Native Instruments MASCHINE JAM

Product Review: Native Instruments MASCHINE JAM

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Native Instruments' MASCHINE JAM MASCHINE JAM is a modern production and performance system for intuitive sequencing and track building.

By Mark Merlino, Musician's Friend

The MASCHINE family is growing by one, as Native Instruments introduces the MASCHINE JAM. I was lucky enough to get my hands on the latest piece of hardware from NI and the initial results are very fulfilling. While JAM is not geared toward traditional MPC-style beat making like the previous versions have been known for, JAM's focus is aimed at sequencing and performance features, which it delivers in an exceptionally intuitive way. JAM touches on all of the latest production workflows we expect from instruments like Ableton Push and Novation Launchpad Pro, but adds innovative features like the Smart Strips and a new Lock feature that make this a great choice for current or new MASCHINE users.

MASCHINE JAM is made up of an 8x8 multicolor click pad matrix. I say click pad because none of the pads on the MASCHINE JAM are velocity sensitive, however I didn't find that to be much of a problem since you'll most likely find yourself using the powerful step-sequencing features inside MASCHINE JAM rather than finger drumming in a traditional groove-style workflow. The connection between MASCHINE JAM and the MASCHINE 2 software is seamless. I was able to get around just about every aspect of the software directly from the JAM hardware interface making my first interaction pleasant and fun.

Producing with MASCHINE JAM

Sketching tracks directly from MASCHINE JAM is effortless. It's the most comprehensive layout of the MASCHINE 2 software in a controller format to date - adding patterns and scenes were a piece of cake. The D-Pad and Touch-Sensitive encoder make finding samples and adjusting parameters a breeze, and the new Smart Strips add an exciting and responsive way to tweak effects, play melodies and more.

 

MASCHINE JAM workflow: Track sketching in Project View

STEP SEQUENCING

But by far one of the most powerful features on the MASCHINE JAM is its advanced multi-track step sequencer. Using the 8x8 click pad matrix you can program individual drum sounds and melodies across 16 steps, or view multiple sounds simultaneously across four or eight parallel planes so you can see everything at once. The Piano Roll was very intuitive to use in step-sequencing mode as well. It allows you to program melodic lines in real time for an inspiring approach to making music.

 

MASCHINE JAM workflow: Step sequencing (Source: Native Instruments @ YouTube)

PLAYING WITH NOTES

One of the most unique features that MASCHINE JAM offers has to be the touch-sensitive Smart Strips which, when in Notes Mode, give you the ability to play notes in a fluid musical gesture that's ideal for guitar and piano sounds, but also delivers interesting results when using synths and even percussive elements. Each of the eight strips represents a chord, allowing for perfect scale progressions with inspiring results.

 

MASCHINE JAM workflow: Playing notes with Smart Strips

Another great feature for creating melodies is KEYBOARD MODE, which lets you set up chords and scales that you can play in perfect progression. I found myself playing in this mode for quite some time and was able to come up with some new and interesting chord arrangements in little to no time. This is probably the most useful feature when you're looking for fast inspiration to get your project rolling.

Since MASCHINE JAM leverages the power of the MASCHINE 2 software, there's a host of powerful production features literally at your fingertips including an advanced arpeggiator, five powerful drum synth plug-ins, 24 creative effects, and a lot more. Each lends a hand to a seamless creative process between hardware and software.

Performing with MASCHINE JAM

MASCHINE JAM isn't just a powerhouse production tool - it's loaded with some of the most advanced, forward-thinking features aimed at live performances. At its most basic, the 8x8 click pad matrix is perfect for seeing your entire song laid out in front of you. Just one click and you can jump from pattern to pattern or from one scene to the next without ever looking at the computer. And even though this is a powerful performance feature, this can also be extremely useful in production scenarios to come up with new and exciting song arrangements.

PERFORM FX

One of the quickest sound-shaping features presented with MASCHINE JAM has to be Perform FX, which draws on MASCHINE JAM's unique Smart Strips. You can access any of the eight motion-based Perform FX right from the hardware including Filter, Scratcher, Reso Echo, Stutter, Tremolo, Ring, Flanger and Burst Echo. Once you have your desired effect selected simply touch the Smart Strips to start applying the effect, then when you're done mixing and mangling your sound just lift your finger to stop the effect.

Beyond effects, the Smart Strips also be used for volume, pan, aux and layered macros parameters, and each strip has it's on dedicated LED meter to show you exactly what's happening.

 

MASCHINE JAM workflow: Using Perform FX with Smart Strips

LOCKING

Another important performance feature to mention is the LOCK button. LOCK lets you take a snapshot of your current parameter settings for instant recall at anytime. This means you can effective lock the settings of your song as it was written, then you can proceed to remix and transform your track or create an epic build up.

Beyond effects, the Smart Strips also be used for volume, pan, aux and layered macros parameters, and each strip has it's on dedicated LED meter to show you exactly what's happening.

SUMMARY

If I had to use one word to describe MASCHINE JAM it would be, fast. I've been an avid MASCHINE user since MASCHINE MK1 and I was never able to build tracks as fast as I can with JAM. Having my whole project laid out in front of me on the 8x8 pad matrix was extremely easy to comprehend and to navigate around my project. MASCHINE JAM comes over 29GB of professionally designed sounds and a copy of KOMPLETE 11 SELECT instruments and effects to get you going right out of the box. And there's an advanced template for Ableton Live users, so you can integrate MASCHINE right into your Live 9 system.

Now, I can see where some might think there's a limitation with the loss of MPC-style beat making, but to be honest the MASCHINE JAM and other MASCHINE Series controllers work so well in unison with each other that it makes the JAM an easy addition to your existing MASCHINE ecosystem. They are the perfect compliment to each other. If you're not already a MASCHINE user, then MASCHINE JAM is the perfect entry giving you a quick, intuitive introduction into sequencing and track building.

Tags: MIDI Computer Audio Native Instruments Production Maschine Product Review Review

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