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Review: Native Instruments Maschine

Audio production software has come a long way. Where as in the past one would typically use a number of traditional instruments, synthesizers, drum machines, mixing panels, etc., software has opened the door for many home studio musicians to produce music on a budget.

Although you could easily get along using software exclusively, you may still want to use a controller when recording music, so you can actually “play it” instead of programming everything.

Native Instruments Maschine

Native Instruments has recently introduced Maschine, a powerful combination of software and hardware, or as they put it, a complete Groove Production Studio.

MASCHINE combines the flexibility of computer-based music production with the ease of a groove box into one powerful creative tool. Utilizing onboard samples or your own audio files, MASCHINE’s symbiosis of hardware and software not only ensures a fast and fun workflow, but lets you easily turn your ideas into professional productions.

So let’s take a looks at what this Maschine is all about!

Where’s the installation disk?

I generally don’t read manuals anyway, but Native Instruments doesn’t encourage me much either. I open the box and the first thing I see is this lovely control surface. All I can think is “hook it up man, let’s get going!”

I am a long time Windows user though, so I know better than to just hook up anything USB without checking for drivers first. The installation disc was all the way in the bottom of the box, so I almost missed it.

The installation of the drivers and Maschine software was a breeze; it just takes a while to copy all the content from the DVD. After authorizing Maschine in the Service Center, I figured it was a good idea to download the latest update as well. All set to go, let’s see what we have here!

The Hardware

16 pads, transport controls, LCD displays… The Maschine controller does a convincing MPC impersonation, doesn’t it?

Maschine Controller

The controller is quite compact and has a sturdy, high quality feel to it, even though it is only partly metal. Hooking it up to your computer with a USB cable, the Maschine controller powers up with its lovely backlit LEDs. Groovy! I know design is a matter of taste, but I feel NI did a smashing job with the looks of this thing.

The illuminated pads feel nice and responsive (velocity and aftertouch can be configured to your liking) and all of the 41 buttons are backlit. Great for working in a setup with little light, e.g. a live performance.

The controller features 11 endless rotary encoders, which have a smooth feel to them. The two LCD displays are clear and easy to read (as long as the angle is steep enough; the contrast can be adjusted) and have plenty of space to display the parameter pages.

Besides using the controller with the Maschine software, you can also control external MIDI hardware (via MIDI in/out on the back panel) and other software. The pads, knobs and buttons can all be customized with the included controller editor application.

The cool thing is that pretty much everything in Maschine can be done from this dedicated controller. You would almost forget that there is a piece of software doing all the actual work.

The Software

The Maschine software is basically an advanced pattern-based sequencer application which allows you to create patterns, group them, and arrange them in “scenes”. It can be used standalone or as a plug-in, so you can integrate it into your current setup.

Maschine software
Maschine software, a complete music production environment

Some key features of the Maschine software:

  • Browser – the browser provides an interface to all your projects, scenes, instruments, samples, effects, etc. Searching is easy with tag-based searches, key words, and attributes, quite much like KORE.
  • Sequencer & Arranger – the advanced sequencer, or pattern editor, features both step programming and real-time recording. 8 groups of 64 patterns each can be arranged in up to 64 scenes in the arranger section. The sequencer supports live automation for effects, sampler and mixer parameters.
  • Effects – there are 21 effects (or FX) which can be used as insert effects to each group, sound, or the master (in 2 FX slots). You can also create send effects and multi-effects, or route an effect to external gear.
  • Sampler (engine) – records both internal and external audio, audio editing & slicing, resampling, extensive playback features including various envelope and modulation options, and 8 individual stereo outputs (16 mono outs).

Maschine comes with a sound library featuring 5 GB content in 15,000 samples.
It includes 300 drum kits, 280 multi-sampled instruments, 400 sliced loops, 6,500 one shot samples, 100 FX presets and 55 FX chains. You’ll also get 50 projects which are a good way to explore what Maschine can do.

The included sounds were provided by numerous sound designers and artists, including Matthew Herbert, Montana B, Amon Tobin, Goldbaby, Denaun Porter, Sonic Specialists and many others.

