Real Talk Native Instruments

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Real Talk Native Instruments: why it is a slowly sinking ship for me and how it could be steered back in the right direction.

Update: this is the opinion piece, aka “real talk,” that is part of this Native Instruments news article

Real Talk Native Instruments

Real Talk Native Instruments

In 1999, Stephan Schmitt and Volker Hinz (creators of Reaktor) founded the Berlin-based music tech company Native Instruments. They became one of the leading music companies through products such as Reaktor, Kontakt, Maschine, Traktor, and others.

The company celebrated its greatest successes between the 2000s and the end of the 2010s. You couldn’t ignore NI as a music producer during this period.

Native Instruments slowly

Times have, however, changed. I observed many unfavorable business and product decisions that show an impression of a slowly sinking music tech ship. Let’s summarize! 

Business Decisions

In 2019, it started with a tough staff decision. NI cut 20% of its staff in shift to “platform” strategy. Two years later, in 2021, the real impetus for this current troubled sailing for me was the announcement that the private investment firm Francisco Partners had acquired a majority stake in Native Instruments.

A very daring step back then. An entry into an investment company, taking control of a company, is always a risky decision. The past shows often that it didn’t work. 

The next step was the merger of Native Instruments, iZotope, and Dirk Ulrich’s companies Brainworx and Plugin Alliance. The buzzing supergroup Soundwide was founded. This name, however, became a fiasco. Just a year later, they reverted to the name Native Instruments.

Native Instruments slowly sinking

It’s easier to remember but unusual initially because you have known NI for so long for its Berlin-made products and not for the entire group with several other brands.

A year later, the next tough decision: Native Instruments group cut another 8% of the stuff due to challenging market conditions. Also, in 2023,, the platform that should compete with Splice or Loopcloud, was retired from the market. Mission failed. 

Yesterday, it was announced that Dirk Ulrich, founder and face of Brainworx and Plugin Alliance, has left the group. However, he remains the largest private shareholder of it.

All events in a series of business-focused decisions that raise questions about the future, especially with existing customers who have contributed with their purchases and update fees to the company. That’s not all. Product decisions have also reinforced this impression in recent years.

Product Decisions

Before the supergroup merger, Brainworx acquired the PPG Apps brand from legendary developer Wolfgang Palm with a lot of buzz, including all plugins and apps. Nothing followed! Even now, as part of the supergroup, there are no updates for the previous ones nor new plugins announced or released.

I hoped the supergroup state would now give NI or Brainworx the power to incorporate the PPG apps into its portfolio or even Komplete. The reality is different, but hope dies last. 

Native Instruments kills Absynth

The decision to discontinue the almost legendary Absynth (5) Synthesizer plugin in 2022 also caused much trouble in the community. It has been considered the flagship of NI for years, but those days are over.

And new products? In the last three years, the big-name Native Instruments has not been synonymous with big, groundbreaking new products—more for various Kontakt-based virtual instruments, from classics to avant-garde. In addition, many best-selling products have been subjected to strange updates, which have not exhausted their full potential. 

A prime example is the upgrade from Massive to Massive X. Massive is still a legendary soft synth and a daily driver for many music producers. The expectations were high for them to raise the synth to Serum and co level. What came out of the Massive X development is rather classic or predictable.

Massive X

Yes, it’s semi-modular, and yes, it has more features and better sounds. However, it’s unfinished in many places, like the missing wavetable import. And updates? Well, we are waiting. In the meantime, Arturia updated its Pigments synth two or three times for free; that’s how I like updates. 

The update from Kontakt 6 to 7 is just as strange. A bit of cosmetics with a new browser, all new library but the crytpic ” 2000s’-style editor interface remains. You can do it like that, but much more is also possible. Kontakt could be more fun when the editor is modernized. 

And I’m not talking about the minimum care of Maschine+ hardware or Traktor software. Yes, I am a happy Maschine+ user. I recommend it, but I think the device has much more unused potential. On their site, iZotope more often publishes major updates, but they cost money. Less is more is it for Brainworx plugins. 

Kontrol S Series MK3

Fair play; we had the Komplete Kontrol MK3 news, and Traktor X1 which looked like excellent further developments of the current keyboard and DJ controller lineup. It could be an impetus for a better future.

