Sonic Union takes a look at the new Maschine JAM from Native Instruments

The Maschine JAM is the latest addition to the Maschine family; at first glance, it looks like a mashup of a Launchpad, APC40 and PUSH, but when you dig deeper it’s immediately clear that there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Breaking down the hardware into its components, we start with an 8×8 pad layout used for step programming, pattern selection and keyboard playback. These are all full RGB backlit pads and have a very bright light, considering the JAM is USB bus powered only. The lower quadrant of the pads are specially marked 1 through 16 and are used to pick sounds in the current group when in step mode or pad mode. It’s worth noting that no pads on the Jam are velocity sensitive.

Just above the 8×8 section, there are 8 pads marked 1 through 8, which are used to quick select scenes or chain scene playback together. While in STEP mode holding down the STEP button allows you to use the scene buttons to choose how many sounds are shown in the step sequencer, 1, 4 or 8 sounds simultaneously. When doing this or when you have patterns longer than 64 steps, the scene selection buttons act as pages to the sections of the pattern.

Below the 8×8 pad section are the group selection buttons used to select which group you are currently editing. The last 4 buttons also have additional functionality when used in conjunction with the SHIFT button, such as access to the new Variations mode, which allows you to apply various types of random, shuffles and humanisations on notes – which is new in JAM Maschine software update; save the project or swap Maschine instance.

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Below the group selection buttons are 8 high-quality touch strips, similar to the ones found in the Komplete keyboards – but the friendly people at Native Instruments tell me these are in fact next generation touch strips, featuring higher response rate and multi-touch support. The touch strips can be used in several ways. Firstly, they can control volumes of each group or the volume of each sound in a group, but they can also control parameters of individual sounds or plugins as well as AUX send levels. They are also used to control Maschine’s new PERFORM FX effects (more on that later), and can also work as note triggers in the new NOTES mode where you can finger-strum chords in key with different scales by sliding your fingers up and down on the strips.

Below the touch strips are control buttons such as PLAY, REC, TEMPO, SOLO, MUTE etc – which are quite self-explanatory, so I won’t go into detail here. Moving on to the left side of the 8×8 grid, starting at the top and going down, we have a new SONG button which puts the Maschine into scene playback mode, where you can quickly swap active scene with the numbered buttons mentioned above or toggle patterns active or not. Next is the STEP / PIANO ROLL (using SHIFT to access) button which is editing either the standard one sound step sequence or showing a piano roll view just as on the software. Next up is PAD MODE, where you can play the different sounds in the group with the lower quadrant buttons live and record your jam into the sequencer.

Using the SHIFT button you enter Keyboard mode, where you play the selected sound in a piano roll style using the whole 8×8 grid. Touching the large and only rotary control on the right side of the unit allows you to change root note, scale and chord type of the sound, which is reflected on the pads with the root notes lit up in white and the rest in the colour of the sound. This mode is new to JAM Maschine software version and makes it really easy to lay down some impressive chords with just one finger.

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Next, we have two buttons for quick pattern editing, CLEAR and DUPLICATE. As their names suggest, they clear or duplicate patterns. Holding the CLEAR button and selecting a pattern clears it while holding the DUPLICATE button and clicking the pattern you want to duplicate will mean that the selected pattern will start to blink to show that it’s selected. You then select a new slot for the pattern, and the target starts to blink confirming the selected target location. Both buttons also have shift functions for clearing automation and double the length of the active pattern. Below these buttons is a new DPAD, which can be used to scroll through the new pop-up browser on the computer and navigate the 8×8 grid.

Then we come to the NOTE REPEAT & ARP button, which is available on all other Machine hardware; but both the Arpeggiator and note repeat system have had an upgrade in Maschine software shipping with the JAM. Since the JAM doesn’t have an onboard screen like all other Machine hardware, the software has a new function-sensitive pop-up screen which is controlled through the rotary knob. As the knob is touch sensitive, just holding a finger on it will pop up the window for the currently active function. Pressing the knob in once allows you to change the value of the current section while pressing twice leaves the edit function, and enables you to scroll to the next value to edit.