The library features a good variety of sounds, mostly suitable for electronic music, i.e. urban, hip hop, R&B, techno, house, dubstep, etc.

Reader question: Torley wanted to know how much of the sample content is new material.

I asked Native Instruments and they told me that even though a few kits were taken from the Battery library, those were remastered through a special mastering setup of high-quality analog outboard gear. The vast majority of the library is brand spanking new material.

Besides using the sound library, you can also use your own samples in Maschine (currently only wav/aiff, but I think REX support will follow). In order to have them available for selection on the hardware controller you will need to import the samples into Maschine’s library (it will create a reference to the sample, not a local copy/move).

It is probably a good idea to tag your imported samples as well. It may take some time to do, but you will be able to find your samples much faster in future projects. If you are familiar with Kore, you will know the power of this type of browser system.

The Magic

However cool the controller might be, without the software you would only be able to use it as a regular MIDI controller. And although the sequencer works fine without the controller, it is when using the complete package that the magic happens.

Reader question: Benebomber wondered if working with Maschine is intuitive, more specifically when digging a bit deeper (e.g. recording your own samples or tweaking them).

I would definitely say it is. When I got the Maschine I opened the box, installed the software, hooked up the controller and a few minutes later I was creating beats. For more advanced things — like recording and editing your own samples — you might want to work on the screen, but you could also do it on the controller itself. Whatever fits your workflow best.
I personally prefer to use the menus on the controller and leave my computer keyboard and mouse alone as much as I can. Maschine is perfect for this.

Native Instruments has a number of excellent Maschine videos showcasing its features, including live recording, sampling, automation, and how to control Ableton Live. Here’s the Maschine introduction video.

An even better way to understand what Maschine is all about though is to actually get some hands-on experience with it. Maschine is just a lot more fun to work with than it is to write about it, so I would advise you to go check it out at your local music shop. You need to tap those pads, browse the sound library and play with some of the demo arrangements to see how you like it.

Maschine retails for an MSRP of $669 USD / 599 EUR, and is available from the NI Online Shop and dealers worldwide.

So what do I think?

From the moment I held it in my hands I loved Maschine’s control surface. I really like the black finish and backlit pads & buttons, and overall it feels like a quality piece of hardware. I’m a bit of a compulsive tapper — tapping beats on my desk all day long — so I am not surprised that I enjoy using these pads to record my beats a lot more than having to construct them with my computer mouse.

Working with the controller is a delight. Incidentally I would have to look something up, but most of the time I could find everything right away, which is telling of Maschine’s intuitiveness. I like the Maschine controller so much that I find myself using it in MIDI mode with other virtual instruments and effects as well.

Maschine’s software is deep, offering much more than the simple pattern-based sequencer it might appear to be. You have detailed control over your sequences, and a vast amount of quality effects and modulations are available, as well as a quality sound library and extensive editing features.

In standalone mode it basically provides you with all you need to create your music from scratch.

Of course, there is still room for improvement as well. I personally did not encounter any real problems, but it is good to know that Native Instruments is working on some important changes for the version 1.1 update, which should make a lot of people happy (e.g. MIDI in/out, REX support, better slicing options).

In short, Maschine is a powerful piece of software bundled with a superb controller. The two work together seamlessly and it truly feels like a proper instrument. Plus, it is tons of fun to work with!

Visit Native Instruments for more information.

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Review: Goldbaby Productions Tape-101

Goldbaby Productions is a household name when it comes to quality drum machine samples.

Goldbaby’s love for tape machines, vinyl and vintage instruments has resulted in a bunch of top notch sample libraries.

Goldbaby Tape-101

With Tape-101, Goldbaby brings yet another collection of sounds treated with some analog tape love. But it’s not a drum machine this time around.

The SH101 is a legendary 80′s analog synth. A small synth with a large sound. It can be warm and phat or nasty and raw. Some say the sound is a cross between a Juno and 303.

So… I have taken this little synth and created a sampled instrument library. Of course I haven’t just sampled the synth naked. Oh no… I had to let the sounds get caressed by tape first!

Analog synth plus analog tape… Mmmm.

