Maschine Jam - thoughts.

So this week Native Instruments announced their new product, Maschine Jam. I am personally excited to try out this new piece of hardware. However, some are not. As I browse the Native Instruments forums I noticed quite a trend of negativity surrounding the new controller. For example, it was referred to as just a face-lift on the same old Maschine controller. Some folks claimed it added nothing new to the existing Maschine world.

I disagree.

Background: I own the Ableton Push 2 control surface, with the full Ableton Live Suite.

Ableton knocked it out of the park with this controller, but it still left me wanting something similar to my S8 workflow in Traktor DJ, with a twist.

Ableton is a full-powered DAW and they really broke the mold with their session view, which allows for deep manipulation of audio and midi files live, on the fly, and with seemingly endless possibilities. Their take on sequencing removed the traditional linear approach completely, instead opting for a sketch-pad of improvisation. If this makes little sense to you, I encourage you to watch the videos for the Push 2 controller online.

I also own Maschine Studio. I love this piece of equipment, however this setup still has some very obvious, and significant limitations. For example, with the Studio controller, quickly moving about with different clips to create variations on scenes is not really an option. Sure, you can change scenes & you can change patterns with the 16 pads & the shift button, but this means you can only actually change one pattern/scene at any given moment. With something like the Push, or the new Jam, you can suddenly put hands on 8 different audio clips at once, changing the upcoming phrase of music completely into something new and interesting. 

This controller is quite comprehensive for STUDIO applications, but lacks the playability of Push 2.

The issue for me has been the duality. I own Push 2 because Ableton destroys Maschine in terms of their session performance capabilities. I own Maschine because it is a really fun, and smooth, way to create music. When combined with the Komplete Ultimate bundle & their S-Series keyboard, the only excuse for not making good music is laziness. So, I am fully immersed in the Native Instruments Komplete/Maschine world, but I own Push 2 because of the Maschine sequencing/performance limitations. Maschine Jam promises to fill the gaps for someone like myself, which has the potential to simplify my setup even more.

Clearly Maschine Studio and Push 2 met at a bar, they had drinks, one thing led to another... And they had a little black baby. Did Maschine "borrow" too much from Ableton, or did they just get with the times?

Prior to their release, I stalked the LIvid DS1 on the internet, as an attempt to gain tactile control over my musical ideas in Ableton. I know the Push 2 controller is really intelligently designed, but I play my own music live as I would a DJ set, thus I am quite accustomed to using EQ/Send knobs to achieve specific sonic goals to build my tracks live. With Push 2, or Maschine Studio, you can do this to a point. However, you cannot control all of these parameters quickly, and simultaneously, because you are simply missing the external controls.

This unit looks awesome! Livid discontinued the product and failed to respond to my email inquiries regarding their plans for the future. It made my DJ-to-producer brain quiver nonetheless.

So, I may be stubborn, but to this point neither Push 2 OR Maschine Studio gave me precisely the workflow I want for live performance of my musical sketches. I yearned for the controls I have over Traktor with my S8 control surface, but within the Maschine or Ableton environment. The Jam unit implements advanced FX controls via the touch strips, and allows for shift-functionality which gives tactile control over pans and sends. So, the single touchstrips can handle volume, sends, pans & then performance FX as well. The guys at NI did not add 3-5 knobs per channel like my S8, rather they made the single touchstrip capable of performing the same feats as the 3-5 knobs per channel. This is a really interesting take on things. When paired with the Studio controller & S-series keyboard, the possibilities seem endless. For example, one could use the 8 knobs on the Maschine controller to specifically manipulate parameters of a bass synth patch. The 8 knobs on the S-keyboard could control the parameters of the lead synth. Jam is then used for volume & toggled to FX performance mode. It becomes obvious fairly quickly - NI really is progressing towards an exciting ecosystem of musical equipment.

This piece of gear, combined with Traktor, is really the ticket in digital Dj'ing. If you want to truly push the boundaries of live production and manipulation of your audio while mixing, look no farther. I know Serato claims to be advanced, but they are woefully under-gunned in the areas I value most.

