Maschine 2.0 Newbie Review

It has been some time since I upgraded my Maschine to 2.0. Not a big win for me when I think about it, but you know how it is – old Maschine will hardly have any support and – probably the biggest reason – I wanted to support Native Instruments and maybe get some more sound content in the process.

I used Maschine 1.x with my Maschine Mikro (Mk1) to create a few songs – or mostly just drum/bass lines for songs that we could perform live. It was alright and I liked that I needed to interact only with the controller on stage.

Now I tried to use Maschine 2.0 expecting some improvements over the previous software version. I’m sure many people got what they wanted, but for me Maschine 2.0 is more like a facelift – without bringing anything essential. Kinda like “we have to come up with something new” stuff. This is probably not fair, but I just use basic things and I feel that way.

I don’t expect things to always go my way. I have ideas and try to communicate them on forums of my favourite products, not to mention many bug reports for things like IntelliJ IDEA that even got fixed. 😉 One simply cannot have it all. But there are a few things that are kinda striking.

I use Large layout for instance and let’s take a look, how it looks by default:

First the “red problems”: So the Arranger (upper part) does not display all 8 groups you have (at least by default), and Pattern Editor has plenty of free space for more sounds than necessary. Of course you can use this space in the part with Piano roll…

However, the biggest point here is – even though you can change the layout (use the section corner marked on the right of the screenshot) there seems to be no way how to save it. So even if you change it, the next time it’s gone.

My other issue was with zooming. You can only zoom on the zooming scroll bars (horizontal ones are marked with blue, but the same goes for vertical ones). Now imagine you want to fix a particular event with your mouse. To zoom to any reasonable level you have to go away from the event (that is already probably selected) and meddle with the scroll bar, pressing the mouse button, moving the mouse up/down to zoom – and also to the left/right in order to keep the event in the view. Now imagine using just Ctrl+mouse wheel right on the spot (or Ctrl+Shift for vertical zoom which is less needed in most cases). Wouldn’t that be great?

Generally many things in Maschine UI are made in a way that is completely counterintuitive – the only way is to learn the stuff and keep using it, because otherwise you have to refresh it every time before you occasionally use the Maschine software (my case).

When I compare this with Reaper for instance, that is a true power tool where:

  • you see keyboard shortcuts next to the action in any menu (main, contextual) – this is true for main menu in Maschine as well, but that is just too little
  • you can assign nearly whatever to whatever in their Actions window – not to mention you can use it as a quick reference and find the shortcut for an action there too
  • UI always loads how I left it
  • there are tooltips for buttons, often even with status information (for instance: Metronome disabled) – tooltips would be a big help for any starting/intermediate/occasional user of Maschine

We may argue that focus in Maschine is on another thing (partially true), that they don’t want to spoil it with too many DAW-like features (agreed, mouse zoom is not colliding with anything in Maschine though), and that you should mostly use their hardware. The last thing is valid for things like live productions (and more of course), but one way or the other – if you prepare something in Maschine for later use, you may need to edit it. And that is much easier with UI and mouse.

To sum it up: Maschine UI is different from standard even when not necessary, lacking tooltips completely, there is no in-place help with keyboard shortcuts, few contextual menus (no wonder when right-click deletes stuff, double click would probably did just as good), it doesn’t save the UI layout, zoom is awkward and I’m not going into shortcut customization.

I know that UI is just an addition to the hardware (though absolutely necessary) and personally I can pardon that you can’t change keyboard shortcuts. But many of these things are kinda easy to fix (tooltips?) and they would help a long way – especially users new to NI.

Maschine sure is a lot of fun anyway, but a little bit more seriousness to its DAW aspects wouldn’t hurt at all.

Native Instruments and more free stuff

I mentioned free Kore Player by Native Instruments previously in my personal log. The registration process is a bit annoying – but nothing that doesn’t work and it really is worth it. Since then NI came with free Kontakt Player (now upgraded to version 4), Factory Selection for Kontakt – but those instruments work in Kore Player too – and recently they delivered just another free Compilation vol. 2 (or Holiday Selection, whatever you like :-)). This all means that NI offers two lightweighted versions of their products (Kore Player/Kontakt Player) and four sound libraries (counting the one delivered with Kore Player too).

With previous Kontakt Player 3 I had a few issues. There were a few sounds coming with it – but this part of the library worked in demo mode and was disabled after a little while. Not too many sounds, but their “sudden malfunction” rather confused poor nonpaying user. 🙂 Now it seems that Kore Player 4 shows only Factory Selection and I can’t see any additional demo sounds. While Kore Player doesn’t need to be activated, it was displayed in red in NI’s Service Center (don’t forget to install this with either Kore or Kontakt Player!). Version 4 seems to be OK – nice and green. Factory Selection must be activated and the code comes in the mail. Don’t mix both mails with download links as I did – one of them really has activation key. 🙂 I even asked their support about the missing code, only to find out later that they don’t support nonpaying users – but they answered me anyway and the information was helpful. Very nice.