Tape-101 includes 1,658 24 bit samples, and over 70 instrument patches for both Kontakt and EXS24 (most of the instruments are multi-samples from every key on the SH-101).

I used the Kontakt version of The Tape-101, which has its instruments divided in 3 folders:

  • Drums & FX, 2 Drum Kits and an FX instrument with wobbles and such.
  • Gold Presets, almost 40 mono- and polyphonic instruments, extended and enhanced with the Kontakt sampler software (the SH-101 is monophonic).
  • Raw Ammo, 35 multi-sampled instruments with little or no software sampler modifications.
Tape-101 in Kontakt
Tape-101 in Kontakt (red HOT!)

The samples are available as .wav files and like the Kontakt instruments they are clearly labeled so you can tell which kind of processing was done.

Goldbaby used the following gear:

  • Otari MX5050 1/4 inch 2 track, recorded normally and HOT.
  • Hitachi Cassette Deck, for some wow & flutter + Dolby C.
  • Boss SE-70, the digital multi-effects processor with an analogue distortion circuit.
  • E-mu E4XT, sampled and processed by this ultra sampler.
  • Akai MPC-60, for some gritty 12bit samples, dirty & phat!
  • A bit of secret extra processing was done on a few instruments (labeled _X) as well.

If you want to get an idea of the type of sounds you will get make sure to check the media player on the Tape-101 product page. Hugo did some lovely demo mp3s.

Tape-101 is available as a download for Kontakt and EXS24 (both formats included) for $49 USD.

So what do I think?

Tape-101 sounds deep, nasty & dirty… in a good way. It appears this synth was actually designed as a strap-on instrument with an optional modulation attachment that stuck out like a guitar neck. Weird, it doesn’t seem like the keytar kind of synth to me at all.

Anyway, there’s a good variety of sounds and they generally sound warm, punchy and fat (or phat if you prefer). Playing some of the instruments I hear the sounds of True Playaz and Dillinja, so I reckon they’re great for drum & bass. The SH-101 is a popular synth so you might also recognize some if its sounds as there are tons of big names who’ve used it (Aphex Twin, The Prodigy, Bjork, Carl Craig, Squarepusher and Boards of Canada to name a few).

Tape-101 is another solid sample library from Goldbaby, highly recommended if you’re looking for some heavy bass and cutting lead sounds for techno, acid, drum & bass, and the likes. Plus you get some lovely drum kits and a bunch of cool LFO effect sounds. What more could you want? (except a real SH-101)

Visit Goldbaby Productions for more information.

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Review: Native Instruments Urban Arsenal 2

Native Instruments Urban Arsenal 2

Native Instruments has released another KORE SoundPack, Urban Arsenal 2.

URBAN ARSENAL 2 brings yet more of the beats, samples, sounds and loops for creating the freshest urban music productions. Perfectly complimenting the first soundpack, this pack restocks the arsenal with over 1,000 new drum sounds, and and even more groove construction kits, synths, basses, pads and samples provided by professional beat scientists.

Urban Arsenal 2 features

  • 29 drum kits with 40 groove sets and over 15,000 groove variations.
  • 87 new Massive patches, with leads, basses and pads that have been tweaked and treated to give that heavy production-ready sound right out of the box.
  • 80 newly sampled Kontakt instruments, with a focus on the analog synths, layered acoustic instruments and drum machines currently used on the freshest hip-hop joints.

The product page also mentions that several of these instruments were cut to dubplate and resampled for that extra-warm and soulful vinyl sound. Sounds familiar? Perhaps an idea of Goldbaby, one of the content providers for Urban Arsenal 2, alongside ProjectSAM, CLP, Dobie and Montana Beats.

The SoundPack includes a total of 236 sounds in a little over 1 GB content.
Urban Arsenal 2 is available as a download from the Native Instruments online shop for $119 USD / 99 EUR.

So what do I think?

I am not totally familiar with what is and what is not urban music, but my best guess is that it’s a bit of a mixture of contemporary hip-hop, rap and R&B. Urban Arsenal 2 certainly includes tons of suitable sounds for those genres, but I would say it’s not limited to just that type of music.

