Review: Harrison Mixbus 2

It’s not hugely inaccurate to say that modern DAWs are pretty similar when it comes to feature sets. Sure, Live has its non linear sequencer, Cubase integrates VST3.5 to enable deeper connection to plugins, Logic has an infinitely adjustable macro environment, and so on and so forth, but the bricks and mortar tick list of things they do and how they do them is largely the same. Harrison see this and dare to be different; Mixbus aims to be a much more faithful representation of an analogue studio in a box.


REQUIREMENTS:

Mac OSX (10.4+) or Linux x32/x64

Version Reviewed: 2.0.2

 

PROS:
  • Good sound
  • Quick internal mixing workflow
CONS:
  • Difficult to set up
  • Doesn’t work well with MIDI
  • Editor weak compared to competition
Price at Review: $219Unfortunately the cons outweigh the pros for Mixbus 2, with clumsy interface and set up meaning that the good sound it’s capable of just doesn’t cut it.

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Before we start, an important distinction needs to be made; Mixbux IS a DAW, but in the most basic sense of the word. Compared to major competitors, which have added more and more MIDI sequencing functionality as years have gone by, Mixbus feels pretty stripped back without any bells or whistles. What you get with Mixbus is a multi track audio sequencer that’s been set up to emulate an analogue environment – virtual analogue mixer and all.

Right out of the gate, Mixbus has some obstacles to overcome before you can even use it for the first time. Compared to more or less every other piece of music software for the Mac that seamlessly integrates Core Audio and Core MIDI, having to install and configure Jack – a virtual audio patchbay – and MIDI Patchbay – one for MIDI – before you begin immediately counts against Mixbus.

there’s no doubt that having EQ and compression available on each channel strip allows for a very quick start to the mixing process

Harrison’s vision obviously extended further than simply developing their software as plugins and into the idea that the entire analgue experience is what makes mixing with their consoles special. We couldn’t help but see that as somewhat flawed though, considering that be that as it may Mixbus IS a digital solution no matter how much you skin the GUI to look like a traditional desk. What Harrison have tried to do is apply their knowledge of both workflow and sound quality tips and tricks to the DAW, and there’s no doubt that having EQ and compression available on each channel strip allows for a very quick start to the mixing process.

We tested the output of Mixbus against Logic 9, and found that an eight track sum, with all levels at flat, Logic sounds more transparent and true to the component tracks than Mixbus but Mixbus’s mix was slightly better composed in the bassiest areas of the session. Both sessions needed the master fader altering by the same amount to avoid going into the red, but Mixbus’s going into the red sounded, by design, a little easier on the ear.

We do like the way that throughout the signal chain the pseudo soft clipping and overloading is maintained throughout, and you can push levels into a hollow, distorted mess easily enough but will never hear the tell tale signs of digital clipping. Relying solely on your ears is a little strange at first, as sitting in front of a computer screen and mixing digitally has always come with a certain workflow, but it’s a method that those of you who’ve never gotten on with DAW mixing’s technical nature will likely find refreshing.

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Opolopo

Interview: Opolopo

Opolopo is a Swedish music producer whose soul laced productions span sounds from house and disco to funk and boogie and mesh wonderfully and very musically somewhere in the ether. We caught up with him ahead of a very busy release schedule with EPs and a remix LP for three different labels as well as a sample CD at the end of summer to figure out what inspires him, get some pro tips, and talk about the difference between music and simply groups of sounds…

Oh Drat: How’s your day been?

Opolopo: It’s been good – I’m just messing around with video now…

“why would you care what you use or how you use it as long as the end results are there?”

OD: Oh okay, is that something you do quite often when it comes to music – looking at the whole in terms of video and so on?

O: Well I dunno… people posting things up on blogs and facebook and stuff like if there’s some kind of video footage to go with it, it’s more interesting for people and grabs their attention more. We don’t have the nice artwork and record sleeves anymore so we have to provide some other kind of visual eye candy, I guess!

OD: Is that something that always comes after the music is finished for you, or do the two ever work side by side, so to speak?

O: I’ve never really… I’ve been messing a little with it before but it’s always been like an afterthought I guess – ‘ this track would be nice if it had a little something extra to it’, it’s never been part of the initial process although that would be cool, I like cinematic stuff and I’d love to make music to moving images but in my case I guess it’s been the other way round.

OD: Gotcha. So, I hear when it comes to music you work entirely ‘in the box’?

O: Yeah, that’s true….

