Maschine’s hardware controller, which assigns dedicated physical control to the software’s functions. Photo (CC-BY-SA) Dmitriy G./droptune.

“Feature creep” is a tricky thing. We all say we want tools that focus more on what we want rather than just add features. But some functionality is there for a reason.

When Maschine came out, Native Instruments’ take on drum machine workflows showed a lot of promise. The biggest draw: Native build a dedicated hardware controller just for the application, making working with the software tool more tangible, but with the flexibility of software. Maschine could integrate with your existing software effects and DAW (like Ableton Live), but without giving up the kind of hands-on control found in hardware.

At least that was the promise. In reality, version 1.0 didn’t quite do some of the things people expected when it came to integration. A series of updates, culminating in the deeper changes in 1.5, has addressed that. 1.5 now allows you to record Maschine events into your DAW, and supports MIDI pitch bend and Control Changes. You can also now drag and drop MIDI patterns. That means if you want to drop Maschine in something like Live or Renoise for sequencing, you can do so more practically.

Also new in 1.5:

  • Grain Stretch effect (yes, this part is especially tasty)
  • Modeled “vintage sampler” modes for emulating the MPC-60 and SP-1200. NI says they’ve done “sophisticated component modeling.” I haven’t heard the results yet and don’t know exactly what that means, but maybe an expert on one of the original instruments would like to test it out for us? (I’m particularly interested in the SP-1200, as I think there are more reasons to model that sound than an MPC.)
  • New slicing and mapping options
  • New samples, including Goldbaby’s MPC-60 kits, and special versions of some existing NI packs covering Abbey Road drums, session strings, and vintage synths.

In other words, it’s a huge upgrade. It probably could be called “2.0,” but happily, it’s a free update. (That’s especially good news, as we’ve gotten some fairly negative comments when NI users haven’t had the upgrade path they wanted. This, by contrast, makes a terrific gift to users.)

True to NI’s recent marketing efforts, the launch is accompanied by plenty of celebrity videos. There’s no question who NI hopes will buy Maschine: appearances by major hip-hop producers leave little doubt. But my guess is the tool itself is more of a selling point for that market than any big-name producers on the vendor website – and, for that matter, I think the supposedly-separate interests of electronic and hip-hop communities are more blurred now than ever. Maschine 1.5 is more likely to live or die based on how musically useful it is. Based on what I’ve seen from CDM readers, the gradual improvements – plus simply having more time to get it into musical workflows – have led to growing ranks of Maschine fans. If you count yourselves in those ranks, do let us know what you like or what you’ve found to make it useful.

Maschine’s user interface is the work of design shop Precious Forever.
  • It's good to hear they're modeling themselves after vintage units!

    It sounds like this iteration continues the trend of thinking forward, while still keeping grounded to the past.

  • Radiophobic

    They have been doing that for a while. B4, FM7, Pro52 and guitar rig are all models.

  • I don't have Maschine but I've always argued that in the world of computer 16bit 44.1 khz sampling, reason why mpc60's and Sp1200's are popular is because of the A/D converters for the sample engines and D/A for outputs. First the sp1200 input: "The sample input goes via an anti-aliasing filter to remove unwanted frequencies that are above half the sample frequency, the cutoff is brick walled at 42dB.
    "(From EMU archive).
    Next,the two ways to get your output filtered in 12BIT! see the picture… Notice channel 7 and 8 are unfiltered but 1 to 6 are. Channel 1 had a fixed attack and decay. 2 through 5, filtered with a static five pole 1dB Chebyshev filter, set at frequencies to optimise the sounds. The filters can be heard on the MIX output all the time, and on the individual outputs if the jack is half inserted. (from EMU archive).
    As for the MPC60, it also had a 12bit sampling engine that was very unique. A lot of people say that the S900/S950 had same 12bit engine but that's not true either. They both also had different max frequency capture of both are different. The MPC60 had a different freq capture but at 12bit. So there are really 3 types of max frequencies that can be attained from the different samplers. I argue that 16bit filtering is different than 12bit filtering (both units could adjust the filter freq amounts).
    So now we need to find out if Maschines can accomplish this. I'm sure they grabbed the SP and MPC and did Freq Analysis to come up with the algorithms for modeling but what would really be nice is if we could have a hardware sound card that could do this. Personally I own an s900 with the Marion 16bit add on card and an S1000. In studios I have worked on an mpc60II with the Roger Linn upgrades and I also have worked with an MPC2000 (non xl) as a sampler/sequencer using the sp1200 as a MIDI slave sound unit.