Moving on we have a MACRO button that turns the touch strips into macro controllers for controlling multiple parameters with one quick slide of the finger. Next up after that is LEVELS – turning the touch strips into volume controls either for the whole group or by holding the LEVELS button and pressing one of the pads numbered 1-16 for individual volume control per sound in that group. AUX is next, which turns the touch strips into AUX send value per group or sound. CONTROL maps the touch strips to parameter control of the selected sound or plugin such as cut- off, resonance etc, and you can page through the settings with the left and right buttons just below the touch strips. Finally, there is the AUTO button, and just as on other Maschine hardware, this is used to record automation.

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Jumping over to the right side of the unit starting under the rotary knob we have a completely new feature, the PERFORM FX. Native Instruments have designed 8 new effects to go on the groups, intended as live performance effects. The new Performance effects are Filter, Flanger, Burst Echo, Reso Echo, Ring, Stutter, Tremolo and Scratcher. When you touch the touch strip the effect is enabled, and sliding your finger up and down changes the effect. The touch strip only controls one value of the effect, but you can hit CONTROL to go in and change values of the other parameters. The new performance effects are simple but very effective, and they sound good. You can record the automation of the PERFORM FX, but I was having some issues whereby it also recorded the enable effect on/off setting which didn’t match up with the effect values. However, deleting that row of automation and manually enabling the effect again solved it – not a perfect solution, but it works. The Performance effects are definitely targeted for live use, and for having fun performing.

NOTES is up next, and as I mentioned earlier this mode allows you to strum chords with the touch strips, much like a guitar. It works really well, and you can get some really cool melodies sliding multiple touch strips up and down simultaneously – not something you can do on any other controller to my knowledge. LOCK is the last new button, and also new to the JAM. The lock functionality allows you to take a snapshot of every parameter in the track, start messing around with stuff and then quickly hit LOCK again to return to the snapshot value. This is a great feature that allows you to go a bit freestyle live, while still having the security of coming back to a working sound with a press of a button. In the current Maschine beta that I am running, you can only have one snapshot, but the final version will have support for 64 snapshots per track. They also say that the snapshots will have morphing capabilities. I have not been able to try this just yet, however, I can imagine this will lead to some really cool, unexpected results.

The Jam is of the same sturdy build as the rest of the Maschine family, and the same footprint as the normal Maschine unit. It comes with a removable foot so you can tilt it to match the tilting in the Maschine Studio. Talking of the Studio, the JAM integrates perfectly if you already have a Maschine device and you can use both at the same time, with changes being reflected directly on the units. If you already own Maschine, you are eligible for 2 free Maschine expansion packs until the end of the year when buying the JAM. The Maschine software also comes with 8 GB of sounds, several hundred patterns and close to 40 full projects, as well as the 5 excellent drum synths. Maschine now also includes “KOMPLETE SELECT”, which consists of Massive, Reaktor Prism, Monark, The Gentleman, Drumlab, Retro Machines MK2, Vintage Organs, West Africa drums, Scarbee Mark I, Solid Bus Comp and Replika; a nice addition to the package.

Since the JAM is completely bus-powered, it’s an excellent option for taking on the road to work on music, or just throw down ideas and take it to gigs to perform with. I’ve had the JAM for about 6 weeks now and I love how quick it is to work with and how easy it is to use. While I love my Maschine Studio, I think the JAM is more immediate and actually more fun to work with. It’s really quick to lay down groovy beats, basslines and melodies. The new note strumming feature is really cool and unique and can lead to some really interesting melodies.

During these weeks Native Instruments have pushed out several updates to the beta software with new features and functionality, meaning that the final version will have even more functionality. It really shows that NI is pushing on the Maschine front and are putting serious effort into the software. They also discussed several upcoming features with me – I am not allowed to share these yet but rest assured, there are a lot of cool things coming. Another bonus for Ableton Live users is that they ship the JAM with a custom Live mapping script replicating lots of the functions of the Maschine inside Live, and you can quickly swap between the Maschine mode and Live mode by pressing the SHIFT and headphone (MIDI) button. Whether you already own a Maschine unit or are looking to get into Maschine, the JAM is definitely worth checking out!

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About the author

Sweden’s Erik Pettersson is better known as DJ/producer Sonic Union, one half of prolific progressive house pair Bastards of Funk and Sonic Union and co-founder, label owner and manager of Lowbit Records.

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