Mixbus 3.4 In Action

As I’ve said before, Harrison’s Mixbus is my DAW of choice. Sure, I’ve used ProTools like everybody else. And it works fine, but I don’t exactly love it for a number of reasons. I discovered Mixbus at a Nashville AES event, and was an immediate fan & early adopter. It’s been through a number of versions, the most recent being Mixbus 3.4. I used it to mix a recent live music project. Here’s the workflow:

Since I don’t have a studio anymore, I rarely use Mixbus for tracking. Instead I like to use a dedicated recorder. First choice would be an Otari MX80 or MTR90 2″ 24-track, but I haven’t had access to one of those in a long time… and at about 350 pounds, it isn’t exactly practical for location work. So instead, I used my Sound Devices 664. It can record up to 12 channels, but I did this recording before I got my new CL-12 controller, so six channels is easier… six faders and six XLR inputs. As this was a three-person band, six tracks would work. Track assignments on most tracks were three vocals, bass, kick, and accordion. There were other instruments as well– most notably percussion consisting of a washboard played with toilet brushes and a tambourine that was played by Rachel’s left foot while her right foot played the kick– but these were picked up with the main vocal mic, the Watts Polyribbon , as well as the instrument mics. The other two mics were headworn earwires via a Lectrosonics wireless. Most of my instrument mics were handbuilt large-diaphragm condensers, except for the mandolin and guitar, when I brought out my Oktavia 012.


“Spinsters” location recording session in a burned-out house, summer 2016 in Chattanooga, TN

The final output will be a music video, but it was to be shot in one continuous take. So everything needed to be captured live… no overdubs or punch-ins, just individual track sweetening and mixing. We recorded in a burned-out house, which gave an interesting room sound. It was kind of reflective, but not in the usual sense. No soft surfaces anywhere, since most of them burned, but there were lots of irregular surfaces to break up standing waves. A fairly short reverb time, not a huge space, but nice high ceilings. Hard to describe, other than to say it was an interesting, nice space.

Once the capture was complete, I brought it home to mix. My preference is to do all the editing in the box, then use a multi channel interface to output the individual tracks to my rebuilt Soundcraft 800. But again the practicalities of space and weight rear their heads… the mixer is up in Nashville and all my other gear is in storage, so for simplicity’s sake I’ll mix this on my desktop. My audio computer consists of a Mac Mini with a 3TB thunderbolt external drive for the audio. I have a Universal Audio Apollo Twin interface that I use as a monitor controller and a dongle for my UA plugins (you have to have some kind of Universal Audio hardware connected in order to get the plugins to work.) UA plugins are somewhat expensive, but they work well and are far cheaper than their hardware equivalents… I like them a lot. My main reverb is the EMT140 plate, though I’ve got the Lexicon 224 plugin on my watchlist… I’m waiting for a good sale!

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The mixbus screenshot for “mule.” This one was a pretty simple mix since there are only four tracks… two vocals, guitar and bass.

The reason I’m such a Mixbus fan is that it looks and feels like an analog mixer. Each input channel has a full EQ section and an onboard compressor, just as Harrison’s analog mixers had. I can import individual WAV files from the 664 and it opens up an 8 channel mix surface in Mixbus. (Update: Just this morning I purchased Harrison’s new Mixbus 32C, which is their newest version of Mixbus. It functions in a similar manner to the standard Mixbus, but features an exact emulation of the Harrison X32 console, with expanded EQ, filtering, and compression options. Watch for a review once I’ve had a chance to thouroughly test it out.)

“Mule” was a pretty simple song to mix, as there were only two vocal mics (my handbuilt LDCs), a guitar mic (Oktavia 012), and an upright bass (Watts Polyribbon), The first two tracks in the screenshot are muted– these are the field mixes from the 664, not used in the final mix. Rachel Vox is a harmony track, Amelia sings lead on this song. I added a little brightness to her vocal and guitar using Harrison’s EQ, then smoothed out the levels a bit with some compression. The only plugin I used was the EMT140 plate, which I tried not to overdo… remember, this is for video, and it might look weird to have lots of post effects in the mix. But this is a slow ballad, so I felt it needed little more ‘verb than the other songs.

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Izotope RX5 Advanced screenshot. While some of these tools are available as plugins, I bought the standalone version, which has more capabilities. I’m hooked on the de-noise and de-plosive modules, which fixed problems that were unfixable in the past.

This song has some quiet passages, and noise from outside the house was more noticeable. Windows were broken in the fire, the house is on a fairly busy street, and nearby AC units all added together to give us more background noise than I’d have liked. RX5 Advanced is the answer to this problem, so I exported the mix as a FLAC and opened this in RX5.

I bought this program for noise reduction and sweetening of voice narration, but it works great in this application as well. I used the spectral de-noise module to learn a short sample of the ambient noise at the end of the track, and applied this profile to the entire song. It worked like a charm. Every time I use this program, I’m amazed at the results. It has lots of other functions and capabilities, but I left most of this alone, as I didn’t want to overprocess the song. I exported this as a WAV file.