  • Greg

    I guess I should have jumped into this conversation about six or seven Ableton live integrations ago (maybe even when people started imitating Moog's CV scaling?) but I really am not crazy about the lock-in/out of hardware and software that we keep seeing more and more of.
    If you want something that sounds like a classic hardware sampler, go buy one. Otherwise, you're better-served doing something you thought up that imitates the sounds you like, and music broadly probably is, too.
    I mean, what if Doug E. Fresh could afford a TR-808, or even a decent drumkit, when he was a kid? Wouldn't that have sucked?

  • @Greg: I absolutely agree about lock-in, but I'm not sure that argument applies to Maschine. The Maschine controller sends and receives MIDI. I'd like 100% of the functionality of the controller to be MIDI-addressable, but it comes close. And Maschine's software works just fine with other controllers, too.

    I'm not quite sure I follow the rest of your lie of thinking here, though. For the price of an 808, you can afford an entire computer now and load it with some pretty amazing free or cheap software. If Maschine seems worth the investment for you and you have the scratch, it's an option. If not, there are other options.

    But, onto the vintage sampler discussion —
    @regend: Very well put. And actually, rather than just emulate the SP or MPC directly, I'm personally interested in the creative work that people are doing with hardware to create new stuff inspired by these designs. It'd be nice to try some of that in software environments, too. That's nothing against what Maschine may be doing – I'll be interested to see that, as well.

  • I watched the intro video – they may be getting obsessive over micro-features, yet certainly the new import formats are welcome, opening up a wealth of classic content (and emulated classic sound quality)

    I have tried one of these in person at 1.0 and it was indeed very fun and intuitive, with a great bank of included samples. At this point, I would definitely choose it over a dedicated MPC workstation. (any reason not to at this point?)

    Would have bought it, but I'm Ableton based, and the APC40 seemed a better investment at the time.
    (though that truly is Apples to Oranges, as they serve different functions.)

    Is Maschine actually a comparable DAW on it's own – can anybody weigh in?

  • Jordaan

    @vjfranzk you can run it as stand alone and drag&drop your loops into ableton.

    As for whether there is a reason to buy an MPC, I suppose if you had a rack of hardware it might be a better option. With two/four midi out configurations, MPC are great at routing midi without having to resort to plunging into submenus. Computers may have a one up with their broad feature sets, but when it comes down to simple nutz and bolts midi routing MPCs are a good option.

    There are, however, weaknesses that are becoming more apparent. The lack of 24 bit resolution or a novel approach to managing large sample like what is in the Maschine make MPC a less attractive solution. After the MPC 4000, Akai dropped any support of their PC librarian software Aksys and have resorted to releasing 16 bit models exclusively. Not to mention the bugs that sometimes occur.

    Just my two cents.

  • empolo

    Got my Maschine running nicely alongside Renoise, both as a plug-in and standalone. Drag/Drop MIDI and audio work very nicely.

  • I'm still looking forward to a groovebox-like controller. The groovebox type of interface has been unexplainably obliterated. I'm talking about Eletribes, Rave-o-lutions, RMx1, AN200, Elektrons, etc. So far the only options in the market are MPC-like, Monome-like, keyboard-like, and knobs & faders like. To me the groovebox is the perfect interface for electronic music, and I'm sure many people agrees. I'm using electribes, but would seriously consider a controller if it came in the same fashion. A hands-on step sequencer, with enhanced features (polyrhythms, inter-modulating seqs), and LCD and lights feedback enough to play with the laptop lid closed….

  • fb
  • @cooptrol: If you had to go into more detail, what else would you want out of such a design? (features? What about it makes it a "groovebox" to you, since there are some differences in the models you suggest?)

    (I'm only prodding because I like the idea.)

    @empolo: That's great; I'll have to try Maschine with Renoise, too, then!

  • This is really interesting. Analogue filter modelling has given rise to many debates about the need to keep bulky synths at hand but very few people have been vocal about keeping vintage samplers at hand for their sound and up till now I never heard of emulations for them. The "crappy" dacs, limiters on the input, odd filters, etc, all make for a unique sound.

  • genjutsushi

    maybe they will restrict the sample memory to 720kb to emulate using a 3.5"floppy drive like the MPC60? That would be ultimate retro!

  • Automageddon

    @Peter Kirn: I would love a dedicated midi-only groovebox as well. I've been thinking about something like this for a long time now; for me, the hands-on approach of the classic grooveboxes together with the flexibility and almost infinite resources of VST instruments is a sure victory.

