Review: Native Instruments Maschine Mk2 and Maschine 1.8 Update

Oh, Maschine. Are you the all-in-one music production hardware/software for the masses, the ultimate drum pad MIDI controller, a killer plug-in instrument, or just the prettiest multicolored light show on the music store shelf? Could you possibly be all of the above? No, that can’t be possible. But then again, maybe. Just in case, we’re going to examine every last perk of Maschine Mk2 and get to the bottom of this enigma.

Reviewed: Native Instruments Maschine Mk2
Price: $599 in the new DJTT store
Communication: MIDI over USB (USB powered)
Available: Now!
Also Available: Maschine Mikro Mk2 ($399/349)
Ships with: Maschine 1.8 software, 6 GB sound library, USB 2.0 cable
Editor’s note: All Maschine models now ship with Maschine 2.0 software and a license for Komplete Select.
Weight: 4.6 pounds (2.1 kg)
Dimensions: 12.6 x 11.6 x 2.6 inches (32 x 29.5 x 6.5 cm)
System Requirements: Windows 7 (latest Service Pack, 32-bit/64-bit), Intel Core Duo or AMD Athlon 64 X2, 2 GB RAM / Mac OS X 10.6 or 10.7 (latest update), Intel Core Duo, 2 GB RAM

The Good: Flexible, powerful production platform works stand-alone or as a plug-in to a DAW program. Well-made hardware components and absurdly slick-looking multi-colored LEDs. MIDI mode for general control of other hardware and software. Attractive price compared to hardware workstations. Latest software retains compatibility with Mk1 hardware.

The Bad: The TSI for Traktor is either janky, not updated for Maschine Mk2, or both. Its unique workflow takes some learning for producers coming from either hardware or software backgrounds. We’re still waiting for some mind-blowing Maschine/Traktor integration.

The Bottom Line: While not an essential hardware update for existing users (the free 1.8 update is much more essential for them) , the Maschine Mk2 makes concrete improvements to an already solid, flexible music production platform for the same retail price. This should entice novice producers with its all-in-oneness and tempt initiated music makers to incorporate it into a larger setup.

MASCHINE IN A NUTSHELL

In case any of you are not familiar with Native Instruments Maschine, the concept bears reiterating, especially because the Mk2 update is more of an evolutionary than revolutionary update.

My speculation is that NI developed Maschine several years ago to rip the hip-hop producers away from the popular Akai MPC workstation and bring them into NI’s universe of computer-based music production. That process has had some success, is still ongoing, and of course along the way many other music producers and DJs embraced the very worthy Maschine platform as well.

It’s a rather ingenious meeting halfway between the worlds of hardware music production — specifically MPC-style sampling workstations — and software digital audio workstation (DAW) production. Maschine’s hardware provides a familiar drum-pad workstation interface, and its software and connection to a computer allow it to leverage the power, user-friendliness, and easy updatability of computer music while keeping the price much lower than expensive hardware workstations.

 

Maschine can be an extremely capable standalone system, yet users of other production software can also use Maschine as a plug-in instrument and/or a MIDI controller.

As someone who has a background with both MPCs and (more so) with DAW software, the Maschine workflow came with somewhat of a learning curve – but the basics are fundamental. Maschine assembles Groups of sounds — often a drum kit’s worth of percussion sounds, but also instrument sounds — that act like tracks in a typical DAW. You create Patterns with the Group sounds, then group together Patterns into Scenes, and then order Scenes to create a song.

You have full sound editing capabilities, many onboard sounds and effects, the option to sample straight into Maschine, and Maschine can even host plug-in instruments and effects, making its possibilities truly infinite.

As with Native Instruments’ other software products, Maschine runs quite deep in functionality. To get the most out of it, you should dive just as deep into learning it, which means scouring manuals and tutorials. Also like other NI programs, you could use Maschine on a basic level without digging much deeper, and you will eventually stumble upon new things, but you may be missing out on some really powerful sound editing hidden under a small menu arrow, or some Group-level routing or quantizing options, and so on, and so on.

