If your DJ gig keeps you frequently on the move, you have to worry about lugging around a heavy cargo of vinyl and CDs. The lure of MP3s cannot be overstated. The idea of being able to beat-mix, segment tracks and toss effects into the picture just sweetens the deal. Enter MixMeister Pro. Think of the following scenario: It's 1:42 a.m., and the room you're playing to seems to be really digging the few deep-house tracks you've thrown into your set. With MixMeister Pro, you could quickly and easily cobble together a playlist of similar grooves and slide them into your mix whenever you feel the moment is right. The idea of never having to leave behind your top 500 (or 1,000) songs is no longer a concern to the laptop-sporting DJ.
Getting started with MixMeister Pro couldn't be simpler. The software (Windows only) loads like any other standard Wintel package, and after reboot, you are ready to start mixing. Once I aimed MixMeister at the directory that held my small cache of MP3s (WAV files can also be imported), it began loading files into the MixMeister Catalog instantly. The only drawback to the launch phase was that MixMeister had to process my files for tempo purposes. The nearly 500 MB of audio I had on hand (about 75 files) took approximately 25 minutes to be set up for use with MixMeister. From there, though, I was ready to get mixing.
MixMeister's basic modus operandi requires that the user set up a playlist by dragging and dropping songs from the Catalog window into the Playlist window (see Fig. 1). Tracks in either window can be presorted by title, artist, bpm, track length or genre to ensure that finding your music is fast. Once a track resides in the Playlist window, a graphical representation of the song will exist in the Timeline area below (see Fig. 2). Tracks dragged to the Playlist are already set up for standard mixing and will play sequentially in the order they were added. MixMeister automatically assigns overlap points between songs with predetermined fade-outs so that tracks will make the transition from one to another on autopilot. Drag three hour's worth of music into the Playlist window, and your PC instantly becomes an MP3 jukebox ready to fuel your next party. If the resulting mix doesn't sound exactly how you envisioned, all you have to do is adjust the thin red vertical lines (called sprockets) to change the overlap points on the Timeline. Any changes you make to your mix can be saved back to the Catalog for later use in different Playlists.
But the software becomes truly useful for live performance when you begin to explore the program's beat-mixing aspects. Even a hastily slapped-together set can flow smoothly with little effort. Once you put together a Playlist, just highlight the tracks and right-click to select Use Beat Mixing from the pop-up menu, and the entire set is mixed from one bpm to the next. If, by chance, you don't like the way MixMeister has automatically coordinated the shifts between songs, you can edit the tempo boxes that run beneath the Timeline to whatever you feel is appropriate for the mix. MixMeister automatically sets up intro and outro ranges between beat-mixed tracks to control the overlap area between songs, and these ranges and their associated volumes can be tweaked as necessary.
MixMeister also allows you to segment your audio files so that you preview portions of a track or loop a key part of a song (see Fig. 3). This is all done via nondestructive editing, which increases the speed of handling segments and cuts down file size. Once you have selected the portion of song to segment, you simply point to it and drag it to the desired new location. There are, however, a few restrictions as to where segments can be shifted. For instance, you can only move a segment within the boundaries of a track or within the empty spaces before and after a track.
As a tool for live performance, MixMeister is set up to operate just like a pair of decks once your system has been configured for dual output (either by adding a second sound card or by using a device that has multiple outputs). MixMeister is then able to let you run a track through the house system while you preview upcoming tracks or segments in your headphones. Control of the different discrete outputs is managed by two separate toolbars (Perform and Preview) stacked neatly beneath the main menus. Once you either segment or set the desired intro point of the next track, clicking on the Mix Now button on the Perform toolbar will automatically create a crossfade for the next track. You can end or temporarily put the brakes on a mix in progress with the End Now and Pause buttons. You can also add a break in the middle of your mix by right-clicking on a song in the Playlist and adding a Pause Track. That allows a DJ the flexibility to switch back and forth between vinyl or any other sound source and then return to the MixMeister set right where they left off.
Although MixMeister currently doesn't have a scratch simulation feature like Native Instruments Traktor (see Remix's review in the August 2001 issue), the manufacturer's engineers were savvy enough to realize that the addition of effects would be a highly useful and distinguishing factor to the package. The software comes with nine standard effects out of the box (EQ, chorus, distortion, gargle, two types of reverb, echo, flanger and compression), as well as support for DirectX plug-ins. Upon installation, MixMeister found all my plug-ins and made them easily available for use. Future versions of the software will be able to employ Acid-style effect envelopes to automate effects during a user's set.
As intuitive as MixMeister Pro is, the product still has some room to grow in terms of it functionality. Using segments and overlay tracks can be a bit sticky at first, and laptop users might be put off that MixMeister Technology recommends the use of outside hardware like the Roland UA30 USB Audio Interface in order to have dual outputs for live gigging. But with a retail price of $129.95 (a scaled-down version retails for $39.95 and is bundled with the Sound Blaster Audigy MP3+), integrated CD burning and the fact that the product ran essentially flawlessly on my old PII/333MHz PC running Windows 98, MixMeister Pro is a robust solution to those overstuffed vinyl cases.
Pros: Affordable. Easy to use. Integrated CD burning.
Cons: Lacks Acid-style effects envelopes.
Overall Rating: 4.5