MASCHINE MIKRO, much like its bigger brother, is both an instrument and controller. This device is made by Native Instruments, the maker of the KOMPLETE 9 ULTIMATE, and it combines a pattern-based sequencer, professional sampler, multi-effect unit, and VST/AU plug-in host with tactile control. Like the MACHINE MK2, this is a complex system comprised of two parts – the hardware and the software. I will cover the hardware in this review. You can read about the software aspects in part two of my review of the MACHINE MK2 as they both use the same software application.
First, what is MASCHINE MIKRO? It consists of controller hardware and computer software that work together to let you 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. It can be used as creative center of your musical production or incorporated into any Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) that supports VST, AU, or RTAS formats.
The MASCHINE MIKRO hardware is smaller than the MK2 at 12.6 x 7.7 inches, two inches tall, and 2.6 lbs. It has one display and 16 color illuminated pads with velocity and aftertouch. There is a master push encoder for controlling numerous functions (30 steps), and 28 backlit buttons. It has a USB 2.0 interface. It also comes with a 6.2 GB sound library that includes over 18,000 samples including drum kits, multi-sampled instruments, and sliced loops and one-shots. For more system information check out the Native Instruments specifications page.
The MASCHINE MIKRO interface is organized into three main areas. At the top left is the Control section. This provides access to all sound, group, and master parameters. New to the MIKRO are the new 24 x 128-pixel backlit high-contrast black-and-white displays giving you visual feedback on the state of the MIKRO. This makes it really good for finding the information you need even in the darkest environment. It also includes a master push encoder that handles multiple software functions through the use of several buttons.
On the bottom left side is the Transport section. In this area you can 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. Here the play button when active is green, and the record button when active is red.
On the right side, taking up the most space, is the Pads section. This is where you actually create your music. Along the left side of it is a series of control buttons. Using these buttons you can create scenes to work out the structure of your track. You create patterns and different beats using the various sounds. You then combine them to create your music. From this standpoint, it really works much like the MASCHINE MK2.
In the pad area there are 16 ultra-responsive pads that will play the sound assigned to them. These have changed dramatically from the prior version in that they are in color, and you have the ability to change the color of each pad for each group. They work the same way as they do on the MK2, which means if you have a drum kit and you want to change the kick drums to be blue, the snares to be red, the high-hats to be yellow, and the cymbals to be green for quick identification, you can do just that. These changes must be handled in the software.
Also, just like in the MK2, the Project is the basis for producing music. The Project contains references to all of the sound content – the instruments, sounds, and samples as well as the effects that you apply to them. It also contains the arrangement of your song – how the patterns are built from events which trigger sounds and how they are arranged into a song structure using scenes and pattern clips.
There are many ways of working with MIKRO, but it all starts with the sounds. In the main controller section there is a browse button that lets you access all of the sounds associated with your MIKRO. Out of the box, you have over 6 GB of sounds, samples, and effects. You can also add your own samples and sounds, and ones from other sources.
This works a little differently than the MK2 in that there is no Groups section; instead, Groups selection is located on pads 9 through 16. You select the group button and then the pad identifier (A-H) to choose the group you want to load to. Then you browse to the sounds that you want to use and assign them to one of the pads. You can also select a kit, such as a drum kit, and have it assign the various parts of the kit – kick drum, snare drum, cymbals, high-hat, etc. – to the various pads. From there you can start working out a pattern.
The Transport section is where you record and play your sounds. You can select Record, tap out your beats, and then play them back, add to them and edit them. There is a metronome available to help you keep time as well as other tools for manipulating your sounds. If you make a mistake, there is a handy undo button as well.
You are not limited to drum kits; you can also load other instruments such as guitars, bass, keyboards, and more into chromatic steps and tap these out as you would on a keyboard. In fact Native Instruments has a whole series of add-on packs made just for the MASCHINE line of products.
MIKRO also gives you the ability to create your beats in the same way that the classic drum hardware that used step sequencers did it. You set up the sound that you want to sequence and each pad represents one step of a 16-step sequence. You just press the pads that you want to activate in the sequence. To move to a different sound in a specific kit, you just move buttons F1 and F2 in the top display to rotate through. It is that easy.
There is so much more that you can do with MASCHINE MIKRO and all of its abilities that it would be impossible to address them all here, but if you want to see more about its beat creation, sampling capabilities, and samples of it sounds and demos, then you can check out Native Instruments’ MASCHINE MIKRO Media Page.
Not only did I find the MIKRO as easy to use as the MK2, but it is just as addictive. There is so much that you can do to create, just from the console itself. If you add in a DAW your abilities are endless. If you add in KOMPLETE 9 Ultimate, your abilities to create sounds are endless as well.
It is a smaller unit than the MASCHINE MK2 and there are some limitations in that there is no MIDI interface, you cannot tweak multiple parameters at the same time from the hardware, you don’t have direct access to groups from the hardware, and the hardware is not customizable, but there is also a difference in price if you are on a budget.
It is a joy to work with. The fact that it comes in white (the version I am working with) as well as black is really nice. The color coding of the pads is great for providing visual queuing. I also love the new back-lit, high-contrast display that makes everything so much easier to work with. If you are looking for a beat creator/groove sequencer and cannot justify buying the MASCHINE MK2 then I can very highly recommend MASCHINE MIKRO.