You can find a lot of sounds, effects and (most importantly) instruments there – TONS of various drums, basses, abstract sounds, woods… you just have to go through it by yourself! Check the sounds in Kore Player, try to mess with Sound Variations (those boxes A-H), I’m pretty sure there will be something you’ll like. Of course, the whole SW package eats a lot of megabytes (more than a giga, for sure – maybe two, I don’t care actually), but I recommend you: Give it a shot!

For some strange reason I can’t find Compilation vol. 1 on NI page via search feature – also their page is now often down (probably thanks to users hungry for all of this :-)). But you can always google download of the pack easily. One thing is sure. If I start making some money from music (which I don’t expect though) I’d seriously consider NI software. It is nice and easy to use, there are tons of sounds and VST integration works perfectly – at least in REAPER. Happy holidays!

REAPER Introduction

This time I wanna reference my double-episode about Reaper. It’s really just a quick introduction because it’s not possible to cover any DAW in under 16 minutes, but I wanted to show how to approach some basic tasks in REAPER. Both videos were made with version 2.5x and it was just a few days before Reaper 3 was released. However all covered topics are still valid. In the first video I talk about multi-track recording, how to arm the track, select input… and similar things that are a bit different from Audacity that was covered in first two episodes. I demonstrate how you can record multiple audio tracks and midi tracks at once – something you can’t do with Audacity. Then I quickly go through MIDI editor (which is overhauled in version 3) and I show how to quantize recorded MIDI events:

Episode 3 – REAPER introduction, device setup, recording multiple tracks

Second video (sounds more sleepy as the night was closing in :-)) continues with applying VST effects on a track, than I show how to use VSTi (instrument) to synthesize MIDI tracks and then I move on to envelopes. First I edit volume envelope to achieve fade-out on the track and I explain how to edit envelope with mouse during the process. There are other ways how to edit envelope, you can even record the envelope using MIDI CC (continuous controller). Last example shows how to change a tempo of the song. This is very useful if you want for instance slow song with faster intro or the other way around. When you do things like this, you should plan your song before you record audio tracks, because while MIDI tracks respect the tempo, audio tracks are based on real time. This means that when you change the tempo of the song audio tracks go out of sync.

Episode 4 – REAPER and VST, VSTi and some playing with envelopes

I mentioned (in the video) that I use free VST(i)s. That’s obviously because I’m tight on budget – I can buy things, but music is only my hobby, results are still not convincing 🙂 and there is no point in spending hundreds of bucks on great VSTs. Would they pay off in my case? Certainly not! I mentioned Kore Player in the previous blog post about this topic. This time I’ll mention few of my other favourite VSTs. If you have a hint, or a link to something better – don’t hesitate and post a comment! Blue Cat’s Freeware plugin pack is a nice pack of effects like chorus, flanger or phaser, but there is also spectrum analyzer added in. Another pack of VST effects is provided by mda here – and mda also offers VST instruments – synths and pianos. Not that bad for no money! Finally there are ndc plugs – site with some interesting multi-purpose VST plugins. From them I want to recommend ndcMIDI that can be used to split midi keyboards for instance. With MIDI filter you can allow only some parts of the keyboard to be passed to VSTi synthesizer and when you do so with multiple MIDI tracks you can split your keyboard between various instruments ad lib!

I’ll talk more about interesting free VST(i) plugins also in the following parts, it’s impossible to cover it all – today I named only a few packs with wide range of usage.

Personal Log

I’m not sure if I should add “(1)” into the title or not but let’s deal with the content first – before I decide to write another personal log. I just feel like to write something from my everyday life. Yet not so everyday, because today it finally happened – Roger Federer matched Pete Sampras with his Grand Slam titles + he completed career Grand Slam. In open era only Rod Laver and Andre Agassi did that before – and only Andre (and Roger now) on three different surfaces (on the other hand – Rod did it in one year and so he is the only man with the true Grand Slam in open era).

Funny – I became Roger’s fan when his star seemed to diminish. I didn’t care about tennis that much – mostly because of the lack of TV in my household. In 2005 I somehow accidentally saw him winning the US Open against Agassi (who also handed him Roland Garros trophy today!). Later I started to watch him in 2007 which was his last domination year. In 2008 he left the first place to Nadal who waited for this for a long time (just another statistical record) and barely managed to stay #2 – mostly because the mononucleosis in the start of the year. At least he won US Open (again ;-)). However 2009 doesn’t look so bad at all! Nadal showed hell of a fight in Australian Open and he is now clearly all-around player (after winning Wimbledon 2008 and hard court AO 2009 who can doubt it?). Roland Garros seemed to be ill-fated for Federer, but he managed to win it – while the biggest favourite lost to Robin Söderling who managed to pull it through to the final. And lose against Roger Federer. Who knows how it would end against Nadal. Nadal lost last clay final to Federer though – but it was only best of three and French Open – that’s just completely different motivation. Whatever the Roger’s way to this success was – he is there – between those few who won each of Grand Slam titles. Congratulations.

