Review: Native Instruments Maschine Studio + 2.0 Software

No DJ ever really makes it anymore without producing tracks, and getting into that game can be daunting, but Native Instruments’ Maschine Studio expertly combines a powerful, straightforward beat- and music-creation software with a top-notch controller. Whether you want it as a stand-alone system or expansion tool, Maschine Studio has something to offer to your musical goals.

Reviewed: Native Instruments Maschine Studio
Price: $1,099 (MSRP); $999 in the DJ Tech Tools store
Communication: MIDI over USB
Available: Now
Ships with: Maschine 2 software, power supply, USB cable, 8 GB Maschine 2.0 sound library, Komplete Select instruments.
Editor’s Note: All Maschine models now include Komplete Select, a collection of 10 Komplete instruments and effects worth $1000.
Weight: 7.1 lb. (3.2 kg)
Dimensions: 17 x 13.8 x 2.3 inches (43 x 35 x 5.9 cm)

The Good: Dual high-res, color displays present mini-versions of the software’s interface, letting you produce almost entirely from the hardware. Many dedicated and multi-function buttons streamline the workflow. Wonderfully re-worked Maschine 2 software, Komplete Selectrion, and 8 GB sound library included. Hosts AAX, AU, and VST plug-ins. Works as an AAX, AU, or VST plug-in within host programs. Onboard sampling. High-res WAV audio export.

The Bad: Color customization is software-only. Traktor effects not available within Maschine.

The Bottom Line: Maschine Studio can stand on its own as a powerful platform for quickly sketching out ideas or even for complete tracks, or it integrates seamlessly as a fully compatible plug-in. Although it lacks full audio recording, it has capable onboard sampling, and the expanded controller justifies its cost with workflow optimization.

WHAT’S NEW: MASCHINE 2.0 SOFTWARE

Maschine2_arrange
Maschine 2’s Arrange view, with automation lane at the bottom.

With the Maschine 2.0 software and the Maschine Studio controller especially, Native Instruments’ Maschine has taken the kind of quantum leap that Ableton Live took several versions in, where the software goes from being a very cool and useful music creation tool to being a full-scale production powerhouse.

Maschine 2 is still not a complete digital audio workstation (DAW), but it’s not trying to be, and it doesn’t need to be. With its near-total reworking for version 2, Maschine has a new audio engine, interface, mixer and Mix view, unlimited sound Groups (which work similarly to tracks in a DAW), unlimited effects, improved sampling, improved macro controls, improved plug-in hosting, new instruments and effects, and a pretty killer 8 GB sound library.

While Maschine 2 has great sampling abilities, it lacks multi-track recording. However, it can be used as a plug-in for almost any host software, including Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Apple Logic, FL Studio, etc. Maschine 2 will also create and import MIDI tracks, and host unlimited amounts of third-party VST, AAX, or AU plug-ins.

WHAT’S NEW: MASCHINE STUDIO CONTROLLER

Maschine MKII vs Maschine Studio
Maschine MKII vs Maschine Studio

The Maschine Studio controller builds off the massive improvements made to the Maschine MkII controller to become the dedicated producer’s top-shelf hardware option. Two beautiful high-resolution color displays stand out the most, and they are the heart of what makes Maschine Studio the closest thing you’ll find to a single-box production machine while still needing a computer to operate. The displays can show you truncated versions of almost everything shown in the software, as well as work as a supplementary display for the software.

Maschine Studio's screens showing the new Mixer mode
Maschine Studio’s screens showing the new Mixer mode

For example, you can mix the 16 sounds of a drum kit Group on the controller while the software is showing the Pattern and Scene Arrange view. For whatever operation you’re performing, the displays give you great visual feedback, and they adapt the functions of the unnamed 8 buttons and 8 knobs above and below the screens— providing quick hardware control over hundreds, if not thousands of overall functions within Maschine.

