Maschine Studio Review 2017

Welcome to our in-depth Maschine Studio Review for 2017.

maschine studio review

Introduction

Maschine Studio is the flagship groove production studio from Native Instruments. It was released worldwide in 2013 on November 1st and received both critical acclaim and commercial success. Specifically, Maschine garnered widespread praise for its smooth workflow and tactile responsiveness. Equally at home inside the music studio or in a DJ booth for live performances, every aspect of Maschine Studio has been designed for both music production and live music performance.

When Native Instruments released the original Maschine, it was the first true hybrid of hardware and software for music production. It has inspired the likes of Novation’s Ableton Launchpad range and the new wave of Akai MPCs. After the release of the original Maschine and its downscaled brother (Maschine Mikro), Native Instruments began work on the flagship Maschine Studio model. With countless additional features and a ground up software rework, the Maschine Studio is the most powerful of the bunch, with an unrivaled workflow and brilliant design.

Without further ado, lets get stuck in to our 2017 Maschine Studio review!

Pros & Cons

Maschine Studio Hardware Pros

  • Dual screens mean you can get stuck into the hardware and avoid your attention going back and forth to the computer screen. Screens are crystal clear and a joy to use.
  • Customizable color coding of individual pads and groups makes working on large projects very clear and simple.
  • Sampling via the hardware is a pleasure, allowing a high level of accuracy and speed.
  • Hard wearing controller, tough and sturdy, premium feeling build.
  • Upgraded pads from original Maschine models have a fantastic feel – A pleasure to make music with.

Maschine Studio Hardware Cons

  • Large size means portability may be an issue. Also, this may limit use alongside other DJs in some smaller club DJ booths.
  • Lack of built-in audio interface may limit live performance usage for some – Depending on your setup, you may need an external sound card for added connectivity.
  • Requires its own AC power supply (no USB powered option) – Can’t be used anywhere without a power socket.

Maschine Software Pros

  • Refined CPU usage from original Maschine software for far better performance and speed. Multi-core processor support.
  • A slick and simple user interface and new mixer mode speed up and refine workflow and help to maintain an easy learning curve for first-time producers and users of the software.
  • Regular free and useful updates mean Maschine software is constantly evolving and staying on the cutting edge.
  • Mixer mode makes controlling and balancing levels of all elements much more intuitive and simple.

Maschine Software Cons

  • Lack of real-time time stretching can be a pain when trying to work fast on sample based creations and productions – Manual time stretch can be fiddly.
  • Working solely within Scenes makes some projects with long audio files (such as vocal acapellas) can be difficult to work with – It’s still possible but counter intuitive and time-consuming.
  • MIDI recording and playback a little limited with external hardware.

Hardware

Build

maschine studio build

With a sturdy, ‘built-to-last’ build, the Maschine Studio is probably also the best-looking hardware Native Instruments have ever created. The controller is also surprisingly light but with a rugged and premium feel. It weighs in at a little over 3kg (or 7 pounds). The controller measures 17 inches (432mm) by 13.8 inches (350mm) with a height of 2.3 inches (58.5mm) when its leg stands are flattened. It also features a Kensington lock for added security.

Pads

maschine studio pads

The grid of 16 bright multi-color pads is where your creativity will really shine when using Maschine Studio. The pads themselves feel great and have been refined for comfort since the days of the original Maschine and Maschine Mikro mk1 models. They are hard wearing and feature heavily adjustable velocity sensitivity, allowing for a more detailed, natural and nuanced performance/recording. You can use the pads for sample triggering or play them in keyboard mode. Keyboard mode can also be easily set up for playing chords and scales. This makes melody and bassline creation a pleasure to perform, even for someone with no musical training.

Endless Rotary Knobs

maschine studio knobs

Maschine Studio features 8 endless rotary knobs for controlling plug-in parameters and customizable macros.  Since the Maschine 2.2 update, the touch sensitivity of these rotary knobs has also been activated. Placing your finger on one of the knobs now shows a preview of the menu/tag set you are about to enter. This small feature has speeded up workflow and ease of use for the software as a whole. There is also a dedicated larger endless rotary knob specifically for volume control. With this, you can control master volume, as well as volume for individual groups or sounds.

Volume Control

maschine studio volume

There is also a dedicated larger endless rotary knob specifically for volume control. With this knob, you can control master volume, as well as volume for individual groups or sounds. Having its own dedicated area on Maschine Studio (complete with a LED level display which also shows clipping) was a great decision from Native Instruments. It’s always easy to find in the heat of a live performance. Furthermore, you won’t knock anything else on the controller while making real-time volume tweaks.

Jog Wheel

maschine studio wheel

One of the most striking features of Maschine Studio is its large illuminated clickable jog wheel near the bottom right of the device. This has many functions but is primarily used for sample/preset selection, tempo control, transport control, moving/editing notes, tuning the pitch of samples, adjusting swing and fine-tuning volume. The wheel is textured for added grip and designed to be extremely comfortable and satisfying to use. Also, when pressed, the click feedback makes it extremely clear that the press was activated. The inclusion of this jog wheel in Maschine Studio’s design massively speeds up its workflow compared to the cheaper hardware counterparts from within the Maschine controller family.