THE NEW MASCHINE MK2

Some of the most important changes to the Maschine Mk2 hardware aren’t actually visible in comparison to the older version (above image: Mk2 on left with one of the custom red faceplates;  Mk1 on the right). Most importantly, the buttons and pads are backlit with RGB LEDs, allowing them to illuminate in many colors, including white. Maschine 1.8 software adds support for color coding Sounds, Groups, Patterns, and Scenes in a rainbow array of 16 colors, similar (or more likely identical) to the color of the Remix Decks in Traktor 2.5. Those software elements get their own default colors that you can change to your liking, and the colors of active elements in the software are immediately reflected on the hardware buttons and pads.

The new button and pad backlights look spectacular and have at least two very distinct different levels of brightness intensity. Because Maschine doesn’t shuttle any audio and uses energy-efficient LEDs, the unit can power its displays and tons of bright multicolored buttons all on USB power.

The drum pads don’t seem to have changed in feeling on the Maschine Mk2 – they have the same middle-ground feel—neither too firm nor too loose—same quick triggering sensitivity and responsive velocity sensitivity. That being said, when we reached out to Native Instruments prior to publication, they reported that the pads were very much rebuilt to increase sensitivity drastically

The pads have been refined substantially, increasing the sensitivity, something which can also be adjusted via the software. Maschine power users such as Jeremy Ellis have already commented enthusiastically on the new, more sensitive feel of the pad which allow for more creative finger-drumming techniques such as advanced drum rolls etc.

In a welcomed improvement, the buttons now have a satisfying click response when clicked, which I liked particularly well when using the buttons for critical live performance or automation tasks, such as muting groups during playback.

No longer rubberized, the eight encoders also feel better to me. They’ve been ever so slightly streamlined, without losing their grip. They also twist just a bit more buttery smoothly.

The biggest change to the control layout comes with the Master section. The three knobs of the old Master section have been replaced with a single push-button encoder and buttons for Volume, Swing, and Tempo. By default, the encoder works like a jog wheel for skipping forward or backward through an arrangement or for navigating and selecting items from the browser. The arrow and Enter keys in the Master section have the same purpose.

If you press Volume, Swing, or Tempo buttons to select those settings, the encoder will then alter the master settings for Volume, Swing, or Tempo. Additionally, with one of those buttons selected, you can hold down a Group button or a pad and then use the encoder to change the Volume, Swing, or Tempo setting for that individual Group or Sound. Overall, the new Master section seems a bit more efficacious for making quick changes than the old way.

The new Mk2 comes in both black and white versions, and there are also additional color replacements available for the magnetic top-plate and knobs  – the one shown in many of the photos in this review is the red custom kit. Additional colors include gold, red, pink, blue, and gray.

Lastly, the Maschine Mk2’s displays now have a dark background and light text, rather than the other way around on the old version. This helped with the display’s visibility in a variety of light conditions, and of course you have full control of the display’s brightness level from the global settings.

WHAT’S NEW IN MASCHINE 1.8

Besides the other general sharpness to the user interface, the Maschine 1.8 software adds support for assigning 16 colors to the Sounds, Groups, Patterns, and Scenes that are also then matched on the corresponding hardware buttons and pads. The software by default assigns a new color to each Group, Pattern and Scene, and makes Sounds the same color as their Group, but you can change any color individually or make global changes in the Preferences.

Many of the other software updates are quite minor features (full list below), but one other notable change add the Stretch option to the Sample Edit menu. Stretch allows for the independent time stretching and/or pitch shifting of an individual sample — aka Sound in the Maschine nomenclature. It’s quite a powerful sound-shaping tool, and like many aspects of Maschine editing, it can be done from the hardware displays and controls or from the software. Edited sounds can also be exported as WAV files.

Other new features in Maschine 1.8:

  • The Saturator effect (pictured below) adds Tape and Tube saturation. Tape mode emulates the soft compression and saturation from recording to analog magnetic tapes. Tube mode emulates the smooth saturation of overdriven tube amplifiers. Both have controls to let you lightly warm up the sound, or add heavy and aggressive distortion.

