NI MASCHINE JAM Review – Production & Performance Controller

The controller MASCHINE JAM was presented by Native Instruments in September 2016. The device continues the series of specialized controllers for the MASCHINE software and represents an entirely new model, radically different from all previous products of this kind. Despite the fact that MASCHINE JAM functions only as a controller and has no built-in audio interface, it has a number of unique features that distinguish the device from other NI analogs.

We can say that MASCHINE JAM is a worthy answer to the Native Instruments on the multipad controllers Ableton Push and Novation Launchpad, which became very popular among users of Ableton Live. A large number of the used pads allows to work conveniently and clearly in Ableton Live, especially in Session View mode during a live performance. We’ll talk about features a little bit later, let’s start with the specifications as usual.

Specifications

  • 64 illuminated, multicolor step matrix buttons (8×8 Grid)
  • 8 Touch Strips with real-time multicolor indication, multi-touch (Smart Strip functionality)
  • 8 multicolor group buttons and 8 multicolor scene buttons
  • 31 backlit click buttons
  • 4-Button D-Pad and touch encoder for searching: samples, tools, effects and library navigation in browsing mode
  • Designed for integration with software Maschine and Komplete
  • The ability to use in third-party applications as a plug-in, and supports NKS plug-ins format
  • The ability to work as MIDI controller with the Ableton Live software
  • OS Compatibility: Mac OS X 10.11 or greater / Windows 7,8,10 (required USB 2.0 or 3.0 Port /29GB free disk space for full software installation)
  • Powered via USB (no external adapter connection provided)
  • TRS jack input for a footswitch connection
  • Kensington Lock on the housing
  • Package Bundle includes: NI MACHINE JAM hardware, USB Cable, Mounting Stand, MACHINE 2.5 software, MACHINE Factory Library, KOMPLETE 11 Select Version, 25$ voucher for the purchase from the NI Online Shop
  • Dimensions: [W]320mm / 12.6″, [L] 295mm / 11.6″, [H] 30mm / 1.2″
  • Weight:7kg (5.9lbs)

MASCHINE JAM Overall Build and Features

The MASCHINE JAM has a detailed mode of playing patterns, but until recently, similar capabilities had neither one controller of Native Instruments. All existing models have been designed rather for creating music. Although some users have used the MASCHINE controllers for live performances, a full control of numerous patterns was difficult. The controller mostly served as a sampler to perform certain parties. A new Native Instruments controller completely fills this gap and MASCHINE JAM is equipped with a set of long-awaited illuminated pads and touch “smart strip” strips in contrast to previous devices.

It is very important that the controller is not a replacement for the previous models. It is a great complement to any device of MASCHINE series and it expands management capabilities. Its opportunity of simultaneous use gives more complete control and demonstrative management to MASCHINE projects. Anyway, MASCHINE JAM works great being the only controller connected as it has all the key edit buttons and transport panel on its board.

Native Instruments has updated MASCHINE software to 2.5 version simultaneously with the release of a new controller. In the new version of MASCHINE was added 8 exciting new effects Perform FX and the library was significantly upgraded: it received an additional 2 GB of new sounds and new presets. This version of MASCHINE 2.5 is included with the MASCHINE JAM controller. The update costs $99.00 for users of previous versions.

An updated library with new sounds and contemporary presets is great. However, the most interesting upgrade is new opportunities of Perform FX, which best reveals with the MASCHINE JAM controller.

Native Instruments MASCHINE Software

You can assign one such effect for each channel and conveniently manage its key parameter by using the touch faders. In fact, it allows you to have different eight various interesting effects on different parties of a track controlled at the same time! Moreover, all the effects are really applicable and useful in live performance.

The MASCHINE JAM controller is equipped with a big number of illuminated pads that allow you to work with MASCHINE projects in several modes. With its colorful, vibrant and dynamically variable illumination, the pads nicely display used patterns and elements in a project.

Unfortunately, the pads used in the controller have no sensitivity to pressure force of velocity. You can only specify a fixed value for all the pads and use the “ACCENT” function that assigns a larger velocity value for the selected note or samples.

The main controller mode “SONG” involves the management of all available patterns of the MASCHINE project. The vertical columns consist of different options of patterns which can be launched in an appropriate group by pressing the pads. The top buttons 1-10 allow you to save a selected configuration of the sound patterns in the “SCENE” slots, and switch between them. Each active pattern is highlighted by an appropriate pad and can be easily deactivated. The bottom buttons A-H are used to select an appropriate group for global management of an entire group at once or edit sounds within it.

Pressing the “STEP” button puts the controller in a mode of step sequencer. In this mode, the pads highlight sequentially in a given rhythm and allow to create a rhythmic party of a used instrument or sample. Everything here is done traditionally and quite familiarly. There is an ability to quickly copy and delete scenes and patterns with the buttons located to the left of the pads. In this mode, the most notable possibility is to control up to eight tracks simultaneously. In addition, there is an opportunity to create melodic figures in the “PIANO ROLL” mode, in which dynamically the illuminated pads perform the role of the edit net.