As a funny addition – here is a vid with some Barca fan entering the court during today’s match 🙂

But tennis is not the only thing I live with. To make the post rather shorter I’ll touch other things sort of telegraphically. 🙂 I mentioned REAPER digital audio workstation (DAW) in my previous posts (and also in my YouTube videos I wanted to wrap-up here). Big thing is that REAPER v3 was released. Actually it’s 3.02 currently – which is a good thing because Cockos (developer of the software) started to fix things quickly. If you’re in music business (especially home recording/computer based recording with strong emphasis on audio+MIDI), you should try Reaper because it’s slick, small, fast yet powerful DAW. I also found incredible VST instrument… more than that actually. Free Kore Player by Native Instruments along with their free Kore Soundpack Compilation Vol.1 is something you simply have to have (yes, I know the registration and activation process is annoying, but it’s worth it). I found some great sounds there, one patch with rock drums (through 6 octaves, 3 full sets!) and another Latino drums – and much more!… man, this is incredible deal for 0 money and I’m happy that NI supports also music fans who can’t afford expensive solutions – or maybe just wanna taste how it is to do some music and not make living of it.

Other than that? Well, business as usual, socialists took the most EU parliament chairs in for our country. I’ll just pay my taxes on, with thieves like our Slovak non-liberal, private-equity-backed socialists I’m pretty sure my money won’t get to poor people anyway (not in the same extent like it did with rightists, which is funny paradox). And maybe people will see one day. I don’t care anymore – although elections are my sacred obligation. World-wide crisis is far from over, well – I rather care about present and little things around. My wife, my son… or my tortoise 🙂 (see it how it can flip from its back!). Or Roger’s triumph on Roland Garros for that matter.

Well and now I should finally do something about JavaSimon or its second version will never reach final. So see you later. 🙂

Multi-track home recording for free

I’d like to interconnect my YouTube creations with this blog – so this time we’ll be talking about home recording with Audacity. It’s by no means Audacity tutorial – I just want to introduce Audacity and also demonstrate its limitations when you wanna enter the realm where acronyms like VST, MIDI and ASIO rule it all. I have also found out that it’s easier to talk English above beer than to produce the video in English language (don’t forget – I’m a Slovak :-)). I grew fond of short cuts (or cross-fading cuts of my longer speech that wasn’t that good) and it is generally a lot of trying for me. And I expect the viewer to be a bit tolerant to my faults. I came to the conclusion that I should rather write a script before but I’m just way too lazy to do so. However… back to the Audacity.

WTF is multi-track recording? How to plug the microphone into the computer? Newbie warning! (If you know it all watch it only at your own risk or for fun. :-))

First video is just the introduction to a very, very raw way how to get your sound into the computer via soundcard with 1/8″ jack (I meant 3.5 mm, but you know… imperial units are still often used in this world) – that is via typical microphone input available virtually on every computer. When you have a better microphone with XLR connector, you might end up with XLR on the other side of the cable or with 6.3 mm jack (1/4″). In any case you need a converter, jack-jack (in both size directions) are pretty common, XLR-jack is also possible but it’s another complication. Now imagine we have a (semi) serious microphone plugged into the computer (without preamp! It’s a Sin!) just to use my few bucks “Skype” microphone for the rest of the show and to introduce the Audacity.

With this setup I made my first songs – and of course the quality was poor. I’m still not too close to optimal home recording quality, but Audacity with microphone via soundcard is really rather just an emergency solution. However – it works, you can experiment and it does not cost you anything. Except the microphone and the computer of course. And whatever instrument you want to play. Later you find out that it’s not easy to record multiple tracks in sync (unless you’re really very lucky). That’s caused by so called latency. And latency is the core of the second video with Audacity as our main hero:

Audacity, latencies and ASIO. And when we’re talking about Steinberg also some VST is mentioned. In theory.

This time I added intro – it was made in REAPER. “Lead guitar” is actually played on MIDI keyboard and heavily edited later (read: corrected :-)) and I also played a bit with the pan envelope (don’t worry, we might talk about it next time). The rest is mostly about latencies with some conclusion about Audacity in context of ASIO and VST usage. I don’t like the heavy sound of my computer you can hear all the time in the background, but you have to live with that until I buy some other microphone (probably some Koss headphones with microphone on it). I don’t wanna use dynamic microphone shown in the first episode because it’s not that handy. Maybe next time I’ll come up with better setup. Currently I’m not able to get playback from software into the captured video but maybe I’ll overcome it somehow later.

