Review: Sample Magic Magic AB Version 2

A must-have plug-in that adds potent new features
Author:
Publish date:
Image placeholder title

Fig. 1. Magic AB Version 2 adds Latch and Sync playback modes, cue points, expedited track selection and waveform zooming, mono monitoring, and high-resolution metering to its original feature set.Sample Magic’s Magic AB plug-in has been an invaluable tool in my mixing and mastering sessions since its release a few years ago. The innovative cross-platform plug-in—available in AAX, AU, and VST formats—lets you compare the mix you’re working on with up to nine reference tracks at selected timeline locations, and with optional level balancing and looping. With the release of Version 2, Magic AB presents an all-new engine and preset system, expedited waveform zooming, and several new and powerful features (see Fig. 1).

Image placeholder title

I’ll report here on V. 2’s new features, which I tested in Digital Performer 9.01, using an 8-core Mac Pro running OS X 10.9.5. Check out EM’s review of the original Magic AB at emusician.com for a refresher on legacy features.

IMPROVED DAW INTEROPERABILITY

In lieu of initiating playback of reference tracks within the plug-in (which is still possible), Magic AB’s new Latch mode can start playback using your DAW’s play button—way more convenient in many situations. The new Sync mode goes even further, synching the playback of reference tracks to your DAW’s timeline. For each reference track, you can save and name up to four cue points in the timeline and jump to each with a single mouseclick. The cue points can also be used as the starting point for playback loops.

A switch has been added that lets you toggle mono and stereo monitoring (a global setting for the plug-in’s output). The audio files for reference tracks can be loaded by dragging and dropping them into the plug-in’s nine playback slots (or by using the legacy method of navigating in the GUI to a track via your computer’s file directory). Version 2 can import audio files in most major formats, with the exception of FLAC on the Mac. One or more reference tracks can be deactivated to instantly reduce Magic AB’s RAM usage, which a useful readout displays.

Version 2’s output meters have a less extended range than Version 1’s—a good thing—showing levels from -48 to 0 dBFS, and allocating roughly the top half of its meters to the top 12 dB of headroom. This makes exacting A/B comparisons of peak and RMS levels a lot easier than when using Version 1. Version 1’s zoom buttons have also been replaced by enhanced mouse functionality that lets you work faster: To zoom in and out on a track’s waveform, drag your mouse up and down (or use a scroll-wheel or Apple Magic Mouse) on the GUI’s waveform overview. Drag a white scrollbar left or right—or simply click on the waveform overview—to move your zoomed view earlier or later in the waveform’s timeline.

Fig. 2. The new Mini AB view packs a ton of potent functions into its tiny frame. Version 1’s Big Button mode has been redesigned and renamed Mini AB mode in Version 2 (see Figure 2). The Mini AB view provides a stripped-down control set and a smaller footprint than Version 2’s main view; it’s useful once your reference tracks have all been loaded and their relative levels, cue points, and loops have all been set. Despite its tiny frame, Mini AB manages to provide A and B (playback-source selection) buttons, track-selection buttons (for alternate playback of nine reference tracks), L/R output meters, a mono/stereo output-monitoring switch, rudimentary transport controls, buttons for jumping to cue points, and a toggle for turning loops on and off.

Image placeholder title

COMPARED TO WHAT

As Magic AB Version 2 is an entirely new plug-in and not simply the original plug-in with modified code, it’s not backward-compatible with Magic AB Version 1 presets. Rebuilding my custom presets from scratch was a minor hassle, but Version 2’s awesome new features made the effort well worthwhile. The new Latch mode facilitated my A/B comparisons with fewer mouse clicks and was the mode I found myself using most often. The new Sync playback mode is also fantastic; I could use it to compare different mixes of the same song, switching among them at the same timeline location during playback. Sync mode even worked with DP’s auto-rewind function, prompting reference tracks to also rewind.

For each reference track, I could assign four cue points to the start of various song sections and then use a drop-down menu to name each using a fixed selection of names (Intro, Verse 1, Chorus 2, Breakdown, and so on). I could then jump to a song section during playback by clicking on its associated cue-point button. Better yet, I could set up a separate playback loop to start at each cue point so that the corresponding song section would repeat. While I preferred setting cue points in Manual playback mode, Magic AB Version 2’s Play buttons didn’t always respond unless DP was also playing. I also wished I could create my own names for cue points (for example, “max RMS” for mastering); Sample Magic hopes to add this capability in a future update.

GOTTA HAVE IT EVEN MORE!

From the time of its original release, Magic AB has always been a must-have plug-in for mixing and mastering engineers. Version 2 makes A/B comparisons even faster, easier, and more precise. Especially considering its rock-bottom price, I believe this is one plug-in you can’t afford not to buy.

STRENGTHS

Unrivaled facility for making A/B comparisons. Set cue points and loops. Latch to host’s play function and sync to its timeline. High-res metering. Extremely affordable.

LIMITATIONS

Can’t open version 1 presets or give custom names to cue points. Can’t import FLAC files for Mac. Play buttons don’t always work in Manual mode.

£49.90 (about $71.50) £9.90 (about $14) upgrade from V1
samplemagic.com