Mixcraft, developed by Acoustica, is a fully-featured digital audio workstation packed with over 7,800 samples. At the low price of $49 for the basic version and $99 for the Pro Studio version, it immediately becomes an attractive option for home recording musicians and producers who want to create quality recordings without a hefty price tag. As a home studio engineer myself, I understand the importance of having quality products without paying top dollar.
In this review of Mixcraft 8:
- What’s New?
- Editing and Navigation
- Virtual Instruments
- Performance Panel
In its latest release, Mixcraft 8 offers a host of new features and upgrades. In addition to expanding the number of virtual instruments and effects, Acoustica also added support for MP4 files in the video editor and created a global automation recording function which allows the user to record effects parameters in real time.
When you first open Mixcraft 8 Pro, you are presented with a project screen, which by default, gives the option of selecting a number of choices; you can choose the number of instrument tracks, audio tracks, sends, a master track, a performance panel, any “sets” for launch live tracks, a grid setting, selecting increments of time or beats, a tempo, a key, and a time signature.
Once you have created your session, you are presented with the default Mixcraft editing window. The default color scheme is dark grey, but this can be changed with user preferences.
Below the editor window, there is a menu with 4 different tabs: Project, Sound, Mixer, and Library. The project tab is fairly minimal; you can enter in notes, copyright information, and information about the file and artist. While not essential, this is a nice feature to have in a DAW if you want to keep the entire process in one location.
In the sound tab, you have the ability to edit the waveform of each clip in your audio track. Right off the bat, you are given a set of features missing from many lower-budget DAW’s, such as a noise reduction tool. When I started using this, I wasn’t expecting very much, considering the price. However, after fidgeting around for a while, I found it to be quite useable. You can select the portion of your track with the most noise, and then set the percentage that you want removed. Granted, it certainly isn’t at the level of Izotope RX7, but it will work well for speech editing and removing pesky preamp noise that comes with low-gain mics like the Shure SM7B.
The editor also features a time-warping function. Oftentimes, I find myself needing to quantize analog synthesizers or drum tracks. By selection the warp button, Mixcraft automatically detects major transients and creates lines that correspond with their location. You can either quantize your audio along the gridlines in the timeline, or you can create warp points.
I found the mixer window to be very useful. The volume and effects controls in the editor window are limited, and you cannot add or remove any information besides the FX inserts on each track. However, on the mixer window, all of this information is shown, as well as a limited EQ filter, and input/output information. Here, I found an area that differed from other DAWs. In both Ableton Live and Pro Tools HD, this information can be found on each individual track as well as the mixer, but in Mixcraft, this information only shows up in the mixer. If you are running a large recording session for a band, and you need to quickly locate your I/O information, this could be a visualization problem. Additionally, FX sends can only be configured via the mixer window, which makes it more time consuming to setup parallel compression and FX sends.
In the library window, Mixcraft has a large selection of loops, samples, and audio tracks from several different genres. After playing around with a few different sounds, I found that Mixcraft definitely has some respectable sounds. The synthesizer sounds in most budget DAWs are shockingly unusable, and this is a plus for Mixcraft. In addition, Mixcraft has a large selection of drum sounds, many of which are quite realistic sounding. For a producer on a budget, Mixcraft will immediately get you access to quality samples. Even the film scoring loops, which include a variety of orchestral instruments, sounded surprisingly realistic.
Editing and Navigation
The editing and navigation in Mixcraft provide a lot of options, but the process can be a little bit tricky to work with. Instead of scrolling left/right with the trackpad or mouse, scrolling left/right zooms quite suddenly. If you want to scroll left or right, you need to hold down Ctrl + mousepad. It would be nice to have something more intuitive, but after you learn the navigation interface, working in the DAW will not be a problem. The visual layout is colorful, detailed, and eye grabbing. However, there were moments when I found the graphics to be a little distracting. While there is no option to name the individual clips, you can select up to 14 different colors to organize your tracks.
In the main editor panel, you have the ability to select a grid, a feature many DAW’s offer. You can snap to the beginning of each measure, to the half note, quarter note, 8th note, and so on. What I enjoyed about Mixcraft’s version of gridlines was the ability to toggle shortcuts for each gridline division. For instance, the “~” key removes the grid, while “1” snaps to the bar, “2” snaps to the half note, and so on.
As for editing clips, Mixcraft has several features in common with other digital audio workstations. You can edit the gain of each clip, extend clips, loop them, reverse, freeze tracks, and create crossfades. Mixcraft can create instant crossfades by overlaying two tracks. This is a useful feature for quick editing. One feature I wished for was selecting your crossfade curve. In Mixcraft, the cross fade is a straight line, but in other programs, you can make the curve straight, hyperbolic, quadratic, dramatic, or subtle.
