Looking a gift Kore in the mouth

I’ve been using the free Kore Player since it was introduced in the spring of 2008. I have started a few projects over that time by just flipping through the sounds looking for inspiration, and Native Instruments has been pretty decent about releasing free soundpacks, so now I have a few hundred to choose from. Sound quality and variety are good, and you can’t really beat the price. The latest release, Holiday Selection 2009, has some very interesting rich, textural and ambient sounds. Not all the sounds are great; the Hammond stands out to me in a “not sure why they included it” way; it doesn’t have a Leslie simulator, which makes it kind of pointless. Likewise I’m not sure I see the point of a couple of heavily processed sounds from the Sax & Brass package. Realistic sounding sax and brass with articulations are hard to come by, but neither of the sounds included in this set fall into that category.

Having said that, there’s a lot of interesting and thoughtful sound design in this compilation. This is definitely not a GM soundset. There are plenty of unique evolving sounds, and a decent complement of vintage-style reproductions. Even the Urban Arsenal shows remarkable depth and grit – and I tend to avoid self-styled “hip-hop” collections as they are often derivative and predictable.

Obviously Kore Player is a sales tool, but as bait it’s mighty tasty. You get a free instrument with a bunch of cool sounds and the expected number of throwaways – and that’s all fair enough, sound choice is subjective. Then you will bump your head against the instrument’s built-in limitations, which may frustrate you enough to convince you to buy at the full Kore 2 software package or one of the softsynths whose sound engines are represented therein.

The main limitation is that you can only tweak those parameters that the sound designers have made available. If you want to mess with the filter and that doesn’t happen to be assigned to one of the knobs you’re SOL – this as I understand it is the nature of Kore. Likewise if you want to hear it arpeggiated but the Kore arp isn’t activated for that particular patch, you are (literally) left to your own devices. The eight variations that most of the sounds have are based on tweaks of these parameters, so some variations provide less variety than you might want.

I also have some complaints about the interface, due in part to the fact that it doesn’t play nice with my controller (Motif ES 7). Load time for patches is unreasonably long on my MacBook Pro dual 2.4 Intel. You have to double-click (or cursor then hit enter) to load a sound and then wait, which makes auditioning sounds a bit of a chore. You can rate sounds, which is handy, but you can’t edit the list or create your own user patch library.

So to sum up, it’s a great deal and a useful instrument for people with zero budget, or anyone who could use a few hundred more quality sounds at their disposal (and who couldn’t); ultimately unsatisfying for tweakers and sound designers (I am a Reaktor user with a lot of vintage hardware in my past), but a good way to test-drive the sound of the synths on which the patches were originally created. Personally I’m not sure who the market is for Kore; maybe the same sort of people who bought ROMplers back in hardware days. But I wish that something like the very interesting “Sonic Fiction” soundset was available for Kontakt or Absynth rather than just Kore, because I’ve got the Komplete 6 upgrade on order and I’d love to get under the hood of some of those sounds and mess around with them.