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Harrison Console’s Mixbus DAW Review by Bob Green June 2014 I was excited to review Harrison Console’s Mixbus DAW since I was aware of Harrison’s place in the audio community and their status as one of the premiere hardware manufacturers in the world. I was very interested in the fact that, having been a casual user of LINUX systems in the past, Mixbus was designed around the ARDOUR framework, a stalwart of LINUX users. Honestly, I was interested to see if they could port it to Windows and have it work properly. They are using an audio tool called JACK which handles the translation transparently. (At this time, I am waiting on an interface with LINUX drivers so I can use it on a machine set up for testing Mixbus in that environment.) The computer I use is an ASUS motherboard with an Intel i5 @ 3Ghz with 16Gb of ram, 240Mb SSD system drive and 1Tb RAID system. The interface is an 8 channel pre-amp with ASIO drivers for low latency. First: The install Installing the software was simple and straight forward. The registration process was only slightly sticky, as I initially had a problem getting the program to see the registration document. Following the stereotypical “ME MAN –NOT READ INTRUCTIONS” bit and help from Harrison, I found that ALL of my problems were directly related to my own failures – not the software. The reason I mention this, is, more about the fact that I could sit down and fire up my first session and record immediately. Past experience has shown me that, the more I read the manuals, the dumber I get. Thank heaven for videos! Second: The setup Setting up the audio preferences was an easy task. On startup, a window comes up known as “Session Control”. This is where you set up your audio preferences or select your project, either open a new one or a previous one. It also tells you whether you are licensed or not and reminds you of updates or offers from Harrison – sweet! The audio setup is straight forward – you select your driver, your input and output devices, and your buffer size. I used the ASIO drivers for my interface and I am assuming that these parameters will be similar for other audio drivers.               Third: The tracks  Each channel from the top down starts with the track name and record enable button, input and phase, then the insert/send/plug-in area. Next comes the 3-band, fixed Q, sweepable EQ with a High Pass Filter that goes from 20Hz to 1kHz. Below that are the 8 Mixbus sends followed by the pan and direct to Master assign button. What you will learn quickly is that the little lights on the interface are also the switching buttons. The next item is the Track Name. This is also the area that shows the EQ parameters as you move the knobs. The fader box starts with Mute and Solo buttons, Input trim knob, and the compression section. This section allows you to select between compression, limiting, and leveling. Knobs for fast or slow response and makeup gain are right there but threshold is set by the little arrow that slides up and down on the side of the threshold meter to the left of the stereo output VU and finally two buttons on the bottom for Grouping and Pre/Post fader metering selection. Fourth: The Busses There is a difference between the displays in the channel section and the Mixbus section. The eight Mixbusses have a three band fixed EQ, Tape Saturation, Compression/Leveling/Limiting, buttons for sidechain inputs on the Mixbus compressors, pre/post metering, grouping, automation, mute and solo buttons. The Master output section is virtually the same as the other busse,s except for the removal of the sidechain buttons and the inclusion of a L/R Phase Correlation meter, a Master/Average Level meter, as well as master limit controls. All are very handy and, IMHO, very useful. Fifth: The Plug-ins, Inserts, and Sends The area at the top of the channel section has you click below the word “fader” to install inserts, sends, or plug-ins. Right clicking on this spot brings up a menu that lets you chose what you want. Clicking on “New Insert” puts brings up a menu that lets you choose routing and test latency. “New Send” functions similarly and “New Plugin” will provide you a list of sorting options. The plug-in parameters show up as bars in the Mixbus section so you can adjust them immediately, instead of hitting the plug-in name and manipulating the parameters in the pull up box. This is a nice touch, though it takes a bit to get used to it. The plug-ins included in the Essentials Package were very useful, easy to use, and understand. I downloaded some VST plug-ins and installed them, as well. These were all very user friendly operations. Routing was very straight forward and since the aim seems to be console emulation, it hit the mark right on the head. The EQ, Compression, Delays, and tape saturation were very effective and pleasant both from the standpoint of ease of use and sonic impression. We all have certain expectations and to this point, I have to say that I was so comfortable using Mixbus, that I often went for keyboard shortcuts from other DAW’s without thinking! Editing… Waveform editing is always running the gamut of emotions for me. In my world, the most important feature in any DAW is UNDO! With that in mind, Mixbus is simple and to-the-point about the range of editing tools. Setting up regions, cutting and pasting, nudging, manipulating crossfades, and a host of other tools make it a non-threatening leap into a pool of alligators to save the baby. Support! For assistance - if you need it, look no further than the online video tutorials which are abundant, and to the forum for a great opportunity to interface with other users as well as the Harrison staff. They are very quick to answer questions and offer help. A+++ for that kind of support! Brass tacks… I wrote a song in short order by using the 16 track template offered in setup. Usually I use a midi drum track to drive drum software, but as this version does not support midi (reported to be in the next version) I did the next best thing. There was an option to use striped timecode, but at this time, I no longer have the equipment to read it. So, I started by importing a stereo drum track that I had created.  Setting up the inputs and outputs was a simple task once you familiarize yourself with the I/O structure of the program. Any user with a working knowledge of other DAW’s should have no problem with this, although, I felt that someone new to the field might find it a little daunting. Recording was quick. Once I finished all my tracks, I started the task of managing them. The EQ and the compression on each channel were very comforting. The fact that you have a choice on each channel to have either compression, limiting, OR leveling was a much better deal than inserting one of each in the signal chain and fiddling about. The reason I say that, and don’t get me wrong - I love goodies as much as the next music nerd, is that this makes the process so quick. I am not saying abandon all your plug-ins and hardware, just that this gets you going in a hurry and you can always come back and fine tune with all the gizmos, or, maybe it gets nailed the first time. Assigning the tracks to one of the eight busses was as simple as pushing a button, or in this case, the light in each bus send location. It took me about a minute of thinking before I got that one. Any other rubs were not quality problems, just comfort issues. The bar format for the plug-ins is something I was not used to and sometimes moving the mouse over a knob would not give the value for that knob immediately and it took me a little while to get used to where that information was appearing. Again, not a problem, only a getting used to it issue. Overall my impression is that this is a very good package and I would recommend it. The sound quality was wonderful. If I would describe it, I would say open, very open with room to move. I see it like this: a lot of DAW’s on the market today are chock full of stuff, some useful and some …not so much.  It’s cake with a ton of frosting that most of us would scrape off anyway. This package gives you a great tool with transparent sound filled with space whether you are tracking on it or using it for final mixes. You can buy it outright or you can subscribe on a monthly basis and get free updates and deals on plug-ins. When you factor in the cost of other system's upgrade prices, this is still one of the best price/performance deals you will get. Then, add in the phenomenal support from the Harrison crew and you get a DAW that lives up to the name. Finally, while there are a couple of very minor sticking points listed here, when it comes right down to it, I don’t care because I like this Harrison Mixbus DAW. This is just like using the analog consoles I am so familiar with and now I wish I had one just like it. That being said, I find that I am using it more often outside of the review space it was in because of its simple and elegant interface, and that… says everything.
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