Review: Native Instruments Maschine Mikro

For those who are unfamiliar with Native Instruments Maschine, it is basically a package comprising a complete music production software and a dedicated hardware controller.

The new Maschine Mikro is pretty much the same as the original hardware/software groove production system launched in March 2009 – with updated software of course, minus a few inches of controller.

MASCHINE MIKRO is the perfect entry into the world of MASCHINE, giving you tactile, hands-on control for beat production, sampling and performance. This latest addition to the family has the same powerful software and 6 GB+ sample library as its big brother, as well as the same responsive pads on a more compact and portable controller. MASCHINE MIKRO makes a perfect addition for any production setup – get hands-on with your rhythms and grooves both in the studio and on the stage.

So does the saying “good things come in small packages” hold true?

As much as I enjoyed the original Maschine, over time I found that even though I like having lots of knobs and sliders on my controllers, I hardly use more than a handful of them when producing music in my small home studio. The original Maschine controller – beautiful as it is – is just a bit overkill for my needs. I was excited to see Native Instruments introduce the smaller Mikro.

Maschine Mikro
Maschine Mikro is two-thirds of the size and weight of the full-sized hardware

If you are familiar with the original Maschine controller you’ll notice there are considerably fewer controls on the Mikro. The one rotary knob next to the LCD display lets you access most common parameters by navigating through menus. This obviously takes a little more scrolling/clicking through pages to get where you need to be.

Mikro comes with 28 buttons for direct parameter selection, whereas the original controller has 41. Instead of using dedicated group buttons, the Mikro allows group selection by using a single button in combination with the top two rows of the pads section. The Mikro has just one LCD screen, half the size of the ones on the Maschine, but it still has a good amount of space (128 by 64 pixels). The transport, modifier, and pads sections are almost identical on both Maschine units.

I was happy to see that the 16 illuminated pads on the Mikro match the ones found on its bigger brother. They have the same size and feel, a little smoother and lighter to the touch even. Real nice.

Native Instruments has made a handy comparison sheet so check it out for more details on the differences between the both.

One thing that remains the same for both Maschine packages is the software. The Mikro comes with the same full featured music production software including a sequencer, AU/VST plugin hosting, audio recording/sampling, tons of high quality effects, etc. Already at version 1.7.2, this part of Maschine just keeps getting better and better.

Here’s the list of Mikro’s main features:

  • Ultra-portable and road-tested build quality, with the same high quality pads and exactly the same software as Maschine.
  • Offers VST and Audio Units plug-in hosting plus seamless Komplete 8 integration – browse Komplete instruments and effects directly in the MASCHINE MIKRO browser.
  • Clever hardware shortcuts provide quick access to key functions and essential software controls.
  • High contrast display and backlit pads for clear visual feedback in the studio or on stage.
  • Classic groovebox features: 16 velocity levels, swing (sounds, groups, global), pad-link, note repeat, MPC 60/SP 1200 sampling emulation.
  • Full studio integration: Import REX2 files and MPC programs and export MIDI or audio via drag-and-drop, use Maschine inside a DAW as a VST, Audio Units or RTAS plug-in.
  • Connect to iMaschine – import iMaschine projects for further work and fine-tuning.
  • Includes Komplete Elements, with 1000+ sounds, and an e-voucher worth $30 for Maschine Expansions or additional Komplete Instruments and Effects in the NI Online Shop.
  • Includes full 6 GB+ Maschine sound library: 18,000+ samples, 7,000 one-shots, 400 sliced loops, 300 drum kits with over 1,400 patterns, 388 sampled instruments, 170 FX/multi-FX presets, and 60 demo projects.

I forgot to mention this earlier, but it’s probably good to know that I am not looking for some kind of MPC workflow where you do everything from the hardware. Pretty much everything is done sitting behind a computer screen, with keyboard and mouse right there. Most the time I prefer to use the software because it is much faster and more intuitive to me. If you are looking to work primarily from the controller – e.g. for performing live, or unlike me you happen to have a rather spacey studio – the regular Maschine is probably the better option.

Working in standalone mode, Maschine provides everything you need to compose full tracks. However, I use it predominantly as a plugin in my DAW. Not because Maschine isn’t any good as a host/sequencer/DAW, but because it just fits in my workflow better.

Maschine software
Maschine in standalone mode (smallest screen size)

A Maschine project can have up to 64 patterns for each of the 8 groups available. Each pattern can be up to 256 bars long and the arranger lets you sequence them in up to 64 scenes. More than enough to compose full tracks. It is easy to add some effects to sounds, groups and the main output, and routing of the audio is flexible and easy to understand, though it is also possible to set up some more complex effect chains and routing.

