Neyrinck Mix 51 brings surround mixing to Pro Tools LE and M-Powered. The surround panner''s parameters are fully compatible with Pro Tools HD panning.
Among the major DAWs, Digidesign Pro Tools LE/M-Powered is alone in not offering surround sound. That function has been reserved for the high-end hardware-based Pro Tools HD — until now. Neyrinck Audio has released Mix 51 ($189), an RTAS surround panner that brings every bit of the 5.1 panning capabilities of Pro Tools HD to LE and M-Powered users.
Mix 51 actually comprises three separate plug-ins: a surround mixer, a surround panner, and an LFE send. A single instance of the surround mixer on any track makes several sets of surround paths appear as available track inputs, in the same way multioutput virtual instruments appear. Assign these to aux tracks, route the auxes to three pairs of hardware outputs, and you have 5.1 surround.
Inserting the surround panner plug-in on a track allows you to steer the signal within that surround path. In fact, the surround mixer makes three sets of 5.1 outputs available to the panner, along with three quad paths assignable as effects sends, making it easy to mix to separate dialog, music, and effects stems.
That's typical of the level of thought Neyrinck put into Mix 51. The surround panner offers virtually all the functionality of the Pro Tools HD surround panner, including divergence and center percentage controls. Divergence is displayed in the panner's grid as a blue box, just as in Pro Tools HD. An LFE send fader in the surround panner controls the amount of the track being directed to the LFE channel. A separate LFE send plug-in lets you send a track to the LFE channel of one of the three sets of 5.1 outputs without also sending any signal to the other five channels.
MAKE IT HAPPEN
Migrating your mix into an HD system is conceptually brilliant, if a bit labor intensive. Simply copy and paste (technically, Paste Special To Current Automation Type) each of Mix 51's automation playlists to the corresponding track parameters. Unfortunately, this must be done one parameter at a time.
Alternatively, you could simply run Mix 51 on the HD system. The only thing you'd lose is the same thing you lose in LE: multichannel plug-ins. Because Mix 51 mixes to three stereo outputs rather than a truly integrated 5.1 path, there is no way in LE/M-Powered and no simple way in HD to apply multichannel compression, reverb, or other effects to tracks. Multimono plug-ins are fine for most applications, but there are a few circumstances — compressing a drum kit, say — where a processor must see the entire surround output as a single entity.
Mix 51 is quite kind to your CPU cycles. On my dual-core 2.33 GHz MacBook Pro, applying surround panning to more than 40 tracks laid claim to less than 15 percent of my CPU. It doesn't use a dedicated buffer, so it doesn't increase system latency or require any manual delay compensation.
Mix 51 is affordable, simple to use, and compatible with Pro Tools HD surround panning, and it fills a gaping hole in a major DAW's feature set. So what's not to like? Well, I did find two minor bugs, but before I could finish writing this review, Neyrinck released version 1.03, which fixed one of them. The remaining issue, which the company plans to address in a future update, is that on a PC, you can't use the three-finger shortcut to enable parameter automation. (When you try, it snaps the control to the cursor — cool, but wrong.) For the time being, you simply need to go through the plug-in automation window.
Note that Mix 51 has no rear pan control. This doesn't limit your panning, but it does eliminate what Digidesign calls “three-knob panning,” a mode in Pro Tools HD that makes diagonal pan automation simpler. Because there's no rear pan, when you copy your automation to HD's pan playlists, you'll need to copy Mix 51's front pan to both the track's front pan and its rear pan. This procedure, along with everything else you need to know about Mix 51, is laid out clearly in the exemplary PDF manual.
If you're interested in mixing in surround, having an LE or M-Powered system is no longer a limitation. If you need an inexpensive system on which to do preproduction before moving into an HD room, Mix 51 is your answer. Check out the 14-day demo. It has a small but impeccably documented demo session that almost makes the manual redundant. Go forth and mix!
Value (1 through 5): 5