modulation playground, with many users taking full advantage of its routing capabilities. The ability to use modulators as audio sources is a welcome development for many, making it easy to create outrageous new textures.

Some users did complain about the simplified synth modules, which now has fewer wavetable oscillators and filters than before. Even so, Massive X provides plenty of tools for creating a wide range of sounds.

What we think

Massive X strikes us more as a sequel to Massive, which is still the plugin to beat for aggressive, dubstep patches. With Massive X, you get more of the same huge and throbbing basses, with the added potential to craft more varied textures.

Bottom-line

Massive X isn’t so much an updated Massive X as it is a brand new synth. Although Massive (the original) is still the one to beat for bruising, ‘in-your-face’ dubstep wobbles, those with a taste for modern, cutting edge sounds will appreciate what Massive X brings to the table.

Monark

Native Instruments Monark

Pros:
  • As easy to use as an actual MiniMoog
  • Low CPU demand
  • Possibly the most accurate MiniMoog emulation available
Cons:
  • Doesn’t have an external audio input
  • Needs Reaktor or Reaktor Player
See price @ Native Instruments

On paper, Monark seems like pretty much any other MiniMoog emulation. But put it through its paces and you will quickly realize how closely it comes to delivering the unique sonic character of the original.

Best features and specs

NI’s software developers have put extra effort into making Monark the most authentic MiniMoog emulation yet. Every minute detail of the legendary analog monosynth has been meticulously captured, resulting in the warm, thick, enveloping sounds that Moog users know and love.

Monark is more than just a representation of an idealized version of a MiniMoog. Its engine models vintage analog circuitry to a startlingly accurate degree, from the oscillator drift to the output section drive. The result is a gorgeous-sounding instrument that not only sounds like a MiniMoog, but feels like one as well.

User impressions

Monark managed to impress even the most skeptical users with its snappy envelopes, juicy filters, and big- and bold-sounding oscillators. For many MiniMoog owners, this is the first time that a software instrument has come close to capturing the sound and feel of the original circuit.

What we think

We have a couple of MiniMoog emulations in our studio arsenal, some of which are amazing instruments in their own right. But what Monark brings to the table is a stunning degree of accuracy and authenticity that none of the other emulations have. From thick and weighty basses to wheezy leads and everything in between, Monark is our new favorite MiniMoog plugin.

Bottom-line

If you produce any kind of electronic music, whether hip hop, dance, or space rock, a MiniMoog plugin is essential. For our money, Monark is the best of the current crop of emulations available.

FM8

Native Instruments FM8

Pros:
  • Goes beyond the capabilities of most FM synths
  • Patch morphing allows for unique results
  • Versatile and inspiring arpeggiator
  • Kore integration
Cons:
  • FM is still daunting for many users
  • Simplified mode produces overly simple results
  • No sample import
See price @ Native Instruments

No synth toolbox would be complete without an FM synth and FM8 is possibly the most capable of the bunch. Drawing from NI’s own FM7, FM8 features a more modernistic user interface, enhanced workflow, and a powerful audio engine that produces clear, dynamic, and noise-free FM timbres.

Best features and specs

Like all FM synths, FM8 is a deep and complex instrument that would take considerable time and effort to master. To their credit, NI has done a great job of simplifying things so that even beginner synthesists can get great-sounding patches right away. With an “Easy Edit” page, you can control a variety of parameters via a simple set of controls instead of having to dig under the hood.

Of course, you could get deep into the inner workings of the FM synth engine if you wish. FM8 provides a wealth of options for modulating, routing, and effecting signals, allowing you to produce characteristic FM bells and log drums to bizarre, alien pads, and more.

User impressions

Even users who wouldn’t normally go near an FM synth enjoy how easy it is to come up with usable patches with FM8. The simplified UI of the “Easy Edit” page is a lifesaver for preset surfers, while hardcore tweakers appreciated the opportunity to get their hands dirty with intensive programming.

What we think

For a long time, FM7 was our go-to plugin for FM sounds, but FM8 has since taken over that role.  We find it even easier to navigate than its predecessor, so much so that we actually looked forward to cooking up our own sounds.

That being said, FM8 offers such a wide selection of great sounding patches that we rarely needed to design any from scratch. And for patches that needed just a bit more tweaking, the controls on the “Easy Edit” page were usually sufficient.