But from my point of view, there hasn’t been much talk about it since the release. I didn’t hear much buzz after the release other than the endless promotional videos on social media. I hope that with more sold units, it becomes more of a topic. 

A Slow-Sinking Music Tech Ship, For Me!

These recent events revealed many cracks in the Berlin-based company/ship and showed that something is going wrong with the management. In the past, in press, with their best products (Massive, Absynth, Maschine, Traktor…), today, company internals like layoffs, changes in management, new and old names, etc dominates the headlines.

Where is the NI ship going, down or up again? Real Talk! Native Instruments looks more like a slow-sinking music tech ship, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean they’ll turn off the lights tomorrow. With legendary products like Massive, Kontakt, and Reaktor, they come from a high level. And real sinking would take a long time.

This personal impression is reinforced when I see the endless deals. In the past, the yearly NI Christmas and summer sales were events one looked forward to. I bought Reaktor 5 and many other software during these.


Today, they flood the market with special offers. You can buy plugins from the group everywhere. At Plugin Boutique, Thomann, etc., often at bargain prices. It’s good that they’re opening up to more shops, but to what extent? The constant deals show me that the golden times of plugins are over.

As mentioned many times with other companies, constant deals are not healthy. They devalue the portfolio. Who buys a plugin at full price these days? Probably a tiny percent of their customers. You can read a full story on this here.

I feel that NI’s heyday is over, also from other companies. No groundbreaking products, discontinued popular plugins, endless sales, etc. Anything that does not have the best impact on the company’s perception. In 2024, customers have more alternatives on top than in the past. So hard it is: NI is just one of many.

If you make many mistakes like this, you can quickly be sidelined by the music production community. Plus, it is an even more difficult challenge with investors behind you calling for growth and more financial output.

back to the roots

Back To The Roots

But better days are possible. People would be super happy if NI returned to its roots by focusing on powerful updates for its fundamental products such as Kontakt, Massive, FM8, Absynth, Reaktor, Maschine, and more. Users should be involved with their feedback.

A company less driven by sales and growth but more focused on the users again would be great. That with regular updates for its classics, user content, etc., to steer the NI ship back to better times. The current strategy can work for new customers, but long-term customers should not be forgotten. AI is here, we’ll see if it becomes at topic in NI’s future products.

The latest statement from NI marketing team on Facebook gives hope for new things in 2024 where also the community will be involved.

The partnership between Plugin Alliance, iZotope, and Native Instruments is growing steadily stronger. And throughout this year, you’ll see more examples of how we’re able to bring you an even more expansive and integrated suite of music creation tools. What’s Next?
We look to this community as a source of inspiration for what to build – and we’re working on an ambitious roadmap including several products directly inspired by your feedback. Building new tools to help you tighten up your mixes or help you sound unique is why everyone at Brainworx, Plugin Alliance, iZotope and Native Instruments comes to work every day – and that mission drives everything we do.

We will see in which direction the Native boat sails in 2024. My uneasy feeling in my stomach remains about the group. Let’s see if they can change that in 2024. I would be happy to have a second Native Instruments real talk where I can say they are back. 

More information here: Native Instruments



    • I think maybe you initially jumped the gun via the original article. Not once did you mention the recently released Komplete Kontrol MK3 or the new and improved Kontakt 7 to name a few reasons why I personally believe your POV was a little biased and maybe misinformed as NI is keeping things tightly sealed. Sure they are lacking with software updates and AI integration, but surly that is currently in development as I type. You yourself can safely assume the same, instead you took upon yourself to basically crash and burn the legendary music tech empire. I guess we’ll all see in due time.

      • I named Komplete Kontrol MK3 and described it as great further development but needs more focus on them as I don’t see many coverage of them. Also the new Traktor Controller. I also mentioned Kontakt 7. It’s improved but my critics is on the editor interface that has a retro charm. It’s an opinion and a personal taste. If you are fine with it and fun with it, go for it. Everyone should use what works best for them.

        • I’m an investor and make music. So can kind of see both angles. From the music perspective this sucks. You had some innovation but corporate pretty much killed it. A story that repeats itself frequently – most PE funds aren’t great creative industry product investors because it is often hard to justify investment in innovation without a clear relatively short term profit.

          But why did they invest? PE funds love recurring revenues and saw an opportunity to capitalize on a great brand. I don’t know how much they paid, but I’m guessing their investment thesis said that they can keep driving revenues as X% of all Komplete uses upgrade each release, they can keep pushing low cost-high margin expansions and Kontakt instruments and the DJ market is big and growing and they can keep milking that. COVID clearly helped.
          But what they missed is the amount of tech debt the business built – Komplete Kontrol still as of 2024 can’t resize it’s window. Maschine which I love completely stopped innovating and got stuck on version 2 (2.18?) for what, 11 years now? Etc etc.
          The buy and build probably back fired as they paid top dollar for iZotope and PA in 2021 and the synergies are questionable.
          So bottom line not sure Francisco are happy either. But who will buy this from them?

      • Hey, Michael #2, find a different user name that hasn’t already been used by someone else for years! XD

    • Investors come in to milk everything dry as quickly as possible and then leave. That’s just good business!

    • They are a terrible company. They have PERSONALLY tried to suppress a product that my company has been working on via their control over some of the larger forums. I for one am glad to see them taken down a peg. Plus their sound design is the worst in the game. Amadeus e.d.p.

  1. Thanks I’ve been thinking this for a while. Seing the slow sad death of reactor since 6 was released and the absolute bungle of a roll out to tractor pro 3, in which failed to deliver on their own upgrade map on the NI web site, a subscription that went no where, NI has left a sour taste in my mouth! The death of reactor is a great shame!

    • Technology continues and thanks to ever better and efficient processors, more is possible. I always prefer plugins that are optimized and consume as low ressources as possible.

      If you don’t get updates, you risk that the plugins no longer running on current systems. Also many old plugins tend to look likes from early 2000s fresh. On modern screens with 4K, it’s not a pleasing experience to work with them.

  2. Hi Tom! A few things stand out to me, and excuse the long comment

    Your text has a strong “old man shouting at the clouds” feel to it. Music making has changed. Have you ever looked at the generation of music makers? They do not care about old, obscure tools like Absynth, or any other highly programmable synths anymore. Some people seems to be very attached to those synths, and hold them in high regard because those were the first tools they themselves used to start making music.

    This seems to be especially true for folks on forums like KVR, which are a bunch of grumpy folks who always seems to talk about tools, but never make any music. And that’s a valid way of the hobby, dont get me wrong. But it’s also a dying breed of people

    A lot of companies (including Native Instruments) seem to be catering to the new generation of music makers (they are companies after all, and need to sell products) who want quick, easy and inspirational tools that gives them results fast and have easy to use interfaces (take your Absynth example, that synth is a mess, no one likes to program that)

    Why do you think that tools like Splice and Output are so popular? They are fun eand easy to use. That’s also why I enjoy the Play Series. They give great sounds fast, and are still tweakable without being overwhelming. A lot of my fellow younger producers like them too

    I think we’ve released more music than the old garde who swear by the old tools

    I saw a quote (can’t remember where, I think some Facebook group) of someone at NI, they have acces to usage statistics for their software, and can see how people use their tools (unless folks turn the sharing of usage statistics off) and people don’t use their products in any deep way, most customers just preset browse and change Filter Cutoff, and thats it. I bet that is the same for companies like Arturia, with their emulations

    Again, some highly technically/nerdy folks on internet forums might create patches from scratch, but for bigger companies, that is not a sustainable group to cater to.

    I feel you get influenced by what you see and hear in online forums, and from your FB friends (I had a look at those comments on your post the other day, lets be real here, those were all a bunch of old men)

    There are smaller (often 1-5 people companies) who make tools for such users, which is great. But you cant expect all the bigger companies to cater to that exact user group.

    In the end, companies need to sell, and they will build what their main audience wants. For some smaller companies, those are highly technical and specialized tools. And for some companies those are fun and inspirational tools. Both are valid usecases. But please, dont let your perception get skewed by some loud folks on the internet

    And since you’re sharing opinions, please allow me to share some observations about your own website:

    You are using NI affiliate links in your news about them. Feels strange that you are trying to “attack” them, while still want their money

    Why haven’t you covered any of the layoffs at Ableton, Elektron, or any of the other companies?

    In my opinion you have moved away from bringing cool music tech updates, and reading all of this feels like tabloid hit pieces. On a website that is ridden with ads

    You can do better Tom, come on! 🙂

    • Thanks for your input.

      “You are using NI affiliate links in your news about them. Feels strange that you are trying to “attack” them, while still want their money.”
      This article is not an attack at all, it’s a summary of the last 3-4 years and my opinion how I feel about all of this and what my impression is.

