I’ve recently started working with a new software package that I stumbled upon at the Nashville AES recording workshop. It’s not something you’ll see full-page ads about in the magazines, and some folks might think of it as an audio professional’s “secret weapon.” But if you work with professional audio, you should definitely check it out.
At $79, Harrison’s MixBus package is a heck of a good deal… even better than Audacity, which is free. But only if you own a Macintosh system, since it’s a Mac- or Linux-only application. While it is very good, Audacity isn’t a pro-level program, and Mixbus definitely is. I had trouble getting an early version of Audacity to run on my Mac, though that was awhile ago. It’s probably different now.
Harrison is a small company in Nashville that makes very high-quality consoles for broadcast and studio use. I’ve use one once, for a telethon, and it was a REALLY nice board. Like most top-level console makers these days, they have branched into digital consoles, and MixBus is an extension of that experience.
What makes MixBus different is that it is designed from a console maker’s perspective, as opposed to a computer programmer’s point of view. As such, it has a great many of the same functions as other DAWs, but the interface and implementation of those functions is markedly different. The interface has a definite analog look and feel, and it certainly sounds terrific.
A screenshot of the Harrison MixBus DAW. It looks a lot like an analog console, an a large monitor can be an advantage.
Each input channel has a Harrison EQ and compression, and tape saturation controls are available on busses. These features would usually require a plug-in on another DAW, and these programs usually cost more than the entire MixBus package. (there are, of course, piles of other features and capabilities to this program that I don’t have room to mention here. Learn more about them from Harrison’s wesite,)
The reason that I think MixBus is a “secret weapon” is from something I overheard at the AES conference. A well-kown and highly-skilled mixer was complaining about losing income to clients that pay for a single song to be mixed, then lift all his or her settings in ProTools and apply them to an entire album. By working in MixBus, there is a competitive advantage since you’re working in a program that everybody and his brother doesn’t already have. (of course, there’s still a potential problem since MixBus is so affordable. It’s based on the Ardour software framework, which is open-source as well, so this program should start appearing all over the place. But for now, not very many people have heard about it, and those that have seem to be keeping their cards close to their chest.)
The Downside: … and this is a disavantage only f you’re a PC person… it’s Mac- or Linux-only. It’s yet another reason to buy a Macintosh, which may not be the best for everybody, especially those who have invested heavily in the latest PC hardware. The documentation isn’t nearly as comprehensive as other DAWs, like Logic or ProTools. There is a $20 video that is available, and this is a huge help, and Ardour has a free print user’s guide PDF that you can find here:
(UPDATE: I have re-formatted this manual for a printer-friendly version so you can work with a hardcopy while the program is running. I’ve also added Mixbus-specific sections. I wouldn’t call this a Mixbus manual quite yet, since I’m not an expert with the program and there are still some questions I have that this document doesn’t answer. But it’s a start. I’ll email a PDF to any Mixbus owner who requests it… just send me an email with the program serial number to BGilbertSound at gmail dot com.)
If you have zero experience with DAWs, this might be difficult at first. MixBus has a lot of flexibility… you can configure it to suit your workflow, not the program’s… and there is at least some expectation that you know what you’re doing on a basic level. But if you stick with it, you may find that analog-style methods make a lot of sense for audio production, and this is an effective way to get work done.
- Extremely affordable given the feature set (though this pricing is expected to increase).
- Analog look and feel.
- Logical workflow for old-school mixers.
- Great sound.
- Different from the usual ProTools pack, makes your work a little harder to lift.
- (if you’re a Mac owner) Macintosh-native, not a rewrite of PC software. As a result it’s quite stable. (This also prevents lifting your work, at least by 75% of the usual suspects.)
I’m working on my own set of “MixBus Notes” that I’ll make available here if I can find the time to complete them. But for now, I can recommend this program highly… buy it while you can, but keep it a secret! The MixBus website is here:
MixBus review in Mix Magazine: http://mixonline.com/gear/reviews/audio_harrison_mixbus_daw/
Note: I have no financial connection of any kind with Harrison… I just bought the program an like it a lot, and I like to support smaller US companies that make great products. When they make great stuff and sell it at a great price, then it’s a double win. This is not to say that I’m above selling out to da man… Harrison is welcome to send a console, I’ll take a Series Twelve, thanks very much… I just haven’t been the happy recipient of corporate largesse up to now. I’ll let you know when that changes 😉