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Review: Native Instruments Maschine Studio

July 1, 2014
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More production, inside or outside the box

The Maschine Studio interface lets you step away from your computer and still get high-level work done quickly.
The beautiful thing about being a not-so-early adopter is that you often join the technological party when it’s in full swing. With Maschine Studio, the flagship controller in Native Instruments’ hardware/software groove workstation line, the Maschine party has shifted from a hip gathering to a certified rager.

The comprehensive reworking of the Maschine 2 software includes a new audio engine, interface, and Mix view; unlimited groups and effects; modulation for most parameters; improved sampling, macro controls and plug-in hosting (third-party AAX, AU, or VST plug-ins); new instruments and effects; and a comprehensive 8GB sound library including hundreds of drum kits and instruments for all the modern electronic and hip-hop styles.

As a result, Maschine comes even closer to being a full production environment. While it doesn’t do multitrack recording or have all the features of a full DAW, Maschine supports a full-scale professional workflow by exporting high-res WAV audio and MIDI files as segments or full mixes, and by operating as an AAX, AU, or VST plug-in inside any compatible host software. Best of all, the deluxe Maschine Studio controller puts all this power at your fingertips, greatly increasing productivity.

The New Studio-in-a-Box Maschine Studio places two beautiful, high-resolution color displays front and center. They show you mini-versions of almost everything from the software, making it possible to do almost everything Maschine can do while hunched over the controller, keeping hands off the mouse/keyboard and eyes off the computer screen. Maschine Studio’s screens can also work as supplementary displays for the software showing, for example, mixer channels for the 16 sounds of a drum kit Group while your computer screen shows the Pattern and Scene arrangement.

Like the other Maschine controllers, Maschine Studio uses eight endless rotary encoders and eight buttons that adapt to the current status of the displays to provide quick hardware control over hundreds of functions. On top of that, Maschine Studio’s expanded surface area goes to exclusive and very useful controls such as the multipurpose level control and meter in the top-right corner; dedicated editing buttons for Copy, Paste, Nudge, Clear, Quantize, unlimited Undo and Redo; and a multifunction jog wheel that can quickly set the playhead position or control tuning, volume, swing, and other settings.

Along with the displays, the 16 multicolored, velocity-sensitive and wonderfully responsive drum pads take center stage on Maschine Studio. In concert with their eight padfunction buttons and dedicated Group buttons that modify the utility of the pads, you can play, record, and arrange drum and instrument sounds and patterns at a rapid pace with a workflow style that’s your own.

Form Meets Function Whether you work exclusively with the hardware, the software, or more likely a mixture of both, there are many ways to perform most tasks with Maschine Studio. For example, searching the Browser for user or factory instruments, effects (24 Maschine effects included), sounds, samples, or projects can be done in the software or by using the controller’s Browser button, jog wheel, displays, and function controls.

Pressing the Sampling button lets you carry out the whole process of sampling from the hardware’s displays, function controls, and pads. You can sample either from an external input or from any of Maschine’s Group outputs or Master output, edit the sample’s end points, slice it, edit the slices, and assign them to pads. The rapid process lets you incorporate polished samples into your music in moments.

Fig. 1. The Maschine 2 Mixer view showing the Drumsynths, the Plate Reverb effect, and Compressor with new sidechain input selection.
When modifying effects or sounds, Maschine Studio lays out the available parameters on the displays in groups of eight. You scroll through parameters with arrow buttons, and the encoders tweak them. For example, Maschine 2 has added the excellent Drumsynths—monophonic software instruments dedicated to Kick, Snare, High-hat, Tom, and Percussion drum sounds (see Figure 1). They work like plug-ins, and each one has several styles of drum sounds to choose from, as well as Tune, Decay, and other parameters. You can access Drumsynths in the software Mixer view, which toggles from the Arrange view from the Tab key, or you can find them from the controller, selecting a Group button, a pad for the individual sound, and then using the display and function controls to shape a Drumsynth sound.

Any individual sound or effect parameter can be modulated, with detailed modulation curves showing up in the software beneath the Pattern view. You can create, record, edit, and arrange Patterns into larger Scenes, which you edit and arrange further to create larger compositions; all of it is possible exclusively on the hardware, which does a remarkable job of displaying up to 16 sound sequences in miniature form.

And although Maschine Studio was designed for use with its own software, it can be used as a MIDI controller for other hardware or software. Pressing Shift + Channel launches MIDI mode, which I used to easily control several other software programs. You can toggle back and forth from MIDI mode as you like.

Dream Maschine All in all, Maschine Studio has to be one of the most, if not the most, impressive examples of hardware/software synergy for a single product. Maschine 2 is a quantum leap of a software update, and Maschine Studio enhances it in every way, making it faster and more fun to use.

This is what I imagine Native Instruments intended for Maschine all along: the realization of a single-piece hardware workstation that leverages the computer’s processing power while making the larger trappings of computer production available only if and when the user wants them.

SUMMARY

Strengths Dual high-res, color displays. Dedicated and multifunction controls. Updated Maschine 2 software. Included instruments, effects, and 8GB sound library. Hosts AAX, AU, and VST plug-ins. Works as an AAX, AU, or VST plug-in. Onboard sampling. Easy step-sequencing mode.
Limitations Color customization is software-only. User must adjust to Maschine’s own terminology and composition methods.
$1,099 MSRP, $999 street
native-instruments.com

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