These new controller instruments make NI's tight hardware/software integration more portable and affordable than ever before.
The third‑generation Maschine Mikro hardware takes the sleek new Maschine design and chops it off above the pads, resulting in the most travel-friendly and cute Maschine yet. Meanwhile, the A-Series keyboards bring the slick Komplete Kontrol workflow to a significantly lower price by trimming some of the luxuries like the key lights and big colour displays. The A-Series has the only 25-key keyboard in the new NI line-up, although if portability is paramount there's also the even newer M32 mini-keyboard.
As well as building new hardware, NI have been busy integrating their software and services (Maschine, Komplete and Sounds.com) into a unified production and content platform. Both the Mikro and A-Series come with Maschine software, and reduced Maschine and Komplete libraries that you can upgrade later.
Like the top-of-the-range S49/61/88, the A-Series (and M32) keyboards are MIDI master keyboards that offer some generic MIDI functionality, 'smart' DAW control, and deep virtual instrument management via the companion Komplete Kontrol and Maschine plug-ins. Available in 25-, 49- and 61-note versions, the keyboards closely resemble the S-Series, but the removal of the screens makes for a significantly narrower footprint. They're also much lighter.
While the S-Series Fatar keyboard is absent and there's no aftertouch, the feel of the keys is not all that different. I can't think of a comparable alternative at this price. The wheels, rotary encoders and main four-way encoder feel like they're the same components as on the S. The buttons are different, though, formed from hard plastic instead of rubber, and producing a rather jarring click.
The advanced DAW control features are available in Logic, Garage Band and Live, with Cubase still promised for the future. You get transport control and other commands such as Undo and Quantise. The four-way encoder is used for navigation: pushing it left or right moves your DAW's focus between tracks. In Live you can also move up and down through scenes, and launch clips. In Maschine you can step between Groups and Sounds with the encoder.
If you focus a track that contains the Komplete Kontrol plug-in, the keyboard will automatically switch to native KK mode. As I've said in previous reviews, this is the killer integration feature that other similar products are yet to crack.
Komplete Kontrol is both a patch library and plug-in host. You can browse sounds directly from the keyboard using the four-way encoder and the display. Nudging the encoder left or right steps you through categories, and turning it scrolls through the focused list. The experience is significantly diminished compared to the S-Series or the Maschine...
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