Native Instruments Maschine+
It’s a big plus: NI’s production workstation has gone fully standalone.
Let’s not kid ourselves – going standalone is a big deal. Gone is the risk of unexpected software updates, mid-gig crashes, buffering issues… the list goes on. Then there’s the portability and reduced rig footprint for those garage jams with the mates or, of course, at shows.
For a powerhouse like Maschine+ to function without a computer, it needs a fair amount of built-in grunt. Thankfully, Native Instruments hasn’t skimped. A quad-core CPU and 4GB of DDR3L RAM are packed into Maschine+ along with 32GB of internal flash storage to hold instrument samples. A real-time CPU percentage readout on the screen lets you keep track of how Maschine+ is coping. A 64GB SD card is included as additional storage to carry sounds to/from your computer, and the SD slot is compatible with cards up to 1TB. Whizzing around the navigation and loading up projects and instruments are commendably quick, however, don’t expect it to match your $6k Mac Pro. Loading projects took some time for me.
Nine instruments are pre-loaded into Maschine+ to get you making noise right out of the box. NI calls the 24GB bundle Maschine+ Selection and it also includes 35 effects and seven Expansions. There’s a wide variety of sounds in here, thanks to beastly instruments like Massive, Monark, Prism, FM8 and more. The Maschine Factory Library alone was enough to keep me perusing for ages.
Connect the device to your Native Access account via Wi-Fi and it’ll wirelessly install your personal library of expansion packs and select Komplete plug-ins. Note: if you want to use the full gamut of your NKS instruments/loops/effects/plug-ins, you’ll need to use Maschine+ in Controller Mode (ie. not standalone).
Two USB ports allow you to connect to a computer (in the aforementioned Controller Mode) or external MIDI controllers such as a keyboard. The former means Maschine+ can function just like its PC-reliant sibling in partnership with Maschine software. It’s also a cool way of bringing your Maschine+ project into a computer for integration with a DAW. The latter means you can have physical keys to play synths while using Maschine+’s pads to play drums. Neat.
NEED TO KNOW
Native Instruments hasn’t messed with the workflow. If you’re at all accustomed to working with a Maschine controller, Maschine+ will feel right at home under your fingertips. The 16 backlit pads are ultra playable and operate in four modes (Pad/Keyboard/Chord/Step) for inputting notes. Sifting through the plethora of sounds is lightning fast thanks to NI’s category- and tag-based filtering via the encoders. The whole experience really keeps your head in the creative zone – I had a blast dialling up a drum kit one sound at a time and perfecting each sample with the many processing options available. Don’t forget the macros for each instrument are auto-mapped to the encoders; an easy way to sweep broad brushstroke flavours across an instrument or sample without diving too deep.
Maschine+ will also happily talk to all your outboard synths and drum machines via MIDI, turning it into the control nexus of a larger hardware setup. Play and sequence your favourite analogue gear from the familiar Maschine+ surface. 16 channels of MIDI means the sky is the limit here. You can even record the results using the line inputs.
Once your tune has shaped up, Maschine+ is well equipped to take it to the stage. All the usual performance controls are there. The Smart Strip ribbon feels great to use and is easily assignable to whatever form of craziness (or subtlety) you choose via the Perform option. With the new Clips features you can arrange your sequences into the perfect order and add or tweak the transitions to make smooth songs and sets.
A pair of line inputs and a TS microphone input allow you bring audio into Maschine+ from the outside world. (How nice would’ve an XLR mic input have been?) Once inside, you can slice the audio up, run it through effects, or just generally mangle it to your heart’s content. The sampling section is nicely appointed – I love the way it cascades over both screens letting you stretch, squeeze, chop and dice audio as if it were putty in your hands.
ALL YOU NEED?
Maybe you’re new to the Maschine world and Maschine+ has perked your interest. Be prepared to be overwhelmed at first. It’s quite literally like learning a new DAW from scratch or learning how to drive. But once the muscle memory develops it’s insanely fun. It’s pure joy sitting on the couch with nothing but the Maschine+ and a pair of headphones tinkering endlessly. If you can swing the $2k price tag, Maschine+ won’t leave you with an ounce of regret.