      “Why haven’t you covered any of the layoffs at Ableton, Elektron, or any of the other companies?” I covered the layoffs of Moog for example. Layoffs are not my business as I’m not a “financial insider”. I focus on product releases, and here and there some insides etc, I didn’t cover the NI or Ableton layoffs personally in articles.

      “In my opinion you have moved away from bringing cool music tech updates, and reading all of this feels like tabloid hit pieces”.

      I could always switch the website to a news only website with copy paste without insides etc. That’s of course possible, but I’m into copy/paste stuff. And I can have my opinion or i’m not allowed to do this? This was my opinion and the “Real Talk” section is about sharing my opinion in more in depth.

      “On a website that is ridden with ads”,

      – Well nobody wants to pay in these days for media, everything must be free. Nice for the readers but for media near impossible. I need to pay my bills. Since the end of the pandemic, the music tech world has changed, including advertising budgets. There is a decline.

      So this is only the way to survive otherwise I need to switch my content to many sponsored posts, sponsored news, etc. Plus, I’m not a media brand that are part of a bigger music retailer or a bigger music tech investment group. So suriving in 2024 is not easy at all. Cheers

    • This is a great reply and you are right on the mark. Music making had changed. Companies must adapt otherwise they really will be a sinking ship (full of old grumpy men who talk gear but never make anything substantial beyond distorted filter noises…)

    • In the end, companies need to sell and in the end, your mix shouldn’t sound like anybody else’s mix and in the end, Tom also needs clicks and comments on his website. Let’s fire up AI, it does all jobs automatically and we go to the beach and buy cool drinks with our Bitcoins.
      Seriously, it’s ok, that NI products can still be adjusted. Otherwise I would call it “The Hip-Hop Company”.

  3. I think it’s a sign of the times. Everybody is rehashing products spinning them like they are new. I remember the suprise people had when korg announced product after product. Now look again…. which of those was actually new?
    Roland…same thing. Yamaha… one extra ANX vst and more polyphony. I just hope the industry stops mimmicking old stuff and starts to think abortus what all this digital processing power could do for an originaliteit new idea.

  4. I still use KORE to this date. Fast, innovative workflow and way ahead of its time. MASCHINE and KOMPLETE KONTROL are also inherent parts here. But instead of bringing the power together, they split it up with only one goal in mind, to sell more controllers.
    Maybe they should buy Bitwig, go Linux, hardwire all their stuff into it and also implement a capable video engine in 2024. Oops, looks like PreSonus is faster:

  5. I’m not sure how a close observer would come to the conclusion that the electronic musical instruments space isn’t in substantial turmoil in early 2024.

    The entire consumer tech industry seems to have dramatically overshot the mark in its (greedy, short-sighted) response to the COVID lockdown period. That period ended, people reemerged from their homes, and sales of homebody items (such as video games and synthesizers) dropped off precipitously.

    Chaotic mergers and fumbling of branding are not indications of corporate health. There’s every reason to expect the slide to continue. Native Instruments’ arc illustrates this decline: at its inception, NI was about an innovative product but over the years it’s become about selling customers a bunch of bloatware nonsense in the form of overpriced “KOMPLETE” packages.

    On the bright side, all this chaos has meant I was able to pick up Reaktor 6 for $63 (along with with a few other products I either already have or don’t care about). Thanks for the tip on that Thomann sale, Tom!🥳

  6. The real problem began in 2019 when they fired Matt Adell. There was a real problem between the Berlin and Los Angeles teams and an us vs them mentality on both fronts. Owners were wanting to multiply their footprint and Adell was serving them ( to which they were bought into) a vision of a subscription based environment to serve as a producer’s paradise full of tools and lessons. A way to gamify production and build a Netflix for music heads. Ownership hit a snag… the platform they established for logins and info was built on old technology incapable of suiting the needs for this new paradise. They would have to rebuild and Berlin staff was definitely not happy about that. But when Adell’s plans were to move forward with LA and keep after the mission while the retrofit took shape, Ownership reeled back at the thought and eliminated him. Soon after the whole squad in LA who were building that vision were eliminated as well. Why pay a staff to build something now when your platform isn’t ready. From there the vision died and went back to what they know. In the meantime They built the infrastructure but investors weren’t letting them off the hook and the grab to consolidate and unite brands under one banner was the consolation prize.