  • The Transient Master effect lets you emphasize or attenuate the audio’s transients by modifying the envelopes of every attack and sustain phase. Unlike dynamic effects such as compressors and limiters, the Transient Master doesn’t use the input signal level threshold to kick in the effect, but rather affects all parts of the signal to retain the character of the music.
  • Software automatically reuses a new missing Sample path to find other missing Samples.
  • Can save a Group with all of its Samples as an .mgrp file for sharing or transferring.
  • Can use multiple Maschine controllers to control different instances of the Maschine software simultaneously.
  • Quick Select or Quick Erase of events using Shift+Select or Erase+Select on the controller.
  • When using the Maschine software as a plug-in in a host DAW, there’s an option to let the Maschine hardware transport controls operate on the DAW, while the rest of the hardware controls Maschine.
  • Pin the Auto Write mode to write automation curve with two hands at a time.
  • Choke All Notes: Shift+Mute “chokes” all playing notes without disabling the audio engine.
One final note about Maschine 1.8 – all users who upgrade to this version of the software will get a free version of Massive that’s integrated with Maschine – meaning that you’ll be able to do synthesis with Massive in the software. Pretty nice, especially if you already own Maschine!

USING MASCHINE WITH TRAKTOR

Of course you can use the Maschine hardware as a general MIDI controller by pressing Shift+Control at any time to send it to MIDI mode. So if you want to create your own mapping for Traktor or any other MIDI software for that matter, the large number of high-quality buttons, pads and encoders can make for fertile ground to sow for MIDI control possibilities.

However, there is also a .tsi file available for Maschine in Traktor’s Controller Default Settings folder that’s installed with the software. It would seem that as of Traktor Pro 2.6—of which we had access to the beta version—the Maschine .tsi hasn’t been updated yet for Maschine Mk2, because the PDF of the controller mapping (below) still shows the old hardware version.

Maschine’s Current Traktor Mapping – Update Coming Soon?

So I can’t be super judgmental of the .tsi with Maschine Mk2 until NI updates it, because it does need some work. The Hot Cue Mode and FX on/off buttons weren’t working, and the loop functions seemed inconsistent.

However, for controlling Traktor’s two FX units, Maschine’s top row of buttons 1-8 and encoders 1-8 were awesome. The controls felt entirely appropriate for effects, and having four encoders and four on/off buttons for each FX unit is more than you get in some dedicated DJ controllers. Maschine’s ability to have a Shift layer of functionality also gives it great potential as a Traktor controller. The Shift functions in the current .tsi weren’t entirely clear and seemed to behave erratically at times, but again, I have to give NI the benefit of the doubt that the .tsi will be updated for Maschine Mk2 soon enough – likely with Remix Deck compatibility? For now, if you want to take advantage of the controller’s great drum pads and buttons in your own mapping, the possibilities are promising for cue points on the drum pads and looping functions on the 8 Groups buttons or the row of 8 mode buttons.

DEUS EX MACHINA

I have to think that the update to Maschine’s v 2.0 software will somehow take a much bigger advantage of the new hardware, or at least present a pile of new and impressive musical options to it users. I’m a fan of Maschine and use it regularly on my own time, so it’s not hard to recommend it to DJs who are looking to dip their toes into music production for the first time or to seasoned producers who may be intrigued by its bridging of production world.

The new color-coding options and other hardware and software improvements essentially make an already cool production platform just a bit cooler for the same price. Yet even though the colors are gorgeous, the combination of Maschine Mk2 and Maschine 1.8 software it still feels like a bit of a timid advancement to justify a new hardware unit. I understand that NI wouldn’t want to change things too radically; it has to keep the Mk1 hardware compatible with the new software to avoid alienating its loyal customers.

But I still have a strong suspicion that the next software update will be something special – we’ve only heard rumblings from folks in the know about Maschine’s v.2 software, but they’re very excited rumblings. That’s not a lot to go on, but we definitely know that it’s on the way before too long. We’re looking forward to it. Are you?

Please tell us what you think about Maschine Mk2 in the comments. Do you think the hardware will be good for DJs? Does it interact enough with Traktor? Do you like its approach to music production? Do you want to know more about the version 2 software when it comes out? Thanks; you’re the best… around.

– Markkus Rovito

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  • Lonnie Swanagan

    is there a way to keep from draining my CPU power on my macbook pro when using the MK2 inside of either mainstage or Apple logic. I am running 4 mg ram/2.4gig duo core system and Logic 9 pro or mainstage 2.

  • Hi,

    Does anyone know how much power Maschine MK2 drain from the USB port?

    I’m asking this because I’m looking for a USB hub to connect a Kontrol X1 and Maschine MK2 to and I need to decide between a powered or non-powered (less cables!) one.

    Would a non-powered USB hub be sufficient for a X1 and Maschine?

    I also wonder if plugging the Maschine to a non-powered USB hub just makes its pads lights weaker or if it doesn’t work at all (for some reason).

