Feb 7

INTRODUCING NATIVE INSTRUMENTS MASCHINE MK2

Well here it is – yes the Big One, (well it is certainly the best purchase I made in 2012) – The one, the only …. Natives Instruments Maschine – Da Da.

It has been going strong now for a few years since its launchbut unfortunately I have not had use of one up till now. As a drummer I love all things rhythmic and believe it or not I love drum machines. The Maschine however is much, much more than a drum machine and despite my large unused sample collection that has been growing over the years; it has taken me right until the release of the Maschine Mk2 to realise how useful this could be to me. It has not just been for the fact that the organisation of my samples is well overdue but the anticipation of the creative fun that I can have with them. I can’t really say that it did not grab my imagination when it was released, because it did, I just did not think that it was right for me at that time and I was more interested in buying a hardware synth. However, times change and things move on and this now feels very right for me and I like the idea of making music quicker and it being more fun. The only thing is – is that I am a complete newbie to the world of Maschine and the many hands-on beat makers out there, and so if you are also considering making your first leap, then this may be of some use to you.

LET’S GET IT OUT OF THE BOX AND SEE WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT

Firstly, I would like just to say a little about colour. The Maschine is very colourful but it comes in either Black or White for its main chassis and control knobs. With the release of Version 2 of the hardware, you can now buy kits to change the colour and the knobs. It comes in five colours – Dragon Red, Solid Gold, Steel Blue, Pink Champagne and Smoked Graphite.

When I take mine out of the box, I know it is simply Black but I happen to think that the very colourful pads and buttons contrast very well with the darkness of Black. I am quite taken with the Solid Gold set but at £55.00 it seems an unnecessary purchase and I would rather buy an expansion set for less that has more sounds, kits and patterns, but we will have a look at them later.

The Plain outer Cardboard Box is nicely taped in NI tape, and its colourful box is inside. Inside this box, your pride and joy is wedged between two large pieces of polystyrene. Ok, it does look a great product as you un-wrap it and Native Instruments call it a Groove Production Studio which really confirms how much more than a Drum Machine it is. It has two LCDs (64×256 pixels – inverted), 16 multi-colour, high-quality, illuminated pads with velocity and aftertouch, 47 backlit buttons, 8 endless rotary potentiometers and 1 endless encoder (30 steps) – that is some serious control.  The Maschine is 320 mm / 12.6″ wide, 295 mm / 11.6″ long and 65 mm / 2.6″ high and it weighs 2.1 kg / 4.6 lbs.

Also in the box are; two DVDs, one for the Maschine Software and the other is Komplete Elements, a Maschine Setup Booklet, some stickers and details of Massive as a free download. There is also a USB lead to connect to your PC or MAC. It is USB powered so there is no necessity for a Mains cable.

BEFORE WE START – JUST WHAT IS A NI MASCHINE?

I think I should just say what a Maschine is for other Newbies like me out there. Basically it is a hardware/software hybrid intuitive Groovebox. What that means is that you cannot use the controller on its own you have to link it to your PC, MAC or laptop. It allows you to create quickly tight rhythms, harmonies and melodies by combining a pattern-based sequencer, professional sampler, multi-effect unit and VST/AU plug-in host with tactile control.

OK with that out of the way, before you rush out and buy one, you need to be aware of the System Requirements on the Native Instruments Site which are:-
USB 2.0 Port, 11 GB free disk space for complete installation and :-
Windows
Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32/64 Bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended).
Mac
Mac OS X 10.6, 10.7 or 10.8 (latest update), Intel Core 2 Duo, 2 GB RAM (4 GB recommended).
As you can see, you need quite a bit of space and a good spec PC and don’t forget once you get started you will need even more room for your samples and expansions that you will want to add.