    • I feel like they were losing their way even before that. Massive X was a mess. It felt like they were mostly releasing Kontakt instruments and Maschine sample packs, and the occasional Reaktor-based synth but Reaktor was still a mess. Komplete 11 was the last one I bought and even that kinda felt like a letdown.

      I used to use Maschine 2.0 standalone as my only DAW, alongside with several NI synths. Today the only NI stuff I’m using is Raum (which they gave away free) and occasionally Supercharger GT. (And I suppose, bx_Oberhausen and RX 7 De-Click if you count their other companies.)

      I feel like Arturia is more in the spirit of what I thought Native Instruments would be in its heyday.

  7. Hello
    Thank you for your work.

    I think NI products are based (many of them) in libraries, presets, etc… but I don’t see them much for a minimum of domestic experimentation.

    Nowadays, you have to offer a more challenging pack for the user.

    Well, thats my opinion. NI has a good niche of market, but they have to act quickly. Maybe creating specially created plug ins of classic synths, new stuff, like lots of new brands in the market (that you kindly review here in your extraordinary webpage).

    NI, be brave and work on it.



  8. Could not agree more. NI have lost focus on nurturing their flagship products. So many of their classics need a major face lift. The fact that we had to wait for years for VST3 support was a joke. Dropping Absynth! Really? The original developer said he would have loved to update it and keep it alive for its many fans. Bongers decision from NI. I am still a hardcore Kore 2 users. Miraculously I still have it running on Monterey on Mac. It is an amazing bit of kit, that NI said would become part of Maschine in the future. Never happened. So many wrong moves by NI. They need to listen to their user base. They will guide them to a better future and keep their loyal fans, who are waining. Sort it out NI please. I have been a fan since day 1.

  9. [edit as my previous post was unreadable]
    “This seems to be especially true for folks on forums like KVR, which are a bunch of grumpy folks who always seems to talk about tools, but never make any music. And that’s a valid way of the hobby, dont get me wrong. But it’s also a dying breed of people”

    It’s called “experiment”. That’s how science and creation are working. If you don’t target mainstream entertainement be prepared to struggle.

    And after 25 years of music making, I can say that there is no tool (hardware and software) designed for professional advanced live music creation. Real music is live music! There are only a bunch of (more or less advanced) gadgets for mainstream play&loop creations.
    Of course, we are not talking buisness, here.

  10. I completely agree with the author. Native Access has become a disaster for me. Nothing can be updated automatically anymore. Support pretends that you should restart your computer or do other pointless things, even though the company has designed a deregistration tool specifically for this bug.

    For me, Native Instruments has only been designing hip hop romplers lately. I haven’t been interested in sounds at all for years.
    Except for Guitar Rig, which I could use if I had a NASA computer, because the plug-in needs a lot of performance.
    Izotope products bought in the Native Instrument Bundle are not upgradeable at the moment and in fact have no serial number.

    Now that Native Instruments has also appeared on PA, I have canceled my Plug in Alliance subscription. Fortunately, I have gradually bought all the plug-ins in the Plug in alliance sale.

  11. Get us the real workstation.
    Better keys, better controls, better casing, put some real power in there, (CPU and Audio IO) and make it run everything NI has to offer. That would be an easy buy for me.

    Gimme a real freaking workstation without the need for a mouse or trackpad. NI could do 88/73/61/49/37 and maybe even minikeys and no keys at all providing something for everyone. And let me be able to build full songs without the need to grap anything else, I don’t want a ‘special’ version of plugin that isn’t compatible on the Mac. Streamline everything and don’t let me worry about specs and other crap. It’s something NI could’ve done for decades already!

  12. Prasing Arturia I’ll find pretty strange and wrong, they are releasing only boring sound emulations with a pretty UI (self-contained) of old synths without any real innovations (I am only talking about their software – eg. really like MicroFreak).

    NI’s main focus are deeply integrated products – also to external developers – also some of their old stuff is still usable on new systems. Releasing updates like Arturia would break their complete line-up.
    Also, this article is not mentioning GR7, which is currently the best effect processor on the market.
    NI has its big flaws, yes, e.g. releasing KK MK3 in its unfinished state, as example – only hoping they keep their word and implement what’s planned and on their roadmap.

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