New Native Instruments Gear – A Step Up?

New marks take production faves and roll the changes

Native Instruments

Native Instruments was one of the first companies to recognise the potential power on offer through attaching external gear to a computer-based studio system. By removing the complexities of MIDI sync setups and instead using USB, recording enthusiasts were able to simply hook up one of NI’s boxes and make merry with the music.

Maschine was a great example of how such a simple sounding setup could work. It connected to the user’s laptop and, using either its own proprietary software or an existing DAW, it allowed unprecedented levels of control. It incorporated drum machines, synths, effects and arrangement capability; everything you could need. All in one futuristic looking unit.

Around 2013, the Komplete Kontrol range was added to the stable. This provided a more traditional keyboard based setup, but with incredible abilities to navigate around the company’s frankly absurdly in-depth software package, Komplete. It truly was one box to rule them all. The theory, as with many modern production tools, is to make it so the user can carry out almost any task they would need to without interacting directly with a computer. Ergo, total immersion in the music.

Quality and usability

Of course, what set Native Instruments apart was the fact their equipment is a cut above the entry level gear most people start with. It was exceptionally well built and engineered with the player in mind. It also had that superb ability to just work exactly how you wanted it to, with zero faff.

Of course, the needs of players change over time, and the good companies work out how to continue meeting those needs. After a couple of years out in the open, it became clear there were a few things which could enhance the experience. Maschine Mk2 did move things along, with changes specifically aimed to enhance usability and give players more to, well, play with,

But that was a number of years ago, and there are now more than one company on this particular block. Ableton, the software DAW giant, has launched two different iterations of its excellent Push controller in the meantime. It looks like NI have a bit of catching up to do.

Enter the new models of NI’s two flagship hardware products; Maschine Mk3 and Komplete Kontrol Mk2. Let’s take a look at the new range.

NI Maschine Mk3

Maschine Mk3

What first strikes you about Maschine Mk3 is how it looks much more streamlined than its predecessor. Not that Mk2 was a hefty beast by any means, by Mk3 looks far more lean and mean. The 4×4 bank of coloured pads are still present, glorious as ever, except they now appear slightly larger and more bunched up.

Two high resolution screens provide excellent visibility for navigating around various menus and parameter screens. Small text is easy to read and they’re bright enough to stand out on a darkened stage.

Navigation is slightly different; we’re now presented with a 4-way push encoder. This takes a bit of getting used to but once you’re there it makes sense. Underneath that sits a new addition; a horizontal touch bar. This is superb for adding ‘strum’ effects to chords. You can, for example, hold down four notes on the pads and use the pad to make it sound like they’re being strummed.

The big addition for us though is the inclusion of an in-built audio interface. This means you can now connect mixers, turntables, synths, monitors and other instruments directly into Maschine. An XLR input for mics would have been the icing on the cake but what is there is a dream for sample fans. No more do you need separate interfaces. A great example of how Native Instruments listened and the resulting product has progressed to meet its users’ needs.

All told, Maschine Mk3 is a worthy evolution of what was already a fantastic beat-making tool.

NI Komplete Kontrol Mk2

Komplete Kontrol Mk2

The headline addition to Komplete Kontrol Mk2 is the addition of two high-resolution screens, as seen on the Maschine Mk3. If there was a failing of the original Komplete Kontrol series it was that you still required a computer screen to fully interact with the sound banks contained in Komplete. No more!

Anyone who has a laptop studio knows that sometimes the temptation is too much. You know your Facebook feed, your emails and YouTube are but a few clicks away. It can be hugely distracting. In making both Maschine Mk3 and Komplete Kontrol Mk2 able to control everything easily within the box, you now have more incentive to stick at the music-making.

Elsewhere, the same horizontal touch strip as on Maschine makes an appearance. Here though, the touch strips for pitch and modulation seen on the previous model have been replaced with more traditional wheels.

Conclusion

Fair play, Native Instruments gear is exceptionally high quality, intuitive and ever evolving. If you’ve never used Maschine before, Maschine Mk3 marks a perfect way to introduce yourself to the joys of sampling and beat making. If you already own a previous version of Maschine or Komplete Kontrol, then there’s definitely enough here to justify the outlay. One session using the new navigation abilities will convince you of that.