Native Instruments is legendary for its synth sounds and production software. But, the Berlin-based company has also built a reputation for excellence with its hardware controllers, and the Maschine Mikro Mk3 is no exception.

For the purposes of this review, I’ll be discussing the Mikro in the context of building beats. Keep in mind though, it’s equally adept at any kind of music – it’s even a great device for filmmakers who want to score their own movies but don’t know how to play all the instruments in an orchestra.

But, for me, it’s a drum machine.

And, as far as drum machines go, there’s the Akai MPC60 – a device that deserves to be inducted into the Hip Hop Hall of Fame – and there’s everything that came after it. Native Instruments’ Maschine Mikro falls into the latter category, obviously, but it does so with an apparent respect for the gear that came before it.

Akai’s MPC60 was created in response to increasingly cluttered studios that relied on multiple pieces of gear with dozens of knobs, switches, and sliders to shape sounds. Producers didn’t want furniture-sized gear anymore – especially those who primarily wanted to work with samples. So the MPC got rid of all the extraneous stuff and focused on a layout that worked for beat makers.

Fast-forward to present-day music gear, and we’re seeing the bloat return. Even Native Instruments’ own gear was starting to become a bit “bell and whistle-y” for everyone but the power users. But the new Mikro model seems to pay homage to the spirit of Akai’s MPC by reducing clutter and eschewing unnecessary doo-dads (for the most part anyway).

This thing is gorgeous when the lights are on. But, when the power’s off, it’s just a hunk of black plastic with a bunch of square white buttons on it. And, oddly, I kind of like that about it.

Maybe it’s because I know Native Instruments is a German-based company, and that makes me think of precision engineering, but it feels like the Mikro is conserving energy when it’s turned off. Not in the sense of saving power, but in the sense of a lion resting while it watches a herd of gazelle trot by, waiting for the moment to unleash its power.

I know that’s a bit hyperbolic, but I’ve watched this thing go through its colorful light-up sequence at least once a day for the past two or three weeks and it brings me joy every time. It wants me to make beats with it.

Let’s talk about some specifications and the user experience:

  • Dimensions: Width 320 mm / 12.6″, Length 177 mm / 6.96″, Height 45 mm / 1.77″, Weight 1.12 kg / 2.47 lbs
  • Software: 1.6 GB MASCHINE Factory Selection with samples, one-shots, loops, sample instruments, presets, patterns, drum kits, and songs
  • Effects: 25 including filter, EQ, delay, reverb, and compressor
  • Input: 16 velocity-sensitive pads
  • Dual-touch Smart Strip
  • Powered via USB 2.0
  • System requirements: macOS 10.12, 10.13, 10.14 (latest update), Intel Core i5, 4 GB RAM / Windows 10 (latest update, 64-bit), Intel Core i5 or equivalent CPU, 4 GB RAM
  • Supported Interfaces: Stand-alone, VST2 (64-bit), Audio Units (64-bit), AAX 64, ASIO, CoreAudio, and WASAPI.

First off, the Mikro isn’t a standalone beat machine by any means. It doesn’t even come with an AC adapter — you power it via USB from your desktop or laptop. So, if you’re looking for something you can toss in a backpack and use by itself: this isn’t for you. It also doesn’t have a headphone jack or anywhere for you to plug your monitors into.

You’ll need a computer with it, but because it’s USB-powered you can use it anywhere you can take a laptop. And it has an incredibly small footprint, so it’s really not too big of a deal to carry it around.

And, if you’re a producer who doesn’t like the distraction of a screen, the Mikro is actually the device for you.

I know that sounds counter-intuitive considering you have to have it connected to a computer. But, once I got my bearings, it was easy to do most of what I wanted to do using the tiny LED screen on the Mikro. I barely ever glanced up at the laptop screen. And I didn’t miss the big colorful dual screens of the Maschine mk3 at all.