With Maschine +, Native Instruments cut the computer tether to offer a premium DAWless beat-making experience—but is it worth the price?

For the better part of a decade, Native Instruments has been steadily improving Maschine, its beat-making environment. With a tiered price point that veers from the budget Mikro to the impressive two-screened MK3, and features that have seen it incorporate everything from sample chopping to drum and bass synthesis, the Maschine environment has won over many producers. The logical next step in its evolution was to go standalone, and that’s just what the German company has done with Maschine+.

Out Of The Box And Into The Hardware

Longtime Maschine users will feel immediately comfortable with the new unit, as it’s based on the MK3 hardware. There are two screens at top right plus eight endless encoders and a four-directional push encoder for getting around. There are 16 pads for pounding in drums and notes, plus a wealth of other buttons for accessing other features. Lastly, a horizontal Smart Strip is on hand for parameter and performance tweaking.

While the layout may be familiar, the construction on the Maschine+ is all-new. This is a standalone unit, after all, and is meant not only for studio work but for taking on the road. Thus it’s housed in a suitably heavy-duty, anodized aluminium chassis. The pads and buttons are chunky and substantial, and the knobs perfectly resistant. The 4D encoder is particularly lovely. There’s also a good heft to the device. At 2.5kg, it’s not going to slide off a desk anytime soon.

Round the back, there are pairs of quarter-inch TRS inputs and outputs, a quarter-inch dynamic mic input, DIN MIDI in and out, USB for connecting to the computer as well as two additional ones for adding MIDI controllers or external hard drives. Connectivity shouldn’t be a problem.

The Maschine+ is clearly a premium instrument. Much like climbing into a BMW, using the Maschine+ is like interfacing with a superior and high-quality machine. We were nothing but impressed with the hardware side of Maschine+.

A Familiar Music-Making Environment

Working with Maschine+ is just as it was before, minus the computer (which is still available in Controller Mode, should you wish to go big). The main difference to using an MK3 is setting it up—it connects to your wifi and downloads expansions, instruments and effects to the hardware—and of course the presence of those Native Instruments plugins. Where before they were hosted in the software on your PC, now they’re native to the hardware experience as well.

Working with plugins like Reaktor 6 and Massive inside a piece of standalone hardware feels rather miraculous. While there are only a few name plugin effects available, the included Maschine environment effects—such as reverb, delay and compression—are satisfactory and get the job done. A quad-core CPU and 4GB of RAM. The unit comes with a 64GB SD card for storage but you’ll want to upgrade to a bigger card sooner rather than later (it supports up to 1 TB).

While some expressed concern online about hitting processor ceilings, our test song averaged about 57% CPU usage. This was not a stress test but rather a typical use case with eight or so channels. While some instruments are more taxing than others (hello, Reaktor 6), this turned out to be less of an issue than expected.

Perhaps someday, NI will offer different versions of Maschine hardware with options for more RAM and faster processors, much like Apple does with its laptops. But really, the current model should be satisfactory for all but really extreme situations. This is a groovebox after all, and not a laptop.

Room For Improvement

For all that we love using the Maschine+, we do feel there is room for improvement. We’d love to see wifi or Bluetooth integration with a computer so we don’t have to hook up a USB cable or manually move the SD card to access the storage files. Some kind of internal file manager accessible via the hardware screens would be even more convenient. We’d also like to be able to search plugins by name. It can be a little tedious scrolling through the many presets, even when broken down by type.

While we’re fantasizing, how about third-party plugin support? Running Arturia synths with Soundtoys plugins natively in Maschine hardware would be the stuff dreams are made of.

These are still early days for the firmware. Here’s hoping NI will make these changes available in the near future.

The Competition

So how about that price? At £1,175, Maschine+ is not cheap. But this is to be expected as nothing about it feels cheap. It’s clearly a top-shelf instrument that commands a premium price.

Some, however, have baulked at the price tag. Why get a Maschine+ when they can just use the computer they already have? You could say the same for the new Sequential Prophet 5. Why buy a £2700 synth when you already have a MIDI controller and a crack of Repro? They’re clearly entirely different experiences. Maschine+ offers a DAWless groovebox capable of running Native Instruments plugins. That’s pretty exceptional.

And when compared to other, similar grooveboxes already on the market, the price tag is not unreasonable. Akai’s MPC Live II goes for £1,050 while Elektron’s Octatrack MKII retails for £1,189. Maschine+ is not an outlier at all when put up against the competition.

Ultimately, whether the price is justifiable to you depends more on your musical needs. Do you need a DAWless, live-ready groovebox to act as the brain of your studio? If so, Maschine+ is a very attractive option even before you throw in the NI instruments. If you’re already a Maschine user, your choice has likely already been made.

The Verdict

Price: £1175

Purchase: Native Instruments Maschine+

Ease of Use

The Final Word

Maschine+ offers superb build quality and a familiar music-making environment.

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Author Adam Douglas
31st October, 2020

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