Besides the color displays, Maschine Studio provides a gaggle of dedicated and multi-function controls that you don’t get on the other Maschine controllers. A multi-function level knob and level meter occupies the top-right corner, and very handy Edit section with multi-function jog wheel sits in the lower-right corner.

Maschine Studio I/O and footstands
Maschine Studio I/O and footstands

On the back panel, two footswitch jacks and four MIDI ports help you expand your setup. The Maschine Studio can rest flat on a surface with four hefty rubber feet holding it in place, or you can use the two collapsible but sturdy legs to prop up the controller at a nice angle for working.

WORKFLOW: TRACK BUILDING

Computer +
Maschine Studio + Maschine 2 on a Macbook

Everything on the Maschine Controller works in lock step with the software, and there are often multiple ways to accomplish a task on either the hardware or software. As a result, you can refine your working style as you use Maschine. On the one hand, Maschine Studio realizes the old-school producer’s dream of having a complete production environment on one piece of hardware in front of you, and on the other hand, you have the sumptuous, colorful new layout of Maschine 2 on the computer to exploit as you see fit.

The Maschine workflow for composing music works in somewhat of a hierarchy:

  • starting with individual Sounds: an individual drum hit, one-shot sample, or any instrument sound
  • that can be put into Groups of 16 Sounds.
  • Each Group has Patterns—or sequences—that you create and then assemble on a timeline as Scenes—or groups of Patterns—with each Group getting its own track on the timeline

Although NI uses its own terminology and some unique methods, Maschine’s workflow feels very similar to building music in a regular DAW or Ableton Live, where you assemble clips (Patterns) as individual parts, which can be played back spontaneously live, or strung together as tracks (Scenes).

Browse by tags - and visually browse on Maschine Studio's screens
Browse by tags – and visually browse on Maschine Studio’s screens

You start building your palette of Sounds and Groups through Maschine’s excellent browser. It sorts by Groups (usually drum kits), sounds, instruments, effects and samples, and filters by keyword tags or with text searches. Autoload lets you scroll through sounds quickly and audition them for a part of a pattern. The hardware Browse button brings up the browser on the Maschine Studio, and you can do all your sound searching, auditioning, and loading from there.

With sounds loaded up, select the Group you want with the controller’s 8 multicolored Groups buttons. Maschine uses its 16 excellent velocity-sensitive drums pads for much more than just inputting notes. The 8 pad function buttons to the left of the pads play a huge role.

For instance, to record a pattern for a Group, you can first hold down the Pattern button, and the drum pads will illuminate to show how many patterns there are, and which one is active. Select an unlit pad to create a new Pattern. Then you can use the Play and Rec transport controls to begin recording. You have a number of options for recording, like using the metronome, or using a count-off for live recording. Or you can just use the Step Mode button, which turns on the step recorder, where the 16 drum pads represent 16 recording steps.

If you’re playing with a noted instrument, use the Pad Mode button to turn the 16 pads into a keyboard input. You can set the pads to any note range you wants, all from the hardware, of course.

edit-wheel-maschine-studio
The Maschine Studio’s powerful editing jogwheel

After recording patterns, you can edit the notes from the software or the hardware. Hardware buttons for Undo and Redo (unlimited), Copy, Paste, Quantize (or 50% Quantize with Shift), and others go a long way to letting you edit entirely from the software, and the jog wheel lets you move the playback marker within the timeline lightning fast.

Maschine 2 also include automation lanes. While recording a pattern, Maschine loops back within the selected loop area for overdubbed recording until you stop. To record automation for a parameter, like a filter on a synth, press and hold the Auto button, make your adjustments, and then release Auto. You can see the results underneath the Pattern edit window.

Automation lanes in Maschine 2.0
Automation lanes in Maschine 2.0

You’ll have plenty of options for automation, as well. Every instrument, sound, and effect in Maschine, the Control area between the Pattern and Scene areas lays out all the available controls in groups of 8 at a time.

