Let's start off by sharing the full info, right from the source, Native Instruments.
Here are my impressions:
I appreciate that Native Instruments adopted the design of the Push in some ways, specifically the buttons. The prior models were fine, but now every button sits lower in the chassis and has a backlit function inset into the buttons. I have said many times "the Push 2 HARDWARE is superior" and now they are addressing that very issue. The screens seem to be improved from those on the generation one Studio, to also put them on par with Push 2. I have yet to see videos of them live sampling into the Maschine mK3 to compare to the fantastic way the screens update in Push as you record audio, but I suspect they will have similar function/capability in that regard. The layout is also more PLAYABLE, based on the videos I have found thus far.
It looks like they really thought about the real estate on the old units, and tried to integrate as much of the Jam's playability (Chords, Arp, etc) into this unit as possible. They've added dedicated buttons for things like Keyboard mode, pad mode, chords and step sequencer - so no more SHIFT + click actions. This matters ENTIRELY when you're playing live. They added a large note repeat button, dedicated buttons for plugin, sampling, mixer, arranger, browser, and MACRO - and now you can quickly and easily assign macro knobs in seconds with a quick combination of buttons, followed by a TAP on the new knobs. Oh, and the knobs are now touch-sensitive with enhanced functionality.
Workflow ehnancements include pat input mode buttons (described above), lock button (for parameter lock, to create build-ups and other such things), macros, note repeat, TRANSPORT section, fixed and 16 velocity mode button, updated file management (you can save projects without leaving the MK3 box - no mouse!), and better controls sections.
The pads are bigger, more sensitive to subtle finger drumming, and they've apparently enhanced their "song" or "ideas" mode to be a bit more like... Umm... What's that program again???? ABLETON's Session View. THANK GOODNESS! I've said it before - if Jam would behave like Ableton when firing clips, I'd be a very happy man.
They've added their acclaimed smart-strip as well, and now the knob on the left (previously three knobs) can do a multitude of things based on the buttons surrounding it. They realized that two of the prior knobs were hardly used, and adjusted accordingly.
The new box looks to be more in line with the hardware on Push 2, which I welcome. If the new Jam MK2 (whenever that comes out) has pads which are on par with Push 2, and this new button layout, it'll be my new favorite 64 pad controller as well.
AUDIO INTERFACE! - Yes, you read that correctly! They added an audio interface to the unit! It's no standalone box (like the MPC X) but now you can take it on stage with only your laptop, run a set of 1/4" outs to your mixer, and this thing is ready to go! It puts the MK3 more in line with on-stage instruments than before, where it was strictly a midi controller. Yes!
After typing this, I learned of WAY MORE benefits to the new MK3 hardware. I'll just let you watch the video. Basically, the new hardware has caught up to the software developments!
Native Instruments clearly put a lot of thought into this unit. I have but a few gripes, before I can actually try this thing out in October. HOWEVER, I must complain:
1. No USB hub on the back
2. The built-in IO lacks PHONO inputs
3. The legs in the video are 3D printed and, so far, do not seem to be integrated with the retail version of MK3.
So, with all of the time spent in the designing process, they did not listen to their users in these small, but significant areas. I feel that a set of phono inputs on the back of anything closely resembling a sampler is a MUST, especially when you can just throw a set of RCA inputs on the back with a switch, versus just the 1/4" inputs on the back of the Mk3. OVERSIGHT?
The USB hub makes perfect sense to include because this thing is going to be used with Jam and/or the S-series keyboards quite often. Why not make it a single-usb to the computer situation? My MacBook Pro has but two USB plugs by default. Thankfully, my DJ rig is Denon Prime (fully standalone) so I have the two plugs free, but what of the Traktor S4 users? They have a USB dedicated to their DJ rig and now they have to use hubs, adaptors, or other messy solutions to run the MK3, S61, and Jam into their laptop.
This could have been avoided by making the unit thicker - maybe by default the box angles up 15 degrees towards the user, making room for the USB hub and extra PHONO inputs? By doing this, the legs would be unnecessary and the unit would sit flush with the keyboards. Hmm.
In my mind, creating this box to simply run with your laptop and a set of audio cables, and expanding the back to allow for the other MIDI boxes (keyboards, jam, etc) to just run INTO THE MK3 seems far more clean, far more badass. OH well. Perhaps the next gen will address this... Studio MK2 2018 anyone?
Despite my above complaints, I will be on the pre-order list for the first batch of these controllers. The price is right - $599 new, and it seems to bring the Maschine "standard" unit more in line with other hardware, but retains/maximizes the things that NI does better than the competition.
I've heard no word about the CPU/GPU hit one will take from those screens, but I will keep hunting. The new keyboards also adopted the screens, which combine in ways to allow you the use of both for various things simultaneously, such as mixer view on the keyboard and plugin view on the Mk3. Cool stuff, but possibly a GPU/CPU bog on your system, so beware!
Buy or no? If you have the Studio unit, I'd hold off and use what you have. If you own MK2 and you have the budget, my recommendation is to sell it NOW and get on the pre-order train for this unit. The best parts of the old Studio box are here - the screens! Browsing for plugins without them still puts your face in the computer. When you have these little guys, you hardly look away from the controller. That's what's up!
Stay tuned, this post will be edited with more images/videos in the coming days. Thanks for stopping by!