When Native Instruments released the details of Maschine, its software-based reality left many people who were expecting a new hardware drum machine confused or disappointed. Native Instruments already sold a drum-centric software sampler, Battery, which had built up a strong following of users with its sophisticated feature set. So what was Maschine's deal? The Native Instruments product description professed a "symbiosis of hardware and software" combining "the flexibility of computer-based music production with the ease of a groove box." Essentially, what they set out to do was take the immediacy of physical interaction offered by hardware drum sampler/sequencers like the mighty and ubiquitous Akai MPC line and merge it with a software sequencer evocative of Ableton Live's session view. An ambitious goal, indeed.
Much of the philosophical ideology and design of the product came from a pair of Native Instruments' existing products: The aforementioned drum sampler Battery, and Kore, whose main function is to allow users to organize and layer sounds. The heart of Maschine is a sampling engine which is a bit like "Battery for Dummies," without the advanced functions like sample layering or triggering multiple samples in a round-robin fashion. The intuitive sound cataloging/managing features is reminiscent of Kore, as well as the fact that it ships with a dedicated hardware controller. (Which makes using the software much more of a streamlined process than trying to navigate with a mouse or a manually-mapped MIDI controller.)
The first release of Maschine lived up to many of the PR claims, albeit with a few miscues and curious omissions. Perhaps most vexing was the fact that there was a button on the controller that served no real purpose other than to provide a placeholder for features still in development. Perhaps, Native Instruments had decided to rush a working version of the product out that would be improved upon as time went on? As a result, the very early updates included feature additions like new effect types, a new FX version of the VST plugin (for processing audio with the built-in effects rather than generating audio) and improved ways of browsing for sounds.
Putting the initial hiccups aside, one thing that was immediately evident after working with the 1.0 versions of Maschine was that much like your average toddler, it wasn't big on sharing with others. Communication in and out was limited to synchronization and of course audio. Missing was the ability to send MIDI out in order to sequence external instruments (as you can with any MPC). In addition, there was no way to receive MIDI in from your DAW of choice to perform the usual tasks one would expect of a VST instrument plugin (triggering sounds, automating effects, etc...). Essentially, it was a really handy tool for building beats, but once those beats were created, there was not much you could do with them, save recording them into your DAW and working with them in there.
With version 1.5, the toddler has learned the value of sharing. The options for communication in and out of Maschine are greatly enhanced. One of the most valuable new features is the ability to click on a pattern and drag either the MIDI or the audio from said pattern directly into your DAW host. That means, for example, you could build up a pattern using the hardware to overdub and record on the fly, and when you have something you like, click and drag the MIDI out into your DAW where you can arrange and mangle the MIDI loop at will. This MIDI loop can then be used straight from the DAW rather than from Maschine's internal sequencer to drive the original group of sounds. Another communication improvement is found in the addition of macro knobs, which allow you to assign up to 8 knobs per group (a group is 16 sounds, each with 2 FX) to any parameter on any sound in the group. These macro knobs are then automatically mapped to the hardware controller, and are available for automation by your DAW.
The 1.5 update must also please the group who were looking to Maschine as a full replacement of existing MPC-style hardware. A number of the new enhancements are targeted squarely at this market. Users can now import MPC program files in the format used by almost all of the AKAI line; a feature which will make many a dusty sample CD-ROM relevant again. Also added is the ability to trigger samples in "16 velocity level" mode, where one sound is mapped across the 16 pads of the controller at varying velocities (e.g. bottom-left pad = pitter patter of minimal blip, top-right pad = drill & bass drum from the gates of hell). And each sound in Maschine can now have a vintage mode turned on, which attempts to emulate the sound of an AKAI MP60 or an Emu SP-1200. Finally, Native Instruments brought a few basic destructive audio edit functions to the party like trim, normalize, fade in/out and more.
With any release offering this many new features, there are bound to be things left out or done halfheartedly, and version 1.5 is no exception. The major issue still unresolved is the inability to fully sequence external instruments; only three hardcoded MIDI controller messages are currently supported. Also, the new audio editing functions are nice, but somewhat basic. And if you decide to perform an audio edit, Maschine creates a new audio file in the same folder as your existing samples by default, a feature which may annoy those who like to keep their sample libraries tidy. Finally, the macros are a nice addition, but they're limited. You can't rename them, map more than one parameter to them or limit the range of their affect on the mapped parameter.
Despite the niggles, it's important to acknowledge the amount of new features that Native Instruments is investing into Maschine by way of free updates. (In addition to the vast feature-set upgrades, the sound library in Maschine is treated to a refresh in the form of 1 GB of new sounds for free.) Pro-bono updates are a rarity in the world of music production software, where major releases are almost always associated with a sizeable upgrade fee. Additionally, Native sent a survey to their registered user base shortly after the initial release of Maschine to find out what direction they wanted the product steered towards in the future. This goes a long way towards assuring those who have paid for Maschine that their investment will be rewarded in the future. It's obvious that Maschine is going to be an important part of Native Instruments' future, so if you're on the fence about picking up a powerful drum sampler / groovebox that comes with a massive sample library, put your fears at ease. As long as you're not an MPC power user expecting a full replacement, you will be pleasantly surprised at how far Maschine will take you.
- Width: 320 mm / 12.6"
- Length: 295 mm / 11.6"
- Height: 60 mm / 2.4"
- 1811 Grams / 4 lbs
- 2 displays with 64x256 pixels
- 16 high-quality, illuminated pads with velocity and aftertouch
- 11 endless rotary encoders
- 41 backlit buttons
- USB 2.0
- Kensington Lock
- Windows XP (SP2, 32 Bit) / Vista (32/64 Bit), Windows 7 (32/64 Bit), Pentium or Athlon XP 2 GHz, 2 GB RAM
- Mac OS X 10.5 or higher, Intel Core Duo 2 GHz, 2 GB RAM
- USB 2.0 Port, 6 GB free disk space for complete installation
- Runs as a standalone application, or as a VST, Audio Units, or RTAS (under Pro Tools 7/8) plug-in.
ASIO, Core Audio, DirectSound, WASAPI