Buttons

maschine studio buttons

The Studio also features 58 illuminated click buttons which serve a vast array of functions, as well as 8 color-coded Group buttons for quick and easy shifting focus from one group to the next. All of this control makes Maschine Studio’s workflow unrivaled when it comes to groove production studio hardware. The buttons also have soft edges and a great feel to them. This means your fingers won’t get tired after lengthy studio sessions or live performances.

Dual Display

maschine studio display

One of Maschine Studio’s key features which elevate it above other controllers from the Maschine range is its set of two extra-large hi-resolution full-color displays. The resolution on these displays is 480×272 pixels, which leads to stunning clarity when compared to earlier Maschine models. With all of the information displayed on these screens, you can often avoid looking at your computer screen altogether. Generally, for live performance, laptops can be placed nearby or on a lower shelf of the DJ booth, out of sight from the crowd. Your entire performance can be played just using the hardware’s displays.

Stand

maschine studio stand

For improved comfort and ergonomics, the Maschine Studio features collapsible rear legs, allowing for both flat and raised settings. This also means the Studio can be ‘flat packed’ for transportation. This feature makes it perfect for the touring artist. The legs fold out easily and feel sturdy and hard wearing.

Connectivity

maschine studio connectivity

Found at the rear of the Maschine Studio, there are 3 MIDI outputs, 1 MIDI input, and 2 footswitch inputs. Unfortunately, there are no audio interfacing features on any Maschine model to date. This means that the audio output will always be done through an external soundcard or the connected laptop or computer. Many users won’t even miss the lack of audio interfacing options, however – It all depends on your required setup and how much other gear you want to use.

Maschine 2.0 Software

Processor Power

Maschine Studio is packaged with the incredibly powerful Maschine 2.0 software. The software features multi-core processor support. Native Instruments have also put a lot of effort into heavily refining CPU usage. This allows you to get the maximum speed and power out of your computer. The difference between Maschine 1.0 and Maschine 2.0 is instantly noticeable when working on large project files.

Interface and Usability

The interface is extremely intuitive and clean. Any features you don’t know where to find are generally exactly where you would expect them to be. First-time users will find themselves creating music with ease. Maschine software actually has the fastest learning curve of any music production software we have come across. You can easily adjust screen layouts according to your own preferences. Even a complicated large project never appears too crowded and overwhelming on the screen, due to Maschine software’s cleverly refined layout.

Arrangement

For many projects, Maschine software’s Scene based arrangement works perfectly. The Scenes, Groups and Sounds layout works excellently when using short audio samples, loops, and MIDI patterns. For styles of music like house, techno, d&b, and EDM, the system works perfectly.

However, when it comes to certain production styles, Maschine’s arrangement aspect is a little lacking – We have been asking for a feature where certain channels could run alongside the full arrangement without being restricted to being triggered within scenes. Lacking this feature makes it a little tricky to work with long pieces of audio such as acapella tracks. It can be done, but mapping out long audio into individual scenes can be a time-consuming process. Maschine software may be best used in conjunction with other DAWs for certain projects (such as vocal heavy tracks).

Sampling

Sampling with Maschine is fast and incredibly accurate. The feel and speed of processing samples on the hardware is far superior to anything that could be achieved with a keyboard and mouse setup. Audio samples can be cut up automatically or custom cut, and then spread across the 16 pads at the click of a button. The speed at which this can be done tends to lead to a lot of creativity and experimentation when it comes to creating cut-up sample patterns.

However, Maschine lacks any real-time time stretching of audio, and although time stretching is possible within the software, it may feel fiddly for some when compared to DAWs like Ableton or Cubase. If working on a project which is a roughly similar bpm to the original sample, sampling works like a dream, but manually having to time stretch individual samples of unquantized audio can get time-consuming.

Mixer

The new mixer view makes adjusting levels of individual groups and sounds within groups very simple, fast and clean. You can spot and accordingly adjust any peaking signals with ease. Getting the right balance for all your tracks elements is now a fast and pleasant experience (a vast improvement from Maschine 1.0). Uniformed color coding between your Groups, Sounds and mixer elements works perfectly at making everything extremely clear and orderly.

Unlimited Groups

Another huge improvement is being able to place unlimited groups of sounds within a project. The earlier Maschine 1.0 software was limited to just 8 groups (and therefore a maximum of 64 sounds). Currently, Maschine software can handle as many Groups and Sounds as your computer can.

Maschine Library

The included Maschine library is a huge selling point for any model of Maschine hardware. The beautifully crafted sample library originally came in at a whopping 8GB (now it is over 10GB due to a free update). Also, many of these sounds have been created by renowned artists and sound designers (including the likes of Junkie XL, Amon Tobin, Eric Sneo and Pendulum).

The original Maschine 2.0 library featured 8672 samples, 445 drum kits, 338 multi-sampled instruments 403 pre-sliced loops and 1200 patterns, as well as 38 demo projects and 5 incredible drum synths. Maschine 2.5’s free update added an additional 41 kits, 10 projects, 524 samples, 82 drum synth presets and 62 MASSIVE presets.

The quality of the samples is brilliant and the preset patterns for drum groups and loops can really aid creativity. Demo projects function as a great learning tool for anyone new to Maschine. They allow you to get your hands on polished projects and see exactly how producers have achieved those sounds.

Included Plug-Ins

Komplete Select 11

komplete select pack

Native Instruments describe Komplete Select as “a wide-ranging music production suite for all genres. The pack now comes free with Maschine Studio and includes 11 full featured VSTs plugins which we will list below. Ordinarily, this pack would sell for $199, so getting it free with Maschine Studio is a hugely valuable addition to the sale package.

Massive

A real fan favorite and widely used in all styles of electronic music, Massive is the perfect heavyweight synthesizer for heavy bass sounds and piercing leads. Many of electronic music’s biggest producers regularly use Massive within their productions.

Reaktor Prism

A ‘polyphonic modal synthesizer’ with an impressive array of sound-shaping capabilities.

The Gentleman

A vintage upright piano synthesizer/emulator with balanced tone, wide dynamic range, and a lush sound.

Solid Bus Comp

A bus compressor that delivers power and punch without sacrificing clarity.

Scarbee Mark 1

A sample based iconic electric piano instrument.

Monark

An incredibly powerful and detailed analog monosynth.

Vintage Organs

A golden age organ instrument, based on high-quality recordings of classic organs.

Drumlab

A one of a kind drum laboratory, allowing you to create and blend every individual drum in your perfect drum kit. This is one of the highlights of the package, allowing you to craft any drum sound you can imagine from scratch.

Retro Machines MK2

A retro analog synthesizer which blends 70s and 80s electronic sounds with modern technological capabilities.

Discovery Series – West Africa

A selection of vibrant percussion and enchanting melodic instruments which can be played solo or as part of a polyrhythmic ensemble.

Replika

Two studio-quality delays and a diffusion algorithm housed within a sleek, easy to use interface.

Updates Since Release

Since the launch of Maschine 2.0 software, a huge amount of free updates have been released for it. All Maschine Studio users now have free access to these key updated features:

Update 2.1

  • Grit Engine added to Kick Drum Synth
  • Shaker Performer mode added to Percussion Drum Synth

Update 2.2

  • Touch Sensitive Knobs
  • Scales and Chords
  • Arpeggiator
  • Keyboard Integration (for Komplete Kontrol keyboards)

Update 2.3

  • Komplete Select now included free with Maschine software
  • Cymbal Drum Synth & Hi-Hat Engine added
  • Breaker & Tom Drum Engines added
  • New Hall & Room Reverbs
  • New Limiter, Distortion & Cabinet Emulation
  • Workflow Improvements

Update 2.4 & 2.4.6

  • Enhanced third party workflow with NKS (for using alongside the Native Instruments Komplete Kontrol keyboard range)
  • Manual Slicing Mode (allowing cutting up of samples in real time as the sample plays)
  • Variable Scene Length & User Default Presets

Update 2.5 & 2.5.5

  • All new Perform FX
  • Significant Library Update featuring 2GB of new sounds
  • Ableton Link Support

Update 2.6 and 2.65

  • Variation Engine added (with Randomization/Humanization of midi/audio velocity, position etc.)
  • Lock & Morph snapshots function added
  • Control External Gear with Midi CC
  • Ableton Live style ‘Ideas View’ added

With such a regular schedule of incredibly useful free updates, it really feels like Native Instruments are supporting the end users of their product. Maschine Studio and Maschine software feel like gradually evolving beasts, rather than a static device and program (such as the MPCs of the past). It is exciting to see what future updates will bring to Maschine – We would predict that the Maschine software will eventually become its own fully featured DAW.

Available Learning Resources

Tru-Torials Series

Native Instruments have created an incredibly useful and in-depth tutorial series called Tru-Torials which is available to watch for free on Youtube. The series outlines many creative uses of some of Maschine hardware and software’s less obvious features. It allows users to quickly learn how to utilize these techniques in their own projects. There are currently 4 Tru-Torials seasons available, with 49 individual videos ready to be learned from.

Beginners Guide

WeLoveFingerDrumming also features a free 11-part Beginners Guide for learning the basics of finger drumming, based on a Maschine Studio setup. We recommend this for anyone planning to perform live finger drumming on Maschine Studio.

Demo Projects

Maschine Studio also comes with a large number of explorable demo projects. These are a great learning tool for newbies and producers who are used to other DAWs. They allow you to see exactly how various styles of music and sound can be created within Maschine software.

Music Production

Although not technically a standalone DAW, Maschine software can be a very powerful tool for music production. It is better suited for some projects than others, but any style of music can be made within Maschine. It’s multi-core processor support, refined CPU usage, and clear layout makes it a good choice for large projects.

With the large 16 pad layout taken from the original MPC designs, it is a pleasure to create hip-hop beats on Maschine Studio. Sampling and slicing using the hardware is fast and feels very natural.

It’s also a popular choice for creating electronic music elements. It’s Scenes/Groups/Sounds system is intuitive and makes repeating loops and bars seamless and simple.

Immersion

You can become fully immersed in the hardware thanks to the dual screen displays. You will often find yourself ignoring your computer screen, mouse and keyboard altogether. It is great to have the options to focus on either the Maschine Studio or the computer. Rival hardware may leave you forced to continuously turn your attention back and forth between them.

With its refined workflow, writing music on Maschine Studio feels extremely fast and fun. Experimentation often leads to the most interesting ideas within music production. Having this ability to try out so many ideas so fast and with so little stress leads to a lot of creativity.

Producing music with Maschine Studio is also incredibly intuitive. We wholeheartedly recommend it for both veteran music producers looking to add some new gear to their production set up and first timers who want to use it on its own.

Live Performance

When it comes to finger drumming and live performance, the Maschine Studio is a popular choice among performing artists. Equally at home as a solo performance instrument or as a small part of a live band setup, the flexibility of the device allows a huge range of applications within creating music live.

Here is a live performance from Jeremy Ellis using Maschine Studio, demonstrating some of its many live capabilities:

Performers can even use Maschine Studio to perform entire DJ sets. However, this may feel a little odd to DJs who are used to a turntable/CDJ or traditional Midi DJ controller setup.

Price

The original recommended retail price of Maschine Studio was $999 US dollars. Four years on, the recommended retail price has dropped to $799.  This is exceptional value for money, especially as it comes with a free huge sound library and almost $200 worth of plugins. We recommend heading over to Amazon for the best new and used prices for Maschine Studio.

Big Name Support

Some of the biggest names in electronic and hip-hop music use Maschine Studio for both music production and live performance.

Popular electronic acts like Underworld, Deadmau5, Richie Hawtin, Claude Von Stroke and Carl Craig use Maschine as part of their live setup on stage.

Finger drummers also often opt to use Maschine for stage performances and performance videos. Artists like Jeremy Ellis, Arius, Carl Rag, MetroGnome and the junk-E-cat all opt for Maschine Studio.

It is also a popular choice in the studio among hip-hop producers like Ski Beatz and DJ Nu-Mark. Many huge tracks by hip-hops biggest stars such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West have been produced using Maschine Studio.

Alternatives

For an in-depth comparison between Native Instruments Maschine Studio, the Akai MPC-X and the Novation Launchpad Pro, click here.

If Maschine Studio is out of your price range, you may want to consider other Native Instruments models. Maschine and Maschine Mikro are also very solid pieces of gear.

Conclusion – Is Maschine Worth It?

Maschine Studio For Production

We absolutely love Native Instruments Maschine Studio and would recommend it to both electronic/hip-hop music producers and live performers. It features unrivaled workflow and the dual screens mean you rarely need to view your laptop screen, depending on how you prefer to work. Years on from its release, the regular free software updates have kept it feeling fresh and up to date.

For music production, the Maschine Studio and Maschine 2.0 software are very powerful tools. However, there are some issues with working with long audio samples. Therefore, for some styles of music, the Maschine setup may be best used in conjunction with other DAWs.

The powerful software and huge amount of free high-quality plugins and samples that come with Maschine Studio are impressive. This is certainly a huge benefit to making the purchase.

Maschine Studio is a great, easy to learn tool for first-time music producers. It will also add a lot of new possibilities to any studio setup of a more established producer.

Maschine Studio For Live Performance & Finger Drumming

When it comes to live electronic music or hip-hop performance, the Maschine Studio shines. It is an excellent finger drumming controller and perfect for triggering elements with ease in real time. As a tool for finger drumming, it is utterly unrivaled.

The main negatives of Maschine Studio may be its lack of audio interfacing connectivity, it’s relatively large (and therefore less portable) size and the fact that it needs its own power supply.

Maschine Studio is perfect whether you are looking to play solo or add live elements to your DJ sets. You can even use it to perform alongside other DJs or play as part of a band. We strongly recommend Maschine Studio for live performance.

We recommend Amazon for finding the best new and used prices for Maschine Studio.

About Native Instruments

Native Instruments are a company synonymous with blending the arts of DJing and music production. Many Native Instruments products allow hybrid DJ and live music performances. This has put them at the forefront of creativity within electronic music.

Daniel Haver founded the company in Berlin in 1996. The company produces both cutting edge music hardware and software. Native Instruments currently has branches in LA, Tokyo, Shenzen (China) and London. It is also a stakeholder in the online music store giant, Beatport.

We hope you found our Maschine Studio review useful. Any questions or improvements we could make? Let us know HERE.

Top 7 Funky Finger Drumming Routines

funky finger drumming

Here’s our list of the best funky finger drumming routines we have found online. Have we missed anything amazing off of our list? Let us know HERE.

7. James Brown – Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag (DJ Chamber Re-Drum)

(2014) – Chamber takes on a classic from James Brown’s (and all with just one hand) using Native Instruments Maschine Studio.

6. jim diGGler – Funky Drummer

(2013) – Next on our list is this original tune from jim diGGler. Using both AKAI MPC Renaissance and Native Instruments Maschine, he kills it with this performance.

5. JBlack – Showtime

(2016) – JBlack uses the Akai MPC 2500 to craft his own live funky hip-hop beats in this performance. And we love the way he just can’t stop smiling while he does it.

4. The junk-E-cat – Prisma

The junk-E-cat lays down a dope rooftop groove.For more finger drumming videos, check out https://welovefingerdrumming.comAnd for more junk-E-Cat, check out his Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/junk_e_cat

Gepostet von Finger Drumming am Mittwoch, 22. März 2017

(2016) – Another great funky performance here. This time, the junk-E-cat takes to the rooftops with this beat played on Native Instruments Maschine Mikro.

3. Cee-Roo – The Squeak Of The Week 6

The legendary Cee-Roo doing what he does best!For more finger drumming videos, check out https://welovefingerdrumming.com

Gepostet von Finger Drumming am Montag, 20. März 2017

 

(2013) This amazing track was performed on Akai MPC 2000XL, Novation Impulse 25, Midi Fighter Classic & Akai MPD 24.

2. David ‘Fingers’ Haynes – Maschine Drum Performance

(2010) – Another incredible funky jazzy performance made using Native Instruments Maschine and a whole lot of skill! Mr Haynes, we salute you.

1. Jeremy Ellis – Maschine Mikro Performance

(2011) – Finally, this video is still the best example of funky finger drumming we have found online. Another amazing performance by the insanely talented Jeremy Ellis using only the Native Instruments Maschine Mikro.  For more information and a full breakdown of this video, click HERE.

For more finger drumming videos, you can also check out our Videos Page. Also, if you want to learn more about finger drumming and finger drum enabled DJ controllers, visit our Controllers page. For finger drumming lessons and tutorials, go to our Lessons page. To stay up to date with all things dubstep pad and finger drumming, you can also Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FingerDrumming.

Top 10 Dubstep Pad Routines

Dubstep and pads go hand in hand. Here is our list of the top 10 dubstep pad routines we have found anywhere on the internet – If we have missed any, let us know HERE:

dubstep pad routines

10. Doctor P & Flux Pavillion – Louder (Nev Cover)

(2013) – Nev smashed this dubstep classic, performing on the Novation Ableton Launchpad.

9. Daya – Sit Still, Look Pretty (R!OT Remix)

(2016) – Next on our list is R!OT‘s remix of Daya – Sit Still, Look Pretty. He played this comparatively chilled out dubstep tune perfectly on the Novation Ableton Launchpad Pro.

8. Lukas Graham – 7 Years Old (T-Mass Remix) – ItsAliJCover

(2016) – ItsAliJ plays another great cover of this pop hit remix on the Novation Ableton Launchpad.

7. Turvzak – Sail

(2014) – Next up, a great mashup performed by Turvzak, also using the Novation Ableton Launchpad.

6. Nev – Skrillex – First of the Year Cover

(2013) – Nev takes on another classic dubstep tune on his Novation Ableton Launchpad.

5. AraabMuzik – Live Dubstep MPC Performance

(2011) – Next, check out AraabMuzik’s insanely fast fingers on 2x AKAI MPC Renaissance – Another absolutely amazing video!

4. Shawn Wasabi – Marble Soda

(2015) – Shawn Wasabi kills this original tune on his custom made Midi Fighter 64.

3. M4SONIC – Weapon

(2012) – M4SONIC always brings the noise! This mashup is also performed on the Novation Ableton Launchpad.

2.  Excision & The Frim – X Up ft. Messinian (Arius Finger Drumming Remix)

(2015) – Arius smashes another routine on the Native Instruments Maschine.

1. Kaskobi – Fur Elise Dubstep Pad Remix

(2016) – Finally, Kaskobi steals the show with this performance. This is a truly original cover of a legendary classical hit. Kaskobi tops our list performing this routine on the Novation Ableton Launchpad Pro and Novation Ableton Launchkey 49.

For more finger drumming videos, you can also check out our Videos Page. Or if you want to learn more about finger drumming and finger drum enabled DJ controllers, visit our Controllers page. For finger drumming lessons and tutorials, go to our Lessons page. To stay up to date with all things dubstep pad and finger drumming, you can also Like our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/FingerDrumming.

Finger Drumming Setups

finger drumming setup

One thing that attracts many artists to learn finger drumming is its flexibility and the multitude of ways it can be used. Whether you plan to use finger drumming alone or in a group context, we have written a guide to some of the most popular setups where finger drumming can be incorporated.

Solo

The most common type of finger drumming setup artists widely use is a solo performance. This can work whether they are playing full routines on their finger drum controllers or DJing and adding finger drummed elements on top. Some performers even add other instruments to their live setups as well as the finger drumming equipment.

Example: Jeremy Ellis Maschine Mikro Performance

With a DJ/DJs

For a truly visual and unique performance, many DJs have been teaming up with finger drummers to add extra spice to performances. Finger drummers performing alongside DJs can add an extra layer of drums, extra vocal samples, or melodies/basslines. This setup allows for many possibilities solo performers could not achieve alone (e.g. scratching over a finger drummed beat). This style of finger drumming setup is steadily gaining popularity.

Example: Dirtyphonics Live at Jungle Juice

With other Finger Drummers

Finger drumming alongside other finger drummers can create an interesting interplay between performers. However, this takes some pre-planning or designating each performer to a certain role in the composition. When executed well, this creates a highly visual and technical performance.

Example: The Trickaz – Pushing More Buttons

With a Band/Live Musicians

A newer technique increasingly being used by musicians is to have a finger drummer play as part of a band. This also makes setup much simpler for venues with no drum kit. Some bands would also use a finger drummer instead of a keyboard player or bassist. We expect to see a lot more of live music incorporating finger drummers in the near future.

Example: Dark Sky Live Boiler Room Set

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Finger Drumming Culture in 2017

Whether you call it finger drumming, live beat making, pad production or controllerism, there is an interesting and growing culture surrounding this exciting new area of live performance.

m4sonic-live-push.png

Styles

When played live as an instrument, finger drum enabled controllers allow endless possibilities and sound combinations, which can create any style of music in real time. It can even emulate whole bands and allows full electronic music compositions to be performed live. Many performers use pads for solo performance. Some choose to team up with other finger drummers. Other performers play alongside DJs or instrumental musicians. Some artists choose to use finger drumming in a full band context. The flexibility allowed with finger drumming controllers make it highly adaptable for both solo performance and collaboration, and its exciting to see pads being used in new and imaginative setups every day.

fingers-drummers-drumming.png

Origins

Originating as a production technique for hip-hop music in the late 80s, finger drumming was once only used in a studio setting to achieve a live sounding swing/groove on drum patterns. This ended up heavily influencing and characterising the golden age hip-hop sound. It wasn’t until much more recently that it started to be used in live performance. Artists like Jeremy Ellis, AraabMuzik, M4SONIC, Metrognome and Shawn Wasabi brought  the artform to a much wider audience via their hugely popular viral videos on YouTube.

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Growth

Due to the success of these videos, worldwide interest in finger drumming continues to grow exponentially. In the last few years, companies like Akai, Native Instruments, Novation and M-Audio have invested heavily into widely expanding their range of finger drum and pad production hardware. An increasing number of leading DJ Controllers (from companies like Pioneer, Denon, Roland and Numark) now include pads for finger drumming and sample triggering.

dirtyphonics-live-production.png

Culture

Finger drumming culture combines aspects of the cultures surrounding both hip-hop turntablism and electronic music. Performers utilise the skills of pianists, music producers and traditional drummers in their work. Finger drumming and controllerism are now commonplace in the worlds leading turntablism and DJing competitions, such as the DMC and Red Bull 3Style events. There is also a new scene developing around live ‘beat battles’. These pit two or more controllerists against each other to wow crowds by showing off their best beats performed live. We expect to see a lot more of these events popping up all over the globe in the near future.

finger drumming

Future

With the fledgling scene picking up momentum fast, it is exciting to see whats next for finger drumming and controllerism. Each year, developers release new equipment which expands the boundaries of exactly what can be done within the artform. The possibilities are limitless when it comes combining finger drumming sounds and styles with other more traditional performance setups. For these reasons, we see finger drumming and controllerism as the most exciting area developing in music today. It is certainly one area to watch in the future.

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Best Finger Drumming Controllers in 2017

Here are our top picks for the 3 best finger drumming controllers on the market today! Which piece of hardware to go for ultimately depends on your personal preferences. We hope this impartial guide can help clarify the best-suited equipment available for you.

new-maschine-studioMaschine Studio new-mpc-x.pngMPC X new-novation-launch.pngLaunchpad Pro

Each controller specializes in certain areas and all have received both critical acclaim and commercial success. We will split this impartial review into the following categories:

Hardware / Software / Portability / Cost / Conclusion

Hardware

Maschine Studio

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The Maschine Studio has two large, high-resolution 480×272 pixel color displays which are extremely crisp and very bright. These allow for an extremely smooth workflow – You can create whole tracks and finger drumming routines without ever looking to your laptop/computer. The option of using the screen of your workstation as a third display is also very useful. You could also use it as your primary display, depending on your work style.

Maschine Studio has 16 touchpads with a fantastic feel. These can be color coded in any formation you want. It also has 8 ‘infinite knobs’ which can be used to control anything within your project (via Maschine 2 software’s awesome ‘Macros’ feature).

On the back, there are 3 MIDI outputs, 1 MIDI input, and 2 footswitch inputs. Sadly, there are no audio interfacing features on any Maschine model to date. This means that the audio output is always done through your laptop/computer or an external soundcard.

MPC X

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The MPC X has one epic (and flattenable for travel) high-resolution 10.1-inch touchscreen. This allows for a combination of touchscreen and traditional hardware inputs. Like the Maschine Studio, you never have to look at your laptop if you don’t want to (and unlike the Maschine Studio, all processing is done within the MPC X, so you don’t even need a laptop to use it).

MPC X also has 16 color codable drum pads (although these are marginally less flashy the Maschine Studio’s bright pads). Furthermore, the MPC X  features an array of 16 customizable infinite knobs, which allows for endless ways to tweak sounds and automation within a live performance.

There are 4 audio inputs (2x XLR / 2x RCA) and 8 audio outputs (including 1/4″ and 1/8″ headphone outputs), as well as 2 MIDI inputs and 4 MIDI outputs. The huge array of inputs and outputs makes this controller the king of connectivity!

Launchpad Pro

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The Launchpad Pro has no built-in screen display, so users will have to constantly go back and forth between looking at the hardware and their laptop or computer screen.