If you want to control external hardware (e.g. a hardware synthesizer) you should know that while the Mikro can operate as a regular MIDI controller, it does not have a built in MIDI interface like the original Maschine controller.

As far as the sounds go, Mikro comes with the same 6.2 GB sound library as the one included with Maschine, featuring lots of top notch content from Goldbaby, Amon Tobin, Denis Gökdag, Loopmasters, and many more. Komplete Elements is included as well. This entry level Komplete bundle features over 3 GB of sounds and effects, powered by the Player versions of Reaktor, Kontakt, and Guitar Rig. With the introduction of software version 1.7 of Maschine, advanced integration of Komplete allows you to use the presets directly from the hardware browser. And in the same way you can recall stored presets of your third party plug-ins.

Maschine Mikro - The Knob

Now having all these sounds at your fingertips is great, but less controls on the Mikro does impose some limitations to the workflow. Browsing from the hardware is a little more tedious with just the “one screen + one knob” combination. Navigating through menus for sounds, effects, etc. is just more time consuming. Also with one rotary knob you obviously cannot tweak more than one parameter at the simultaneously, unless you set up some kind of macro, so you might want to use an additional controller. Parameter automation is not possible directly from the hardware either. I already have a large number of knobs and sliders at my disposal with my Novation keyboard controller, and the Akai LPD-8 has become my best friend for quick and easy parameter recording, so it’s no big deal to me.

Alright, this is Maschine Mikro in a nutshell. I can imagine there are topics you would like to know more about. I didn’t set out to write a book, so instead I invite you to use the comment form below or email me if you have some specific questions about the Mikro.

Also make sure to check the introduction, hands-on tutorials, and artist videos. An easy and quick way to familiarize yourself with Maschine Mikro.

So what do I think?

Product: Maschine Mikro by Native Instruments
Format: Standalone + VST/AU/RTAS for PC and Mac / USB 2.0 controller
Price: $399 USD / 349 EUR
Like: Superb controller, full featured software
Don’t like: —
Verdict: 9/10

I think Native Instruments made a smart move with the Mikro. Its smaller form factor will appeal to producers on the move – it does easily fit in your backpack – and those who need every inch of space in their studio, while the undecided – who couldn’t really justify getting a piece of gear they don’t “need” – may now well be persuaded to jump in at almost half the price of the regular package.

Forgetting about the original Maschine for a second, I would say the Mikro stands on its own merits – and firmly so. The software has matured nicely and with its full featured sequencer, sampler, built-in effects, plug-in hosting, and included sound library, Maschine can confidently compete with modern day DAWs. Of course it is not necessarily going to replace your current DAW but Maschine is certainly more than a simple loop/beat sequencer. The hardware is just beautiful, robust, and a real joy to work with. I like it so much I find myself using it in control mode (basically making it a glorified MIDI controller) more and more. I get excited when I see Maschine kits/maps for 3rd party software.

The controller is also what I find most attractive about Maschine Mikro. The pads are just perfect and the 4×4 grid does something for me on a creative level. It’s different from playing a MIDI keyboard or programming music with your computer mouse and keyboard. The tactile surface allows me to transfer what is in my head to my computer with ease.

So my advice? If you are looking for something like Maschine, just go check it out at your local music store. I reckon it won’t take much longer than 5 minutes to make up your mind about getting it or not. All fanboyism aside, the Maschine Mikro is nothing more than a tool to help you get your music from idea to reality. For me, it serves this purpose incredibly well.

More information: Native Instruments / Maschine Mikro

  • Laurentsauvagnac

    hello
    i installed the maschine sounds into my external 3 To HD.
    good.
    now i’d love to put all my sounds on a portable HD as well, so that i don’t have to bring my 3To with me when i’m on the road..
    do you have an idea how to proceed ?
    first of all, is that possible ?

    thanx
    Laurent

  • parque

    One thing that should be mentioned, as you told about using it as a glorified MIDI controller:
    I find myself often using the Maschine as a sequencer sitting in its own track folder structure in Reaper as a VST(see here: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1396325/reaper/maschinebus.png). I routed every Group to its own Reaper channel strip, and also routed the Aux 1 and 2 busses to two single Reaper tracks for general Reverb and Delay FX.
    In this setup it’s quite easy to change a single sound from sampler to MIDI Out mode and sequence some other VSTs or hardware synths from out of Maschine while they are running in Reaper. This is particularly great, because using the DAW and not Maschine for plugin hosting, you get 64/32bit bridging, can use additional plugins on top, while taking advantage of the great intuitive sequencing capabilities of Maschine.
    In fact, this has become my standard setup for tracking and arrangement. Afterwards, I simply record the live performance output from the Groups to single tracks in Reaper to bring in a bit of an old-school tape recording feel :) I just love it!

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