OD: In a way that’s surprising because of the style of sound you achieve, and also because many of your contemporaries (stylistically) seem to have a lot of outboard stuff – how do you approach doing things totally in the box?

O: Well… I find it quite amusing actually because there’s always a debate going on with the heads and gear geeks about analogue this and digital that, MP3 vs. vinyl and all that, and to a certain point I find that interesting too but really I can’t be bothered – to me it’s about the end product and what comes out, so why would you care what you use or how you use it as long as the end results are there? I used to use hardware like everybody else, synths and mixers and whatnot, but for me it was so liberating when the plugins actually started sounding good. In the beginning everything was kinda thin and aliasing but these days I find that if you use them right the plugins sound  really good and it makes me more creative because if I imagine something I know how to achieve it and it’s easy to do the automation stuff, and having everything in one project file so you can work on multiple projects at the same time, it’s so easy to just open up a project and everything is exactly where you left it. In the old days I used to take photos of my mixer and EQ settings if I ever needed to recall that mix and it’d take like three hours just to set up the damn track to work on it again (laughs). I really don’t miss that part, but what I do miss is the hands on feel of an analogue synth. If I could justify it economically I would buy every piece of gear available, just for inspiration if nothing else because that is still something different, touching, feeling something and it making an immediate sound when you twist a knob and all that.

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Sonivox - Twist

Sonivox announce Twist – Spectral Morphing Synth

Ever feel like modern synthesisers are giving you just too many things to tweak, modulate, learn and get confused by? Sonivox’s latest synth could be for you.

Twist features just five main knobs

Twist features just five main knobs, which appear to change the spectral map of the sound generators, as well as a pattern sequencer and onboard delay, chorus, and reverb. We’re starting to get used to synths that experiment with more than classic subtractive synthesis as computing power gets to the point where huge amounts of processing can be dedicated to single instruments (Native Instruments’ Razor, reviewed here, for example), and thus allowing drastic and previously unimaginable modulations with simple tweaks. Time will tell whether we love Twist’s simplicity; the below video shows how it can sound like both a recognisable tone and at the same time morph into something a little more avant garde – we’re not sure whether the drums are part of Twist’s capabilities or even the science behind the synthesis right now, but all will become clear in our forthcoming review…

IK Multimedia iRig MIDI

IK Multimedia Announce iRig MIDI

Devices attempting to solidify the music production capable status of iPad, iPhone, and iPod are trickling onto the market.

iRig MIDI plugs directly into the iDevice’s interface socket and enables MIDI in, out, and thru, as well as a USB connection for power

We’ve got an Alesis io4 in testing at the moment – review to follow this week – and IK Multimedia have just announced their iRig MIDI, a small, convenient, and low cost device that plugs directly into the iDevice’s interface socket and enables MIDI in, out, and thru, as well as a USB connection for power. 5 pin DIN breakout cables are hooked up via 3.5mm sockets to keep the size of the unit to a minimum, and the package also promises to come with a special iOS version of IK’s Sampletank with 1GB of samples. With no firm release date yet, the iRig MIDI promises that it’s coming soon, and at a not unreasonable price of $69.99USD/€54.99… We’ll be sure to give you the low down when we get one for testing.

Miranda Rae

The Questions: Miranda Rae

Miranda Rae is an incredibly talented singer, songwriter and musician, whose haunting, soulful voice has been heard on an ever increasing pool of music. Initially forming Sleepover with Charlie Astro, Miranda has since taken on the Sleepover mantle for her own works. Seeming to work effortlessly across a variety of styles, we wanted to get her perspective on The Questions. Make sure to check out the original, stunning EP The Sun from Sleepover, and her collaboration with P3RIPH3RAL below…

Name: Miranda Rae

The name of the first song I was really proud of was called: “Upstairs” –first finished song ever. I wrote it about ghosts and zombies… acoustic guitar’n’violin style.

Most fun person I’ve ever worked with: Most fun? ah! well I really have had a great time working with producer Chresten Hyde during my last few days in Chicago where I used to live. We would get together and play around for hours, coming up with ideas and noodling melody lines. Recording with him was fun too. He is get a wide variety of vocal “takes” out of me– asking for different deliveries and motivations and such. It was very expressive and engaging.

Each [producer] gives me a different musical landscape to explore, and I get to color them in with lyrics and melody

But, every time I work with a producer it is always fun.. Each person gives me a different musical landscape to explore, and I get to color them in with lyrics and melody… And coloring has always been fun for me!

Best musical advice I’ve ever been given: Slow down!!! (I tend to rush everything with my hyped nature).