If you use a third-party plug-in as an instrument or effect, you can either view and control the plug-in in its own software window, or the Control area maps out all of the editable controls onto Maschine knobs for you. If you toggle the Arrange view with the Mix view using the Tab key, you’ll also see the effects and instruments laid out in more comprehensive plug-in windows.

The Control area also has settings for audio and MIDI I/O routings, and swing and macro controls at the Sound, Group, and Master.

Maschine2_plugins
Maschine 2 hosts external plug-ins. You can work with their original interface or Maschine’s internal layout of knobs (above the Jupiter-8V window).

You can add plug-ins at the Sound, Group, or Master level. Maschine 2 provides 24 effects plug-ins—a comprehensive variety including a new Plate Reverb and Compressor. Maschine also includes the Komplete Selection group of instrument plug-ins, including the essential Massive synth, the Prism modal synth, and Scarbee Mark 1 electric piano. In addition to those, the Maschine Library includes hundreds of drum kits in most conceivable electronic and hip-hop styles, and hundreds of instruments comprising the gamut of synthetic and acoustic instruments, although heavy on the various types of synth basses, leads and pads.

kick-snare-drumsynth-maschine-2
Maschine’s new Drumsynths

Maschine 2 also added the awesome Drumsynths. The Drumsynths are plug-in instrument options for kick, snare, hi-hat, tom and percussion. They give you several sound types for each drum sound, and flexible synthesis options for shaping them, such as tuning, decay, and others that vary for each type, like Skin Tune, Noise and Specta controls.

It’s tough to complain about the effects and sounds that come with Maschine Studio. They are all full, professional NI quality. I do wish that registered Traktor users had access to Traktor’s effects in Maschine. The software easily integrates with any other NI product you have, but there’s not much interaction with Traktor.

SAMPLING

Maschine2_sample
A sliced sample in Maschine 2.

Maschine has a very capable software sampling feature, with which you can record, edit, slice up and map samples all from the Maschine Studio controller. You can record either any of four external inputs (not simultaneously), or internally, using Maschine’s Master out or any Group output as the source. To sample external sources, you’ll need to use an audio interface or your laptop’s internal mic, since Maschine Studio has no audio inputs or a mic. You can also record samples of any length, meaning that you could use Maschine to record full vocal tracks if you really wanted to.

After recording, you can edit start and end points, slice the sample and assign slices across the drum pads.

ARRANGING SCENES AND EXPORTING AUDIO

To turn your Maschine creations into finished pieces, you have several options. You could compose an entire arrangement within the software and then export the audio. The software exports WAV files at 16-, 24-, or 32-bit and 44.1 – 192kHz. You can export whole sequences of Scenes or individual patters to import into another software. Or you can of course use Maschine as a plug-in in a host program and incorporate it that way.

You can create more complex arrangements of your patterns entirely on Maschine Studio hardware. Hold Scene and use the pads to select or create a new Scene. Then you can populate the Scenes with one Pattern per group. Hold Pattern and use the drum pads to choose an available Pattern to add to the Scene. You can easily change Scene lengths from the hardware as well.

USING IT AS A CONTROLLER

MIDI mode activated
MIDI mode activated

Like the other Maschine controllers, Maschine Studio can jump in and out of MIDI mode with the Shift + Channel buttons. In this mode, it’s a fully compliant MIDI controller for software over USB or hardware via MIDI cables.

Maschine Studio is designed specifically to control Maschine, so the layout may not be ideal for every MIDI application, but it’s great to have those soft and responsive drum pads, 8 knobs, and plenty of buttons at your disposal for other use. I used it as a MIDI controller for Mixed in Key Flow DJ software, and as a supplementary controller in Live 9.1, and it worked great.