    Thanks in advance.

  • Syrio Martinelli

    Hello DJS, i’m new in this maschine’s world. i want to buy the? maschine mikro for 460$.. but i have found a MK1 (first generation) for 420$ used in a studio almost new.. what do you advise me to buy?

  • groovesoul666

    I was thinking of buying Maschine MK2 to integrate into my DJ setup which is the Denon DNMC6000 controller and Traktor Pro 2 running on a Mac.

    Been digging around and there seems to be mixed feelings as to if Maschine and Traktor can sync up well and easily.

    Has anyone done this successfully or have a pain free way to do this other than the listening to clicks and matching them up method. Because when I go to the venue I don’t really want to be messing around with metronome and stuff. Plug and play possible?

    Also would it be possible to use for example one Traktor deck for Maschine while the other 3 decks functions as track decks. I’m hoping this will work and if it does I’m gonna get the Maschine MK2.

    Thanks in advance for the info

  • GMGOmusic

    I really like the new hardware controller. Would eventually like to replace my MK1 with the new one. Not that its an absolute necessity. I just think it looks cool, and I always like to keep up with the times. That being said, any functionality in the 1.8 software can be used with the MK1, so technically there isn’t any reason to upgrade. I just like the MK2. Can’t wait to get my hands on one.

  • m3em3

    I found out the hard way that you can’t use 2 Maschine MK2 controllers on the same PC. One is dead and can’t be used at all, not even selected in the software. I called NI Support and they told me that it was not meant to be used like that. Only one MK2 at a time, but you can use a Mikro or V1.

  • 20style

    I hate the look of the faceplate not covering the bars on the top and bottom.

    • NiceGuy513

      me too, + i also jus hate red period (no pun intended ewwww).. i like plain clean black in my studio or glossy black n glossy silver.. i hate off-white like my old mpc2000 thas all faded and looks like it should be in a museum… ppl spend ur money on dust covers or stands … not stoooopid palette faceplates, duh 101… spend ur $$$ protecting ur products or so u can safely put them on stage or in your studio… yah never have enough studio room ;( but get off the face plates, thank u 20!

  • beatnok

    the software update is very buggy, almost to the point of destroying workflow. with that being said ive been with maschine since its inception and I LOVE EVERYTHING ABOUT IT. everyone talking about traktor integration, you can midi map maschine to do anything you want, and it works perfectly. i perform live with maschine and an f1 and everything works in beautiful harmony.

    • 20style

      Not anything – for us without F1’s, we want to be able to control remix decks. It doesn’t make sense to buy another RGB colored pad controller from NI with smaller pads if we already have Maschine. I hope this update comes soon

      • NiceGuyEddie

        with the Traktor Kontrol Z2 its a perfect integration for dj’ing and midi mapping about anything.. i used to use my Digi003/PT MP/HD 7-9 and MPC2000XL & Switched over from Rane/DigiDesign to ALL Native Instruments/Traktor for Dj’ing and Production; which are totally integrated now… And with the Apogee/Presonus Studio One v2.5 Pro & WOW it integrates a protools like interface (with better interface, latency, and so on, and on..) so far the Studio One seems like the solution… My one producer friend just got and i installed the 60 Day Pro Demo & other Dj/Producer/MC friend is on his way home with the new ProTools 10 Software & Hardware that is like $500… The digi003 is nice but with the rack, power conditioner, etc.. its too much to lug around.. and Presonus is forming a great relationship with Native Instruments… So much to test and research, so much to buy, not enough $ – not enough time! but loving all my NI/Traktor gear… I made a FB Page a bit mainly for my self to upload all the beautiful photos, specs, Q&A (So I didn’t lose them) like YouTube Vidz & from the man himself Jeremy Ellis…. 5-6 years ago i was all Akai/SSL/Vestax & wouldn’t hardly consider anything else; but yup i made the jump in Dj’ing & Production to all Native Instruments/Traktor; minus a few things like my Novation Launchpad, etc.. jus my 2 cents.. QUESTION FOR BEATNOK & 20style… If one has a Maschine Mk II & Mikro Mk II & Kontrol Z2 Midi Mixer that’s all integrated… do i really need a F1 or X1??? I’ve been going over this in my head since they all came out… please let me know thoughts… the Z2 is sooooo amazing 😉 esp wit the new software upgrade; but i can trigger all items mentioned on my MacBookPro; as well as hooking up my Korg TritonExtreme to the back of my Maschine Mk II.. Thx guys, and gals 😉 1Luv

  • Steven

    Don’t see the point in this just another upgrade that nobody needs. Just get Maschine 1 and new software.