A piece of gear I couldn’t live without: My Blue Yeti USB mic. It’s so easy to plug in and instantly record ideas and fleeting melodies …

A piece of gear I wish I could live without: anything beyond a mic and computer…..

My studio environment in three words: Usually. My. Bedroom.

A song I wish I’d written: Such Great Heights.

If I could do it all again, I’d: I would have left Chicago earlier….. I had amazing training and experience there.. but it would have been great to receive education in a city where I wanted to live post-school…. On the flip side however, I would never have collaborated with some of my favorite projects. Every where you are there are good opportunities.

Miranda Rae: Site / Facebook / Twitter

White Noise w/ P3RIPH3RAL – DEMO by mirandarae

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Review: Native Instruments Vintage Compressors

Compressors are in that overlapping area of the venn diagram of sound design between practical engineering and musical effect; a compressor’s primary function is to control the dynamics of a signal, but the myriad ways in which a compressor can be made to keep that signal under control can have huge implications on the character of the sound on its way out. A realistic sounding emulation of classic analogue compression, where level attenuation is achieved with valve, VCA, and transistor circuits and thus adds character and warmth to sounds, has been the holy grail of software emulation for some time. Have Native Instruments found it in the Vintage Compressors bundle?


REQUIREMENTS:

Windows XP/Vista/7 or Mac OSX and a VST/AU/RTAS compatible host

Version Reviewed: 1.0

PROS:
  • Each model sounds great for something different
  • Sidechain compatibility
  • Good CPU usage
CONS:
  • No auto gain makes A/B comparing level changes harder
  • Just one more model would have really blown away competition
Price at Review: €199The Vintage Compressors collection comprises three plugins that work well subtly, as an overblown effect, and everywhere inbetween. If you like one, you’ll like them all, and there’s space for one in just about every project.

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Vintage Compressors is a bundle of three separate plugins, each running inside NI’s Guitar Rig hosting architecture (which, given the number of distinctly non guitar focused effects it’s been host to lately, we suspect may well receive some brand refreshing before too long). Modelled in collaboration with Softube after classic analogue compressors, one of the first things you’ll notice about the three – VC 160, VC 76 and VC 2A (virtualisations of the DBX 160, Urei 1176, and Telectronix LA-2A, respectively) – is that their interfaces are very clean.

one of the advantages of analogue equipment is the opportunity to avoid getting bogged down into decimalised number crunching and tweaking ad nauseum; the impetus to use your ears not your eyes to control the devices is further propelled by the VU meters

That’s not to say they’re spartan, though, as aesthetically they’re definitely very eye pleasing, refined looking units, but one of the advantages of analogue equipment is the opportunity to avoid getting bogged down into decimalised number crunching and tweaking ad nauseum; the impetus to use your ears not your eyes to control the devices is further propelled by the VU meters on the units. The VC 2A simply has a compress/limit switch, gain stage and a compression (measured by percentage rather than ratio) stage, the VC 160 adds an adjustable threshold, and the VC 76 has adjustable attack and release as well. That’s not all though, as rather than follow the original designs to a, in some respects, impotent tee the bods at Softube and NI have wisely endowed their new toys with side chain capabilities – in the case of the VC 2A and 160, with an additional low cut.

So, the Vintage Compressors collection is designed to be a go to suite for helping your audio come through the mix and give it character with minimal fuss. Let’s have a look at how each sound in turn…

 The VC 2A is a very simple unit based on electro-optical tube technology, and the compression is fairly transparent with quite mild attack and release characteristics that do get tighter as sound pressure increases. Because it’s so simple to use – just figure out how much peak reduction you can get away with for the sound you’re trying to achieve and tweak input to match, it’s tempting to try it on just about everything, just to see how it sounds. Pushing the input level (being careful to dip the channel mixer in our DAW) allowed us to make crisper sounding drums purr and round out, but in general the VC 2A’s strength lies in smoothing out signals without sounding forced – so it’s great for vocals and miked acoustic instruments.

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Cableguys Curve

Cableguys Update Curve to 1.4

Remember our review of Curve by Cableguys? We really liked it, but one of our main gripes with the synth was that there was no true mono or legato mode. In their quest to keep improving their software based on community feedback, Cableguys have updated Curve to 1.4 and really gone to town on the feature.

most interestingly, glide can be set per oscillator

Glide mode can be set to proportional, allowing for more natural sounding portamento effects, and most interestingly glide can be set per oscillator, a feature that’s really rarely seen and should lead to some really interesting sounds. Remember to check out our review here, and head over to the Cableguys site to get some more info and a demo

An Eternal Soul OST

An Eternal Soul OST

The Oh Drat podcast is still simmering in the pot, and so this week’s music post is the terrific Eternal Soul OST, the sound track to the forthcoming documentary on late Japanese producer Nujabes by Abe Spiegel.

