Native Instruments‘ Maschine range is a series of “beatmakers” – production hubs designed for sketching and fleshing out tracks in a simplified workflow. Until now, all Maschine units required a laptop to function, serving as highly in-depth MIDI controllers for the Maschine software. However, that finally changes with the MASCHINE+: a standalone version of the Maschine MK3.
The MASCHINE+ functions just like other Maschine controllers, which are so in-depth that their users seldom even glance at their computer screens. The Plus takes advantage of this and offers a completely computer-free installment, sporting access to the entire NI library of plugins and packs. However, its current price and CPU efficiency are slightly concerning factors.
The MASCHINE+’s build quality is fantastic. The top and bottom plates of the unit are coated in metal, which is ideal for durability. The pads are superb, rivaling the infamous Akai pads easily. The buttons are all rubber and have a pleasant click to them. The eight touch-sensitive knobs on the unit feel out of this world, with an inert and buttery-smooth feel.
The singular slight fault I found with the unit’s build was the 4d selection dial, which felt light and almost slightly wobbly. Worth noting, though, that this is only a slight nitpick.
The MASCHINE+ is fairly decent in terms of connectivity: a single 1/4 inch headphone output, dual 1/4 inch master jacks, two 1/4 inch line inputs, one 1/4 inch mic input, 5-pin MIDI in and out connectors, a 1/4 inch footswitch connector, a USB-B port for computer connection, and two USB-A ports for class-compliant audio interfaces and controllers. I don’t quite understand why every connection is 1/4 inch only, as the unit’s budget and dimensions certainly allow for at least a few combo or RCA jacks. The power supply has a twist-to-lock function, which is very reassuring for preventing unplugging, and an SD slot can be found on the left side for loading in user samples.
One hiccup I found here, though, was having the headphone out on the back of the unit. This caused my cable to dangle over the unit.
Two things that would greatly improve the functionality of the device would be a phono preamp and CV outputs. Many Maschine users incorporate vinyl sampling into their workflow, and a preamp would be a nice nod to these users. CV outputs would also help transform the Maschine into a central brain for a massive DAW-less setup, and while there are USB devices that can be connected to the device capable of outputting CV, I would have loved tightly integrated sequencing for other gear.
The unit’s workflow stays true to the classic Maschine experience, based around eight different pad banks with 16 slots for instruments and samples each. The 16 pads have four different functions:
- Pad Mode, which correlates each slot to each pad
- Keyboard, which can play different notes in a selected scale (like chromatic or aeolian) for the selected pad
- Chord, which plays multiple notes with a single pad
- Step, which is a sequencer
The MASCHINE+ also offers Ableton-style clip launching modes, in addition to a multitude of different organizational systems for switching between different MIDI loops and clips.
The dual screens also have multiple modes. In addition to the four pad modes doubling as screen modes, there are also several other screen views for tweaking effects, browsing instruments and samples, editing the mixer on a per-sound or per-group basis, and altering settings. The knob bank and upper button bank functions are controlled via screen view (for example, the plug-in view assigns the knobs to various effect parameters.)
This workflow is much-loved amongst the many producers who use Maschine. The Plus doesn’t depart far from its laptop-based relatives on this front, and I could see many Maschine lovers easily adopting it.
Maschine has never been a full DAW, however, and the Plus is no different. Fine-tuning, complex automation, and mixing cannot be undertaken on Maschine, which is by design. The idea of the Maschine workflow is to have an intuitive way to create, with the fine-tuning handled by a traditional DAW later on. That said, I’m not sure why the device is advertised as being capable of said feats, as it does not provide optimal CPU or workflow setups for mixing.
NI has implemented the Maschine workflow into their standalone unit quite well. However, performance-wise, the end result is less than optimal. I found myself rapidly running out of CPU power, reaching the 100% limit with around 5 different synths and a few plugins. This is a fairly significant issue, and while some optimizations have already been rolled out after my time with the device, it is important to keep in mind that the Maschine+ does not stack up to a laptop in terms of CPU (both devices use similar programs so they are comparable this way.)
There is also much more menu-diving than I would like, even for simple tasks such as sampling (I found myself clicking back and forth between parameter banks constantly when trying to chop a sample.) This should be much easier to improve on NI’s part, though, and I expect that the menu layouts will be better optimized soon.
The Maschine+ user experience feels somewhat akin to using a controller such as an Ableton Push or Maschine Mk3. There is a significant amount of menu diving, although this is somewhat expected for the sheer amount of power packed into the Maschine+. Making tracks on it is fairly easy, as there is a large variety of helpfully organized presets and samples available from your NI library.
However, actually creating your own sounds is very difficult. Despite having the capability to run full-fledged NI synths such as Massive, the Maschine+ does not have the ability to fully control them. For example, when I was using Massive on the unit, I found that I could only tweak a few macro controls and oscillator settings.
This factor, combined with the slightly limited CPU performance of the unit, can seriously impact its post-production ability. You will likely find yourself connecting the Maschine to a laptop in order to arrange and fine-tune the track before exporting it to a DAW like Ableton for post-processing and mixing. Thus, the claim that the Maschine+ is a “complete standalone production unit” is not quite true. This is almost too much to expect, though, as no other device on the market is capable of similar tasks.
However, what the Maschine+ does do is serve as a very powerful musical sketchpad. Although it may not be able to finish tracks, it can start them very easily. Instead of ending up with a series of audio bounces in your DAW to finalize, exports from the Maschine+ actually grant the same MIDI/plug-in chains created on the device, which is tremendously helpful for mixing and finishing tracks after an initial session.
The Maschine+ can also function as a very in-depth sampler, with a workflow somewhat similar to that of the MPC. This feature holds more value for being standalone than many others, as good hardware samplers are few and far between. The Maschine+ sampler mode takes full control of the unit’s screens, knobs, and pads, but manages to integrate finished chops and flips into the workflow quite nicely. Many sample-based beatmakers adore Maschine for this reason, and I can absolutely appreciate the efficiency of the workflow here.
Our verdict on the Maschine+
The Maschine+ is a very unique standalone device, providing a new level of functionality from a single unit with a multitude of synth engines and workflow options. However, this level of power comes with a very high price. $1,400 is a substantial pricetag – that amount could be used to buy a laptop, a controller like the Push or Maschine Mk3, and extra plug-ins, which is something to take in. However, for the sheerly unprecedented amount of PC-less power the Plus offers, many hardware enthusiasts won’t bat an eye at this price.
While the Maschine+ doesn’t stand up to Elektron, Akai, or Waldorf workstations in terms of simplified workflow, it leaves every other competing device in the dust with the sheer amount of power it grants without a connected PC. An in-depth GUI for everything from sampling to sound design, USB connectivity to any class compliant devices, and even the ability to run previously PC-exclusive plugins like Massive and Monark standalone make the Plus quite hard to beat.
While some users may feel that the amount of menu-diving and screen use on the device defeat the point of not using a laptop, and other users may find the price to be too much for what they want to use it for, I don’t doubt that the Maschine+ has a very good space in the current market and will set a new standard for standalone functionality.
Interested in trying it out for yourself? The MASCHINE+ is available through our shop for $1,399 – check it out here.