The instruments sound great and there’s plenty of variety in leads, bass, strings etc. I really enjoyed the drum kits and groove sets. Instant grooves, tons of ‘em! Some of the grooves are almost complete tracks, all you need is an MC. But don’t mistake these grooves for loops, they are actually sequenced single shot sounds in Kontakt. If you want to construct your own beats you have all the single shot sounds right there at your fingertips as well.

Urban Arsenal 2 provides a complete collection of instruments and grooves to create urban tracks, and more. Just have listen to the demo tracks on the product page, and make sure to check the video of CLP and KOVAS building a track with this SoundPack, it’s that easy.

KORE just keeps getting better!

Visit Native Instruments for more information.

If you have any questions about this SoundPack, just post them in the comments.

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Review: Goldbaby Productions Vinyl Drum Machines

Goldbaby Productions Vinyl Drum Machines

Goldbaby has released a new collection of drum samples: Vinyl Drum Machines.

Nope, Hugo @ Goldbaby hasn’t been crate digging for obscure vinyl for his latest product. Instead he had his own acetate record cut so he could sample drum machine sounds to get that authentic vinyl touch.

Sampling off vinyl has been a staple of many producers since samplers were invented. Vinyl has an unmistakable sound. Using it as a sample source you get material that is dripping with personality and warmth, that digital sources just can’t recreate.

I have always wanted a record with just drum machine samples on it. Finally I did something about it.

You can see a video of the making of the acetate here.

The result is a record with of 14 drum machines: Linn Drum, TR-626, CR-78, MBase 01, DR-110, Linn LM-1, Drumulator, TR-808, Ritmo 12, TR-909, TR-505, µTonic, SP-12, TR-606.

The drum machine sounds were then sampled from the vinyl record, using 3 different turntables:

  • Pro-Ject RPM + Pro-Ject Tube Box II — audiophile equipment for pristine recordings.
  • Technics SL-1700 + Leak Variscope — vintage setup with a late 70′s turntable and a 60′s phono pre-amp.
  • Vestax Handy Trax — portable record player which runs on batteries; lo-fi!

The end result: 1468 x 24 bit samples.

Besides all the drum machine sounds, Hugo also sampled some bonus content: vinyl noise, vinyl clicks, vinyl hitz and center grooves.

Vinyl Drum Machines is available in Wav, Battery 3 and Guru formats (ReFill soon) starting at $29 USD.

So what do I think?

Every time I see a new Goldbaby I wonder how it is going to be different from all the other drum machine sample libraries I’ve seen before (including Goldbaby’s own libraries), and time after time he manages to exceed my expectations.

Vinyl Drum Machines is a fantastic idea, and perfectly executed. The samples are top notch quality as per usual and the selection of drum machines used provides plenty of variety.

And here’s a nice tip from Hugo:

I have been experimenting with velocity switching between the different record player versions of each drum sound. Hit a pad/key lightly and it plays the plastic portable turntable version, hit it harder and it plays the audiophile version and hit it really hard and it plays the vintage record player version.

Makes for some interesting dynamic drum machine sounds…

Check out the sound clips on the product page and get your wallet out… there is a good chance you’re going to want these!

Visit Goldbaby Productions for more information.

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Review: Goldbaby Productions SP-1200 Volume 1

Goldbaby has released a new sample pack last week: SP-1200 Vol 1.

E-mu SP-1200

Goldbaby’s product catalog is full of high quality drum samples recorded with vintage gear. This time the E-mu SP-1200 and SP-12 drum samplers take center stage.

Goldbaby writes:

Not everyone can get their hands on one of these machines. So I thought I better help out. I got the SP-1200 and the SP-12 and started sampling. I sampled an 808, 909, 606 and LM1… also some real drums… plus some vinyl hits… and just for good measure I have included the SP-12 presets and some groove templates…

I had a go with the Battery 3 version of SP-1200 Vol 1, which includes:

  • 1088 x 24 Bit drum samples
  • 12 x Kits
  • Drum patterns as midi files
  • Selection of Groove Templates in midi format

The Battery kits are constructed from samples in the following categories: Beatbox, Drum Machines (606, 808, 909 and LM-1), FX, Real Drums, Slowed Down, SP-12 presets and Vinyl.