    In my ideal world it should have:
    – xox step sequencer;
    – arpeggiator;
    – USB and midi connections;
    – additional velocity sensitive mini midi keyboard on the front (Think of a MC-909 with a midi keyboard attached at the bottom);
    – at least 16 channels;
    – On board memory;
    – Assignable rotary knobs(8 or more) and sliders (8 at least, they double up as volume strips and volume/filter envelopes there should be at least 4 banks;
    – Programmable instruments (Imagine an instruments as a set of CC or sysex assigned to a the sliders/knobs);
    – CC and sysex compatible (These could be edited from either an external USB keyboard or a numeric pads assigned to the sequencer buttons);
    – Midi Slave or Master, transmitting the usual timing messages;
    – Midi effects (autoscales/chords);
    – Roll button with programmable resolution;
    – LCD monitor (fairly good size) for pattern editing (in a similar style to Akai MPC 1000 JJOS);
    – Easy-to-navigate menu (necessary to edit all parametres, event microediting);
    – All knobs movements (internal or midi) should be recordable and editable in the patterns;
    – Should work as a remote control, play, record, stop should be able configurable so that your DAW will recognise them.

    ..and most important, you should be able to run it as a standalone controller, for example you setup your instruments in Live (for example) set the receive channels, then you don't have to touch the software anymore until you're ready for the final mix-down of your track.

    Going back to the hipothetycal midi-groovebox/Ableton Live set up I mentioned above, once you're done recording your song on the groovebox, you just arm all the tracks on Live and record, or export as midi file and import.

    It would be a dream machine for me…

  • Steve Elbows

    @vjfranzk: No, there are a number of important things that DAWs can do that Maschine cannot, so its not directly comparable to DAWs although there is some overlap.

    Maschine is a hell of a lot of fun, and the new version is a significant milestone. Maschine is a pretty good example of a well thought out hardware-software combo.

  • Yeah, definitely doesn't count as a DAW. But then again, you don't always need a DAW to do production. And when you do want that, the idea is to load Maschine into another tool — like Ableton Live, conventional sequencers (trying it in SONAR)… and nice to hear that it works well in Renoise!

  • eric

    been trying out the update since yesterday and I must say that the workflow enhanced significally making beats in live with the midihost feature.

    Congratulations NI…you made a mediocre product become a classic piece of gear!

  • HEXnibble

    @Automageddon: Maschine already does everything on your list already, other than having an arpeggiator, midi effects, and having a keyboard attached. Unless you're talking about a completely standalone hardware. But Maschine does work just like a standalone hardware in terms of workflow. You don't even have to look at the computer screen or touch a mouse most of the time.

  • HEXnibble

    @vjfranzk: If you like the workflow of hardware like Electribe and MPC, Maschine takes the best elements of both and offers tight integration in a software environment, especially with Live. At this point, I would recommend Maschine for a Live controller, with all the excellent instant mapping Live templates that utilize the two LCD displays. Even as a matrix clip launcher (Maschine did long before APC40 even shipped), I would recommend looking into LiveOSC (for TouchOSC) on iPad/iPod since it does all that Launchpad/APC does and more including visual feedback of clip/device/parameter names & the red ring around the clips.

    Some of my favorite features of Maschine are:
    – powerful step sequencer w/ visual feedback through backlit pads (you can zoom in and out of different step resolutions reflected on the pads and the displays showing where you are)
    – Maschine is a non-linear pattern sequencer just like Live's session view but you can actually record real-time automation in it which Live still can't do without cumbersome workarounds or hacks
    – performance friendly, immediately accessible mute/solo of each sample as well as groups of sounds like a combination of features of both Electribe and RM1X
    – ability to do things like sampling/resampling that stops automatically at a desired number of bars in sync with tempo, all without ever stopping the sequencer, and have the new sample kick in at the start of next bar
    – has a step parameter lock feature similar to Elektron MachineDrum
    – it can work as a hardware multi-fx step sequencer like Sugar Bytes Effectrix for both internal and external sounds
    – you can quickly drag and drop your patterns as audio or midi into any DAW

  • Automageddon

    Then I need to go to a shop and try it out…

    How does it integrate with Renoise? Any experience?

  • aje

    "could integrate with your existing software effects and DAW (like Ableton Live)…"

    Amazing news just in: there's some other DAW programmes out there too! Apparently Maschine can be used in Cubase, Logic, Sonar, Reaper, FL Studio, Pro Tools, Samplitude, and several other great pieces of software. Even better still – those DAWs actually work properly themselves, without repeatedly crashing!