Due to the size of Maschine Studio, NI seems to think it is specifically a studio instrument, rather than a gigging controller. NI just updated Traktor to 2.6.6, and part of the update was factory TSI mapping for Maschine + Maschine Mirko MkII for Traktor’s Remix Decks, but Maschine Studio did not get any TSIs for Traktor. Maschine Studio would not be my first Maschine choice for gigging, but again, I’d love to see some more interaction between Machine Studio and Traktor.

IN THE STUDI-YUDI-YO

Should come with an addition warning label like cigarettes.
Should come with an addiction warning label, like cigarettes.

If you have any addictions or a lack of free time, picking up a Studio could be hazardous to your lifestyle, simply because it is highly addictive, and it makes music creation very fast, and more fun than most other leisure activities. You may find yourself neglecting your Play Station, pets, and girlfriend once you sit down to work on this controller/production platform.

Maschine 2's Mix view adds a great new workspace.
Maschine 2’s Mix view adds a great new workspace.

When compared to other Maschine units, Maschine Studio does come at a premium. Those attractive dual displays drive up the price, but they’re worth it to someone who appreciates locking into their instrument and not staying glued to the computer screen.

Maschine does have a bit of a learning curve. Even if you’re an experienced user of DAWs and looping tools, Maschine’s approach is a bit quirky. However, the excellent documentation and Getting Started guide walks one through it with relative ease, so new Maschine users (or new producers) shouldn’t feel very intimidated.

Once up and running, the flagship controller (optimized for the software’s latest workflows) noticeably speeds up the action when compared to other Maschine devices, especially those of the first generation. From the first Patterns you record, to the finishing mixing and arranging of Scenes, Maschine Studio will jumpstart your process and have you pumping out your musical ideas as record speed. It’s high-class all the way.

Watch: The Maschine Studio in action in our first look.

Markkus Rovito is DJTT’s tech editor. Want something reviewed? Let us know in the comments. 

  • Davin Gibbs

    can’t find my native instrument symbol in machine, all i see is a global why is that, native instrument don’t know a hold week going back and forth with them and they can’t gave me an answer as of yet

  • Davin Gibbs

    can’t find my native instrument in machine, all i see is a global why is that, native instrument don’t know a hold week going back and forth with them and they can’t gave me an answer as of yet

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  • Anton.a1

    Dear Native Instruments,

    I just bought your overpriced Studio controller a few months back when it first came out, and now you’ve already decided to discount it? I knew this was coming but would not have expected it until a least a year after the launch of such a prestigious, luxury product.

    I seriously don’t feel that is either fair or a good business practice and I want my $200 back! For starters, I would suggest an equivalent discount on a future purchase of Komplete etc. (on top of the cross-grade discount), Traktor S4, or other quality gear/software for all Studio owners who overpaid.

    For those who didn’t jump right away on Studio, I’m happy for you. But for those of us who led the way and did what amounts to real time beta-testing to iron out the bugs…wtf?

    No other way you will win my respect (and $) back….

    http://www.native-instruments.com/en/specials/a-giant-beat/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=A GIANT BEAT&utm_source=newsletter

  • shen

    I can’t seem to find Half Velocity in Step Mode in 2.0. Help please?!

  • BORAT

    nice!!!!!!!

  • Okaruto

    So how would the learning curve be for someone who is completely new to production?

  • ?The Other Denzel?

    You can use Traktors Effects, you just have to purchase them separately

  • Rayalon

    Comparing the Electribe to Maschine is like comparing a Toyota to a Ferrari.
    The Maschine 2.0 software together with Studio is a beast.

    • Oddie O’Phyle

      owning maschine doesn’t stop me from using my monotribe, mc808, r5 or any of my synths. sampling these gives you a sounds that cannot be reproduced digitally on a computer. you speak of the electribe as if you really know it, if you did, you’d realize that the electribe has more fullness of sound than you will ever get from a soundcard. it may have something to do with a vacum tube. the toyota to ferrari analogy that you use is almost correct. the corolla is the most reliable car on the market, but until you turn on your computer, your ferrari doesn’t even have an engine.

