Current status - epiphanies?

So back in the early days of this blog (not that long ago, really) the motivation within me was to try and figure out how to build the best, most effective, most fun, smoothest flowing way to blend dj mixing and live production.

I started with a basic premise: one cannot run Maschine and Traktor on a single MacBook Pro from 2015, at least not without a day in the studio followed by tons of bouncing to audio, processing, removing effects chains, etc. Basically if you neuter your project, converting it into all audio playback via clips (which can still be cool) you can make it happen. If you want to leave your kits loaded, effects chained live, retain the ability to twist knobs and record automation or sequences live - without CPU glitching, one machine won’t cut it. Well, at least the machine I started with.

I am always astonished by the setups (and the final product) of folks like Richie Hawtin, Carl Cox, Chris Liebing, Icicle, and others.

Here’s an example:

Liebing running Maschine and Traktor in a single session

Liebing running Maschine and Traktor in a single session

To be fair, the big guys have a really high-end mixer at the center of their rig. These days they all seem to be on the Model1 mixer. I really want one, but the thing is (at best I can find) $2,400 new AND since it’s all analog, you must have a way to get effects elsewhere. So, you either run this very nice mixer AND a set of Traktor controllers AND some high-end IO (like the Antelope Orion) OR you buy very nice outboard effects modules to use as sends.

In either case, you’ve just spent $5k.

So… Since we are all normal humans here, I decided to NOT spend $5k on my Model1 setup.

This season Native Instruments released their S4 mk3. Now, I love the faders and screens on the S8. I love closing my laptop and running Traktor as if in standalone mode. I have a large library of files collected over nearly 20 years, all striped/cue’d/analyzed. Traktor is my home. The S8 was lacking jog wheels and pitch faders (for me) so it had to go. The old S4 units felt crummy to me, so until this new iteration I felt like NI did not have the perfect controller for me.

NOW perhaps they are barking up my tree!

The new S4 MK3: Not quite “S8 with jogs” but really moving in that direction…

The new S4 MK3: Not quite “S8 with jogs” but really moving in that direction…

I decided this year to disassemble my live analog/standalone rig and come back to center. The truth is, the workflow of Maschine and Komplete Kontrol - for live jams, and for starting projects I will later mixdown/master/tweak in Ableton (via Push 2) - is my favorite offering.

I only went away from it bc it crushed my laptop and I couldn’t work in the way I wanted to. I want to load a kit, then load some synth patches, record some patterns, then record some automation, then add more layers, more effects, maybe more drums, open some samples, tweak, mangle, and KEEP WORKING until I am satisfied. On my 2015 quad i7 MBPro that was not possible.

So, this year I decided to go with my gut. Apple released a new Mini with 6-core i7 chips, loads of RAM, and really fast/large SSDs. Awhile back I was watching an NI video of Traktor and Maschine performed together and they lifted the MacBook Pro from the stand to show that Maschine was, in fact, running on a hidden Mac Mini. That was my epiphany. I have since discovered multiple videos which, in the end, refer to their second Mac to run Maschine. Ah hah!

At the time, however, the Mini’s offered were not faster than my laptop. That all changed a few weeks ago.

Now a few bucks will get you a proper desktop!

Now a few bucks will get you a proper desktop!

I already own a 34” ultra wide monitor, Output Platform desk, etc. I just needed a better powerhouse than my laptop tethered via a Thunderbolt 2 dock. Now it’s a reality!

I used the funds from the analog gear to get the new Mini & the new S4.

My rationale: I love Maschine, if I can use it without running out of resources. I also love Traktor. I am optimistic they will use their new-found bolus of capital to continue to improve their lines, and integrate them more. Now I have a dedicated Mini to run Maschine/Komplete Kontrol/Ableton AND I have a dedicated 2015 quad core 15” MacBook Pro to “just” run Traktor.

If they release an S8 with 7” haptics, pitch faders, and the new features of the S4 mk3… while retaining the screens and faders for stems/remix decks, I’ll upgrade. In the meantime, $900 gets you four channels with effects and total control over Traktor, albeit with some minor compromises for STEMs and Remix decks (due to the lack of four channels of dedicated control on each side).

So, to sacrifice a load of analog gear I accidentally solved another issue. In the past year I’ve maintained my “production” laptop, which also Dj’d. Alongside that I’ve maintained my “live standalone” rig. Now my desktop production setup can double as my standalone/live rig in a way.

Let me explain:

I Black Friday hunted and picked up a Maschine MK3, Jam, and Collector’s Edition upgrade to go along with my S61 on the desk. I also added an Asus Zen Screen (USB C powered) to my Amazon cart. My production desk houses the S61 and the Push 2 as we speak. I’ll add the Jam and Mk3 to the desk on arrival, and upgrade to the CE version of K12 when it arrives. That setup will be on the production desk any time I want to have a session.

When I want to layer that session with my Dj session, I can put each NI controller, as well as my Mini, my TrackPad 2, and the Asus Screen all in a custom-adjusted DJ Coffin I have repurposed. My goal is to make my production setup work double-duty, and to create my own 2018 version of the “Open Labs Neko XXL

They really nailed it with this product. Sadly, they are no more.

They really nailed it with this product. Sadly, they are no more.

My version will be less pretty, but the Mini will hide under the Zen Screen. The keyboard will be in the same spot, but with my Magic Trackpad 2 either just to the right, or sitting on the keyboard’s flat surface far right of the knobs. The other spaces will be occupied by a Mk3 Maschine & Jam.

I am still noodling about, in terms of layout, but the project is ON. I took the flight case (coffin) apart the other day, as it’s sat in a closet for many, many years untouched.

Before

Before

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Doodles…

Now she’s stripped. I’m not yet sure if I’ll use some 3D-printed plastic to create layers, versus custom wood, or just attach these three laptop stands via sturdy brackets. Time will tell!

Now she’s stripped. I’m not yet sure if I’ll use some 3D-printed plastic to create layers, versus custom wood, or just attach these three laptop stands via sturdy brackets. Time will tell!

Lots of ideas…

Lots of ideas…

So, the final layout is pending, but the products that will make up this virtual standalone instrument are all on the way. I own the MX1 and Push 2, but I am not sure if they will be used for this setup or not. Hopefully by next week all of the parts on order will be here and I can take them to a friend who is handy with welding and woodworking, to see what ideas he can come up with.

I hope you enjoy reading about my adventures!