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Tracktion Dsp Master Mix

Tracktion Software Corporation Master Mix

4.25 4.25 out of 5, based on 1 Review

Tracktion DSP brings back to life the Mackie-Acuma Labs Final Mix plugin, but how does it fare in 2015? Can it go beyond nostalgia? We'll find out!


26th March 2015

Tracktion Software Corporation Master Mix by Diogo C

Tracktion Dsp Master Mix



Foreword

Tracktion DSP's Master Mix brings back to life the old Mackie-Acuma Labs Final Mix plugin, but instead of doing a direct port of the now virtual-archaeological artifact, Tracktion DSP opted to do go beyond an overhaul of the original code. This is a complete rewrite, building everything from scratch and only holding Final Mix as an inspiration, paying some good respect to the original concept but also moving things forward.

Hands on

This is a very straightforward plugin despite its inherent complexity. It offers a multiband dynamics tool that can do three bands of compression/,expansion, two equalizers (pre and post-dynamics) with six bands each, a wide-band gate and a soft clipper. There is also a peak meter and independent L-R levels for both input and output gain trimming. Master Mix offers a good number of features but there’s one huge omission here and I won't save it for the last paragraphs: there are no filters. Yes, you heard that right. How come no filters? Hey TSC, please find a way to squeeze HPF and LPF filters on this plugin, even if it takes replacing a couple of EQ bands for that. There's a partial remedy for that, which is to stack shelves since all EQ bands can become a shelf here, but the lack of filters seriously hurts the workflow and the sense of completion here.

OK, now that I've cleared the air...time to move on.

In terms of sound quality this is a very good plugin, especially the equalizers. TSC offers here a very traditional tool without much bells or whistles but that ultimately sounds very right. EQs have 20 dbs of range, with bells bands that are very flexible with virtually unlimited bandwidth control. Shelves are also very nice sounding and allows for (very) resonant modes, which might open up some good creative possibilities.

The multiband dynamics is powerful even though it might have a hard time to compete with the cutting edge stuff that’s has appeared recently in that department. It "only" has three bands and its a more concise and focused tool when compared to a more extravagant design like Fabfilter for example. Nonetheless, this is a well-featured multiband tool which has all the basics but also incorporates cool features such as automatic gain compensation and overall it is a good sounding MB compressor.

One very good thing about Master Mix is the fact that you have two equalizers at your disposal, which makes it a very powerful sound shaping tool despite its lack of innovation or some missing filters ops features!

Master Mix's operation is quite intuitive and easy to operate since most controls can be directly accessed from the main interface, with a couple of sub-menus for fine-tuning the multiband dynamics controls. There are no knobs for the EQ and basically everything is done by clicking and dragging, which falls perfectly in line with Tracktion’s interface design. One thing that caught my attention is the bandwidth adjustment of the equalizer, which uses the mouse scroll wheel or a second menu accessed by double-clicking the EQ area. Laptop users will likely resort to the menu since the scrolling might not be very precise. The double-click expedient is also present on the multiband dynamics area and will open up a menu for numeric adjustments of crossover points, timings, threshold and so on.


Fine-tuning is handled by sub-menus, which drifts away from Tracktion’s modeless interface

This is a well executed plugin that manages to lay down a good amount of features in a very uncluttered way, but in the end the interface feels too small and graphically it can be a bit misleading since the scales are so small. A small visual bump in the EQ can actually be a whopping 10 db boost and the same can be said about the compressor’s visual references. It’s easy to overdo things and go wild with this one, it feels more like a broad stroke that can use some more surgical tools to go along with it. In that regard, this is a plugin that would greatly benefit from a bigger (or re-sizable) interface, allowing for a better experience when making fine adjustments on the EQ. This could also be addressed by creating yet anot sub-menu with a bigger EQ interface or even be a more simple solution such as different db scale. I'd welcome a 6-10 db range as it would feel more comfortable than the current 20 db.

TSC managed to a very light and resource-savvy plugin that hardly bites anything from contemporary computers, and despite what the “master” in the name might suggest, this plugin can definitely go anywhere on a mix or at any stage of a production.


The verdict

It's a good thing that TSC removed the “Final” from this plugin’s name, because it definitely needs one or two plugs to cover what we generally consider to be master bus duties. Master Mix will likely require a couple extra plugins to complement it since it doesn't offer high and low pass filters and it lacks more controls over the peak limiter timings and ceiling. The streamlined workflow might be perhaps the biggest appeal, so users looking for a quick-fix for their master bus duties might want to have a look here when shopping.

Besides standing on its own quite well, I'm strongly inclined to think that Master Mix should be bundled with Tracktion. For whatever reasons which are beyond the scope of this review that isn’t the case and users of TSC’s DAW will have to shell some cash for something that for their perspective will look like a stock plugin - not even a discount is offered, which is not the best way to treat your loyal fans. The asking price is well thought and affordable but its a bit hard to make sense of it when the company’s DAW costs roughly the same.

Detailed scores:
  • Sound Quality - 4/5
  • Ease of use - 4/5
  • Features - 4/5
  • Documentation and support - 5/5
  • Stability and compatibility - 4/5
  • Bang for buck - 4/5

Addendum - A couple of tips for anyone trying to reproduce the old Final Mix presets, by Dan Worrall (from the Final Mix tutorial movies):

Quote:
1. You will need to interpret the sidechain filter settings due to the issue I mentioned above: any preset with sidechain filters set wider than the main cross-over filters will need to be adjusted so the sidechain filters cross over neatly at the same frequency as the main cross-over filters, and don't overlap. The filter slopes still won't match (unless the crossover filters are set to 30dB) but this will get you much closer than slavishly recreating the old FM settings.

2. TURN OFF AUTO-GAIN in both plugs for all 3 compressors. The Mackie plugs had a weird implementation of auto gain which I've never seen anywhere else. Long story short: turning off auto gain won't change the actual gain setting for the compressor, so the sound won't change. But until you do the gain readout shows an offset not the true value...

Anyway, once I'd addressed those two issues I was able to get reasonably close very quickly (granted I deliberately picked a preset that didn't use any extra compressor nodes!) They didn't sound quite the same though: Master Mix is much better quality than the old Final Mix! The FM version had audible issues at the cross-over frequencies with the material I was using, particularly the lower one at about 130Hz which robbed the snare of all its punch. Master Mix's cross-overs are commendably flat and transparent.

I didn't check while I was at the studio, but I seem to recall all the Mackie EQs cramped near Nyquist? That was pretty standard at the time, but not really good enough these days. Certainly not for a "mastering" tool. Master Mix EQ doesn't cramp.

My conclusion: Master Mix is what Final Mix should have been! Better quality, and capable of much more creative results courtesy of the sidechain filter implementation.

Last edited by Diogo C; 28th March 2015 at 02:15 PM.. Reason: clarity

 

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