      • Rayalon

        Obviously, you never heard Monark (for example). Compare that to your precious analog equipment and give me some feedback 😉

        • Oddie O’Phyle

          i own komplete (i’m familiar with monarch, massive, reaktor, absynth…) and use it with maschine… on a regular basis. sure, having access to ALL the same sounds and vst as other producers is nice, if you want to sound like all the other producers, but artist like oliveoil and amon tobin have taught us that sampling sounds and hardware has a feel all of it’s own.

          NI makes a nicely rounded high quality product and i promote NI as much as possible, but if the product were a “box” and it being the only “box” you climb into, are you then able to think outside of it?

          • Rayalon

            Well, only Reaktor on its own is quite a box….it gives you the ability to sound like no one before. Back to your analogy – if you guys all sample the same analog synths – you all sound the same, which is kinda the point you were making…

          • Oddie O’Phyle

            i don’t think that you are getting my point… if all you use is maschine. your library is the same as everyone else’s. yeah, sure i have static friction, but then again so do 1000’s of others… all using massive or other vst’s (that we all recognize). try to finding a vst that sounds like my midi-modded monotribe, circuit-bent R5 or circuit-bent JV-80 that i sample in maschine. as i’ve said before… NI makes a nice package, with nice vst’s… and i use them… but hardware will always have it’s place. where are your samples, if there was no hardware for NI to record them? honestly, i know what an 808 sounds like, i own one. can you honestly say that you know what a real 808 sounds like and not just a sample base? if you think that all hardware begins to sound the same you may want to check out dapayk or dominic eulberg.

          • Rayalon

            I totally get your point, but you don’t seem to get mine. I’m not referring to “Static Friction”and other extensions, but to actual software synths that give us the ability to create new and exciting sounds, like Reaktor for example. I own many hardware synths but most of them are being used as midi keyboards these days…
            Happy 2014

          • Odddie O’Phyle

            i get your point too, but if we are all just using the expansions and library with all the same vst’s we lock ourselves into a smaller sound base. i personally want to grab kinetic metal for maschine, as you’ve stated, some of the vst’s they have sound like nothing else.
            on the other hand, were you aware that you could import those loops and sounds created by maschine to your electribe as a .esx file an get a fuller sound on the play back due to the hardware?
            it’s not the hardware or the software, but the willingness to try new things and creativity of the person using it. why not dust off the old syths, patch into a mixer an use the sampler in maschine… chop, slice and effect the hardware that we loved enough to spend $$$ on and use it as a new sound?
            enjoy the new year… beat well and groove on.

          • Viktor de Hegyessy

            I think both of you are right.. and you are pretty much stating the same argument, just one is biased by hardware and the other by software.. the thing is that if you gave ham and cheese to two different chefs I am 100% sure they wouldn’t prepare the exact same dish! One will make omlette, the other pizza.. but even if both of them would have made an omlette, it wouldn’t taste the exact same. So let it be hardware or software… it does not matter. Every one has its own taste, own manners… resulting unique products. Using software (or one particular soft.) doesn’t mean you will sound like anyone else.. and vice versa, just because you are using hardware synths won’t make your sound outstanding… enough said.. at the end both of you just want to make music.

  • Rostok

    Very nice indeed, but then a Korg Electribe is still a third of the price, with a more “hands on” workflow…

    • White Wulfe

      – Try importing samples into an ESX-1. It’s a pain, even when using third party software. With Maschine it takes you more time to find the files than it does to load them.
      – I fail to see how an Electribe (any of them) is any easier to use than Maschine given that most common features with even the Maschine mkII are at most two buttons and a knob twist away, not to mention the most commonly modified things are right there on the main screens.
      – Maschine doesn’t have anywhere near the jitter with MIDI that the Electribes have.
      – You cannot vary how powerful a part is on an Electribe by using JUST the amount of pressure/force you apply to the pad
      – I distinctly remember it being annoying to hit a precise pitch on my Electribe ER-1 mkII, whereas with Maschine it can be readily done using just Maschine’s pads
      – No additional cables required to record what you’re doing into a DAW if you’re using Maschine (not really a valid point, but it does help with keeping your desk tidy)
      – If I want to add additional sounds, I actually can with Maschine, whereas with most Electribes (with the notable exception of the ES-1 and ESX-1) it is impossible to add extra sounds to the physical machine itself. The ability to add in other VST(i)’s can be quite useful.