The “PAD MODE” allows to play the pads in a more familiar 4×4 configuration used in the previous MASCHINE controllers, but as we wrote above, with a fixed velocity value. In this mode, all the used pads are also highlighted and they indicate the pressure and the reproducible activity of a party. The “KEYBOARD MODE” uses the entire 8×8 surface and allows to perform harmonic and melodic figures on the pads within a given harmony and fret.

All of the described possibilities of the MASCHINE JAM pads, in one form or another, occur in many similar multipad controllers. Some of them implemented very well in the MASCHINE JAM, some less comfortable. In any case, the introduction of all these possibilities was predictable and expected. But what really pleasantly surprised and allowed the MASCHINE JAM controller to become a unique is the touch faders.

The touch “smart strip” strips are multi-functional and allow to adjust a bunch of settings in multiple modes. Switching between the modes is done with buttons on the sides. A multi-segment display, which is placed next to each strip helps to navigate. It clearly shows the level of the controlled parameter, whether it is a dynamically changing volume, automation or set in the current moment of time.

With using the touch “smart strips”, you can even play musical patterns. In the “NOTES” mode, each of the strips plays a sequence of sounds of a particular chord or fret. You can draw an analogy with the regime of the “SCALE” in MIDI keyboards by Native Instrument KOMPLETE KONTROL, where it is impossible to play a wrong note, even if you randomly click on the buttons. Here, a touch “smart strip” surface is used instead of keys. The touch of a finger or its moving change the pitch within a given chord or fret. With using the pads, you can quickly configure necessary chords for each of the strips.

The “MACRO” mode allows to adjust the assigned parameters of the Macro Controls panel. In the “LEVEL” mode, the strips adjust a volume level and panorama. The “AUX” mode switches you on bus channel AUX1 and AUX2.  The “CONTROL” mode can be managed the basic settings of the plugins. In the “AUTO” mode the automation of all the adjustable parameters becomes available.

It is worth noting that a very interesting “LOCK” mode allows to make up to sixty-four global snapshots of all the project settings and switch between them instantly or gradually, through a synchronized tempo morphing. This feature is particularly relevant in performances with elements of improvisation and it allows to shift during the project in any order and always return to the original point if something went wrong.

The “TUNE” and “SWING” modes are placed as separate buttons for convenience and quick access to the modes.

The illuminated buttons of the transport panel are placed at the bottom of the controller. Their main functions are listed on the buttons and, here, an explanation is not needed. Holding “SHIFT” additional management capabilities become available, the functions of which are indicated above the buttons.

The navigation through the project and library is done by using the encoder and a four-way cross D-pad in the MASCHINE software. The cursor can be conveniently switched on the program menu and in most cases allows to do it without a mouse.

The section of signal display is placed on the right side of the controller. It gives an opportunity of separate monitoring and adjusting the level of the bus master, of selected group, an input signal and the CUE channel.

The case is made of plastic. The bottom has a rubber pad that prevents the device sliding on the surface. The set includes a special stand; with which you can position your device as you want to.

Native Instruments MASCHINE JAM

The connection of the MASCHINE JAM is limited with a USB connector to connect to a computer and with a TRS connector for connection of the pedal. Kensington lock also situated near USB / TRS outputs. The dimensions of the controller are 32 x 29.5 x 3 cm. With such impressive sizes, the weight of the device is relatively small: 2.7 pounds.

Also brand Decksaver never ceases to please us with qualitative optional accessories for your devices protection. Protective Cover for MJ will help you to protect your device from dust in your studio, really useful case which naturally looks with your device, as this protective cover is transparent and made from polycarbonate. Another great accessory is CASEMATIX DJ Armor Travelling Case; whose dimensions allow you to fit Maschine Jam. This case, you can safely put in the luggage during the flight without worrying that your device may be damaged, as the case housing is made of durable materials and foam rubber which is inside the case tightly holding your equipment.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, the MASCHINE 2.5 software cannot be purchased separately, and comes exclusively with the Native Instruments hardware controllers. It definitely had a certain impact on the popularity of the program. One would like the MASCHINE JAM controller to change the current situation of its popularity and contribute to a significant increase of a number of users of this simple but at the same time powerful field. A new device by Native Instruments is very interesting. It has unique features and it is inexpensive. Only the MASCHINE MIKRO controller is cheaper among the devices of this series.

Pros

  • The device is unique in its kind – at the moment there are no analogues.
  • When you use this controller with Maschine software, you get unlimited functionality in perfomance and production, which allows you to organize live performance and live improvisation, as well the controller will ease the process of creating music.
  • Innovative Touch Strips with LED indication.
  • All the other advantages of the device you’ll find in this article (there are so many features that it makes no sense to list them).

Cons

  • Native Instruments engineers have not implemented analog Midi Output (if there was a MIDI output you could manage all your synthesizers and other gear by this controller).
  • Designed for integration only with the Komplete & Maschine software (Of course, you can connect this device with any DAW as a Midi controller – but in this case it’s impossible to unlock the potential of the device at 100%).
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Global NI MASCHINE JAM Rating
  • Overall Build and Features - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Versatility - 9.5/10
    9.5/10
  • Design - 10/10
    10/10
  • Value - 8.7/10
    8.7/10
  • Ease of Use - 7/10
    7/10
8.9/10