With Native Instruments releasing Maschine MK3 in October, the hybrid hardware/software package has enjoyed a kind of renaissance, since its predecessor Mk2 was released way back in 2012. However, Maschine has remained a centre piece for many producer’s studios around the world and continues to be where many people create their music. Let’s take a look at where it began, and some of the notable features and improvements Maschine has undergone through its nearly 10-year Journey.
Maschine MK1 was introduced back in 2009 with software version 1.0 and offered an integrated hybrid hardware/software beat production system. The controller had 16 backlit velocity sensitive pads and the design layout mimicked similar sampler models that were popular among the hip-hop and electronic music community through the late ‘80s and ‘90s. The concept was to take the tactile free-flowing production style of hardware instruments like Akai’s MPC range and add the benefits of powerful computer‑based processing. The hardware had no ability to generate sounds, rather it was used to control/record/play and program sounds that came with the software and 5GB sample library included with Maschine. The software had the ability to be able to host 3rd party software instruments and fx plugins that could still be controlled by the hardware, something that would really raise it above anything else on the market. At the time, hybrid packages were a product class in its infancy and Maschine was amongst the first to have a ground-up software package built alongside the hardware. It was met with an incredibly positive response. “Maschine is the best example of a hybrid software‑and‑controller instrument I’ve seen,” – Sound On Sound Magazine.
Around 2 years later, Native Instruments released the Maschine Mikro, a smaller and more affordable Maschine controller, paired with the same Maschine software and sample library including Komplete Elements (a collection of instruments from NI’s flag ship sound library – Komplete). At nearly half the size of the MK1, it was designed to be a much more portable controller. It still had the 16 pads, but many users lamented the discarded 8 encoders, used to control parameters and sample editing.
In 2012, an updated Maschine controller arrived. The MK2 featured RGB backlit pads, redesigned screens and the 3 knobs related to volume, tempo, and swing were replaced with a single jog wheel. Maschine Mk2 came shipped with Maschine 1.8 software, the biggest update of which was expanding to include NI’s incredibly popular soft-synth ‘Massive’. Although the hardware upgrades were mostly cosmetic, they were certainly engaging, in particular – the customisable colour pads, replacing the ‘orange” theme that was found throughout the MK1.
In 2013, Native Instruments released Maschine Studio, a premium version of the hardware controller, bundled with Maschine 2.0 software – a complete re-write which featured a highly sought after multi-track mixer for each group. The Maschine studio was significantly bigger than that of the previous Mk1 and Mk2 and designed to sit over them in the product range. The controller was still centred around its familiar 16 multi-colour pads however the new controller added a new edit section which contained a large jog-wheel and individual button controls for common editing functions like Undo, Redo and Quantize. However most exciting was the 2 large hi-res colour screens that made tasks like editing samples far easier. The screens were primarily included to give users a more hardware based experience – less mouse-clicking and looking at the computer screen – bringing it more into line with stand-alone hardware units. The only downside being that it required a power source (unlike Maschine and Maschine Mikro) and thus was much less portable. But, as the name suggests, NI were aiming at the studio market, so for most Maschine users this was most likely not an issue.
By this stage Maschine had become a mainstay in the world of electronic beat production. Hip-hop producers were kept happy with its powerful sampling and efficient work flow while house and dance music producers were drawn to its easy step sequencing abilities, and large synth library. However even after the numerous software updates, one issue was a constant in the Maschine user groups and that was its sometimes cumbersome way of arranging complete tracks. Combining patterns inside scenes and then arranging the scenes was a method that, unless you were a dedicated Maschine user, could be a very confusing way of arranging music, especially for new users.
Enter Maschine Jam. Released in 2016, it broke from the traditional 4X4 pad groove box model to an 8×8 grid matrix, with the same form factor foot print as the Maschine MK2. It was designed to give greater access to patterns, scenes and groups and help with arranging them chronologically, plus also being able to trigger them at will, almost like a clip launcher. This concept was almost Ableton Push-esque, although it did lack velocity sensitive pads which some found frustrating. The pad matrix could also be used for step sequencing instruments and percussion and it could be switched to piano roll mode, allowing chords and melodies to be played and sequenced on the pads. Below the pad matrix reside 8 touch strips, a newly introduced design concept giving the ability to control parameters instruments/parameters, write automation, control Perform FX and most interestingly, used to intuitively play sounds and instruments using NOTES mode. Sliding your fingers up and down the strips could be used to play chords, and strum notes. It was clear from the start, that Maschine Jam was a nod to the performing producer, allowing users to quickly create arrangements and perform in new ways.
So as you can see, this year’s Maschine Mk3 is the product of 7 years of evolution and learning from Native Instruments. They’ve Frankenstein’d all the highlight features from each iterations of Machine, combined them with more new features and come up with, quite possibly, the most feature-rich product of its type we’ve ever seen. And Native Instruments aren’t finished yet – check out some of the features that are being fine tuned for the next software update.