Category Archives: Audio Software

Harrison Mixbus Print-Friendly Documentation

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a big Mixbus fan. I don’t get many music mixing jobs, but when I do, I prefer to mix them on Mixbus, since it’s the closest thing to working in my old analog studio (On Line Audio in Charleston, SC) that I can afford. For me, it’s easier, sounds better, and is more fun than fooling with Protools.

Harrison's Mixbus on OSX

But one of Mixbus’ downsides is that since it comes from the relatively small (though famous) console maker Harrison, there isn’t a huge marketing staff that can create a comprehensive print manual. There is an online manual for Ardour, the open-source engine on which Mixbus is based. It’s helpful, but it’s a PDF… which means to use it, you’ve got to have it up on a computer, and switching windows between Mixbus and Acrobat is a bit of a pain. I prefer a real book, open on my lap, with the computer running the program I’m trying to figure out.

After printing out the first few pages of the PDF, I learned this wouldn’t do at all… the document is loaded with full-page screenshots, and the on-screen formatting wastes reams of paper and gallons of ink. So, just for my own use, I re-formatted the document to be more printer-friendly by reducing the type size, adjusting the layout, and cropping and/or shrinking the screenshots down.

Then, just for grins, I added some Mixbus-specific sections and comments for those of us who are using the commercial version of Ardour (Mixbus) rather than the free open-source program (Ardour). The mix windows are very different between the two. Most of this information isn’t new… I rewrote it using the Mixbus quickstart document. And there are still plenty of things I’d like to do with the program that aren’t explained. (#1 on my list is how to print a track with only the output of a plugin… there’s gotta be a way, and it’s probably simple… but it isn’t obvious, at least not to my sucking-in-the-seventies brain.

I figured this might be helpful to other Mixbus users as well, so I’m making this document available free to Mixbus owners. Just send me an email to BGilbertSound at gmail dot com. Include your mixbus serial number. I’ll email you a copy of the PDF. Let me know if you have comments that need to be added, and hopefully the document will grow into a real manual.

Using The EMT 140 Plate Reverb… Sort Of…

I love working with classic audio gear, and I’m lucky enough to be “of a certain age” that I’ve been able to get my hands on some really nice knobs. These knobs almost always belonged to someone else… either recording studio, television station or pressing plant. And once you’ve had a taste of really top-quality gear and enjoyed the benefits, it’s really hard to go back.

But in our brave new economic world, creative jobs with access to nice hardware have seriously dwindled, and the handful of folks who have those jobs generally stay put. So, like most of us, I’ve got to bankroll my own hardware addiction, which means that there are some pieces of gear that are just plain off limits… no matter how nice they sound.

The EMT 140 plate reverb frame. The control electronics were in a separate rack unit in the studio. The plate was often located in a quiet location away from the studio.

For example, let’s consider the EMT 140 plate reverb. One can be bought for about $1500, which isn’t too bad, really. But plate ‘verbs are large, heavy pieces of gear that require a quiet, vibration-free location.  Usually found only in large studios, they were generally installed and left alone. So what’s a starving self-funded engineer/producer to do?

Enter Universal Audio. These folks make plugins that model classic gear, and they are very well done. I’ve had a UAD2 Solo/Laptop co-processor for quite a while now, but haven’t had the chance to use it much. But while mixing a recent location recording for Claire Lynch, her lovely vocals were begging for a second reverb. (The Solo comes with RealVerb Pro, and I was using this for the instruments.) I tried some free/shareware plugins, and although they sounded pretty good, I didn’t like the interfaces… I felt like I was writing Fortran code back in college rather than mixing, and never could get a very musical result. (like I said, I’m “of a certain age.”) I still had a credit with UAD from when I bought the Solo, so I sprung for a software version of the EMT 140 plate reverb.

Universal Audio's EMT 140 plate reverb plugin interface looks similar to the original, it's intuitive and easy to use.

