MASCHINE, is both an instrument and controller that is made by Native Instruments, the maker of the KOMPLETE 8 Ultimate ensemble of musical instrument plugins and applications. MASCHINEcombines a pattern-based sequencer, professional sampler, multi-effect unit, and VST/AU plug-in host with tactile control. Because this is such a complex system I will break this review down into two parts. Part I will cover the hardware aspect, and part II will cover the software portion though there may be some crossover.
First, what is MASCHINE? MASCHINE is controller hardware and computer software that works together to create music. It can be used live on stage as well as in the studio. It has the qualities of a dedicated instrument, with the advanced editing capability of a software system that can become the creative center of your musical production. You can incorporate it into any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that supports VST, AU, or RTAS formats, or use it as a stand-alone unit. You can even use it to control your external MIDI hardware and software.
There are actually three types of MASCHINE. The one I am reviewing is the original and is the granddaddy of them all. There is also MASCHINE MIKRO which is the entry level version with its smaller footprint and is made for those who work primarily in their DAW and are not in need of in-depth hardware tweaking capabilities. And then there is iMASCHINE, a professional beat sketchpad app for your iPhone or iPod touch providing the same workflow as MASCHINE.
MASCHINE, introduced in 2009, creates a new workflow for beat making with integrated hardware and software. It gives you the ability to create tight rhythms, harmonies and melodies. It is a groove box and sequencer that provides for a very intuitive method of creating beats. You can tap freely on to the pads or build your beats using the Step Sequencer as you would in a classic drum machine. Patterns can be combined and rearranged on the fly to form larger patterns, and since it can be integrated with your favorite DAW, whole systems of music can be created easily.
The MASCHINE hardware sits at 12.5 x11.5 and 2.4 inches tall and weighs in at 4 lbs. It has 2 displays, 16 illuminated pads with velocity and aftertouch. There are 11 endless rotary encoders and 41 backlit buttons. It has MIDI in and out and a USB 2.0 interface. It also comes with a 6 GB sounds. For more system information check out the Native Instrument specifications page.
MASCHINE is organized into five main areas. At the top is the Control Section. This provides access to all sound, group, and master parameters. The displays give you visual feedback on the state of MASCHINE and this area is also mirrored in the software side as well. There are eight buttons that perform different tasks based on the context shown in the display. There are eight endless buttons that also edit various MASCHINE parameters depending on the mode of the system that are also shown in the display. On the left, just below the Control Section is the Master Section which contains the knobs that control the volume, tempo, and swing for the entire system, groups, and sounds.
Below that is the Groups Section. This contains eight buttons labeled ‘A’ thru ‘H’. Each group has 16 sounds slots that hold the sounds along with all of their parameters. It can have up to four Insert FX and 64 patterns assigned it which are organized into four banks. The final section on the left side is the Transport Section. This area allows you to work with your composition. It performs like the transport on a tape player where you have the ability to play, restart, move forward and back, record and erase, and otherwise work with your project.