Should I use Native Instruments? Buy machine jam

Machine JAM from Native Instruments put to the test

Machine jam session for single people
by Lars Kischkel,

Those of us who play an instrument have probably already attended a jam session. These are events where real people meet with real instruments, not via LAN or in a social community online group, but really with electricity and amplifiers. In any case, at such happenings everyone can show how well they master their instrument, and actually the main thing is to give as many notes as possible in the shortest possible time. There are certainly big differences in quality when it comes to assessing the overall musical experience for the listener. Unfortunately, a jam session is only as good as the individual musicians in the overall context. Fortunately, and as I speak as a participant in some such jam sessions from troubled experience, you have never had to question the quality of the content at Native Instruments. The extensive bundle Komplete and the numerous libraries for machine are part of the global standard and are used in all areas of music production. Does that mean that today we are “jamming” at the very highest level? It starts with confident relief ...

In contrast to the social and collective “jamming” with like-minded people over hop lemonade, the new hardware controller from Native Instruments is more likely to gain autistic experiences. But the innovative company based in Berlin is making great efforts with its new controller to reduce all contact with the outside world to the bare minimum, I almost tend to say that it is obsolete. But let's start from the beginning….

unpacking

When unpacking Jam it is noticeable that the dimensions of the controller correspond to those of the MK2. The multi-color buttons, the touch-sensitive push controller and the dual-touch smart strips feel like the usual and therefore extremely good Native Instruments quality. The connection options include a USB port for connecting to the computer, a Kensington lock and a jack socket for connecting a foot switch (which of course does not necessarily have to be operated with the foot). The scope of delivery also includes a flat tripod, through which the controller experiences a better angle of inclination. Power is supplied via the USB bus and there is no need for a power supply unit or cable. After connecting to the computer, Jam comes to life and welcomes the user with a sea of ​​lights. Nice!

General

Basically, a controller without a connected host is just hardware with no real use. So if you hope to be able to play a large selection of internal sounds, you will be disappointed because the actual content is parked on the computer. When the first large hardware controllers pushed analog mixing consoles out of the market over 15 years ago, critics said that “a controller is just a very large mouse”. However, I would like to contradict this often rumored criticism from the camp of the envious with two decisive facts: On the one hand, it is the possibility to operate several parameters at the same time (I have not yet managed to use the mouse to simultaneously set the Cutoff and Delay Feedback parameters without prior macro programming regulate). The second crucial point is the flexibility to implement new features and formats. With every software update, a controller experiences new functions and sounds, which of course also pleases the owner, as software updates are usually much cheaper than buying new hardware. So let's first take a look at the software machine and thus the heart of Jam.

machine

Now in version 2.5, the machine software is developing more and more into a serious DAW. In contrast to other DAWs that are based on the tape machine principle, i.e. reading audio and midi clips linearly from a timeline, machine is based on the pattern principle. However, working with patterns in Maschine does not rule out the possibility of creating a song arrangement. But it opens up more flexibility and creative freedom, especially when it comes to arranging and performing. DAWs such as Ableton Live, for example, were only supplemented with a timeline in later versions and were limited to the pattern principle in the first versions. The opposite was true for sequencers like Logic. It was only over the course of many years that the pattern-based predecessors Creator and Notator developed into what is known today as Logic X, and which is based exclusively on the tape machine principle.

In order to better understand how machines and thus also jam work, a few terms should first be clarified:

A song in the machine is called a project and is divided into so-called scenes (comparable to song parts), which in turn can consist of several patterns. The length of a scene is always based on the length of the longest pattern assigned to this scene. The patterns are divided into so-called groups. In addition to several patterns, a group houses up to 16 different instruments plus associated plug-ins and other group plug-ins. The content of a pattern usually consists of many events. Events can be notes or controller data.

The machine software includes a library of over 9GB, consisting of 445 drum kits, 1200 patterns, several drum synthesizers and loops as well as further 25GB sounds through the included Komplete 11 Select Bundle. The latter includes the full versions of the synthesizers Massive, Reaktor Prism and Monark. The sounds of the machine library are consistently convincing due to their sound quality and topicality. Native Instruments works closely with well-known producers of electronic music to develop the libraries. Every single sound is elaborately processed with high-quality analog signal processors before it is available as a sample in the machine. And you can hear that!

service

In addition to a matrix of 64 multi-color buttons, Jam has 8 touch-sensitive dual-touch smart strips. On the sides there are function buttons with which the different modes for matrix and strips can be selected. A key pad and an endless encoder are used to navigate through patterns and groups or to select sounds and assign parameters. Pressing the Browse button opens the new browser in the connected software, which now zooms almost to screen size and thus makes navigation much easier.

