Review: Native Instruments Maschine mkII
When it debuted in 2009, Native Instruments' Maschine quickly became one of the most popular beat-making setups around. Building upon the legacy of the illustrious Akai MPC, Maschine excelled with a fully realized software production environment, integrated with its fantastic 16-pad hardware controller. Throw in an excellent and ever-expanding library of sampled sounds, and it's easy to see why it’s become a central tool for thousands of producers. But while the Maschine software has been updated a number of times since its initial release, the only hardware revision has come in the form of Maschine Mikro—a slimmed-down version of the controller for those looking to travel light or reduce its desktop footprint. Now, with the mkII version of Maschine, Native Instruments has updated its main workhorse, refining the original concept in a number of ways.
How It Looks
The most visible change on the mkII comes in the form of the new hardware’s RGB-backlit pads and buttons, which look pretty fantastic. The hardware’s layout is very similar to that of the original, with the exception of the Master section, which has been streamlined for less clutter with a nice, big jog wheel.
Native Instruments has also released the unexpectedly handy Maschine Stand (below), which sets the device at a pleasing 15-degree angle on your desk. It also comes with a die-cast adapter for mounting your Maschine like a snare drum on standard 7/8” drum clamps (it works with mkI and mkII models). Maschine is available in both white and black models, and NI is selling Custom Kits as well (which are essentially a variety of faceplates, each with nine coordinated knobs).
How It Works
In addition to looking pretty, the aforementioned multi-colored pads and buttons also go a surprisingly long way in improving the Maschine work?ow. You can use color to denote your different instruments (i.e. blue for bass, red for drums), as well as to identify individual pads within a group (blue for kick drum, red for snare). In addition, patterns and scenes can be color-codified for quick sequencing, which can make the juggling of groups, sounds and sets far more intuitive. The pads have also been enhanced slightly, with improved sensitivity. More noticeably, non-pad buttons now have a supremely satisfying click when pressed. This is much more significant than it sounds, actually, and improves the overall feel of the device a great deal. It’s the little things.
How It Sounds
Like its predecessor, the mkII sounds quite good. Maschine ships with an enormous library of top-notch kits, samples, and effects, and now comes with a free copy of Native Instruments’ own (mega-popular) soft synth, Massive. (Various other sounds and effects packs are available from NI as well.) For sample heads, the built-in sampling functionality has steadily improved over the past few years, and is now a central part of the Maschine workflow for many users.
The Bottom Line
If you’re dipping into the Maschine ecosystem for the first time, the mkII controller is clearly the way to go, with its lovely color-coded pads and buttons, improved responsiveness and various interface touch-ups. For owners of the original Maschine, however, it’s (happily) not a mandatory upgrade; if you’re not quite ready to pull the trigger on another new piece of kit, we might advise waiting to upgrade until the inevitable arrival of the Maschine 2.0 software update, which will likely endow the colorful new beat-making machine with ever more magical powers.