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What Is NKS?

According to Native Instruments:

NKS brings all your software instruments, effects, loops and samples, into one intuitive workflow – creating seamless integration between NI and other leading developers. It gives you streamlined browsing, consistent tagging, instant sound previews, pre-mapped parameters, Smart Play features, and more. NKS also connects all your favorite tools to our KOMPLETE KONTROL keyboards and software, MASCHINE, and third-party controllers.

Why is this important for blind and visually impaired composers and musicians?

As of yet, the user interface, UI, of Kontakt-based instruments is not accessible to screen reading software. Native Instruments tries to address this via their free product, Komplete Kontrol, which, apart from keeping things organised via its browser, provides an accessibility layer between Kontakt instruments and plugins and a hardware midi controller. This is very likely a Komplete Kontrol keyboard, NI's own controller.

As a result, certain UI controls of a Kontakt instrument or plugin can be mapped to hardware knobs of Komplete Kontrol, which then can be used by the above-mentioned accessibility layer, to for example provide speech output when a knob is touched, letting a blind or visually impaired user know what parameter can be adjusted.

Does NKS accessibility work well?

For the most part, yes. However, there are a few shortcomings that will be hopefully addressed in the upcoming years as NKS matures and more and more sample library developers adopt it.

First, there is currently no feedback about the new value when a parameter is modified. Thus, changes can be only confirmed by ear. This works most of the time, however, there are instances when some sort of feedback would be very useful, for instance it is very easy to miss an articulation, or set exact values this way.

The other issue is that a lot of sample library developers opt to map only the essential controls to Komplete Kontrol knobs. If you are one of these developers, or you would like to implement mappings for your library, please don't do this. A significant amount of your userbase will not be able to access all parameters and fully customise your library to their liking.

If you would like to include the essential parameters, in order to avoid cluttering up the knob interface, please consider mapping the extra parameters last. This way, sighted Komplete Kontrol users will not have to go through a lot of pages to find what they need, while you provide equal access to your library. In general, the more mappings available, the better.

Does this mean that if an instrument is not NKS-ready, it is inaccessible?

Absolutely not. In a lot of cases, instruments do not need extras, or those extras are provided via key switches. In addition, a Kontakt instrument can have keyboard knob mappings, even if it is a non-NKS-ready, full kontakt Player library. See our review of Clar-Duduk by Evolution Series as an example, which requires the full version of Kontakt.

Is there a page where I can read more about NKS?

Yes, there is. See Native Instrument's NKS page for more information. This is also the place where you can discover NKS-ready libraries as well, although the list is by no means complete.