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MASCHINE MK2 - INTRODUCTION
Native Instruments' Maschine has been going strong since its launch in 2009 but unfortunately I have not had the chance to use 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!
Despite my large (unused) sample collection that has been growing over the years, it is only recently, following my acquisition of the Maschine Mk2, that I have realised just how useful they could be to me! It has not just been for the fact that the organisation of my samples is well overdue, but also 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.... I am a complete newbie to the world of Maschine and hands-on beat making so if you are also considering making your first leap, then this may be of some use to you.
MASCHINE MK2 - LET'S GET IT OUT OF THE BOX AND SEE WHAT ALL THE FUSS IS ABOUT
Firstly, I would just like to say a little about colour. The Maschine is a very colourful product in terms of its pads and it comes in either black or white models. With the release of version 2 of the hardware, you can now also buy kits to change the colour and the knobs. These are available in five colours - Dragon Red, Solid Gold, Steel Blue, Pink Champagne and Smoked Graphite.
I happen to own a black Maschine and think that the colourful pads contrast very nicely with the darkness of the chassis. I must admit that 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 comes with sounds, kits and patterns. I'll speak more on this subject later.
The Maschine's plain outer cardboard box is nicely sealed in NI tape, which you can open to reveal an enticing colourful box inside. Inside this box, you'll find your pride and joy wedged between two large pieces of polystyrene.
The Maschine Mk2 does look like a great product as you unwrap 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 x 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 Mk2 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 how you can obtain the awesome Massive synth as a free download. There is also a USB lead to connect Maschine to your PC or Mac. It is USB powered so there is no necessity for a mains cable.
MASCHINE MK2 - BEFORE WE START
I'm just going to take a brief moment to explain what Maschine is for other newbies (like me) that may be reading this. Maschine Mk2 is basically an intuitive hardware/software hybrid Groovebox. What that means is that you cannot use the controller on its own; you have to link it to your PC or Mac (laptop or desktop). Maschine allows you to quickly create 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 website which are:
USB 2.0 Port, 11 GB free disk space for complete installation and...
•Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32/64 Bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 2 GB
• RAM (4 GB recommended)
• 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 computer to run Maschine. Also don't forget that once you get started you will need even more room for your samples and expansions that you will no doubt want to add later
MASCHINE MK2 - SETUP AND INSTALLATION
To get started you will firstly need to read the Setup Guide (this guides you through the software and hardware installation) that comes in the box. I would then recommend that you read the 160 page Maschine Mk2 'Getting Started' manual as this will help to teach you exactly what you can do with Maschine and how to achieve things.
Installation is very easy but registration and activation can become tricky if your computer has no internet connection as you will have to go through the Offline Activation process. 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 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 becomes available to you.
Along with my Maschine Mk2 I also purchased an expansion pack but with the whole offline activation process 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 Maschine OS 1.8.2 and Massive 3.2, I could not download Massive until I had activated my Maschine and Native Instruments had sent me an e-mail to download Massive, and 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, 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 bassline, sampling, slicing, sound-shaping, adding effects, creating beats with the step sequencer, creating a song and more. There is also a quick reference section and a useful troubleshooting guide, so it is all important 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.
MASCHINE MK2 - SWITCHING ON BLACKPOOL ILLUMINATIONS
Finally I have my USB connected to my PC and everything lights up like a Christmas tree! The temptation for me is to just press everything to find out what it does but I think I'll go back to page 16 and follow the instructions. I couldn't help occasionally just hitting a few random pads though to make it make a sound - I'm such a rebel!
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 for use in kits. I am quite pleased with this and next I really want to find out about patterns and why when Maschine 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! I found that if you apply different kits to the patterns you create, then it can easily sound like a different pattern so this is well worth trying if you are experimenting.
MASCHINE MK2 - DON'T MAKE A SCENE, MAKE A SONG!
You can use different scenes to represent different parts of a song, e.g. intros, verses, choruses, etc. You carry out all this work in what is called the 'Arranger', which you will see at the top of your computer screen. However, I did not find them to be as immediate and user-friendly as everything else on the Maschine Mk2. I guess they will just take a bit of getting used to for me.
In the Arranger you can have 64 scene slots, but 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 also 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.
(I am not sure if I like this one) but a scene will play as long as the longest pattern in the scene and smaller patterns will repeat to match the length of the longest pattern. Perhaps this is something that I can alter in the Maschine settings though. I will have to perform further investigations!
MASCHINE MK2 - 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 Mk2 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 point later down the line I will investigate the possibilities of MIDI. I am quite interested in linking the Maschine Mk2 to some Roland V-Drums, but for now I must learn the basics.
MASCHINE MK2 - ACCESSORIES AND EXPANSIONS
Accessory-wise, I have already mentioned that you can buy kits to change the colour of your Maschine Mk2 and its controls. There is also a black stand that sensibly angles the Maschine Mk2 for ideal playing and this includes a sturdy, die-cast mounting adapter, letting you mount your Maschine Mk2 like a snare drum on standard 7/8" drum clamps. This is great if you want to integrate your Maschine into your drum setup.
Expansion-wise, Native Instruments supply ready-to-rumble sample kits made up of one-shot drum samples, 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.
MASCHINE MK2 - CONCLUSION
I have enjoyed writing this article because I have been constantly learning along the way and I am now a newbie with a little bit of knowledge. I have only given you a flavour of Maschine's 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 Mk2 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 Mk2 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 OS. 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 the printed information on the front panel clearer and changing the look of the two displays by inverting them, which makes 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 really useful in my workflow. As a newbie, quickly being able to identify all the component parts by colour is so helpful and you can select from 16 different choices of colour per pad. I made all of my kick drums red, snare drums yellow and hi-hats blue.
Regarding 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 of the Maschine Mk2 is excellent and the package as a whole with the inclusion of Massive provides a wealth of versatility and it is extremely well-integrated. If you add the flexibility of easy browsing, effects, mastering and use of plug-ins 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 the Maschine Mk2 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 seeing what Native Instruments do with it for 2013. Hopefully there will be an OS update to version 2.
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