Mixcraft comes with a suite of built-in audio effects, including a compressor, reverb, EQ, delay, and many others. The effects were certainly useable and natural sounding, but I feel like they could be more developed. The compressor, for instance, has very limited monitoring, with no way for the user to measure gain reduction. For the more serious producer or engineer, I would recommend investing in outside plugins. Personally, I get most of my plugins from Waves, IK Multimedia, and Slate.
Mixcraft has multi-tracking capabilities just like the other major DAW’s out there; you can record arm, mute, and solo tracks. You can also automate any of the parameters in the mixer and most of the parameters in the FX sends. For mixing, this can be incredibly handy. You also have the ability to copy and paste automation, a critical feature that is common to both Ableton Live and Pro Tools.
When I recorded vocals, the features and usability were mostly the same as other programs I was familiar with, with one exception: instead of listing the I/O information on the track, Mixcraft has a drop-down menu where you can select your input. For this test, I initially tried to use my Antelope Zen Tour interface. However, Mixcraft had severe problems recognizing my Zen Tour. When I switched to my Tascam UH7000, the problem went away. For any potential Antelope Audio users, be aware that this problem could arise.
For recording with click track, you are given several different options. You can set the click track to play only during recording, to play only during playback, or to give a few measures of count-in. You can also select the volume of the click track, and the sound that it has.
However, there a few drawbacks with the click track system in Mixcraft. You cannot route the click track to separate mix bus outputs, meaning that you cannot have the metronome playing out of Outputs 3-4 while your main mix is routed to outputs 1-2, and you also cannot record the metronome. A workaround for this is to create your own click track by selecting samples, setting up one for every beat, and then sending to a mix bus output. This allows the user to send click track to multiple outputs.
Mixcraft 8 has an impressive range of virtual instruments, especially at the under $100 price point. The piano and drum samples were professional quality, as well as the synthesizers. After using the program for a decent length of time, I found myself wanting for user customization for the controls. For the samples, you are only given the option to edit panning, FX inserts, key range, and mapping, rather than the sample itself.
Mixcraft is stocked full of excellent loops and audio files. There are several categories, ranging from hip-hop, to country, to classical film scores. Even after experimenting for just a couple of minutes, I was able to put together some nice sounding loops. One feature I would like to see is the addition of different types of virtual instruments, such as customizable drum rack, sample machine, or wavetable synthesizers. Even so, for someone who wants to quickly create good-sounding loops, Mixcraft can be very helpful.
Mixcraft Pro Studio (which can be purchased for $99, as opposed to Mixcraft Recording Studio for $49, which does NOT include Melodyne) comes with Melodyne Essentials, which is the most basic version of the pitch correction software. As compared to Antares Auto Tune, Melodyne does not correct notes in real time, but allows the user to correct notes individually, changing elements such as the formant, pitch, modulation, and correction speed. For a stock pitch correction plugin included with the purchase, Melodyne Essentials does a good job at basic tuning, and is definitely a nice perk of Mixcraft. However, more advanced users may find some of the features a bit lacking, especially compared to alternatives such as Waves Tune or Antares. It can be difficult to achieve a natural, “realistic” sound rather than a processed one. As a Waves Tune user, I find the algorithm to work better across the board and the process to be quicker. That said, Melodyne Essentials does its job well, and for home musicians looking for an inexpensive way to improve their vocal sound, the stock Melodyne plugin will help significantly.
For Mixcraft Pro users, Melodyne can be found in the sound tab below the editor window. After you load your vocal track, the pitches appear in the Melodyne editor window below, similar to the keyboard arrangement on virtual instrument tracks.
In conclusion, Mixcraft 8 is a highly-functional DAW with many features available at a very low price. For the home audio use, Mixcraft 8 is a god-send. While precision editing and recording still need some development, Mixcraft 8 still has a lot of functionality and can still be effectively used for just about anything. The inclusion of Melodyne and noise reduction tools, as well as the wide range of virtual instruments and samples make the software an excellent value for the musician looking to get into music production. However, the lack of a sampler and drum machine is noticeable. For musicians and producers wanting access to an excellent DAW without spending too much money, Mixcraft is packed full of features.
Mixcraft 8 Recording Studio
“A great option for beginners using a PC.”
Mixcraft, developed by Acoustica, is a fully-featured digital audio workstation packed with over 7,800 samples.
- Video Engine
- Wide selection of quality drum samples
- Fully-featured DAW
- Performance Panel
- Melodyne & Noise Reduction
- Layout and navigation
- Stock plugins
- Recording & editing are not as smooth as other programs
- Windows only