Bottom-line

FM synthesis isn’t for everyone, but you should definitely look into the sonic possibilities offered by FM8. After you get a taste of the bright, crystalline sounds it offers, you may never want to be without an FM synth again.

Guitar Rig 6 Pro

Native Instruments Guitar Rig 6 Pro

Pros:
  • NI’s most accurate amp and effects emulations yet
  • Sounds and feels better than earlier versions
  • Now more responsive to performance dynamics
Cons:
  • Still not as realistic as a real amp
  • Extensive tweaking required for great results
  • The interface isn’t for everyone
See price @ Native Instruments

Guitar Rig has always been a bit of an underdog among other guitar amp and effects emulation suites. Although recognized for its UI and sound-mangling potential, many felt that it didn’t quite sound like a real amp.

That may change with Guitar Rig 6 Pro, which combines a new look with a host of new amps and effects. It even boasts of machine learning technology, making it closer than ever to the feel of real hardware.

Best features and specs

Guitar Rig 6 Pro has a few tricks up its sleeve that may improve its standing among guitar tone snobs. The much-vaunted machine learning technology aims to deliver an accurate reproduction of how analog circuitry works, resulting in improved sound quality and response.

This version also comes with a handful of new amp and effect models, including emulations of a mid-50s combo, a solid state bass amp, and an American boutique amp inspired by classic British designs.

User impressions

Great players that have tried earlier versions of Guitar Rig appreciate the improvements that version 6 brings to the table. The new amp models are generally considered more accurate than their predecessors, and even the effects won fans over with their realism and responsiveness.

What we think

We’ve always used Guitar Rig to treat a variety of sound sources and audio material, including synths, drums, and even vocals. Like many other users, we felt that it fell short of delivering the authentic sound and feel of a hardware ‘amp-and-pedals’ rig. With Guitar Rig 6 Pro however, we feel that NI has come a lot closer to hitting the mark. From this version on, we expect to be using Guitar Rig a lot more for guitar recordings.

Bottom-line

Guitar Rig 6 Pro has come into its own as a comprehensive amp and signal processing suite. Although it still won’t replace a Marshall stack or vintage tube combo, it provides a useful set of tools for modern music production.

Driver

Native Instruments Driver

Pros:
  • Combines distortion and filtering in one plugin
  • The filter is both smooth and juicy
  • Capable of subtle drive and overpowering distortion
Cons:
  • Controls are fairly rudimentary
See price @ Native Instruments

Everyone needs a bit of distortion from time to time, and Native Instruments’ Driver is as good a choice as any. It combines a potent drive section with a smooth filter, giving you sufficient scope to create subtle, saturated textures to full-on sonic assault.

Best features and specs

Driver features a versatile drive section that can be as subtle or distorted as you wish. Ideally suited for warming up audio, it could also distort guitar, bass, drums, or vocals beyond recognition.

The filter section does a great job of coloring audio sources further, with a basic set of controls that mimic the response of an analog filter. It even has two modulation sources that let you introduce movement to otherwise static audio material.

User impressions

Users find Driver to be an intuitive and easy to use plugin that performs a surprising range of tone-shaping functions. The ability to modulate the filter adds versatility and motion, and many appreciate the precise control provided by the ‘Smooth’ and ‘Release’ functions.

What we think

We found Driver to be fairly simple as far as distortion plugins go, although we did like that it has a filter built-in. While we would have wanted more control over distorting and filtering different frequency bands, we could easily patch in a few more instances given the plugin’s modest CPU demands.

Bottom-line

Driver is simple, effective, and light on the CPU. Most importantly, it sounds great, which earns it a place in any producer’s toolbox. If you need a distortion plugin with filtering capabilities built-in, Driver is worth considering.

Reflektor

Native Instruments Reflektor

Pros:
  • A simple yet powerful reverb
  • Bundled with useful reverb IRs
  • Supports third‑party IRs
Cons:
  • Can only be used with Guitar Rig
  • Stereo only, not surround
See price @ Native Instruments

Reflektor is a convolution reverb plugin that is intended for use with Guitar Rig. It features NI’s “Zero Latency Convolution” technology, allowing you to dial in everything from realistic rooms to creative special effects. Ideally suited for sound design, it also does a great job of capturing the sound and response of high-end, digital reverbs.

