These days there is certainly a wide choice of new production kit to get lost in and generally a lot of choice these days is simply down to a personal selection of your own method of working, but one piece of kit for me that stands out over many has been the introduction of Maschine from Native Instruments and its whole Maschine range.
I have always been a long time fan of the MPC since the early 90’s when it was the hip hop producers weapon of choice, but as technology progressed and with a lack of updates in keeping with current development usage of the MPC in modern DAW set ups became increasingly difficult and some what clunky – Sure the MPC has (and always will have) its own signature sound, groove and filters but with a lack of decent digital integration, interface and general flexibility MPC users were left in the cold as AKAI itself struggled through its own problems as a company and the MPC range itself came to stand still in development – Akai have addressed this and the range now has been some what brought up to date, but in the interim Native Instruments identified the void and frustrations of MPC users and seized upon the opportunity and brought us Maschine, a piece of kit that in my opinion in one foul swoop gave users of MPC’s everything they ever wanted and more (with the exception of time stretching !…but I’ll come to that !)
One of the the main draws of Maschine to me is it once again offers users hands on creativity and expressiveness outside of a computer, something that has in a lot of ways been lost as more and more production tech has gone virtual, Music is after all (to me anyway) an expressive, creative & hands on medium, there is a lot to be said for catching a vibe or groove and being able to produce expressively as you create, sure dragging boxes around a screen is now a big part of all musical production so to me any option to break out from the monotony of box shifting is a welcome choice !
In this review I’ll cover as much as I can of the new features found in Native Instruments massive (no pun intended) update to both Hardware and Maschine Software, I think the thing I like most about all the updates is that it proves Native to be a company that is interested in its users needs and a company that acts upon its users requirements to deliver products that do what users want them to do ! I’ve been a Maschine user from day dot and its great for me that through the products evolution all of the features that users have asked for in the forums have been included and deployed as the range has been updated -..and quickly too!
So on to the hardware changes -
New features include
- Choice of colours – you can now have white instead of Black !
- New Multicolour Pads with variable sensitivity
- Redesigned Display with wider viewing angle
- Redesigned hands on interface with a single push button encoder allowing quick access to multiple parameters
- Multicloured Backlighting
- New “Click Action”
- New Choice of overlays to Customize your own Maschine
- New Stand Option
Ok the hardware changes are mostly cosmetic and based around aesthetic but those that aren’t bring a lot to the table over the previous unit. The new pads are colour assignable which although might seem quite trivial is actually a very useful addition, you can now assign different colours to each of your elements for quick visual reference, you can now colour code all of your drums blue for example, pads red and bass lines green, this is great when quickly flicking between groups and especially good when playing live, you no longer have to scan text on the screen to make sure you are on the right group or pad , simply assign a colour and away you go !
You also now have much better control over pad sensitivity – This is great to personalize the velocity to your own taste – I’m sure no two people hit Maschine in the same way so you can fully customize sensitivity curve to suit your own way of playing, as hard or soft as you like allowing you even tighter control over velocity. This to me is a great way of returning dynamics to your work allowing you greater variation in your drum hits and injecting that much lost live feeling to your breaks, sure you can hit the units fixed velocity setting if you want everything at full velocity but these days it’s the subtleties of change and variance in detail that bring that extra 5% to your productions and this is the perfect tool to do it !
The final thing Ill mention here is the new click encoder – I’ve noticed the introduction of this across most of Natives new hardware and it’s a system that works well – Essentially the new unit now focuses around a simple rotary knob can also be compressed to confirm selection. This is great for centralizing all actions through one controller, simply rotate the knob through parameters or menus to find the one you want and then click the knob to select. This is great for workflow as you can now access nearly all of Maschines functions in one place, whether it be volume, changes of function, tempo …literally anything increasing nice quick work flow as you produce.
New Additions –
- Colour Code Support for the Multi Colour Pads
- Offline Time Stretching
- Additional Effects
- Browser Sample Preview Mode
- New Shortcuts
- Full Copy of Native Instruments Massive
This to me is where Maschine excels – even away from any DAW integration Maschine is a complete production tool within itself, for sketching ideas I actual prefer its arrangement process to that of Logic, you can quickly pull together ideas as loops and then add them to Scenes at the top in a very similar way to Abletons clip viewer, then when happy simply click and hold the chosen clip, scene or loop and you can drag drop straight to Logic as audio or Midi , you can scope out a whole arrangement in Maschine and then finalize, edit and master in your DAW of choice .. If of course that’s how you choose to work but for me this works perfectly.
On top of this several updates back Native introduced full Plug in support, you can sequence any of your plugs directly in Maschine and then add any Plug in effect in one of the effect slots, so if you want you could sequence your favourite synth and add effects with your plug ins of choice pre DAW or as standalone, to allow this straight out of the box Native have added a full copy Massive and its transient Master Plug, as well as many other already standard effects to get you going, this adds an additional 1300 sounds to the already huge sample library that comes bundled with Maschine
The final thing I’ll cover here for the software side of things is the welcome addition of Timestretching. To me the thing that Maschine massively lacked and probably the thing that prevented thousands of die-hard MPC fans from switching over was a lack of this feature, a feature that I feel is essential for a product of this nature. Previously I actually had to stretch loops in Logic to my chosen tempo and then import and slice which although not a massive chore is a process that slows workflow as you constantly flip between apps.. BUT, the 1.8 update finally brings timestretching to Maschine giving users the final piece of the jigsaw and making Maschine the complete all round product that it is.
To highlight how good this is I currently set my soundcard to loopback, scour Youtube for nice rare breaks or samples, sample live straight into Maschine, set up a nice loop, timestretch to my projects tempo and then slice into lots of lovely useable little pieces whether they be individual drum hits, instrument notes/riffs or vocal phrases which you can play them back with the pads, in any order you want allowing you to quickly reconstruct breaks and build up your arrangement pretty quickly, that to me is work flow at its best !
This is by no means an extensive list of all of Maschines possibilities, Id be here all year and probably end up writing a book ! I have tried to be as impartial as possible but the truth is I love Maschine it really is a great product and brings so much to the table both as a production tool and a live tool (which I’ve hardly covered, check out the Jeremy Ellis videos on youtube!) If you can I’d really suggest getting your hands on one, if you do I pretty much guarantee you’d feel the same.
And its not just me ! I know the unit is now a central method of production for so many people, Spectrasoul wrote a good chunk of their acclaimed album on it, Octane uses it live in DJ sets, Doc Scott, D-Bridge and Heist are all massive fans, to me it returns so many elements to music creation that have been lost with computer based production, all seamlessly integrated into that environment with an unlimited amount of possibilities, I certainly look forward to the future evolution of Maschine and will keep you updated as it does and over the next few review sessions I’ll have a look at Natives Sample pack offerings for the unit for added ammunition.
Maschine Official Websitehttp://www.native-instruments.com/#/products/producer/maschine/
Jeremy Ellis on Maschine – http://www.youtube.com/user/NativeInstruments/featured?v=QtXHghVH1d4