I’m happy to report it works like a charm. They are the perfect complement to Claire’s vocals. UAD’s graphic interface mimics the original very closely, and the original control panel is easy to figure out. I can make adjustments simply and get great results without having to “hunt around” for a particular parameter. (if you’d rather enter adjustments numerically, though, that option is available through keyboard shortcuts).

I don’t buy many plugins, since they’re only going to last as long as your current computer. When I can afford it, I prefer to buy the hardware version of the gear that I need. But in this case, I’ve gotta admit that the plugin has some significant advantages over the real thing. It’s far cheaper, infinitely more portable, fun to use, and most importantly, makes Claire’s voice sound like a million bucks.

Harrison MixBus-A Pro Audio Secret Weapon

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.

The Upside:

  • 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:

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 😉

Adobe Soundbooth- First Impressions

I recently purchased Adobe Soundbooth for audio editing and sweetening of soundtracks. It’s normally a part of a large, and expensive, “suite” of Adobe programs. But Adobe recently made Soundbooth available as a standalone app at a lower price.

I’ve used Adobe software for many more years than I should admit, usually for graphics production… Photoshop, Illustrator, Acrobat Pro, etc. While their stuff has never been cheap, they have always produced pro-grade products that deliver real work.

Soundbooth is turning out to be a similar experience. Like the others I’ve used, it’s aSoundboothScreen good, capable program with lots of flexibility. I haven’t used it with video files yet, but just to get my feet wet, I decided to try some music remasters of old vinyl that I have, and see if I could transfer the result into iTunes. Vinyl records– especially the classics that I grew up with– were made with vinyl in mind as its final output. The format was part of the musical decisions the bands made, and it has a characteristic sound. And for those of us who are a certain age, we remember that “sound” of a vinyl record as part of the music. Old Beatles records sound better with some turntable rumble and a few crackles and pops at the head. It was all a part of the experience… the giant cardboard squares with all the groovy graphics, the bonus of a printed paper liner, or better yet, a separate sheet with lyrics, methodically cleaning the grooves and checking the needle for the evil dust, and then you “dropped the needle.” The resulting thud and the crackles that came just before the music only heightened the anticipation. The whole thing became a ritual. It made music more fun.

I used Soundbooth to import a record side– complete with the crackles and rumble– as an MP3 (though there are several other file formats that I can use), then cut each song out of the side and save it as an individual file. It was a simple matter to add fade ins and fade outs before program audio starts. Then, just for grins, I used the advanced graphic EQ to add a little “air” to the top end and a slight bump to the bass, while cutting out the freq beyond the range of the vinyl… at least the vinyl I have. Most of the records are somewhat worn, and my transfer process didn’t yield any audible program material much above 15kHz, so that was notched out, and the same with subsonic rumble  below 31 hz. Switching the EQ in and out showed a nice, though subtle, improvement.

 The parametric EQ and mastering screens in Adobe Soundbooth

The parametric EQ and mastering screens in Adobe Soundbooth

There are several otther “effects” that are available in this program, including parametric EQ, reverb, noise gates, compressors, expanders, etc. I haven’t had much of a chance to play with these yet, and most wouldn’t really apply to this particular job anyway. Being a former mastering engineer myself, I was careful not to change much of the EQ that the original engineers so meticulously set for each record.

After I applied a slight amount EQ and trimmed the heads and tails, I went through and fixed any particularly loud pops or scratches using a “reduce noise” command only at the offending sections. This leaves most of the program untouched.

After saving these doctored files, I moved them into the folders where iTunes stores its music. They appeared in iTunes as “unknown artist” and “unknown album,” but the song titles were there, and they played. I just had to “get info” about each song and manually add the album name and artist. Then iTunes moved the files into their correct folder, and the album appeared in the iTunes library. I even added the album artwork by dragging the image from Wikipedia articles.

All in all, I’m quite pleased and will probably look into buying the other Adobe production programs. That’s not to say I loved everything… there are a few odd bugs that need fixing, and this program could really, REALLY use a good printed manual. But I’m enjoying myself with it- BG