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Kontakt: The Big Picture


Kontakt is an extremely powerful, complex, and capable instrument. Before getting into specifics, let’s take a step back and describe Kontakt in general terms.

Kontakt is an extremely powerful and sophisticated instrument; its overall structure is complex and does not force any particular signal flow structure upon your Instruments — it has an entirely modular approach to sound processing and parameter modulation. Anything is possible, from triggering simple one-shot samples to building sophisticated virtual instruments that faithfully reproduce all aspects of their acoustic counterparts and respond intelligently to your performance. Kontakt is designed so you can quickly load and play your first Kontakt Instruments, while the depth and power of its engine can be discovered and mastered over time, as you explore building your own instruments.

Overview of Kontakt


Gain an overview of Kontakt's main window and its customization options here.

Kontakt's main window can be configured in a variety of ways to best suit your needs and preferred workflows. The main elements of the user interface include:

  1. Main Control Panel: Provides access to the Library Browser, alongside options that toggle the display of various optional interface parts, such as the Side pane; it also includes the file drop-down menu and access to the global functions and options, as well as some status meters. For more information, refer to Main Control Panel.

  2. Side Pane: Provides functions for managing your collection of Kontakt-relevant files. In the screenshot, it’s currently switched to the Libraries tab, which contains easy access to your Kontakt libraries. For more information, refer to Side Pane.

  3. Master Editor: Contains global controls that affect the behavior of all Instruments in your Multi, as well as some common utility functions. For more information, refer to The Master Editor.

  4. Rack: Displays all Instruments in the current Multi. The Rack area is where one or more Instruments are loaded into the Multi. For more information, refer to The Rack Multi Instrument Mode.

  5. Instrument Header Contains the Instrument’s name and various parameters, such as MIDI input channel, output level, panning position, and tuning. For more information, refer to Instrument Header.

  6. Outputs Section: Displays a channel strip for each configured Output Channel, plus four Aux Channels. For more information, refer to The Outputs Section.

  7. On-Screen Keyboard: Displays a virtual On-Screen Keyboard that you can use to play instruments with your mouse, and visualize key ranges. For more information, refer to The On-Screen Keyboard.

  8. Info Pane: Displays details of the selected Instrument file below the Side Pane, and a brief explanation of the control at the mouse position below the Rack. For more information, refer to Info Pane.

Building Blocks

The full functional range of Kontakt’s sampling environment is split into smaller sections, which allow you to focus on specific tasks in your musical process. This functional division is also reflected on the user interface, with elements relevant to each other or a specific task kept within a distinct area, pane, tab, or dialog window.

There are two general types of building blocks: the core blocks, which are hierarchically organized and make up Kontakt’s chain of turning MIDI data into sound, and the tools that allow you to perform a wide range of peripheral management, configuration, and monitoring tasks.

Core Building Blocks

Beginning with the smallest element and working upwards:

  • A Sample is a simple audio file on your hard disk. Samples may occasionally carry additional metadata, but in their purest form, they don’t provide anything other than a recorded audio signal. An example of a Sample would be the digital recording of a single piano note. Samples can appear in various formats, such as WAV, AIFF, or REX.

  • A Zone is Kontakt’s way of putting a Sample into a playable context. Think of a Zone as a wrapper around a single Sample; in addition to the Sample itself, the Zone contains information about which MIDI data will make Kontakt trigger this Sample, at what pitch the sample was recorded, and a few other details. An example of a Zone would be the aforementioned piano Sample, with the attached information that it should be played without any transposition whenever Kontakt receives an F3 note with a velocity value between 64 and 95. As Zones don’t contain much additional data, they only exist within a larger context and can’t be saved and loaded separately.

  • A Group is a container that allows you to combine a number of Zones. As every Zone belongs to a Group (and only one), each Instrument will contain at least one Group; usually, you’ll add several more Groups in order to combine your Zones by means of distinctive aspects — the aspects you choose are entirely up to you, but there are some common approaches. All Zones that belong to a specific Group will share a number of common parameters and signal flow modules; for instance, their Samples will be played by the same sound Source Module. Consequently, if you want some of your Zones played by a Source Module with different settings, you’ll need to separate them into their own Group first. In the course of this manual, modules that pertain to a Group are being referred to as “Group-level modules”. A typical example of a Group would be “all Zones in my Instrument that should be played at mezzoforte level”. Groups can be saved and loaded separately as files with an .nkg extension.

  • An Instrument is the entity you’ll encounter most frequently when you’re working with ready-made Kontakt libraries. As its name suggests, it’s the virtual equivalent of an acoustic instrument — when being played, it produces a specific range of sounds, possibly at different timbres, dynamics, and articulations. Technically, a Kontakt Instrument is a wrapper for a number of Groups, whose output signals will be mixed and pass a common signal chain; the modules in this chain are said to reside on the “Instrument level”. A typical example of an Instrument would be “a piano”. Instruments can be saved and loaded separately; native Kontakt Instrument files have an .nki extension.

  • An Instrument Bank is the only optional element of Kontakt’s core hierarchy; in other words, you don’t have to use this feature if you don’t want to. Instrument Banks allow you to combine up to 128 Instruments into a container that responds to a single MIDI input channel; you can then switch the active Instrument by sending MIDI program change messages on this channel. This allows you to create General MIDI-compatible sound sets, or combine Instruments that contain various articulations of the same acoustic instrument into one slot. A typical example of an Instrument Bank would be a number of violin Instruments that contain legato, detaché, staccato, and pizzicato Samples, respectively, with the different articulations and playing techniques being switchable via program change messages. Instrument Banks can be saved and loaded separately as files with an .nkb extension.

  • Finally, a Multi lets you freely combine up to 64 Instruments into a production setup. The Multi is the topmost element of Kontakt’s core hierarchy. Each Instrument in a Multi responds to a specific MIDI channel and will send its output signal to a specific Output Channel, where the signals from all Instruments will be mixed and passed on to a physical output of your audio interface or, alternatively, to your host program. A typical example of a Multi would be “a jazz trio ensemble”. Multis can be loaded and saved as files with an .nkm extension.


In addition to its core architecture, Kontakt offers some tools that will simplify your everyday work:

  • The Side Pane is located on the left side of your Kontakt window and can optionally be hidden to save screen space; it provides a convenient way to organize and access all Kontakt-relevant files on your system, such as Instruments, Multis, or Banks. The Side pane also offers a number of additional utility functions. For more information, refer to Side Pane.

  • The Rack occupies the largest amount of space in your Kontakt window; it operates in one of two different modes. In Multi Instrument mode, the Rack will provide an overview of all Instruments that are currently in your Multi, along with some general parameters. Clicking on the wrench icon on the left side of an Instrument Header will switch the Rack into Instrument Edit mode, which provides a flexible and adjustable view of the contained module panels, editors, and modulation tables of this Instrument. For more information, refer to The Rack Multi Instrument Mode.

  • The Outputs section is a mixer-style environment in which you can adjust output levels, assign Output Channels to physical outputs, and use signal processing modules that operate on the output signals of all Instruments in your Multi. For more information, refer to The Outputs Section.

  • The virtual On-Screen Keyboard, the Master Editor, the Info Pane and the Options dialog provide various utility functions and are being explained in detail within their respective sections of this manual. For more information, refer to Main Control Panel.

  • The Library Browser provides access to all your your Kontakt Factory Libraries, Instruments, Snapshots and Multis, as well as your custom User content and presets. For more information, refer to Browser and Presets.