SETUP AND INSTALLATION

To get started you need to first read the Setup Guide that is in the box and then read the 160 page MASCHINE MK2 Getting Started Manual so that you can get more familiar with MASCHINE MK2. The Setup Guide will guide you through the software and hardware installation. Without the Maschine connected to your PC, you need to load the software. Installation is very easy but Registration and Activation is another thing which is not quite so easy if your music PC is not connected to the internet and you have to do an Off-Line activation. If you fall into this category, it may be obvious but keep in mind that for your Maschine there is a hardware serial number and there is a very similar number for the software. So first off, get yourself registered with Native Instruments and then register your Maschine. Once you have installed the software the Maschine will run in demo mode and you need to activate it before full functionality is available to you.

I had purchased an expansion pack and with all the off-line activation, everything seemed to take quite a while to get up and running. To give you an idea without boring you too much with the detail, if I work backwards and explain that I could not load the expansion until I had loaded Machine O/S 1.8.2 and Massive. 3.2. I could not download Massive until I had activated my Maschine and Native Instruments had sent be an e-mail to download Massive. I could not load Massive 3.2 until I had activated 3.1. But after finally updating my Maschine to 1.8.2, I loaded and activated my Expansion Pack.  I do not understand why, when Native Instruments send you the e-mail to download Massive, why this is not the latest version.

The Getting Started guide seems a little bit daunting at 160 pages long but it steadily takes you through processes like – Loading a Drum Kit, Playing the Pads, Recording your first pattern, Saving your work, Creating your own Drum Kit, Working with Projects, Changing the Pad colours, Editing and Quantizing your patterns, adding a bass line, sampling, slicing, sound-shaping, adding effects, creating beats with the step sequencer and creating a song and more. There is also a quick reference section and a useful troubleshooting guide. So it is all important and essential information that you will want to know. There are also quite a few videos to help you get started on the NI Site and YouTube has many helpful clips to help beginners and advanced users alike.

I am now on page 16 of the Getting Started guide and it is about to show me how to load a kit from the factory library – so I better switch on.

SWITCHING ON BLACKPOOL ILLUMINATIONS – I MEAN THE MASCHINE

It certainly is a Mean Maschine – Finally I have my USB connected to PC and everything lights up like a Christmas tree. What I want to do here is be like a child and just press everything to find out what it does. I think I will go back to page 16 and follow the instructions but from time to time break away and just play it – I’m such a rebel. The fun begins and in two days, I am pleased to say, I can load and create projects, create kits and patterns, change the colour of kits, edit kits, double pattern length, change kit sounds and import my own samples and use in kits. I am quite pleased with this and next I really want to find out about patterns and why when machine loads, there are no patterns in the Patterns folder? I also want to understand Effects and mastering the sound. Can you apply an effect to one sample in a kit etc?

It is a good idea to follow the lessons in the Getting Started Guide but I would also search YouTube to see how some things are done. I am really enjoying this now and have some interesting drum rhythms saved to play keyboards along with and I really love the sound which is so 2013, it doesn’t sound like an out of date Roland drum machine. I found if you apply different kits to the patterns you create, then it doesn’t just change the sounds of the component parts, it can easily sound like a different pattern.

DON’T MAKE A SCENE MAKE A SONG

Scenes look like something to do with creating songs and having different scenes like different parts of a song but I did not find them to be something immediate and user-friendly as everything else. I will have to do some investigation and find out. Apparently, scenes are as I said and you can create intro’s verses and chorus parts etc. You do all this work in what is called the ‘Arranger’ which you will see at the top of your computer screen.

In the Arranger you can have 64 scene slots and only one scene is played at a time. They are arranged in columns of 8 groups and as the scene is played, it will play everything in that column. Each of these 8 groups ( A – H ) could represent a part or instrument like drums, keys, guitar, vocals etc. So for example you may have a drum pattern, bass part and synth part all playing together in scene 1 as the intro. You can change the name of the default scenes which are simply numbered 1 to 64. This way you can visually see at a glance as it changes from verse to chorus and back again for example.

