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.