Yes, the buttons are click. No, this is not as awesome as Push 2's touch-sensitive inputs. I hope NI is reading this someday and realizes they need to release the 8x8 grid which is at least as high-quality as the Ableton offering. No, they did not add 8 knobs. I somewhat wish they had, but fully realize their extensive thoughts and programming regarding the touchstrips were a direct attempt at avoiding the 8 knobs. Maybe this will prove a success, maybe not. Without the unit in my studio, it is only a guess at this point. Still, I applaud them for trying to think outside of the box here. This controller has a small form factor and is bus powered. Likely both are accomplished because of the lack of screens and knobs. It will fit in my small backpack, so I can easily bring it along on trips which the Studio controller will not fit. My Push 2 surface is packable, but the A/C adaptor sometimes results in that piece staying home. If I am flying, I cannot always access a power supply.

Perhaps in future adventures I can pack my laptop & my Jam unit, with the simple Audio 2 Dj I/O, so I can at least get a couple of sessions under my belt wherever I may roam. 

Maschine is still not a full DAW. Native Instruments surely must realize their consumers want a full DAW from them at some point. I assume they are working on this as we speak. In the meantime, incremental changes to the Maschine software are coming, and they are all for the better. As Maschine approaches the playability of Ableton, it becomes more tempting for users like myself to fully abandon Ableton Live. The NKS standard works flawlessly. The keyboards have a solid build. Maschine and Traktor controllers feel solid and, for me, have lasted for years of abuse. Their software runs smoothly on my Macbook Pro each and every time I load up. The samples, instruments, and FX in Komplete Ultimate are fantastic.

If you want a streamlined, and very powerful, music production (and performance) setup on your desk, I think Maschine Studio, Maschine Jam, and the S-88 are just about as good as it gets. If you want to take your Dj-ing and production brains and mash them together, just add the S-8 mixer and a turntable (or two) to the equation, and mash away!

Native Instruments still needs to add a formal communication portal between Traktor and Maschine, so users can forget about the remix decks and focus on "Maschine Decks" instead. This would eliminate the internal midi clock sync issues entirely, omit the need for any 3rd party internal audio routing apps, and simply (FINALLY) allow users to accomplish what the Ableton Bridge promised so many years ago. Only, this version would actually be stable and would actually allow you to push the musical boundaries. I was an early adopter of the Bridge, and it was disappointing. A great idea, but poorly executed. I sold the very pricey SSL interface/software, kept Ableton, and went back to Traktor. That was quite awhile ago.

I hope NI was watching the web at the same time. I hope they said "we will do our own version, and it will be amazing, but it will take some time." Perhaps that time is now. The fall is near, and this means updates to software and hardware. Your users are waiting and ready. Additionally, you should implement a way to record not only the audio from our Traktor sets, but also the midi inputs (like the Bridge) so that we have that amazing functionality. Just allow that to be saved as a rather large file which can then be opened in Ableton or Logic.

You could also just make Traktor compatible with Link, thus Ableton would sync alongside my turntable-guided BPM variations smoothly and without a glitch. I just think you need to do something to address an actual, solid, stable, native midi-sync and inter-app playability. 

Allow us to finally prove to others that your Traktor/Maschine environment can (and will) finally put Serato in their box. They are simply the preferred method for scratch Dj's. Electronic Dj's who primarily mix house music (or similar) only use Serato these days because their friends are already on it. This is because the club has a Serato interface plugged in, and that is only the case because once upon a time Traktor was not as stable as Serato.

Of course now Traktor is stable, and infinitely more capable, but you guys must fix this bias one DJ at a time. Connect the two apps. Continue to implement Ableton-like functionality to Maschine, or just outbid Serato for the Ableton relationship. 

We will show others what can now be done. They will want to accomplish similar musical feats, and your controllers will replace those SSL boxes one at a time.

Thanks for reading!