MASCHINE is both an instrument and controller that is made by Native Instruments, the maker of the KOMPLETE 8 Ultimate. It combines 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 as well as additional custom accessories you can get to spice up your MK2. Throughout there may be some crossover.
First, what is MASCHINE? MASCHINE is controller hardware and computer software that work 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.
The MK2 is a groove box and sequencer that has been updated to provide for a very a much more 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 MK2 hardware is the same size as the MK1 and sits at 12.5 x11.5 and 2.4 inches tall and weighs in at 4 lbs. It has 2 displays, 16 color illuminated pads with velocity and aftertouch. There is a master push encoder and 8 rotary encoders with higher-than-MIDI-resolution for true analog feel and real-time multi-parameter tweaking as well as 47 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.
The MK2 is organized into five main areas. At the top is the Control Section. This provides access to all sound, group, and master parameters. New to the MK2 are the two 64 x 256 pixel back lit, high contrast displays with wide viewing angle give you visual feedback on the state of MASCHINE. You can find the information you need even in the darkest environment.
There are eight buttons along the top that perform different tasks based on the context shown in the display. There are eight endless knobs 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. This is another area that has changed in that there is now just one large endless rotary encoder and three buttons that select the volume, swing, and tempo 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. New to this area is the fact that the group buttons are color coded for easier recognition of the individual banks. They are a two tone light. Dim means there is something loaded in that bank, and bright means that it is the active bank.
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. Here the play button, when active is green, and the record button, when active is red.
Below the Control Section and on the right side – taking up the most dominant area of space, is the Pads Section. This is where the music happens. Along the left side of the Pads Section are a series of buttons. Using these buttons you can create scenes to work out the structure of your track, patterns to create different beats with the same sets of sound, and much, much more. These are essentially the same as in the previous MASCHINE.
Then there is the pad area. There are 16 ultra-responsive pads that will play the corresponding sound that is assigned to them. These have changed dramatically in that they are not only in color, but you have the ability to change the color of each pad for each group. So if you have a drum kit that 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. This, though, must be done in the software.
MASCHINE is designed to produce and record drum sounds, but the pads can be used to play melodies and even chords from just about any kind of source. There is the standard layout mapping as well as options to map a single sound to all 16 pads. Doing this you essentially change to a keyboard mode in which the pads represent 16 chromatic steps that ascend from the root note giving you the ability to play a selected sound like an instrument. By using buttons 7 and 8 in the control section, you can transpose down or up respectively an octave at a time. All of these sections are mirrored in the software that comes with the package, but you can manipulate everything through the hardware.
A project is the basis for producing music using MASCHINE. It contains references to all of the sound content – the instruments, sounds, and samples as well as the effects that you apply to them. The project 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.
The two main areas of a MASCHINE project is the sound content – all of the audio material as well as those things that affect the sound content, and the arrangement – the placement of the sounds into patterns that form a song structure.
While there are a lot of methods of working with MASCHINE, it all starts with sounds. In the main controller section there is a browse button that you can access all of the sounds that are associated with MASCHINE. Out of the box, you have over 6 GB of sounds, samples, and effects. You can also add your own samples and sounds as well as from other sources.
Essentially you browse to the sounds that you want to use and you 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.
You then begin to build up groups. Groups are collections of several sounds (up to 16 per group). You can have up to eight different groups that match the A thru H buttons. Once you get things set up you can start recording your music.
In the Transport Section, you select PLAY and the REC buttons. From there you tap out your beats. There is a metronome available to help you keep rhythm as well as other tools for manipulating your sounds. If you make a mistake, there is a handy undo button as well.
Now 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. Press PLAY and REC and you can now add to your composition. Now say you would like to add a keyboard sound, but would rather play it from a real keyboard. That is easy as well. Take your keyboard MIDI output and plug it into the MASCHINE’s MIDI input. The connected MIDI keyboard (or any MIDI instrument) will always play the selected sound chromatically.
You can also use MASCHINE to make your beats in the same way that the classic drum hardware that used a step sequencer did. All that you have to do is select the pad with the sound that you want, press the STEP button from the Control Section and then press PLAY. The lights will sequence through the pads. 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 five and six in the top display to rotate through. It is that easy.
There is so much more that you can do with MASCHINE 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 Instrument’s MASCHINE Media Page.
Not only did I find MASCHINE easy to use, but it is incredibly 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 8 Ultimate, your abilities to create sounds are endless as well.
The new MASCHINE MK2 is a joy to work with. The fact that it also comes in white – the version I am working with, as well as the black is really nice. The color coding of the pads provide visual queuing that makes this unit even better to work with. Before getting my hands on the new MASCHINE, I didn’t think that it would be that useful, but by being able to color the pads, sounds, groups, and scenes, makes it worth the upgrade right there.
I also love the new back-lit, high-contrast displays. It makes everything so much easier to work with and see even in very dark situations such as a club environment. Then when you throw into the mix the better arrangement of the master section, this really makes for no brainer upgrade.
If you are looking for the most complete beat creator/groove sequencer on the market today, then you want MASCHINE MK2. Does it take a while to work through to learn how to make things work? Sure, but with the large volume of instructional videos on Native Instruments site as well as on YouTube at places like MASCHINE MASTERS, it is easy to figure out how to accomplish the tasks you want to accomplish. Next time I will examine the software aspect of this product as well as the MASCHINE accessories. Based just on the hardware alone and all the features it contains, I can very highly recommend Maschine MK2.