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Acoustica Mixcraft 5

May 1, 2010
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Fig3_Mixcraft(download $74.95, 60-day license $14.95; www.acoustica.com)

Mixcraft fans are like cultists—check out their online reviews. The prevailing opinion is “I tried lots of DAWs, this one is real easy to use, and the value is outrageous.” I reviewed Mixcraft 4 for Keyboard in 2008, and despite some missing features, was blown away by the value. (Note: In addition to this profile, I’m doing a full Mixcraft 5 review in the 5/10 Keyboard.)

A REAL DAW? ACTUALLY, YES

At this price, you might think this Windows-only DAW (which includes WaveRT support for Windows 7) is another lite program, but the feature set is true DAW: virtual console, video support (AVI and WMV, but if you have suitable decoders, you may be able to load other files) with basic editing—see Figure 3, notation editing/printing, and send tracks. Interestingly, version 4 had none of these features, so V5 is a pretty major upgrade.

Features carried over from Mixcraft 4 include unlimited audio/MIDI/virtual instrument tracks, unlimited effects inserts, “piano roll” MIDI editing, a useful collection of instruments and sounds, clean and obvious interface (it recalls Steinberg Sequel), and beat-matching/stretching that supports Acidized files and Apple Loops—although you can pretty much convert any audio or MIDI clip into a loop. It still doesn’t support direct import of REX files (or ReWire), but if you have a VST plug-in instrument that supports REX import, you’re covered.

Zooming remains basic—only + and – buttons—and while you now can dragcopy clips, you can’t do that with individual MIDI notes.

EFFECTS AND INSTRUMENTS

Like most DAWs, Mixcraft has added a guitar amp emulator (Shred). New instruments include the Messiah polysynth, Lounge Lizard electric piano (lite version), Alien 303 bass synth, and Acoustica Expanded Instruments (adds 66 more sounds to the existing set of Acoustica Instruments). These join the Impulse synth, Minimogue, and VB3 organ.

Bundled effects are chorus, compressor, delay, distortion, EQ, flanger, and reverb, as well as Kjaerhus’s nine classic freeware effects, and Voxengo’s guitar amp and spectrum analyzer. The Mixcraft effects are basic: No tempo sync on delay (except for the Kjaerhus delay) or chorus, no sidechaining, no parametric EQ (the Mixcraft and Kjaerhus are both graphics), and the mixer per-channel EQ simply has hi/mid/low boost/cut. But it’s not like plug-ins are hard to find, and what’s included works.

THROWING SOME CURVES

Mixcraft also has unexpected features, like noise reduction for audio clips. This works if there’s a section of noise you can isolate, whereby Mixcraft removes that from the clip. I also like the utility that lets you play notes from a QWERTY keyboard— great for laptops. You can use a single-window interface, or undock the mixer, library, audio/MIDI editor, etc. Automation is now available for clips as well as tracks, and for MIDI tracks, the controller strip below the piano roll shows controllers, program change, channel pressure, and pitch bend. Mixcraft 5 also offers a ton of downloadable loops/sounds; you can download all of them at once to your hard drive so they’re always available.

Want to burn an audio CD? You can do that too, and it even supports CD-Text.

CONCLUSIONS

Mixcraft is an overachiever. Usually the first cut in budget programs is video support, but Mixcraft recognizes that even budget users want to upload videos to YouTube. Notation is also a rarity in programs at this price point. The plug-ins are basic at best, yet low-cost and free plug-ins are plentiful, so it makes sense Acoustica decided not to develop more plugs and raise the price.

This is indeed a DAW “for the rest of us,” offering a surprisingly complete feature set, at an even more surprising price, that works on desktops or laptops— and your CPU won’t break a sweat. It’s fast, fun, and friendly.

 


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