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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  • Dan

    hm. firm but fair, i think i’ll stick with cubase.

  • Behindtheboards

    I actually like this software but I do see where you’re coming from. What I like most about it is the ‘feel’, which i don’t think you get from logic.

  • Anonymous

    About: “…Mixbus obviously isn’t designed for cut and paste jobs. In fact, it starts to become clear that Mixbus is really designed with one use in mind – mixing…”: This is in fact not true at all. It have loads of functions for editing and it does what it can really great. Did you read the manual? :-)

    And about three button mouses: -Apple don’t ship with external MIDI controls either, so I don’t by that kind of arguments. To add stuff such as controllers, mouses, and of course soundards to a stock machine is a perfectly normal thing to do.

    Jostein

  • Nitro

    Very subjective review. 

  • Fordk79

    All I really care for is the sound of this as create in Ableton Live and then bounce the stems into this program.The sound, Eq, Compressor, and Saturation effects are the best I’ve heard.

  • Sam Tantino

    I guess based on this review that we can expect thousands more flat-sounding, overly compressed, lossy, lifeless “ableton live” sounding crap from producers that care about workflow (and mass produced “loop-based” clones) more than quality sound and achieving lifelike.

    Wasn’t great sound the reason we all got into this in the first place? We went to battle with huge consoles, spaghettiesque wiring and slicing up 42-inch tape with razor blades spending countless hours working to achieve the best sound we could.

    Please, spend some more time with software before you give it a bad review.

    You dont NEED to install jack. it allows you to route things between DAWs (similar to rewire) you can then use Live’s midi functionality (and if you’re a masochist, abysmal sound engine). Try starting mixbus sans jack. you’ll realize you don’t know jack about jack.

    Difficult to set up? Have you used ProTools or even Logic for that matter and not had to add compressors (deal with lousy side chaining), EQ, filter plugins, etc. before getting something sounding decent? And how long is it that you regularly use them now? So, the learning curve is gone but you refuse to put it some effort for warmer, more human sound.

    Personally I use all analog gear (808, 909, DSI prophet, doepfer modular) through a soundtracs solo board with all outboard analog gear and send the end result through a reel to reel before it gets destroyed by beatport and the like. (current digital distribution being what it is i have no voice in that matter)

    I understand that not everyone has the access to what I have or the money to furnish a studio like mine (although its never too early to start saving up for gear. these are investments in your artform, no??) However there are options in the digital realm that are less damaging and add so much to the end result that the extra labor involved makes it well worth it. Possibly the version you used was lackluster but it was still pretty solid when i first tested it.

    Keep doing what you do. writing a blog. I focus on writing, mixing music and editing music. When I on a plane last weekend I used MixBus to do all three.

    How? I read the manual.

    Cheers

    P.S. I don’t work for Harrison

    • http://www.ohdratdigital.com Chris

      Hi Sam, thanks for taking time to comment.

      Mixbus is a fork of Ardour, an open source DAW that costs next to nothing. Essentially what Harrison have done is use their experience in analogue audio to build software for their ‘sound’, the same way that Waves, Universal Audio, and the like create plugins to emulate the quirks of analogue gear. Rather than build them as plugins, though, they have put them directly inside a DAW and integrated them into the GUI so that the experience can be hassle free and standalone.

      Most modern DAWs have an extremely transparent audio engine, which allows plugins to be in charge of colouring the sounds that are inside them. Mixbus’s approach is to ‘force’ the user to use the colouration that Harrison have worked into the software – technically this is a more ‘damaging’ approach to software creation than pristine digital audio reproduction, but the ‘damage’ is a desired effect. You use a lot of subjective words to describe the sound you’re trying to achieve, like ‘human’ and lifelike’, and I think the design of Mixbus appeals to you because it more closely analogises the hardware that you’re used to and makes signal flow decisions for you to give you the qualities that you’re subjectively seeking.

      I have to say there’s something of a self congratulatory air about what you’ve written, and you’ve also made some pretty broad assumptions to argue your point. For instance, your contention that I ‘refuse’ to put in effort in music production is unfounded and wrong, and your point about using software effects seems a tad muddled. It’s also a little confusing; do you shy away from all digital equipment because you prefer the sound of your 100% analogue process, or have you embraced digital recording and thus gotten into using an ADC stage and mixing on Mixbus?

      With regard to Jack, it is possible (and seems so from their literature) that Harrison have developed more driver support for audio since we reviewed Mixbus, when Jack was a required step on OSX. If this is the case I’ll endeavour to update the review.

  • Houseosound

    I’ve always mixed in Nuendo, and as per a few comments here it takes a lot of work to make mixes sound “analog”. If this DAW can do this for amateurs then I say good! Less overly compressed, lossy, lifeless tracks! This software bodes well for the masses.

  • Houseosound

    I’ve always mixed in Nuendo, and as per a few comments here it takes a lot of work to make mixes sound “analog”. If this DAW can do this for amateurs then I say good! Less overly compressed, lossy, lifeless tracks! This software bodes well for the masses.

  • james

    I agree 100%. Good sound or not, it’s a pos designed by someone with no background in music whatever imho.

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