It is important to note that patterns are linked across scenes. So if you change a pattern in one scene, it changes in others. Also (although I am not sure if I like this one), a scene will play as long as the longest pattern in the scene, smaller patterns will repeat to match the length of the longest pattern.

VERY FEW CONNECTIONS

I didn’t think I would like this, but you don’t need any inputs or outputs or mains connection. The Maschine very simply has a Kensington Lock slot, a USB port and 5 pin din MIDI OUT and MIDI IN connections and that’s it. Most of the time you will probably have just the USB cable connected – excellent. At some latter point, I will investigate the possibilities of MIDI, I am quite interested in linking the Maschine to Roland V Drums, but for now I must learn the basics.

ACCESSORIES AND EXPANSIONS

Accessory-wise, we have already mentioned that you can by kits to change the colour of your Maschine and its controls. There is also a black stand that sensibly angles the Maschine for ideal playing and this includes a sturdy, die-cast Mounting Adapter, letting you mount your Maschine like a snare drum on standard 7/8” drum clamps. This is great if you wanted to integrate your Maschine into your drum setup.

Expansion- wise, Native Instruments supply ready-to-rumble sample kits made up of drum one-shots, matched kits, multi-sampled instruments and pre-programmed patterns and songs. These sets include the new Electric Vice, Drop Squad, Conant Gardens, Raw Voltage, Platinum Bounce, Dark Pressure, True School, Transistor Punch and Vintage Heat.

CONCLUSION

I have enjoyed writing this article because I have been learning constantly along the way and I am now a Newbie with a little bit of knowledge. I have only given you a flavour of its immense potential but hopefully you can see how far I got within a few days of having it. I can’t really come to any conclusion other than that the Maschine is really a great marriage of hardware and software providing fun and impressively quick ways to make music. It is very intuitive and provides endless inspiration and I found it to be addictive. Although you can become a performer on it like any other musical instrument and there is certainly skill needed to do this, for now, I am more than happy to use it as a production tool and play keyboards alongside it and allow it to push the creative juices in me.

There are those that have argued that the Maschine MkII is not a big step for existing Maschine Users, but I think Native Instruments have been a lot more considerate to its users than many other popular companies would have been in this respect by giving them the opportunity to update to the same O/S. They have obviously listened to existing Users and the new hardware and updated software brings some very subtle but helpful and useful improvements. This includes making clearer the information printed on the front panel and changing the look of the two displays by inverting them making them far easier to read. You may think that the inclusion of the multi coloured flashing lighting is a bit over the top but I found it is really useful in my workflow. As a newbie, quickly being able to identify all the component parts by colour is just so helpful and you can select from 16 different choices of colour per pad. I have made all of my Kick Drums Red, Snare Drums Yellow and Hi-Hats Blue.

On the Software improvements, Native Instruments have finally provided ‘Time Stretching’ which they have made available directly from within Maschine for you to manipulate the time and pitch of your samples without the need to use any third party programs. They have also improved the effects by providing new tube saturation models and a fantastic Transient master processor.

The build quality is excellent and the package as a whole with the inclusion of Massive provides a wealth of versatility and is extremely well-integrated. If you add the flexibility of easy browsing, effects, mastering and use of plugins it becomes a DAW that has so much more to offer than just the perfect and ideal hardware controller to go with it. The way it pulls this lot together in one package makes it an extremely powerful tool. Your Studio just can’t exist without one and I think it is my best purchase of 2012 and I look forward to see what Native Instruments do with it for 2013. Hopefully there will be an O/S update to version 2.

2 FREE KITS FOR YOUR MASCHINE FROM TONY LONG MUSIC

Both of these kits have: 1 Maschine Project file, 1 Maschine Kit file, 1 Maschine Pattern file and 16 Wav files recorded at 24 Bit 96 Khz.

Individually click on the image to download the Dub Kit and the Pump Kit – I hope you enjoy them.

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Absolute Music

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