In song mode, the top row of buttons labeled 1-8 can be used to access the different scenes of a project. Another 8 scenes can be turned over using the Pin function. The engine quantizes the change between scenes in play mode always very cleanly and without rhythmic artifacts, which creates creative freedom to perform different arrangements and transitions. After selecting a scene, it runs in the loop until either a new scene has been selected or the loop function has been deselected. Under the Scene buttons there is the Pattern Matrix, which enables the direct selection of a group and the associated Patterns in Song Mode. In this mode, new patterns can be created, deleted or duplicated just as quickly.

4 × 4 of the total of 64 buttons are segmented within the matrix, which allow the 16 individual sounds of a group to be played in the so-called pad mode. In keyboard mode you can also use the entire 64 buttons as a keyboard layout and thus save the use of a midi keyboard. The only limitation is the lack of vetocity sensitivity of the pads.



One of my personal favorites is the step mode, in which the matrix becomes a step sequencer. The individual events of a selected sound are displayed here over the entire matrix over the length of a pattern and can thus be edited. Of course, you can also start with an empty pattern and create new beats and sequences by pressing the matrix buttons. The step sequencer is suitable for both drums and melodic instruments. Anyone who has ever worked with a step sequencer knows how quickly this playful approach can bring unexpected musical results.

Under the matrix there is another row of multi-color buttons labeled A-H for direct access to the groups of a project.

Almost all Jam buttons are dual-assigned. Pressing the Shift key at the same time takes you to the second function. Simple functions such as solo, mute and level for groups or instruments can also be accessed intuitively. After a short time I am already “jamming” through one of the included projects and am so convinced of my performance that I think about not writing this report any further, in order to instead perform what I have just learned for horrendous fees at worldwide festivals .... I will continue to write first .

dual touch strips

One of the absolute highlights of Jam are without a doubt the eight touch-sensitive strips that are assigned by default with the level of the group above. The behavior of the strips is astonishingly good, and very nuanced changes can be made, especially in the fine grid with the Shift key held down. In addition to the level of Groups and Instruments, assignments such as Aux, Tune, Macro or Perform can be made using the function keys. In the so-called Notes Mode, you can even perform tone sequences or guitar-typical strums using the strips. You can choose between different scales or create your own. The selection of the notes is done via the buttons of the matrix, which are located above the respective strip. Notes Mode opens up a completely new and intuitive approach to composing and developing a track. The creative blockage when composing with the learned and familiar instrument is a thing of the past in this fashion.

In Perform Mode, one parameter is assigned to a group. When the associated strip is touched, this effect is activated and the parameter value is called up depending on the position of the point of contact (dual touch!). Kindly a couple of new Perform FX were included for this purpose. Incidentally, all parameter settings for the individual strip modes are automatically displayed in the software after touching the encoder and can then be changed using the keypad and the encoder.

Unfortunately, I have to issue a warning at this point: By assigning effects such as stutter, reso echo or delay feedback to the strips, a space-time continuum can quickly arise in which one inexplicably disappears for several hours while the The same loop runs and does not always lead to the same delight of surrounding, mostly involuntary listeners such as family members.

Contact with the outside world

The similarity to other controllers Novation or Ableton naturally raises the question of whether Jam can also control other software such as Live? The answer is yes. Ableton Live users can even control their software with almost all of the controls provided by Jam. Other than live software can be controlled via appropriate midi maps.

Another useful feature is the ability to cascade Jam with other controllers in the machine series. While Jam focuses more on the processing and performing of an arrangement, individual sounds can be processed in more detail with another MK2 as an example. The larger and Velocitiy sensitive pads also make it easier to play sounds live. In my opinion, an absolutely sensible combination that also looks good due to the same dimensions in the case of the MK2.

Conclusion

While the overview of the arrangement could quickly be lost with the previous controllers of the machine series, Jam with its user interface concentrates on exactly this area and thus supplements the existing portfolio of controllers for machine in a meaningful way. The creative jamming with a project, the step sequencer and the intuitive use of the strips have not been possible in this form with any other controller from Berlin. Jam is a lot of fun and in combination with the features of the machine software, which also provides one of the best libraries for electronic music, Jam is a very well thought-out product at a fair price-performance ratio. The only minor criticism would be the contrast ratio of the pads in bright light conditions. Here it takes a little attention and practice to recognize the display of the beats or the mute state of a key. It would also be nice if the 4 × 4 pad segment within the Matrix Velocity were capable. In the latter case, however, to be fair, reference must be made to the possibility of cascading Jam with another machine controller that has this feature.

Machine jam Manufacturer Native Instruments retail price 399 euros

www.native-imnstruments.com

Pro Contra

+++
very good access to the arrangement of a project in machine

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Value for money

+
Cascadability with other machine controllers


Pads in pad mode (still?) Without velocity


Contrast of the buttons in bright light conditions

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