Every producer wants that one thing that does it all in the studio. Whether you’re a complete beginner or a seasoned veteran, the promise of a piece of hardware that allows you to make professional-sounding music no matter your ability level is extremely alluring. Few companies understand this quite like Native Instruments, whose Maschine set the blueprint for a system that seamlessly combines hardware and software into one package.
When the first model arrived in 2009, Maschine was a trailblazer. It took the decades-old concept of a hardware sampler (specifically Akai’s MPC) and linked it to companion software that ran on your computer. The downside of this was that you couldn’t use it unless it was hooked up to a laptop. But the tradeoff was worthwhile: Maschine’s huge drum library and later support for VST plug-ins has made it more of a digital studio than a simple drum machine.
A lot has changed since the first Maschine was launched. In 2012, Ableton joined the party with its own hardware controller for Live called Push, and companies like Arturia and Akai have thrown their own hats in the ring, with varying degrees of success. Maschine, however, hasn’t changed much: the original model got a largely cosmetic upgrade in 2012, while 2013’s gigantic (and expensive) Maschine Studio added high-resolution color screens and a jog dial.
Maschine MK3, which launches on October 5 at R11899 , it isn’t a radical change in design. However, it’s the first Maschine since the original that feels like a real step forward; more significant, even, than the high-end Maschine Studio.
MASCHINE Mk3 delivers the best ever workflow for quickly sketching and capturing ideas. It adds two high-resolution color screens for easier sound browsing, editing, sample-slicing, and more. The new hardware also features more dedicated function buttons and larger, more responsive pads that retain the same ergonomic layout users know and love. For enhanced convenience and portability, MASCHINE now features a built-in 96kHz / 24-bit audio interface.
MK3 is just a little longer then the MK2, but almost an inch shorter. It’s also a bit heavier at 4 though the solid metal chassis gives it the impression of being much weightier than it is. The layout isn’t unfamiliar either, but the difference in build quality is pretty astounding. The luxurious matte black finish of the Ableton Push is clearly an inspiration; even the function names on the buttons have been etched or enclosed inside the rubber, rather than simply printed on.
The main cosmetic difference is the two high-resolution color screens. As with the Maschine Studio screens, they’re not iPhone Retina quality, but still sharp enough to display small text very clearly. These displays are primarily used for browsing sounds and tweaking effects in tandem with the eight knobs, but also for controlling a graphical mixer and editing your patterns. As with the Studio, editing patterns with these screens can be fiddly and time consuming, but they’re great for editing audio samples.
Another eye-catching improvement is the MK3’s drum pads. They’re bigger and feel better to play, whether you drum out rhythms with one hand or two. The note repeat button has also been made larger, making it much more difficult to miss in the heat of the moment, and the volume, swing and tempo buttons are now clustered around it. These are subtle changes, but make a huge difference to the speed and ease at which you can naviagate the controller.
The third most obvious change is a new touch strip on the left of the unit. It’s similar to those found on last year’s Maschine Jam controller, but this one has dedicated buttons for different functions: pitch, modulation, effects and notes. The last of these functions is the most interesting; it allows you to strum whatever notes you’re holding in keyboard mode, a bit like playing a guitar, except with whatever weird synth sounds you want. The decision to make the strip horizontal instead of the traditional vertical is inspired: it makes adding flourishes more natural and makes the Maschine feel less like a MIDI controller and more like an instrument.
Another great new feature (one that artists who use the Maschine for live performances are going to love) is a new lock button, inherited from the Maschine Jam. This takes a snapshot of your current set, allowing you to go wild with effects without ruining everything. It’s good for experimentation, but it’s also perfect for creating crazy build-ups; a satisfying drop is as simple as hitting the lock button again to return to the original state. This feature is probably going to get abused by big room performers everywhere, but there’s no denying it’s a lot of fun to use.
The MK3’s most surprising new feature is the built-in audio interface. This is where the new Maschine really gives the Push a bloody nose; Ableton has made a lot of the Push’s sample editing abilities, but there’s no way to record sound directly into Live unless you own an audio interface. On the Maschine MK3, you can just plug a synth or a turntable into the line inputs and record straight into the Maschine software. It’s going to be a game changer for anyone that’s ever wanted to record high quality audio outside the studio without bringing along an additional box, and it’s very convenient being able to plug your monitors directly into the hardware.
The only thing that I don’t love, in fact, is the four-dimensional push encoder on the left, which is both a knob you can turn and a replacement for traditional directional buttons. One thing it can do is allow you to perform mixing tasks with your left hand while the right is free to play pads. Yes, it’s an efficient use of space and good for multi-tasking, but in practice there’s something about using it to scroll from channel to channel that just doesn’t feel very natural.
• Integrated hardware/software system includes sampler, arranger,
mixer, FX, and more
• 8 GB MASCHINE library with samples, one-shots, sliced loops, sampled
instruments, presets, patterns, drum kits, and songs
• Includes 25 GB KOMPLETE 11 SELECT library
• 25 pro-quality studio and creative FX including filter, EQ, delay,
reverb, and compressor
• 2 high-resolution RGB color displays for precision sample slicing,
sound tweaking, note editing, mixing, browsing, and more
• 16 large, ultra-sensitive pads make two-handed drumming easy
• Pro-grade, 96kHz / 24-bit audio interface with 2 x ¼” TRS line
outputs, 2 x ¼” TRS line inputs, ¼” dynamic mic input, stereo headphone output, 1 x MIDI In, 1 x MIDI out, and 1 x Footswitch
• Touch sensitive knobs for parameter tweaking
• Smart Strip for strumming notes, pitch bending sounds, performing
with FX, and more
• Four-directional push encoder for browsing, navigating, and adjusting
levels and balance
• Powered via USB 2.0 or with the included power supply unit
• Seamless integration with KOMPLETE
• Classic groovebox features including 16 velocity levels, swing, pad
link, note repeat, step sequencer, and vintage MPC 60/SP-1200 sampling emulation
• Compatible with all major DAWs (including Ableton Live, Logic Pro,
and FL Studio) as a VST or Audio Units plug-in, with full multi-core support
Here some Vids showcasing the Maschine MK3: