Welcome to our in-depth Maschine Studio Review for 2017.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Komplete Select 11
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.
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.
A ‘polyphonic modal synthesizer’ with an impressive array of sound-shaping capabilities.
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.
An incredibly powerful and detailed analog monosynth.
A golden age organ instrument, based on high-quality recordings of classic organs.
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.
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:
- Grit Engine added to Kick Drum Synth
- Shaker Performer mode added to Percussion Drum Synth
- Touch Sensitive Knobs
- Scales and Chords
- Keyboard Integration (for Komplete Kontrol keyboards)
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
For an in-depth comparison between Native Instruments Maschine Studio, the Akai MPC-X and the Novation Launchpad Pro, click here.
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.
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.