First leaked early in 2019, then evidently canceled, then leaked again this week – now here’s the official word on Maschine+ and what standalone NI hardware means for music-making.
For all the talk, the landscape for music gear really hasn’t changed much. Akai has gotten into MPC products that allow standalone operation of their computer software – no laptop required. But most users still remain with computer+software or hardware combinations. Suffice to say there’s been talk of Native Instruments making standalone hardware that runs their instruments and effects – but we are finally here, in the second half of 2020.
First, let’s get straight to the specs and price.
US$ 1399 / EUR 1299 is the suggested retail on this hardware (and the first US street price that leaked was just below that.) That is roughly the same price range (street) as an Akai MPC Live or an Elektron Octatrack, though both those companies offer lower-priced items, too.
What you get for your purchase price:
Maschine hardware/workflow, controls, display, and pads. This box has the same pads and color displays and only a slightly-modified layout to the Maschine MK3. But that’s great – the velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads on the MK3 are superb – and here it’s inside an aluminum housing. (More on that when I get my hands on it soon.)
Maschine software (for both desktop/standalone).
4GB DDR3L RAM.
32 GB internal flash storage (for OS and factory content.)
SD card slot with included 64 GB SD card (for your own samples).
WiFi with Ableton Link support.
USB and dual USB host. For connecting to a computer, there’s a hefty USB B port. There’s also two USB A ports – which you can use to connect USB MIDI controllers and devices (in addition to the MIDI in and out) or external hard drives – so yeah, you can actually access your project drives from this box without having to use a computer for that, either.
Locking power. There’s a neat twist-to-lock power adapter so you don’t accidentally unplug this.
Audio I/O. 2x 1/4″ TRS balanced line outs, 2x 1/4″ balanced line inputs, plus a 1/4″ dynamic mic input and stereo headphone out. All that I/O runs on a 44.1kHz / 24-bit audio interface (standalone, or 96/24-bit with a computer). Sadly, still no XLR mic in or phantom power, which the MK3 also lacks.
Footswitch and MIDI. MIDI in, MIDI out, 1 footswitch.
But no battery. If you longed for battery power, sorry – you do need to plug in that power adapter.
To be clear: this is a Linux-powered embedded computer running inside a Maschine controller shell, an outer enclosure very, very close to a Maschine MK3 (with some minor but important modifications, including the USB host capability). This isn’t Linux configured in such a way that you have access to it – it’s a custom build customized by NI. (Reading comments, I gather some of that was unclear.) But there’s a lot enabled in the engines inside such that kits and snapshots you build on your computer will also run on this standalone hardware without the computer – which of course is very cool.
Crucially, also NI tell me they’ve added a CPU meter, which you can use. They also have done extensive testing, they say, to make sure that you can use instruments and effects successfully on the available hardware and memory.
Unlike on your PC or Mac, (or even a desktop Linux box – realtime kernel or no), you can use that CPU meter and in theory get solid performance and timing. On a computer, all kinds of other variables can wreck that, and performance gets nonlinear as you start to max out CPU resources. Now we’re all used to managing that at this point, but I am eager to see how the experience translates on the Maschine+. Just making something standalone doesn’t guarantee that – but it does have promise.
Here’s where the launch details matter a lot. Maschine+ is standalone hardware that runs the stuff you run on your computer – so it’s a platform. The question is, what gets supported and what doesn’t, and some of those answers may surprise you either way. So included with Maschine+:
Maschine+ Selection (that’s a “curated” collection of instruments, effects, and Expansions – rather implying they hope you’ll buy more add-ons to suit your needs)
- Reaktor Factory Selection
- Kontakt Factory Selection
- Retro Machines
Okay, let’s pause for a second. I just recently was awestruck that Roland added a really simple FM engine to the TR-8S – and it is great fun. Or we spoke even more breathlessly about FM capabilities from Elektron.
