This is probably in the realm of great rivalries like Hatfields and McCoys, OU and Texas, Yankees and Red Sox, etc. I’ve been using Maschine since immediately after it’s launch in 2009 and I’ve been using Live even longer, going back to about the beginning of 2007. Both are revered for their workflow and ability to be a way to quickly jot down musical ideas and both are capable of being used in a live performance capacity, but does one really win out? I can save you some reading if you want my absolute answer, and that answer is “not really.”
As with Maschine, I was an early adopter when Maschine Studio hit the stores. It had some serious encoder knob issues, that for me, basically sidelined the Studio for an entire year and a couple of RMAs to fix a software problem, which have since been resolved. However, around the time my issues with Studio were resolved, the Push 2 came out. I wanted a Push, but never committed. When the I couldn’t resist the guitar familiarity of the 4ths tuned pads, the much more spacious step sequencer, 64 slices with which to chop up loops, the excellent integration for what is still my primary DAW, and overall, a really well made controller that brings Ableton much more in line with Maschine as a groovebox anymore, I made the plunge. There was a short time when I thought I’d never use Maschine Studio again and that I should just sell it. Well, not so fast.
Not that I’ve ever had an easy time just being rid of something when I thought it wasn’t a fit for me, and the only two times I have, I have just replaced that same gear later on, and in the case of the Kaoss Pad 3, I now own two because there are times when you just need stereo effects to go on something that’s just too dry, like the Tempest, but I digress. I have a hard time getting rid of gear. In the midst of my sample organization and inventory this month, I decided to revisit this issue and decide if it’s worth keeping a controller that, even discounted off retail, is still not chump change. Here are my lists of pros and cons for both.
In this corner, Native Instruments “The Killer” Maschine 2 and Maschine Studio
- If you have a Maschine Studio, you probably don’t need an S-Control.
- Sequencer workflow still feels faster for 1-4 bar loops.
- Tagging system makes finding and organizing samples a lot easier-ish. If you have redundant samples to keep kits together, this won’t matter and it’s certainly just as easy, if not easier, to navigate local folders without importing in to some kind of database, in Ableton AND you have 64 pads to load sounds into. Nonetheless, if you want to tag groups of files as you import them, you will have a better way to search for the right sample through the search bar… and you better back up your database or you’ll lose all that tagging info between installs.
- Automatically adds imported samples into collections based on folder structure.
- Lots of factory kits and patterns. This is handy when you just want an inspiring click track to fit the mood. Yes, I’m a proponent of rolling your own kits to have your own sound, but sometimes you just need a beat to get things moving.
- Drumsynth. I don’t have a ton of software analog drum machines, but this one is by far the best and I would say even makes my Analog RYTM jealous because “maybe software analog drum synths shouldn’t sound that good, eh”
- A good amount of factory sounds and patterns.
- Bigger pads are better for fingerdrumming. While Push 2 is no slouch, I definitely find my level of confidence to hit the right pad and mentally settle in on 16 pads is much better with Maschine. I feel more confident moving around these 4×4 pads, whereas, I have to be more mindful of where I place my fingers while finger drumming on Push 2 and I definitely notice that there is a difference between my finger drumming technique than my melodic playing on the Push 2.
- Limited sequencer. Everything is pattern based. Absolutely not good for tracking in MIDI or audio longer than 4 bars.
- Frustrating sample editor. I prefer to commit to recording something to disk, know where it lives, and then decide if it gets to stay there after the fact. Maschine likes to capture samples in one location, which is terrible for organization and it means you have to do a lot more manual cleanup or exporting of your kits, rather than just starting a new project, and letting your recordings accumulate in that project.
- Native Instruments support has not been the absolute worst, but it’s not great. If you have a tricky problem that requires some critical thinking, you’re probably not going to get any more help from NI than you’ll get online. I say this based entirely on the rigmarole I went through trying to resolve my jumpy encoder issue, which was well documented by the early adopters. Rather than try to dive into what might be causing it, which was firmware, apparently, they were content to waste everyone’s time by replacing hardware which never actually resolved the issue for me, even for a little while.
In this corner, Ableton “We’ll Do It” Live and Push 2
- A real sequencer. I can track MIDI or audio, I can loop them, arrange them, and otherwise use Ableton the same way anyone would use any major DAW on the market, in addition to using it as a groovebox.
- Much better top-down view of a project, including routing, automation, patterns, etc. Ableton makes better use of the real estate.
- Much better controller for playing melodic parts, especially if you’re a guitarist or bassist. You will appreciate the 4ths tuned scale with the harmonic scales lighted to help you learn and know which notes are safely in key. Very expressive for a pad based controller — moreso than I even expected. The aftertouch really works, which is a shame because Ableton doesn’t even support recording aftertouch!
- While finger drumming isn’t as great, 100% volume/no velocity modulation chopping across an 8 bar loop spread across 64 pads with a shared choke group, for that Madlib/J Dilla style beat chopping sesh will allow you to get lost for 10-20 minutes and not run out of interesting variations on the same sample. It’s also much easier to warp, slice, and export to a drum rack with a better degree of control than it is in Maschine which is fully capable of chopping beats. Also, it’s much easier to move loop markers around a longer track that maybe you recorded in without trying to nail the perfect loop in one pass, and now you have a lot of variations on a loop that you can choose simply by moving the loop markers. You definitely can’t do this in Maschine as easy.
- Slightly better UI and visibility with the on screen controls.
- Slightly less mature sequencing “outside the box” groovebox features than Maschine
- Smaller pads are not as great for finger drumming.
- Potentially just as many sounds. No tagging system. Ableton Suite comes with several instruments and presets, but there is no way to narrow down those presets by sound characteristics quite the same way there is in Maschine/Komplete (Kore 2, RIP. They done you wrong.)
- Still can’t simply copy a pattern onto the timeline and keep the automation. Seriously, Ableton. Fix this shit.
- No bread and butter analog drum sound generators. There are some Max for Live patches, but I do not know why Ableton doesn’t have a solid 808/909 stand-in. Maschine didn’t really have such a satisfying solution to this problem until Maschine 2, but now I find it to be a great alternative to my Elektron Analog RYTM when I only have my laptop.
A truce… for now.
I don’t think it’s likely that I’ll be getting rid of either for now. I still have a number of legacy Maschine kits, and while I don’t see myself using them that much in the near future, I still use Maschine more often for assembling kits from stray samples than Ableton and it’s pretty easy to collect all of the samples in context to a kit without expanding that to include the entire project. This is also a great way of narrowing down the finalists for samples I want to load onto my hardware, which is great because I can have a large sample library without concern for sample memory until much later when I’ve narrowed down my choices.