I have also next two videos uploaded already – they are just a short introduction into REAPER and I’ll cover them in some future post. I don’t want to continue in Reaper tutorial, but I wanted to introduce the DAW before I move on to hardware I use. The goal is to cover home recording on extremely tight budget (understand 500-1500 EUR or USD, choice is yours) so don’t expect miracles. But the time is right and it’s really easy now to have a reasonable home recording solution for the price of your choice. To add one more link, there is really awesome and extensive Guide to the Home and Project Studio by Tweak. Funny that I found it after I knew some of those answers (but far from even half of them). Sometimes it’s hard to find a guide when you actually don’t know what to search for. Isn’t it Ironic?

My new home recording… studio?

Whatever… it’s cheap, but it’s my studio anyway! It’s been some time since I’ve composed my latest song. I’m a man of more hobbies than I can handle, I know. Gamer, programmer and wannabe musician too. (Not to mention I’m a father and husband too. :-)) I can’t play well any instrument, but I compose my songs with acoustic guitar, ideas, chords and my weak voice. The desire to have my own recording studio – even the modest one – is pretty old. Nowadays you can acquire the needed stuff for literally a few bucks. My whole recording chain with both guitars with notebook included (but not bought for that reason) is around 1300€ – I’m sure you can do the same or better under 1000€ (or maybe even under $1000, as prices here in Slovakia are rather higher). I’ve got two guitars, I’ve got Midi keyboard, some microphone too… the last piece of the puzzle I really wanted was a mixing console.

My extremely modest home recording studio… no special room obviously

Of course, you can probably live without it with overdubbing yourself in the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation software) – but there are few good reasons to have a real mixer. I have one microphone input on my old Audigy sound card. I’ve bought converter from big jack (6.3mm) to small one, mono (not common in every shop, I assure you :-)). First, the jack connector on my sound card was stressed more and I had to crawl under my desk every time I wanted to change microphone for guitar. Should I go for extension cable? Hell no! Buy a mixer and manage all your inputs there. Now I can also record voice from dynamic microphone and guitar from condenser microphone at once too! (No, stop telling me I could hack stereo line-in for that! :-)) Real mixer has also better pre-amps for sure. I went for really affordable Behringer XENYX 1202FX and I’m more than happy, believe me.

Mixing console Behringer XENYX 1202FX

While mixer (and a bunch of cables) was the last piece of the hardware puzzle, there was one more thing to decide. The software. So called “Digital Audio Workstation”. While I used Audacity before, it has few disadvantages (and even more pops out when you learn what the real DAW is). I’ll name two for all – it can’t mix audio and MIDI tracks and it doesn’t come with ASIO support – although it is ASIO-capable and you can build it with it. Even as skilled Linux user I refused to do that when there is one better alternative – REAPER! I tried Reason first, I liked the sound (don’t beat me, it was the first proper synth I used after Audigy built-in wavetable :-))… but I wanted to try more, not to mention I wasn’t sure I can afford it. So I tried FL Studio demo version too. I nearly even bought it – and if you like it don’t hesitate because it has great live-time upgrade policy (LOVE that!). But I’ve found it difficult to use with MIDI – pitch or modulation wheel did not work right out of the box for instance. I also didn’t like the overall interface to be honest, but that’s probably rather personal. Reason – on the other hand – reportedly isn’t good if you want to record voices too. I could import WAV, but I didn’t find the way how to record it directly into the Reason.

Boring Reaper screen-shot with lame project

I wanted ONE software solution to manage my project and then Reaper got onto my radar. Software that reminded me Audacity in terms of multi-track recording, with ASIO support for low latencies, awesome with treating audio and MIDI tracks the same way when possible – but with built-in MIDI editor (piano roll), good built-in plugins, VST support, you name it! With installer not bigger than 4 MB. Yes, mega, not giga. I really was skeptical at the start, but Reaper simply convinced me. And if you want to record normal true audio/vocal/acoustic (metal/rock/whatever) music, you should give Reaper a try. Yeah, and it’s cheap – only $50 for personal use, $225 for commercial use, but you can try it for 30 days officially and even more unofficially if you’re not convinced. I’m not sure I’ll pay right away after 30 days, but… I guess so. Somehow I like it and I can’t see any reason why not to support it.

Try this for 10 random Reaper screen-shots

Now you know why (aside from other reasons) I’ve been a bit inactive recently on my blog. Real life stuff, that’s it. I’ll definitely get back to this topic in future posts. Do I do anything else as well? Yes, I even played PWI on Saturday. 🙂 However, I have a lot of stuff to learn now because once you record yourself, you’ll probably find out a lot of things to improve. Even if you don’t take yourself seriously.