    Seriously, when are we going to see an end to this remorseless hype that Ableton gets? Too much of the music tech press seems weirdly fixated on Ableton at present, in spite of all the problems that so many users are having, which Ableton themselves have (eventually) admitted to. Nearly a year and a half since its release we still don't have a version of Live 8 that works as advertised and runs consistently for users. Has there ever before been a major music software release that is so buggy? (well, Tracktion 3 comes to mind…)

    I realise that interest in all things Ableton has generated a lot of well paid work for journalists (reviews, tutorials, special magazines and features, acredited training courses, etc). But surely there must be impartiality and balance here? The glowing reviews, awards and "buzz" is simply unjustified at this point, and is unfair to the other DAW developers who work hard to produce super stable software, often with better/deeper features which musicians can properly rely on.

  • Marsyas

    @ aje


    couldn't agree more.

    p.s love my maschine, the new update makes it really worth it.

  • @aje: Easy, mate. I'm going to guess that rant wasn't really meant for me, specifically, particularly since that was "a passing mention by way of example," not "remorseless hype."

    I'm open to feedback. Which DAW, specifically would you like to see covered?

    Writers are limited not because we're lacking in impartiality or balance but because we don't have time to use all programs equally and still be sane musicians. (Do you?)

    Anyway, perhaps you'd be interested in these reviews:

    (I didn't write the headlines, if they seem hype-y. I did write the articles, however.)

    Seriously – which one would you want to see?

  • aje

    @ Peter – not meant to be personal, no, nor exclusive. Just a general observation about the way things seem to be in general in the music press. Certainly no offense intended, just a plea for balance here, as you are one of the trend setters 😉

    As for what would I like to see… definitely more Cubase stuff. Due to the problems with Ableton I bought Cubase 5 earlier in the year, and it's a huge improvement on previous versions I had seen/tried. Great programme.

    Being selfish perhaps, but in addition to Live and Cubase I also use Audition, Sibelius and the Propellerhead stuff (i.e. all of it).

    Genuinely intended as a polite request – keep up the great blog!

  • Yeah, definitely, I think people use a variety of tools and it'd be great to cover more of them. It's actually interesting to me to hear someone making the leap from Live to Cubase, as I hear less about that direction (but don't doubt it). Curious to hear your thoughts.

  • I'm personally far more interested in stuff like this than in DAWs. DAW's seem to encourage endless planning, undoing and clicking. I miss spontaneity and impulsiveness in modern music.

  • aje

    @ Peter – thanks, will tell you the Live to Cubase story in a seperate message to keep this on track.

    @ Kassen – yes, I'm looking at getting Maschine for exactly that reason. Keen to learn more about how well it would integrate into my DAW as well though… (studying small print)…

  • Metatron72

    @genjutsushi – With regards to 750k memory, when the emulations came out in the beta some on the NI forums suggested we limit ourselves to 2.6seconds sample time and keep it under a few MB's for total authenticity. I think a lot of us took the idea half seriously, as self imposed limits in your DAW are often constructive, especially when trying to nail the old school flavors. I'll admit this example is kind of extreme 🙂

  • Metatron72

    @Everyone – One more thing, I'm a very happy owner of Maschine and recommend anyone with the slightest interest in it to check out the videos online or even better demo one at retail. I'm about 5 years into my computer music making and this is the most useful fun thing up there with Reason and Live. I had every pad controller so for a while I thought Maschine didn't have much for me, how wrong I was. I'm in Virginia right now and my Maschine is in New York, it's like crack withdrawl!
    NI really has hit a home run here, and the updates show their dedication to the product and fanbase. If you even remotely think you need Maschine you probably do and won't be disappointed.

  • HEXnibble

    @Automageddon: "How does it integrate with Renoise? Any experience?"
    Yup. I use Renoise with Maschine, along with Live as rewire master. Maschine works just as well as a plugin in Renoise as it does in Live. You can sequence Maschine scenes within renoise' pattern editor by just inputting notes. There's a super excellent Renoise template for Maschine (that I highly highly recommend) which can be found on both the Renoise and Maschine forums. Maschine's strength in this types of setups is its versatility. You could probably already imagine how its unique tempo-synced automated sampling feature and the drag and drop of audio/midi feature would make integration of multiple tools/sources much more efficient and fun.

  • HEXnibble

    @cooptrol: "A hands-on step sequencer, with enhanced features (polyrhythms, inter-modulating seqs), and LCD and lights feedback enough to play with the laptop lid closed…."

    Maschine does do all of what you describe and it really does take the best parts of hardware like Electribe, RM1X and MachineDrum. Just because you see the 16 pads laid out like MPC pads doesn't mean it doesn't do x0x step sequencing, which it does more powerfully than any hardware sequencer I've used. For example, you can even have different time signatures running at the same time in the same Group since each pattern can have its own individual pattern length and grid length.