The area where this model excels is its whopping array of 64 individual pads (each with fully customizable colors – you can even run the Launchpad Pro as a sort of interactive light show). The Launchpad series lack any knobs/dials, preferring a button and pad based user interface. Automation can still be achieved, but often is a few extra button presses away, which makes tweaking some synths and effects less smooth and intuitive than it should be for live performance.

It features a MIDI input and output, meaning you can use it standalone to play and control any MIDI equipped hardware (no laptop needed for this).

Which finger drumming controller to choose based on the hardware?

This really depends on the type of performance you want to achieve and your preferred music production workflow.

For performing fully pre-planned finger drumming routines with no need for automation, the Launchpad Pro may be the best option, due to its 64 pad matrix and customizable light show style visuals.

For a more improvised routine, we love the workflow of the Maschine Studio, and its ability to let you tweak effects in real time with knobs via Macros. MPC X also has this feature as a well as a huge array of inputs, outputs and MIDI ins and outs. But with the cost being over double the cost of the Maschine Studio, you could buy a Studio with a top end audio interface unit for much less than the cost of the MPC X. However, this all depends on your studio/performance setup needs. Many users wouldn’t even miss the lack of audio interfacing options in Maschine Studio.

If you also plan on using the hardware for music production, we much prefer the workflow of both the Maschine Studio and MPC X as these both have machines and enough buttons and dials to keep you away from ever needing to use the laptop screen, keyboard or mouse. However, this also comes down to a preference on software, which we will review next.

Software

Maschine 2

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Maschine 2 software is the included software with Native Instruments Maschine Studio. The software is incredibly powerful and features multi-core processor support.

The interface is very clean and intuitive. Any features you don’t know where to find are generally exactly where you would expect them to be. First-time users will find themselves creating music very easily. In fact, we think Maschine software has the fastest learning curve of any DAW we’ve seen!

Sadly, Maschine’s arrangement aspect is a little lacking – We would love a feature where certain channels could run alongside the arrangement without being restricted to being triggered within scenes. The lack of this feature makes it tricky to work with long pieces of audio such as acapella tracks. This means Maschine software may be best used in conjunction with other DAWs for certain projects.

Maschine 2 also lacks real-time time stretching of audio, and although time stretching is possible within the software, it may be a little fiddly for some when compared to DAWs like Ableton or Cubase.

Maschine software comes with a huge and impressive sound library, effects library and an incredible selection of VSTs (such as Komplete 11 Select which includes fan favorites such as Massive, Reaktor & Scarbee). As well as all this, there are consistent free software updates. These always add useful additions and new features to the software.

MPC2

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The new MPC 2 software is also a powerful beast and is included with the MPC X. In standalone mode (no laptop or computer connection required) it is limited to 8 audio tracks. In controller mode, this number goes up to a whopping 128 tracks.

The interface is very clean and similar in appearance to Maschine 2. It is also relatively intuitive, although Maschine software still wins for this.

The MPC software handles audio recording very well. It also features a new real-time time stretching and pitch shifting algorithm (which Maschine 2 lacks). As well as this, it features a Clip Program mode, similar to Ableton, for those who prefer a clip launching workflow.

MPC comes with a huge sound library and a selection of powerful synths and effects (totaling over 10GB).

Ableton Live Lite

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Novation’s Launchpad Pro includes the Ableton Live Lite software package. Live Lite is the entry level version of Ableton’s powerful Live software series.

Upgrades to fuller functioning Live Intro, Standard and Suite cost $799, $1148 and $1398 respectively. These software packages are much more complete and fully functional than Live Lite. The Lite package lacks many features but does the job as a basic DAW for audio processing. Live Lite features rudimentary built-in effects. The package is also limited to 8 audio channels and 8 midi channels.

We do not recommend the Lite package for users serious about music production. Ableton software is also not so beginner friendly as many other software packages and has a steep learning curve. However, the full Live packages are some of the most powerful and widely used DAWs in existence. If you are serious about music production, the upgrade might well be worth the money.

If you are more interested in using the launchpad solely for finger drumming performances, the software should do the job.

Which finger drumming controller to choose for software?

We recommend the Maschine Studio/Maschine 2 software if using alongside another DAW. This is due to its sheer intuitiveness, fast learning curve, and unparalleled workflow. If using as a standalone DAW, we would recommend the widely used Ableton Live. This is probably the closest thing to industry standard in music production these days. However, Novation Launchpad Pro only includes Ableton Live Lite. The full featured software is going to cost between 2.5 and 4.5x more than the hardware. This depends on which Live package you choose!

Portability

Native Instruments Maschine Studio weighs 7.1lbs (3.2kg) and its dimensions are 17.0″ x 13.8″ x 2.3″ / 43.2 x 35 x 5.85 cm (with the integrated leg stand set to flat). This makes it both lighter and marginally smaller than the MPC X. However, to use Maschine Studio, you will also need a laptop or computer, as well as a power socket.

The Akai MPC X weighs in at a hefty 12.57lbs (5.66kg) and measures in at 19.9” x 16.7” x 3.4” / 50.5 x 42.4 x 8.7 cm (with the display set to flat). However, it acts as a fully standalone unit (doesn’t require a laptop). You can use it anywhere with a power socket. With its huge size, it may be a bit of a squeeze to fit in some smaller DJ booths alongside other club equipment though.