Each of these categories has its own folder of samples. The Battery kits only use a small selection of the samples so there’s a lot more to explore on your own.

The samples were recorded in these three ways (which you’ll see in the naming convention of the .wav files):

  1. F = Put through the internal analog filter of the SP1200.
  2. R = Without the analog filter of the SP1200.
  3. X = Without the analog filter of the SP1200. Then put through software filter with
    envelope.

SP-1200 Vol 1 is currently available as a Wav Pack for just $19 USD, and for Battery 3 and Guru for $24 USD each. A ReFill version should be out soon as well.

So what do I think?

Not surprisingly, these samples are top notch. SP-1200′s 12bit/22kHz sound is great for that old skool feel. The included kits work very well (loaded them into Kontakt 3) and there are tons of samples to create your own kits.

Now I’ve mentioned before that I don’t really need any more drum samples, but Goldbaby always manages to bring something new and useful. I very much liked the LM-1 and “slowed down” samples, but the vinyl sounds — wonderfully gritty/lo-fi — are my favorites in this first (of many I hope) volume.

More information: Goldbaby Productions SP-1200 Vol 1

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Review: Goldbaby Productions Tape Drum Machines Vol 2

Goldbaby Tape Drum Machines Vol 2

Goldbaby Productions has released yet another collection of classic drum machine samples: Tape Drum Machines Vol 2.

The follow up to Tape Machines Vol 1. More classic drum machines given some tape love!

Tape Machines Vol 2 features

  • 10 Drum Machines: Linn Drum, CR-78, TR-626, DDR-30, Bohm, DR-55, RPM-40, RX-5, KPR-77 and the Synsonics Pro.
  • 3 Tape Machines: Ampex valve 1/2 inch 2 track, Otari MX5050 1/4 inch 2 track, and the Hitachi 3 head Cassette deck.
  • 1838 x 24 Bit drum samples.
  • Bonus: 36 x CR-78 Rex beats.

Tape Drum Machines Vol 2 is available as a wav pack for $24 USD, and for GURU and Battery 3 for $29 USD each.

So what do I think?

Sometimes less is more, but not so with Goldbaby’s sample libraries. Even if you have more drum samples than you’ll ever use, there’s always room for some extra Goldbaby goodness.

My favorites in this collection are the Bohm and Suzuki RPM-40 machines. The Bohm (the notes in the logo suggest it’s actually Böhm, which is quite likely since it’s a German machine) does some really raw and nasty stuff, while the RPM-40 has such a lovely lo-fi sound.

Go check out the sound demos on the Tape Drum Machines Vol 2 page and get your wallet ready, cause there’s a good chance you’re going to want these right away!

More information: Goldbaby Productions / Tape Drum Machines Vol 2

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Review: Goldbaby XRB Sample Pack

Goldbaby Productions XRB Sample Pack

Goldbaby’s XRB was first released for iZotope iDrum, then as a ReFill, and now after many user requests it’s also available as a sample pack.

These drum samples were lovingly created using… Vintage drum machines, Acoustic Drum Kits and Perc, Lo-Fi gear such as the SK1 and VL1, Toy Percussion… a whole studio full of gear!

The XRB Sample Pack Contains

  • 2021 x 24bit Samples.
  • 375 x Kicks, 284 x Snares, 377 x HH, 411 x Perc, 60 x Toms, 64 x Claps, 27 x Rims, 64 x Cymbals, 130 x FX, 235 x FX Perc.
  • Also included is 278 Rex files taken from the Refill version of XRB.

The XRB Sample Pack costs $33 USD.

So what do I think?

If you’ve read any of my previous reviews of Goldbaby’s products you won’t be surprised I’m giving this one the “thumbs up” as well. XRB includes a large variety of drum sounds and for the lazy amongst us you don’t even have to put in any effort to get some cool grooves with the included REX files.

I don’t think I really NEED any more drum samples, but hey… when they’re high quality original samples like these there’s just always room for more!

More infomration: Goldbaby Productions / XRB Sample pack

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