Green Room Productions menuBUS by Diogo C
- Product: menuBUS
- Developer: Green Room Productions
- Requirements: macOS/OSX 10.10.+
- DRM: Online activation for up to three simultaneous computers
- Price: $39 USD (MSRP) plus tax/VAT
The scope: menuBUS is a nifty little app that enables the macOS/OSX user to run Audio Unit (AU) plug-ins on their system’s audio output. Yes, you’re reading it right: have your favourite AU plug-ins running on a system-wide level! Here are some possible applications:
- Content re-equalization: sound to bright or too dark? Or perhaps too boxy? Use a tilt-style filter and/or a graphic EQ to slightly nudge the overall tone to your liking. Dynamic EQs are also great for this.
- Content leveling and dynamics control: get a flexible and highly-configurable digital compressor with look ahead so you can have that overly dynamic audio falling where you want. Adding a limiter can also help to tame erratic and wild levels.
- Metering and analysis: have your favourite professional-grade analysis tools running all the time so you can see what’s happening in real time with frequency analyzers, analog-style VU meters, PPM, spectrograms or whatever you fancy.
- On-the-fly restoration: it’s really cool to have something like iZotope RX available any time I want. I’m also a historian and fan of old documentary films, I listen a lot to old recordings that are often damaged and in some cases even hard to understand, so having a plethora of restoration tools available without having to go through the process of importing/processing with RX is really a lifesaver.
- Room/Speaker EQ: a parametric EQ can tame to some extent some problematic aspect of a room/speaker system. Needless to say that this doesn’t replace proper acoustic treatment, but it’s undoubtedly helpful when you don’t have other options.
- Podcast rescue: many podcasters out there have great content to share but some are done with limited audio skills to say the least. Add a proper processing chain and elevate those sonics up to the quality of the content. My current one consists of an EQ with option for dynamic bands (great for de-essing), a warmer-sounding compressor with long/attack release for tone and consistency, followed by limiter with super fast timings to keep peaks in check.
- Overload protection: insert a brickwall limiter and keep your DA converters safe and operating in optimal range without any overloads. One of my favourite podcasts has very unruly audio which gets hot more often than not, and on top of that some guests will inevitably get too close to the mic, so nasty peaks are bound to happen and that’s so annoying because the content is really good. Now I chop everything at -6dBFS, no more nasty peaks!
- Improving game audio: some games can have loud bursts that are sometimes too loud, so once again that compressor can come into play - bad pun intended.
- Preview plug-in settings for video editing software: two video editing apps that I currently use (Screenflow and FCPX) have support for Audio Units, although both aren't exactly greatly optimized when it comes to previewing setting in real-time. Now I can preview the settings with menuBUS and only insert the plug-ins when I'm about to render the files for delivery.
In use: Plug-ins can be loaded just like they’re loaded on a DAW - click the insert FX slot and choose from your plug-ins list. Plug-ins can be easily bypassed and reordered by clicking and dragging. There’s also a good preset system, which not only saves your processing chain with all its settings but the associated audio output, which is quite handy when you have an interface with multiple outputs or more than one audio interface on the system. Last but not least, menuBUS offers volume and mute control from your computer keyboard even if your audio interface doesn’t offer such feature, definitely helpful when you don’t have a monitor controller around.
Sound quality: menuBUS is totally transparent and does not affect or degrade your audio by itself, so this criteria does not apply here.
Ease of use: Mostly easy to install and to configure, also very easy to load and re-order plug-ins. The only problematic aspect here is when plug-ins with latency are used since that will interfere with video synchronization i.e. the audio will be delayed in relation to the video. You can mitigate this issue a bit by lowering the buffer-size but it's still bound to happen with plug-ins that requires some extra samples to operate. In terms of stability and resource consumption menuBUS is as heavy as the loaded plug-ins are. Some crashes did happen and restarts were required to solve some issues, although the blame for that must be shared with plug-ins to some extent, but they were smoothened out on the most recent updates, which greatly improved the overall stability. Speaking of updates, the current pace of development is quite impressive, with updates constantly being rolled. Last nice touch is when you're about to close the app or update it: since menuBUS will revert to the previous audio interface setting it warns you to shut off your speakers (or cut the volume on your monitor controller) to prevent eventual pops that may damage the speakers.
Features: For this particular type of app I like to have things as minimalist as possible, and menuBUS lines up well with my taste here. Hopefully future updates will keep it lean and I think the developers should avoid bloat at all cost. Feature-wise the only thing on my wishlist would be a latency compensation mode, which is not actually a problem until you want to use latency-inducing processing while watching video or playing games.
Bang for buck: One hundred percent no-brainer for any Mac user that cares about audio. You’re reading Gearslutz so I’m assuming you care about improving your audio! Go buy right now this if you have a Mac.
Recommended for: Basically all Mac users. You don’t even have to be a music producer, engineer or musician to appreciate menuBUS.