      Biggest one to me though? Maschine is still in production for the three most current SKUs (Maschine mkII, Maschine Micro mkII, and Maschine Studio), whereas the original four Electribes are discontinued (EA, EM, ER, and ES) and the EMX(SD) and ESX(SD) are difficult to find new, with plenty of rumours circulating around that they’ve been end of lined by Korg (aka, discontinued)

      • Oddie O’Phyle

        a friend of mine had one (esx-1sd, i think… the red one), it sounded very nice… and full. importing .esx and usage of conversion software seemed too much of a pain… it’s why i got a roland mc-series at the time instead. after that i got into live for 6 and 7, but switched to maschine when 8 came out. i find the workflow intuitive to use and patterns flow that much smoother. it’s nice having a Guitar Rig Kontrol to patch the record out of my A&H ZED10FX. sampling in maschine is a joy 🙂 and all the old hardware that i have sounds just as good as it ever did, but now with all the power behind maschine.

        i <3 maschine, but the hardware still remains just as useful (only now the hardware is more of a "pre-production" process instead of part of the actual production process).

  • DJ_ForcedHand

    The Maschine Studio is a great piece of gear that effectively takes on the MPC 5000 and Renaissance. While it isn’t stand-alone, it certainly makes the most of being tethered to a computing device. Realistically, this is more than most DJs would ever use live, but it’s nice to make that choice yourself (instead of other people making that choice for you).

    That being said, this is exactly what Native Instruments needs to do to their Traktor Kontrol line of controllers. Sure, this isn’t going to be something that everyone snaps up to play with, but it’s supposed to be professional gear, intended for use by professionals.

    As an observed trend, Digital DJs are quickly defining themselves as “more than just a digital version of an analog DJ.” This is (only part of) what we do with the extra time we have by uploading all of tracks on our computer and pressing the sync button to make sure the tracks are in time. Scratching (audio and video), Laying in grooves and riffs with drum machines, MIDI guitars, keyboards, and even doing our own voice-overs with microphones? Yeah, we’re doing that… in real-time now.

    The consumer world is waking up to technology being available to everyone, and people are creating things never before imagined with tools that have only been used this way before in the deep underground of Raves. No wonder people are having a hard time categorizing what a Digital DJ does… the established idea doesn’t fit what we (the artists) are doing.

    A drum machine like this can really bring out something special in a set provided YOU have the ability to deliver that content.

  • Nice review. Personally, I haven’t even dug into the 2.0 software features with my Mikro mkii so I’m not a likely candidate for this. But it sure looks beautiful.

  • Marquee Mark

    Very solid review, thanks markkus

  • Matt

    if only this had an audio interface built in 🙁 for $999 they could have at least figured out how to fit an Audio 2 in there somehow.

    • William Toca

      Nah focusrite…

  • Carlo Atendido

    Video review please!

  • Angelo

    >You may find yourself neglecting your Play Station, pets, and girlfriend once you sit down to work on this controller/production platform.

    Girlfriend? Is that a new VST?

    • dj vaibs

      she’d be the production platform

      • chris

        Dj Dali (Israel) sings, that she was on an journey thru the inside, to understand the outside. *shrug* (what ever that means?)

        minimals vs creatures of the forest ^^

    • penguinsdoom

      Agreed, i only have a Maschine mk2 with maschine 2.0… but im a noob and i never looked at my PC and made a 8 min song in one day. I mean the whole day.