  • Play!Doh

    IMO the top pots become a lot more usable when you put fat knobs on them. Then you can twirl one finger on the knob to scroll around, and make finer adjustments. It’s cool having smooth infinite encoders, but it can be really hard to zero in on a specific value.

  • i use traktor to beat grid and rip samples for my maschine

  • sx

    It’s quite pretty, maybe when I have a much more involved setup and use maschine actively while DJing, I will opt for the hardware upgrade. It’s quite enticing.

  • and yet from reading this there is still no control for traktors remix decks with this???

    • Not yet, NI is still putting the finishing touches on the new release of software for Maschine. We presume it will be in that.

  • I am currently on the fence between switching from Serato Itch to Traktor or Serato DJ. As a DJ looking to experiment in production, the ability to integrate Maschine with Traktor in some “mind blowing way” may be the deciding factor that pushes me into the world of Native Instruments software and hardware.

    • You don’t really have to decide. If you get a Serato product, you can MIDI map another controller to do as you please. As of now, there are no plans for the Bridge, but there are also no plans for “bridging” Traktor as well.

  • mjn

    Am I the only one who thinks these new colored Maschine are ugly?

    • dilla

      While I agree that a red on white with rainbow pads is ugly, you can opt for charcoal. Which looks fine. Also you can take off the faceplate for plain white or black. As far as pad coloring goes, you can choose anything you want so I’m sure you can find a couple colors you like out of the abundance to choose from. I do wish they gave more colors for the faceplates though… or more normal ones instead of gold pink red….

      • Maybe you should try texturing the overlay with airbrush art?

        • The tall Asian

          I thought about that, but for those that aren’t completely familiar with which button does what, that would cover up the labels above each pad/button.

  • Stewe

    Yep, that mapping is pretty weak.

  • Lowfatradio

    “Can use multiple Maschine controllers to control different instances of the Maschine software simultaneously” How does this work? I can’t find any information or conformation on this feature.

    • I wonder if that’s a topic on the NI website? I’m pretty sure Jeremy Ellis did this with his video.

      • Lowfatradio

        Yes he uses the second one in midi control mode but unless I’m reading the feature wrong it sounds like you can use two controllers in normal mode at the same time. So I’m wondering how to open two instances natively or does that feature mean two vst’s inside Ableton? Still can’t find any info.

  • rubixhelix

    I think the real question is when Maschine will be able to be used as an F1 alternative. Also, when will Maschine open as a module within Traktor? Because let’s be honest… without using Ableton, the sync between Traktor and Maschine on one laptop is rough at best. Anyway… 1.8 is awesome! If I had more money, I would do the hardware upgrade, too.

    • I took the gamble that Maschine will work seamlessly with Traktor noting that the CEO fired the former Traktor Lead for trying too hard to keep Traktor separated from Maschine and they were very unhappy with the project lead going out of house to make a new controller instead of working in-house with existing technology to build their own brand. So now that I have a Maschine Mikro Mk2 (I got lucky with a deal on Musician’s Friend bringing my delivered price to $324) I have to say WOW. Not just wow this is a neat toy, but WOW this comes with a lot of software (and samples), wow, it’s really capable and the pads are not only much bigger than the F1 pads (this is important for people with big hands, like me) but the Maschine software/hardware combination is just pro-level. Native Instruments has always supported their own gear with their own programs and promised that they will update the Traktor .TSI file soon, so I’m guessing that they will make the Maschine Mk2 handle the Remix decks as though it’s a Kontrol F1 (minus the up-faders). The rumor is (as you had mentioned above) that Native Instruments is excited about integrating Maschine controllers in Traktor much like “the Bridge” (Ableton Live in Serato Scratch Live) but no one is allowed to mention anything. Hey, even if they don’t support the Maschine in Traktor, I got an AWESOME drum machine and some great software for a really good price.

  • RockingClub

    Does Maschine software 1.8 run smoothly and stable without increasing the CPU load too much?
    Haven’t updated my 1.7. yet…

    • rubixhelix

      yeah, it’s nice.

  • Max

    needs more improvement, nothing new