Native Instuments Maschine 1.5 ($669 list, www.native-instruments.com)

We reviewed Maschine 1.0 in the 06/09 issue, but the 1.5 update is a significant feature upgrade, and well worth covering.
Author:
Publish date:

We reviewed Maschine 1.0 in the 06/09 issue, but the 1.5 update is a significant feature upgrade, and well worth covering. Although we won’t dwell on the basics, Maschine is a hardware/software combination that streamlines the beat creation/groove process. It follows the usual drum machine paradigm (you string patterns into songs), but also borrows Ableton Live’s “scene” concept for triggering multiple patterns simultaneously. Furthermore, it’s a sampler and resampler that can slice files. The hardware is particularly classy (and responsive); overall, the entire package is a strong one—but version 1.5 kicks it up a notch (Figure 9).

Fig. 9. The overall Maschine interface; check out the selection of effects.

MascnineFig9

More vintage: Given the hardware’s MPC-friendly layout, it’s not surprising that 1.5 allows importing MPC banks and programs. But you can also choose a "Vintage” sampling engine instead of the standard one, with sound options for MPC and SP1200 (E-mu’s famous drum machine); the latter includes five different filter types. Many have claimed to duplicate the SP1200 sound, but having written the manual for it, I can vouch for the accuracy— which is most obvious when altering pitch on a highhat or cymbal, and you hear artifacts like those generated by E-mu’s “sample skipping” transposition technology.

16 velocity pads: For precise velocity programming, you can assign a single sound to all 16 pads, each with its own velocity level. This is more useful than it sounds when you’re building drum tracks one at a time, as predictable velocity control can lead to more expressiveness. And speaking of expressiveness, Maschine finally responds to MIDI pitch bend and mod wheel messages.

Fig. 10. There are far more sample editing options in version 1.5.

MascnineFig10

Sample editing. Maschine now allows deeper onboard destructive sample editing (truncate, normalize, reverse, DC offset, cut/copy/paste, fades, etc.), which as with so many Maschine functions, can happen in either the software or hardware user interface—and all communication is bi-directional (Figure 10). To go along with this, there’s better scrolling and zooming. All in all, Maschine feels much more like a “real” sampler now.

Slice and dice: Version 1.5 imports REX files, but can also slice existing files based on dynamics, grid, or rhythmic value (e.g., every 16th note)—and yes, slice points are editable, with a great deal of detail. The improved zooming and scrolling comes in handy here too, as you can tweak the slice start and end with precision. After you’re done tweaking, as with REX files, you can see the different notes triggering the slices (Figure 11), and adjust velocity and position for each slice, as well as cut, paste, copy, and overlap slices.

Fig. 11. When you import a REX file, you can see the familiar stepped pitches that trigger the REX slices sequentially.

MascnineFig11

Plays nice with others: Maschine integrates much more fully with hosts, as well as your overall studio setup. Drag and drop works for both MIDI and audio from Maschine to a host (but not from host to Maschine), so any pattern you create can become a part of your DAW project. This has several implications. For one, you can develop patterns with Maschine in standalone mode, then bring it into a project as a plug-in and bring all the files into your host. These can then drive Maschine, or some other sound generator. Maschine can also drive external MIDI devices, either from its controller, or the built-in sequencer; this makes it more of a “brain” for a MIDI setup, particularly as you can record notes directly into a DAW from Maschine. This is helpful if you want to use Maschine’s controller, but a different virtual instrument within your DAW. Furthermore, you can export MIDI files from Maschine, and when it’s time to save a project, samples can now be included with the project in a self-contained folder (major thumbs up for that one).

Workflow: You can assign the eight knobs to Macro functions, for example, bringing out several kick drum parameters to the knobs so you can tweak the sound in real time without having to go to specific menus. In addition to some new shortcuts for quick adjustments (e.g., change level and pitch for entire kits or individual sounds), you can load kits without patterns—great for auditioning different kits. And for live use, you can select a sound without necessarily hearing it.

Content: What would an update be without more content? There’s an extra gigabyte of new sounds and kits, bringing the total to 6.2 GB.

Conclusions: Maschine is not a simple program; although NI makes it surprisingly easy to use, it’s very deep (with lots of keyboard shortcuts), so you’ll need to spend some quality time learning how to exploit both the software and hardware to the max. The payoff, though, is that you will have mastered an instrument that allows a huge array of options for creating, editing, processing, and exporting beats.

More from this Beats RoundUp:

RoundUp: The Beats Generation
TOONTRACK BEATSTATION
FXPANSION BFD ECO
MONKEY MACHINE
ARTURIA HIP-HOP