To finalize the track, I opened it in Adobe Soundbooth CS5. Adobe abandoned this program when they went to CS6, but I’ve always found it great to use, especially for cleanup, editing, etc. I trimmed the head and the tail, added fade in and fade out, and saved as an MP3 (which Izotope can’t do). Job done… here’s the audio track:

I’ll post the video as soon as it becomes available.


Reel: Delta Airlines

Here’s another piece that I recently worked on for Delta Airlines with Seftel/Smartypants Pictures. Location audio by Atlanta mixer  Jay Ticer and myself.

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Reel: American Masters “The Highwaymen-Friends Til The End”

I recorded several of the interview segments for this show by Jim Brown Productions- John Carter Cash, Reggie Young, and Marty Stuart. Great fun to work on this one!



Marty Stuart during an interview


Me with Reggie Young, one of the original Nashville Cats.

Reel: Delta Mother’s Day

Here’s a recent project that I worked on for Seftel/Smartypants Pictures. This was a one-day shoot with two crews, and included footage for two web spots. Location sound was provided by myself and Atlanta mixer Jay Ticer.


Izotope RX5 Advanced

I’ve recently installed a new, very powerful noise reduction software package, RX5 Advanced. It’s a 2-track spectral repair and mastering program that has some abilities that are pretty amazing. It’s not exactly a miracle worker… it can’t take poorly-recorded audio and magically make it good. But it can improve a lot of problem files, some of them dramatically.


Since I’ve just started using it, there are a lot of features that I’ve only started to explore. But what I’ve seen so far is is really fun. The display is a spectrograph, where frequency is displayed on the Y axis (up and down), time on the X axis (left to right), and intensity as brightness… louder sounds are brighter. A standard waveform is overlaid in blue, and there’s a slide that lets you adjust the display for pure spectrogram, pure waveform, or anything in between. The end result is a lot of information about your file that you can quickly and easily understand. For example, see the horizontal bands in the lower right corner? That’s a train horn in the distance. The darker bands before and after the loudest parts of the file are where I’ve applied the denoise module… this file was recorded outdoors, and there was  interstate noise in the distance that sounds a lot like white noise. The program was able to learn the background noise and reduce it significantly, while not affecting the direct voice signal much at all… extremely useful.

The program has tons of other features that I haven’t had a chance to try yet but promise to be useful. For example, there’s an ambience match that can add “room tone” to a voice track that was recorded on location. I can think of a half dozen times when the de-reverb module would have come in handy.

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“Adaptive Phase Rotation” module

One of my favorite modules so far is the Adaptive Phase Rotation feature. This fixes a typically pesky problem of asymmetric waveforms, where there is more amplitude on one side of the infinity line at the center of the screen than the other. Sonically it isn’t a problem and sounds fine, but it robs you of headroom… when you normalize, one side of the waveform limits the amplitude, and your signal is overall slightly lower. (Besides, it bugs me to have a lopsided waveform. I like my waveforms neat and tidy.) With this module, one click corrects the problem without affecting the sound of your signal.

Right now I’m running it on my little 2.6gHz Mac Mini with 8gb of memory. It does OK on the internal drive, but some of the processes take a few minutes on long files (like declicking a 2-sided album). I’ve ordered a 3TB 7200rpm Thunderbolt hard drive that will be dedicated to audio only, and I’ll probably up the memory to 16gb (max for the Mac Mini) first chance I get.

There is so much more that this program can do, it would take weeks to go over it all. And I’m just getting started. But it’s a GREAT tool to have in my audio arsenal, and I’m looking forward to offering it to clients (and generating some additional revenue with it.)

Building a Polyribbon

I just returned fro Watts Engineering where Les and I ran some final checks on the Polyribbon. It’s heading up to Vintage King in Chicago for some more testing.

Polyribbon tests completed

I’ve just completed testing of the Polyribbon that Les sent me, and it’s ready to go. This is easily the finest sounding ribbon microphone that I’ve ever heard. The older RCA77 series suffered from a lack of high end, but this design corrects that deficiency with a response well past 18k. Low output voltage was also a problem, requiring lots of preamp gain (and increasing the preamp self-noise.) This mic comes in at a little hotter than an SM57.

The pattern selector switch is what makes this mic truly unique. This mic can be set to fig 8 like a traditional ribbon, supercardioid, or omni. In figure 8, the side rejection nulls are extremely deep… the mic only hears reflections from the room walls. Try vocals in supercardioid, the side rejection is good, though not as deep as fig 8. A small back lobe lets in some room reflections for a very natural sound. The omni setting has some high-frequency attenuation in the back side of the mic due to the shadow effect of the headbasket.

Proximity effect can be considerable with ribbon mics, and it varies with the pattern on this mic. A two position low cut inductor is provided to help with the equalization. At the max cut position (full clockwise), the filter is calibrated for a flat response at 300mm. The supercardioid setting exhibits moderate proximity effect, there’s a less aggressive filter setting for this. Omni exhibits no proximity effect.

I haven’t gotten this in front of some talent yet… I can’t wait to get to Nashville. Upright bass through this thing should be a signal to die for, as well as vocals. Sax would probably be pretty nuts as well.


The first production Watts Polyribbon in its case.