The Novation Launchpad Pro is by far the smallest and lightest of the bunch weighing just 2.7lbs (1.22kg) and measuring 10.2″ x 10.2″ x 1.1″ / 26 x 26 x 2.9 cm. The Launchpad does require a laptop or computer for use. However, you can also power it solely through the USB port (the power supply is optional). Therefore, you can use this hardware anywhere you take your laptop (even where no plug socket is present – until your laptop runs out of batteries).

Which finger drumming controller to choose based on portability?

We recommend the Launchpad Pro for its size and weight if you don’t mind bringing your laptop around with you. However, if you just want to perform or produce with the controller and don’t want to bring a laptop along, the MPC X is the choice for you (providing you have access to a power socket).

* If portability is your main concern above all else, the most portable finger drumming and controllerism controller in the world is the new AKAI MPC Live, which doesn’t require a laptop or a power supply.

Cost

Maschine Studio RRP: $999 / MPC X RRP: $2199 / Launchpad Pro RRP: $299

Maschine Studio

The Maschine Studio has its production software suite (Maschine 2) included free with the hardware. Maschine Studio also comes with a huge amount of free virtual synths and effects. These include the hugely popular Massive and Reaktor VSTs). Furthermore, the Maschine software also has free updates coming out regularly, continually improving the user experience.

MPC X

The Akai MPC X cost is wildly more expensive than the other two options. However, like Maschine Studio, the full featured software suite (MPC 2.0) is included in the price.

Unlike the other two options, the MPC X can run in standalone mode. This means no laptop or desktop computer connection is required. The software for all three options can be CPU intensive when running large project files. Those who don’t already own a relatively new computer and do not want to shell out on a powerful laptop or desktop unit, but are serious about finger drumming and music production, may end up finding this option slightly cheaper overall.

Launchpad Pro

At first glance, there appears to be a clear hands down winner in terms of cost – the Novation Launchpad Pro. However, Launchpad Pro only comes in the box with Ableton Live Lite (the lightweight less fully featured version of Ableton Live).

To really get the most out of the hardware, you would need to upgrade one of three full Live packages (Live 9 Intro, Standard or Suite, and their RRPs are $799, $1148 and $1398 respectively). These Live packages are some of the most widely used production DAWs in the world, so there is still value for money here.

Which finger drumming controller to choose based on cost?

If you are interested in using this for music production and live performance or are looking to add a piece of hardware to a setup which already includes another DAW, we can recommend the Maschine Studio (RRP $999 with full software included). As a standalone production unit, it lacks in some areas, but as an addition to a studio setup, it excels.

For those looking to invest in a top of the range piece of finger drumming and music production gear who don’t own a relatively new laptop or desktop setup, the MPC X (RRP $2199) might be the best choice for you in terms of cost, as you can totally bypass spending money on the new computer to run the hardware/software.

If you want a top end controller for finger drumming, controllerism and rehearsed live performance, but are less interested in the music production side of things or tweaking effects live with improvised performances, we would certainly recommend the Launchpad Pro (RRP $299). For times when live performance is the main key, this can be achieved without upgrading to one of the costly Live 9 software packages.

If you are also serious about producing music with the controller, the Launchpad Pro and one of the software upgrades may be a good option for you. However, with no screen display built into the hardware, you may find yourself going back and forth between looking at your computer display and the hardware unit. This may have some affect on your workflow.

Conclusion

new-maschine-studioNative Instruments Maschine Studio – RRP $999
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PROS CONS
*Dual high-resolution, full-color displays *No audio interface, may require external unit for some users
*16 full-color touch pads and 8 customizable infinite knobs *Fairly large size, may be a squeeze for some DJ booths
 *Exceptional workflow, fast learning curve and highly intuitive  *No real-time time stretching functionality
 *Incredible amount of samples, effects, and VSTs included  *Not ideal for long pieces of audio e.g. acapellas

new-mpc-xAKAI MPC X – RRP $2199
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PROS CONS
*Huge 10.1 inch touchscreen display *Very expensive at $2199 RRP
*16 touch pads and 16 customizable infinite knobs * Very large size, will be a squeeze for some DJ booths
 *Standalone mode means no laptop needed for use  *Heavy weight makes this model less portable
 *Real-time sample stretching and pitch adjusting algorithm  *16 pad lighting is the dullest of the three models
 *Highly connective audio interface, many inputs/outputs *Lesser known AKAI range of VSTs included with software

new-novation-launchNovation Launchpad Pro – RRP $299
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PROS CONS
*Very cheap cost at $299 RRP *No audio interface
*64 full color touch pads *Only includes the limited Ableton Live Lite software
 *Small and compact, space efficient in tight DJ booths  *No knobs, only buttons and pads, making automation tricky
 *Beautiful customizable ‘light show style’ pad lighting  *Steep learning curve on Ableton Live software
 *Very lightweight, highly portable  *No built-in display, affects workflow

We hope you have found this guide to the top 3 finger drumming controllers of today useful. Still can’t decide which controller is best for you? Check out our Videos page to see these controllers in action. For more options (including budget and mid-range models, check out our Controllers page.

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