Maschine will have the full-blown FM8, even before we get into something like Massive or Prism. That means some pretty deep melodic parts or percussion sound designs that simply have only been possible on a computer in the past. Also..
Everything Maschine can do
And since you might easily miss it in that “Maschine+ Selection” business, remember that you also have:
- All the Maschine sample-based instrument slots and capabilities
- All the Maschine effects
- Maschine Bass Synth
- Maschine Drum Synths (all five engines)
The Drum Synths alone exceed the capabilities of other standalone hardware out there. The Bass Synth is also really delightful and elegant. So anything you build in your custom Maschine kits you can use here – and you can live sample onto the hardware. (I kind of imagine keeping Maschine next to my laptop and sampling stuff I’m doing in software modular, for instance.)
You also have various expansions – DEEP MATTER, LILAC GLARE, SOLAR BREEZE, TRUE SCHOOL, VELVET LOUNGE, plus vouchers to choose two more. Of course, the real appeal here for a lot of us will be making our own kits and using the internal synth engines.
These are a little out of left field, but they are two excellent effects. I mean, if you just limited yourself to the Drum Synths and Raum and Phasis, you would have an exceptional drum machine. Ironically, the thing that is a little confusing on these platforms is the amount of choice – as on a computer.
The first standalone NI box
Maschine+ is more than just Maschine untethered from a computer. It really is Maschine and the engines from Reaktor, Kontakt, FM8, and Massive in a box.
The trick is, it isn’t yet a Komplete PC all its own.
Reaktor Factory Selection is cool, for instance – though it was already free for Reaktor Player. It features some very cute little tools, the Lazerbass synth, Carbon 2 synth, SpaceDrone for 96-voice pads, and Newschool generative sequencer.
But you can’t yet run Reaktor patches or Reaktor Blocks on Maschine+, which I’m sure is something people are dreaming of.
That said, you can save snapshots and kits that use what is supported on Maschine+, which is already a big deal. More on that in the near future as we test this.
What you can do with this
Maschine+ will have as its biggest competition … Maschine, since the software/hardware combo on your PC or Mac remains substantially cheaper than the standalone. That’s been the issue with all these devices that act as hybrids, of course.
But let’s consider some use cases here. Things you can do with Maschine+, standalone:
- Jam with Ableton Link. That means syncing up with other devices – iPad and apps, software like Ableton Live or Reason (or even more esoteric things), computers, other Maschine+ boxes, or whatever.
- Do everything over the air. You never have to turn on a computer – not even once. Using the WiFi, you can register, update, and download sounds. Your computer could die and get stolen by rabid wolves and you could still use this.
- Sample right on the hardware. Just like an MPC, you can sample onto the device which … changes all the workflows, since you no longer have to rely on a PC and routing into and out of it.
- Play with MIDI hardware. Maschine+ includes out-of-the-box presets for lots of synths, including our own MeeBlip line, as it happens. That means without touching your PC, you can plug in a volca or MeeBlip geode or whatever, and sequence all the synth’s parameters right from the Maschine panel – and save those with a kit and pattern.
- Compose on the machine.
- Keep rock-solid timing (hopefully). The ongoing issue with computers is that the full OS stack can produce big latencies and sloppy timing. I’ve already heard encouraging feedback on how the Maschine+ performs, and hope we’ll have some solid numbers on that soon.
Of course, the big downside of NI unveiling this now is, most musicians around the world can’t hit the road at the moment because of the pandemic. But a lot of this is ideal in the studio, too – and I’m sure plenty of bleary-eyed music makers will be glad to switch their computers off after a long day of Zoom calls, anyway, so maybe it evens out, at least for those who can still afford a new purchase.
Ships October 1, online and in stores. Preorders now.
Full international pricing – deep breath, y’all:
1299 EUR / 1349 CHF / 1399 USD / 149,800 YEN / 1099 GBP / 1999 AUD / 1799 CAD / 9999 CNY