 An Eternal Soul OST is  the sound track to the forthcoming documentary on late Japanese producer Nujabes

Nujabes was a prolific Japanese producer who was tragically killed following a traffic accident in February last year, and tracks featured on this sound track echo his jazzy style from a variety of contemporary producers; our favourites are the wonderfully emotive piano melodies on the intro and outro tracks produced by Witness. Get information on the documentary’s progress from the An Eternal Soul tumblr…

Panther God

The Questions: Panther God

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Panther God is a DJ, producer and head of Oh Drat favourite label Circuitree Records. His style is healthily multi faceted, with the foundations of hip hop and dubstep layered with UK garage and lo-fi, and his latest release Touch and Feel, featured below, experiments with four on the floor techno and rave sound. We were itching to find out his answers to The Questions…

“I don’t know why anyone even bothers with the analog vs. digital discussion”

Name: Panther God

The name of the first song I was really proud of was called: “I Broke My Neck In Africa”  It’s a tune I wrote five years ago, all in one sitting, using the MPC and some vinyl samples.  It took about 8 hours and when I finished it, I literally collapsed onto the floor as a result of exhaustion.  It’s a tune I can still listen to, one that probably makes no sense from a music theory perspective, but is pleasing nonetheless.

Most fun person I’ve ever worked with:  Maybe Charlie Astro.  He’s the type of guy who can write a sketch for a new tune while you’re in the bathroom, giving one the sense that even collaborating with him is a just a matter of social exercise rather than necessary artistic practice for him.  Also Kent Hernandez aka Kentsoundz, who is a fantastic producer and lyrical coach.  He can pull vocalists up to their own next level with ease.  That’s a fun thing to witness.

Best musical advice I’ve ever been given:  “Work on projects, rather than just separate songs.” Mr. Len of Company Flow told me this at a show.  It makes a lot of sense although I have trouble thinking that way.

A piece of gear I couldn’t live without:  My Juno 106.  The older I get the more I love it.  I really am not a fan of digital or software synths.  If the knobs aren’t tactile, most of the time I’m not having fun.  Plus, analog gear does sound better…It’s not hard to prove.  I’ve got a VST Juno ensemble in Reaktor that sounds nowhere near as “good” as my real one.  I don’t know why anyone even bothers with the analog vs. digital discussion.  It’s baffling.

A piece of gear I wish I could live without:  Ableton Live.  I use it for everything these days and actually hate how CPU is always an issue with it.  I can’t even finish most tracks I start on it because mixing becomes impossible with all the audio dropouts and stuttering.  If and when it becomes 64 bit I’m hoping it’ll run smoother.  In the meantime I’m thinking of doing most of the processing outside of Live, running layers through hardware amps, compressors, filters, delays, etc.  It’s not cheap to do so, but probably worth the effort time and money involved.

My studio environment in three words:  Evolving, lean, impossible!

A song I wish I’d written: Any Burial tune, most Four tet tunes.

If I could do it all again, I’d:  Have kept my mpc, nord, and Boss SP 505, and focused way more on learning music theory that production.  After all production is secondary to the ideas in a track, not the other way around.

Panther God: Site / Twitter / Facebook

Beat Thang

Beat Kangz Release Beat Thang

You may recognise Beat Thang – it’s been in the making for a while and a software version of it has been available for some time. Finally being released, exclusive to Best Buy (we’re not sure whether that’s an entirely good omen), Beat Thang is an entirely portable studio in a box groove machine.

The design of the Beat Thang is… well, it certainly stands out

The design of the Beat Thang is… well, it certainly stands out, for better or worse. There are some bizarre ergonomic decisions, such as the pitch bend and mod wheels on opposite sides of the unit (and we actually mean sides) and a conspicuous lack of tech specs available; at $1499 we’re not sure how much of a bargain it’ll be. Funnily enough in many ways it reminds us of the Yamaha DJX – if you don’t remember it look it up, it was fun but it was definitely a toy. That said, the video below does show that the unit has potential… Unfortunately we won’t be digging in to the Beat Thang to confirm or deny our suspicions, as review units aren’t being sent out. They’re available from Sunday the 17th, though, so if you live in the USA maybe they’ll have some instore demos…

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