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Acoustica`s Mixcraft 4

A surprisingly well featured, very capable DAW platform By Graeme Hague

We say this plenty of times- there`s a lot of freeware, shareware and you-name-it-ware available on the Internet and the reality is that many of these applications are either cheap or free for a good reason. Like, perhaps they`re not very good? Others are under development and seeking exposure, as you`ve got to start somewhere. And occasionally you`ll discover a gem. A piece of software that is genuine value for money.

Acoustica`s Mixcraft 4 ($64.95) is one of these. It`s a surprisingly well featured, very capable DAW platform that just continued impressing me with how good it was for the price. Mixcraft 4 is similar in appearance to Apple`s "Garageband" with large track icons and a simple interface for arranging and mixing your music. Maybe it`s me, but those big cartoonish icons gave me a first impression that Acoustica isn`t for serious musicians, plus there isn`t any virtual mixing "console," which some people might find disappointing.

But look a bit deeper and all the ingredients for producing quality mixes are there. Volume and panning are constant controls; otherwise it`s a matter of opening dialog boxes to insert extra effects. Note that effects do have to be inserted on a channel-by-channel basis. You can`t set up an effects send, for example. You might have to be careful not to tax your CPU too much.

The range of audio and MIDI tracks available is where things start to get very interesting. For audio you can record straight into Mixcraft in mono or stereo, or you can import loops from the application`s own extensive library and any other compatible source which includes MP3 files, WAV, Apple and ACID loops. Actually, Mixcraft treats any wave recording as a loop, so it`s easy to make your own. However, users familiar with other programs might find this a bit confusing- that their best vocal take is automatically regarded as a loop! Don`t let it faze you.

The interface is kept straightforward with the Arrange Window above four tabbed views below. Double-click on any clip and the appropriate tab opens

MIDI tracks offer the same versatility. You can record your own MIDI tracks and then edit them with a good selection of tools that will achieve most things that MIDI enthusiasts want. If programming isn`t your thing another option is again to dive into the library and check out the large choice in MIDI loops.

Taking MIDI a step further, Mixcraft 4 supports VST instruments- and this is a big bonus. VST instruments are what have taken MIDI music out of its "cheesy elevator" reputation and into providing realistic sounds that professional musicians everywhere now use. You can purchase high quality VST`s such as Battery 3 for drums or IK Multimedia`s Sampletank 2.0 for all sounds- but Mixcraft starts you off with its own Acoustica Grand Piano which is created by more than 250MB of samples. In addition, there`s a wide selection of impressive Acoustica Instruments that vary from General MIDI sounds to arpeggiated synthesizers and complex pads that rival patches you`d hear in programs worth ten times the cost. They`ve also chucked in a B3 Hammond organ and a mini-moog emulation.

System Requirements

  • Windows 95, 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, or Vista
  • 512 MB Ram (2 GB RAM recommended) 1.0 Ghz CPU ( 2 Ghz Dual Core recommended)
  • Sound card or sound device
  • Display resolution @ 800 x 600 (1024 x 768 or greater recommended)
  • 14 day trial available before registration/purchase required

I keep using words like "impressive"- and I should. It`s what really struck me about Mixcraft 4. That Acoustica has included so many features that aren`t only good, but they sound good as well. Still, we`d better balance the books with a few complaints.

The aforementioned lack of a mixing console is a puzzle, since they`ve gone to such lengths elsewhere. It`d be nice to see one added later. A glaring omission is any ability to export MIDI files. It`s strange to include so much MIDI capability, yet not provide a save function in this most basic of musical file formats (Acoustica inform me it will be added soon).
Another missing feature is a project pool or browser function beyond the sounds library. Admittedly this is possibly close to "pro" territory- again some applications claiming far more kudos don`t have one either still, how hard would it be to have some kind of window that summarizes your project`s content? For example, I tried a test recording and immediately deleted it. To determine if the wave file still existed somewhere on my hard drive I had to go digging around with Explorer to check (and it was gone, apparently). By the way, Undo functions are available "up to the last Save." It`s almost impossible to know how many Undo`s are kept, but remember each one gobbles its share of RAM. Where this goes astray is that sometimes you want to remove a recording from a project without actually deleting it yet. For these reasons a manageable project pool is always handy.My last small gripe is that Mixcraft offers a rudimentary CD burner- that`s cool. It also has a CD labeler in the same menu, but this is only a link for purchasing another Acoustica product. That was kind of irritating.

Mixcraft 4 has VST effects that can be applied to your audio files. There are the usual suspects like delay, reverb and chorus, plus others. However, a close look at the opening logo shows the name "Kjaerhus" which is excellent news. Kjaerhus were responsible for a release of free "classic" effects plug-ins that are highly regarded and I soon discovered these were included in Mixcraft- it just keeps getting better.

MIDI editing isn`t comprehensive, but all the basic tools are there. Many users wouldn`t be looking for much else.

The overall interface is well done. An arrange window shows all the clips in your project in the standard X-Y grid (time versus track order) and clicking on any clip opens them in the appropriate editor immediately below in a separate pane. It couldn`t get any easier really.

What you get with Mixcraft 4 is like the best- or the most essential features of any good DAW. What you don`t get (apart from my grouches above) are the more complex editing functions, the MIDI filters. . . the "expert" facilities that others have. So don`t get me wrong. This isn`t a bargain Cubase, Sonar or ProTools- to mention a few. Mixcraft 4 has far from the depth of features in these sorts of applications. But what it does is still quite comprehensive and well done.

You can look at it two ways, if you like. Considered on its own, Mixcraft 4 does a great job and you may never need more. Alternatively it provides an excellent stepping stone toward understanding those more professional programs. Either way the cost of Mixcraft 4 represents a damned good investment. It`s going to be really interesting to see where Acoustic and Mixcraft go in the next few years.

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Related Keywords:DAW, digital audio editing, audio editing, audio production


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