Best features and specs

Zero Latency Convolution technology is your ticket to lush, true-to-life reverbs. With this feature, Reflektor lets you place any source into a realistic-sounding environment, without the need for high-end recording environments or expensive hardware reverb units.

Reflektor also has ‘Sync’ and ‘Reverse’ features that allow for more creative sound design. From animated sound staging to rhythmic effects, Reflektor does it all via a slick and easy to use interface.

User impressions

Reflektor appeals to producers that need a range of quality reverb impulses that they can tweak to suit specific applications. The 300-plus IRs bundled with the plugin provides more than enough options for most users.

What we think

Reflektor offers an absolute wealth of options for adding depth and space to program material and individual tracks. With so many IRs available, we could flip through the different options, find a ballpark preset, and tweak it to our liking within minutes.

Bottom-line

Reflektor is a relatively simple reverb plugin that sounds great and is flexible enough for most applications. The bundled impulse responses are a definite plus, and there is always the option to add your own if you wish.

Transient Master

Native Instruments Transient Master

Pros:
  • Brings out transients without introducing artifacts
  • Can be as smooth and subtle as needed
  • Has a built-in limiter
Cons:
See price @ Native Instruments

Transient Master is a transient plugin based on a popular hardware unit. Ideally suited for enhancing the transient response of drums and percussion instruments, it is also useful for making any audio track stand out in a dense and busy mix.

Best features and specs

Transient Master is about as simple as it comes, with only three knobs: ‘Attack’, ‘Sustain’, and ‘Gain’. Between these three controls is a range of sonic possibilities for making individual tracks stand out.

Transient Master could just as easily go the other way. Turn down the ‘Attack’ and you could make a brash and forward hi-hat track fit in neatly with the rest of the kit. And with the ‘Sustain’ control, you can enhance the resonance of your snares or tighten up splashy cymbals.

User impressions

Users find Transient Master useful for making individual elements pop out in a mix or pulling them back for more cohesion. The plugin is especially useful for taming pick attacks on guitar tracks and reining in unruly hi-hats and cymbals.

What we think

We found Transient Master to be pretty much a ‘set-and-forget’ plugin that works with a wide range of audio material. It works wonders on drums and percussions, and we’ve even used it successfully to make acoustic guitars sit better in a mix.

Bottom-line

Like the best Native Instruments plugins, Transient Master combines simplicity and functionality in a great-sounding package. If you need a simple and straightforward transient designer plugin that delivers musical results, give this one a try.

Native Instruments Plugins Buying Guide

Native Instruments plugins comprise a wide variety of musical tools, from analog and digital synth emulations, effects plugins, and more. Here’s some essential information you need to know if you are in the market for NI plugins.

Choosing Native Instruments plugins for specific applications

Many NI synths are emulations of either classic analog synths or digital circuits. An example of an analog synth emulation is the Monark, which is a software version of Moog’s classic MiniMoog. Analog synths are known for their warm and rich tonal character, and relatively simple architecture.

NI’s emulations of digital synths include Massive X and FM8. Massive X is a wavetable synth that produces sounds by scanning through a series of audio snapshots. FM8 is a software version of Yamaha’s classic FM (frequency modulation) synths, such as the DX7, DX27, SY77, and TX816. FM synths are known for their metallic and crystalline timbres, and are great choices for electric pianos, bells, log drums, and synthesized string sounds.

NI also offers two sample playback instruments: Kontakt 6 and Battery 4. Kontakt is a sampling powerhouse that plays back huge, multi-sampled libraries of real instruments and ensembles. Battery is designed specifically for drums and percussion.

Many of these capabilities are combined in Reaktor 6, which is a modular environment that pretty much fills any role in a modern production studio. From synths and samplers to drum machines and even algorithmic sequencers, Reaktor is a virtual Swiss Army knife of music production.

Using Native Instruments plugins 

Many of NI’s plugin instruments can be run standalone or in a virtual instrument slot in a DAW. This is the case with Massive X, FM8, Kontakt 6, and Battery 4.

The Monark synth plugin will have to be run within Reaktor or the free Reaktor Player. The Reflektor reverb plugin runs only in Guitar Rig Pro or the free Guitar Rig Player.

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