  • empolo

    @Automageddon – what HEXnibble said and them some. Like I mentioned before, drag and drop of MIDI and audio is seamless. In the Machine 1.5 update, you can now assign eight macros (filter, FX, etc.) per group for a total of 64 macros. Once this is setup, they are also automatically assigned in Renoise's automation editor. And as mentioned, the Maschine VST plugin works great with Renoise as well. Last night, I had a breakbeat loop in Renoise piped through Maschine's grain delay and grain stretch FX – loving this set up!

  • lilith

    I really want a Maschine. I've always a lot of stuff in Live but have been doing more and more on a Yamaha RS7000 groovebox – it's got its limitations but it really beats a computer in many ways.

  • What I don't like about the machine is that it's tied to a computer right? That's why I'm leaning more towards the machinedrum.

    Funny with ableton+max4live you can create your own interfaces and do wild things live but ever since getting it I've been looking more and more at completely ridding myself of using a computer.
    If anything I will use a laptop as a sampler using only Reaktor.

  • I've been interested in Maschine from the start, but would like to know if people out there are using it for somthing other than beats? Any creative uses people would like to share?

    For example, I'm thinking of using Maschine to sample my guitar and manipulate the guitar to sound radically different. Could that be done with Maschine?

  • HEXnibble

    @Veqtor: If you're still considering using Reaktor, I don't get why you would have a problem with being "tied to a computer." With Maschine you can close the laptop lid/turn off the computer monitor pretty much the whole time while you're doing your thing just with the controller. It feels more like a MPC than using computer software.

  • Cornwhiskey

    @ Leon Tricker – What you propose to do with your guitar is achieved very easily with Maschine. It has good internal FX and now with customizable macro knobs, you can combine only the parameters you need on one page which makes for more efficient (and fun) tweaking.

    @ Automageddon – the groovebox style hardware controller you are describing sounds something like Analogue Solutions' Europa sequencer. It does not have all the features or tracks you suggest, but the paradigm is essentially the same. It is clearly aimed more at the analog synth crowd (no USB, lots of CV outputs), but I think it would do the job of providing a basic X0X hardware frontend to software instruments via MIDI.

  • Cornwhiskey

    @ Leon Tricker – forgot to mention one thing I've used Maschine for aside from beats. I have tons of long sampled vocal and dialog recordings that I never got around to trimming down to the best snippets. I've been loading these to a Maschine pad and triggering them while playing with the Sample Start and decay knobs. Spinning blindly through the sample while the sequence triggers the sound can yield nice unexpected results. When you have a bed of other sounds and a rhythm going as well, you can dial in some interesting vocal phrases or incidental background noise pulses that blend well into the negative space of the existing arrangement.

  • Untalked about benefit of the Maschine: Amazing forum. Seriously. You can find anything you need to know or are even remotely curious about from just about any genre using any DAW. If you ask a question it's generally answered within a few hours with three or four WORTHWHILE answers with varying viewpoint. The forum very rarely reduces to petty bickering or one-upping like most do.

    One tiny feature that makes Maschine amazing for drum sample gluttony: the tagging and grouping of samples and kits. Holy crap. It's so great to be able to go through 1980274928374 snares, kicks, hats, clicks, pops, bleeps, scrapes and whooshes (or any word you can come up with to describe percussion sounds) by turning a knob. Tags. They rule.

    The ability to have each pad separately run as HD, ADSR or one shot mode all mixed together on one bank. Loading an entire multisampled instrument as a single pad? It's possible. It's the little stuff that makes it so good. Any niche weirdo drum programming idea can be filled.

    And for those who asked, the step sequencer is pretty sick. It's kind of like having 8 Electribes all midi synced. You can have a drum track per bank and load in loops to mangle in other banks. I never really used a step based drum machine but it seems like you could have everything you want (except that the 16 steps aren't in a line).

  • the features in the 1.5 update pushed me over the edge in finally acquiring Maschine. Mainly the midi/audio export and silent sound selection (i quite like it as a step sequencer in a live performance, and silent sound selection is very important to me. one thing i hate about the er-1 i have).

    NI have succeeded in making this almost an essential piece of gear for many. If you look at all the midi controllers, plug-ins, grooveboxes, etc. that have come and gone in the last decade – that is saying quite a lot.

    while it hasn't changed my production workflow terribly, it does make live performance more enjoyable and that's inspiring so i am sure eventually it will trickle down into my production. Its still early for me. 🙂