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It's A Small World

Our occasional DJ tech guru Kutski puts Native Instruments’ miniature Maschine Mikro through its paces…

Maschine Mikro is the latest incarnation of Native Instruments’ game-changing groove box — a hardware and software combination designed to fulfill all those tactile retro impulses, with a modern integration into the user’s workflow.

Having never used the original Maschine, I came to the Mikro as a new user, and little knowledge of the full potential of the unit. From what I understand, the Mikro is missing a few extra buttons, knobs, and only boasts one LCD display, but still has all the functions found on its big brother. Whatever is lost in ease of access is saved in price and size, but not at the expense of features.

To break it down, the Maschine Mikro hardware is an MPC-style midi controller hosting a bank of 4x4 drum pads, various sequencer and bank selection controls, and an LCD display. This all runs in parallel with Native Instruments’ Maschine software, which can also run as a stand-alone app, as well as a plug-in to use with a DAW of choice. The Maschine software comes with a mighty 5GB of drum kits, patches and sounds, and a suite of high-quality effects that can be chained and tailored to each sample to create infinite varieties of percussion.

TWEAKED

The great thing about Maschine is, having already been on the market for some time, the app itself has been updated, tweaked and adapted to user requests and fixes, so those wishing to venture into the world of Maschine will get a very polished experience. The downside of this for me is where to start describing the variety of ways you could actually go about using it!

Let’s start with Maschine as a plug-in. It comes in all the industry standard plug-in formats such as AU, VST and RTAS, and loads up as a mini sequencer within a DAW. From here, there are three primary sections. It’s possible to search the extensive palette of kits and banks using categories or keywords and then load the sounds into the various groups available. The banks that are included in the hardware/software combo range from polished versions of classic drum machines, through to kits created for specific genres of music. Each bank of 16 drum hits create what is known as a group, and up to eight groups can be loaded at one time, and toggled between by holding the group button. The pads will miraculously turn blue, indicating which banks have content, and switching between them is as easy as punching the pad.

PART OF THE PROCESS

So, it’s now obvious what Maschine is all about, but how does it work in the production process? Again, there are a variety of options. The obvious is to draw in the drum pattern with a mouse, which we will dismiss. The next is to pound in a groove MPC-style with the pads — this is the fun bit. There is a metronome that can be used to aid the timing, and quantize settings to snap any mistimed beats to the nearest suitable position. Once the drum track is built, there is the ability to overdub more and more layers until the perfect groove is achieved.

Another option is to leave the workstation in order to ‘get down’ to the groove and programme the beats in the step sequencer mode, which retro drum programmers will be more than familiar with on classic drum machines such as the Roland series. Once the patterns have been programmed, they can be arranged within the ‘scene’ section of the editor for live performance, or to play in accompaniment with the track in the DAW.

Aside from these standard ways of working, users can also enable ‘midi mode’ which gives the freedom to operate Maschine (or any plug-in for that matter) as a generic midi controller, directly into a DAW. Or, to take a totally different approach, Maschine can be run as a standalone app, and an entire track can be sequenced within Maschine’s sequencer, and the Mikro controller can be used to operate all aspects of the track from drum programming to playing riffs on external VST synths.

Most will find a place for this little box of delights in their heart, and whether producers end up using it more for the drum banks, sequencing, or even just as a midi controller, the price of the new trimmed hardware makes it totally justifiable, and the other features will be a bonus.

Verdict

Price   £289.00
Contact   native-instruments.com
Build Quality
  9.0
Ease of Use   8.0
Features   9.0
Value for Money   9.0
Sound Quality   10
Hype   The full functions of Machine for a cheaper price
Gripe   You'll have to learn some shortcuts to get around the interface due to the small size
Conclusion   A great tool that is so flexible every producer will find a way to intergrate it into their work flow
Overall Score   9.0/10