A standalone version of NI’s Maschine beatmaking platform has long been rumoured - particularly in light of Akai’s decision to take the MPC range back out of the box - and now it’s here. Maschine+, as it's known, is a pad-based groovebox that can be used with or without a computer.
This is a Maschine that’s been a long time coming. NI tells us that it had a proof-of-concept prototype as long ago as 2014, but only now has it created a product that it’s happy to release.
We were treated to a socially-distanced demo of Maschine+ and, while in many respects it sticks pretty closely to its stablemates’ workflow, several things make it stand apart.
A familiar face
From the outside, Maschine+ looks strikingly similar to the Maschine MkIII, but under the hood it’s a different story. NI has packed an Intel Atom quad-core processor into the device, along with 4GB RAM and 32GB of internal storage. What’s more, as befits a product that’s designed to be used away from your studio, it comes in a seemingly robust anodised aluminium case.
All audio I/O and other connectivity is positioned on the back of the device. The mic input has more gain in comparison to previous Maschines, and dual USB ports mean that you can plug in both a class-compliant MIDI keyboard and separate audio interface if you wish (this then replaces the built-in I/O).
At launch, only NI audio interfaces will be supported, but compatibility with third-party models may be added later on if the demand is there.
Maschine+ runs on an optimised Linux-based OS and ships with a carefully selected bundle of software built in. This includes not only the 8GB Maschine Factory Library (this contains sounds, drum kits, instruments, patterns, projects, sliced loops, Bass Synth and NI’s five Drum Synths), but also some classic NI plugin synths: FM8, Massive, Monark and Prism.
You also get selections of Reaktor and Kontakt factory instruments, along with the Retro Machines vintage synth collection. The Raum and Phasis effects are supplied, too.
Then we come to the Maschine+ Expansions. Five of these - Deep Matter, Lilac Glare, Solar Breeze, True School and Velvet Lounge - are included, and you also get a voucher for two additional Maschine+ Expansions of your choice. More than 70 of these will be available at launch, with more to follow.
What’s more, if you already own a Maschine Expansion that’s compatible with Maschine+, you won’t have to buy another license - you should just be able to transfer it straight over to the hardware.
Take it away
And this is where things start to get really interesting; because Maschine+ is WiFi-capable, you can set it up and download content without the need for a computer. NI describes it as like having its Native Access authorisation system built into the hardware - you even have the option of registering Expansions on your phone by scanning a QR code that appears on one of NI’s two colour displays.
It’s worth noting that, while the factory library is installed to the internal eMMC storage, all Expansions and your projects have to go on an SD card. A speedy 64GB card comes supplied, though you can replace this with a card of up to 1TB in size, so long as it’s fast enough.
What you can’t do at this stage is load any third-party content into your Maschine+, and only certain NI plugins can make the jump across. We’re assuming that more NI software will be added in the future, but it remains to be seen if you’ll ever be able to use synths and effects from other developers when in standalone mode.
Speaking of which, as well as being playable on its own, Maschine+ can also be used in three other guises. Controller mode turns the hardware into a standard controller for the Maschine software; Storage mode enables you to transfer content between the hardware and your computer; and MIDI mode gives you a freely mappable controller.
As you might expect, projects created in standalone mode can be loaded into the desktop Maschine software, and you can also send projects from the desktop to the hardware. The main caveat here is that, if you’ve used plugins that aren’t supported by Maschine+ in standalone mode, the tracks that use them won’t play, so you’ll have to find alternative options.
The stage is set
Obviously, being standalone, Maschine+ has significant potential as a performance device, and there are a couple of features that emphasise this.
Firstly, there’s support for Ableton Link, the syncing technology that’s built into many iOS apps and some desktop software. This opens up a multitude of jamming possibilities, and even the option of using two Maschine+s on stage.
Then there are the MIDI presets - 128 of them are included, each designed to work with a specific hardware synth. These are designed to make your synths feel as if they’re built into Maschine+; hook one up and you can sequence it and tweak it just as if it were a plugin.
A template for the future?
All of which adds up to a product that, while answering some of the questions about what NI would do with Maschine next, also throws up a few more about where the company is heading.
If Maschine+ is a success - and, based on what we’ve seen so far, we have every reason to believe that it will be - there’s no reason why a standalone, synth-stuffed Komplete keyboard couldn’t be created. Such a device would surely have stage keyboard players salivating, and pose a serious threat to the likes of Korg, Yamaha, Roland and Nord.
On a more cautionary note, there will inevitably be some who are concerned about buying into a piece of ‘standalone’ hardware that’s going to rely on long-term product support, something that NI has been accused of not always providing in the past. The company assures us that it’s in this for the long haul - and that it’s confident that the Maschine+ hardware is powerful enough to run even the most complex projects - but time will tell.
That’s all for the future, though; right now we can tell you that Maschine+ will cost £1,099/€1,299 and be released on 1 October. Look out for our full review very soon, and find out more and pre-order on the Native Instruments website.