I posted a short while back about the demise of SONAR Cakewalk, and my switch to the Harrison Mixbus DAW, saying:
“It’s Harrison Mixbus from here on out.”
Well, that was certainly premature, and the very opposite is true now. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’d rather eat a broken glass sandwich than continue on with it.
The main reason I bring all of this up is, I had previously posted that I was initially pretty impressed with Mixbus. Now, after quite of bit of experience with it, I suggest you avoid Mixbus like the plague. I must apologize if I’ve led anyone astray in wasting their time with this DAW. I’ve certainly got my reasons, many of which I’ve documented below.
Let’s set this up with some specs on my DAW PC, just so no one thinks there’s a problem there:
– Dell XPS-SE-8920 Tower
– Intel Core i7-7700K CPU @ 4.2 GHz
– 16GB RAM
– Solid State HDs
– Dual Dell UltraSharp 24″ InfinityEdge Monitors, attached to an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 graphics card
– On-board integrated Surround Sound (disabled of course, while mixing)
– Mackie CR5 studio monitors (Marantz and CAD cans for close-up editing work)
– Windows 10
It’s a total powerhouse, and boots in literally about 10 seconds.
Now, with about 6 weeks of experience using Mixbus under my belt, here are just a few of the (major) shortcomings I’ve encountered:
– For openers, and this is of course extremely important to new users, the Mixbus User’s Guide is absolute garbage:
A DAW is an extremely complicated piece of software in learning to use properly. Typical guides easily run into hundreds upon hundreds of pages long, so beginning to use a new one is a very large investment in time and effort, not to mention money.
The Mixbus User’s Guide is truly a woefully inadequate document. It often just outlines items like which options are under which toolbar menu, like I can’t see that in the first place by simply clicking on them. But, how to use these functions? To really get in-depth on any given subject, you’re forced to watch on-line videos that are embedded within the manual, and that of course that requires an active Internet connection. Really no big deal there as far as the connectivity is concerned, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make about using this method of writing manuals.
It’s so time consuming having to fast forward and rewind videos just to learn how to accomplish simple DAW functions. As far as PDF User Guides go, I want to be able to look up what I need in an organized, detailed manual with a TOC and/or index, hyperlinked to the appropriate document sections. That allows me to read about exactly what I’m interested in, completely described in writing, and instantly. Not so with the Mixbus manual. I was better off using Google to discover what I’d guess you’d call its “secrets”, the majority of the time.
Given all that, attempting to perform Mixbus operations that should be totally intuitive in a DAW often turned into an exercise in total aggravation. I found myself spending much more time trying to figure out how to accomplish things like simple edits, instead of actually getting any real work done. That’s obviously a very bad thing, but it’s far from all that makes it inferior to any other DAW I’ve used before.
– Bus functionality (or rather, the lack thereof):
Once you set up your main busses, you’d better be happy with them from there on out in your project.
You can’t reorder or move busses in any way in the mixer, yet you can in the editor. The catch? If you do, you wind up with a situation where the order of your mixer bus strips no longer matches the order of their corresponding lanes in the editor. Their claim there is being able to move mixer busses would interfere with the “Analog Workflow” which is what Mixbus seems to pride itself on, that being the emulation of their famous analog hardware mixing consoles. Just what the hell is “Analog Workflow” anyway? Not that it matters, because this thing is a DAW (DIGITAL AUDIO WORKSTATION). No matter what anyone says, it’s a computer program and therefore DIGITAL!
To me, things like this completely stifle creativity for changes you’d like and/or need to make well into the mixing process. As far as busses go, it’s impossible.
Another lousy characteristic of their busses: Unless you’re willing to spend big bucks on the high-end version of Mixbus (Mixbus32C), you’re limited to 8 busses total. How anyone can live with a limitation like this is beyond me. Even with the high end version, you only get 12.
Another inconsistency: You can reorder input strips in the mixer, and the editor lane order is updated accordingly, as you would expect. It makes zero sense that busses aren’t handled in exactly the same way.
Speaking of mixer input strips, there are 8 send buttons on each, corresponding to the 8 busses. They’re hard-coded and whether you need to use them or not, they can’t be changed in any way.
– Bugs, bugs and more bugs:
I’ve run into a ton, all of which I’m not going to bore you with here. The worst is, during a typical mixing session of a few hours or so, Mixbus will typically crash at least 3-4 times. I’m not talking about waiting out unresponsive Windows, but instead total crashes to the Windows desktop with various program instances that need to be killed via Windows Task Manager before Mixbus will restart (that, or a reboot). If you haven’t been saving your project file on a regular basis, poof, goodbye to all of your work.
– The Mixbus Forums are troll heaven:
Trying to ask or suggest something over there is a fucking nightmare, since it seems as far as most of their users go, it’s their way or the highway. Man, I hate that sort of attitude… It’s not a discussion, it’s a sermon that I’m not willing to waste my time with, and trolls abound to preach it to you. Additionally, don’t you dare mention any other DAW there for comparison purposes either, unless you really want the wrath of God to come crashing down upon your poor head.
In summary, there was no really not much help to be found from users there at all. Likewise with the developers, who are often unresponsive to posts, sometimes apparently ignoring them altogether.
Remember my mention of not being able to reorder busses? When I initially asked how to do it and found out it wasn’t even possible, I was accused of poor planning in setting up my mixes. Folks, I assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. I really took exception to that, and can’t tell you just how much it pissed me off.
I’m in fact extremely anal about proper planning in the production of a song. I document everything in a multi-tabbed spreadsheet before recording even begins, individually for every single tune. That includes all settings on my hardware mixer, recorder, planned DAW layout, and even the settings for every single instrument involved right down to volume and tone controls on guitars. All of that comes in mighty handy if you need to reference something somewhere down the line in the production process.
Bottom line, I could go on for a very long time about a lot of other characteristics of Mixbus that suck, but I think you get the general idea if you’ve made it this far into my post.
So, what’s my next guinea pig?
REAPER: “Audio Production Without Limits”
Back to the drawing board it was for me, as I began to explore other DAW options. Packages like ProTools are great, but as a small home studio I can’t afford a $25/month license fee or a $600 perpetual license to buy it outright.
I’d been using the Cockos free plugin package (ReaPlugs) for years. Everything in there is excellent, even comparable to some overrated and overpriced plugins found elsewhere.
That in mind, it was a no-brainer to start checking into their DAW, “REAPER”.
Some of my favorite REAPER features so far:
– Great User’s Guide PDF that thoroughly covers topics in writing (including nice examples), with a hyperlinked TOC.
– Unlimited tracks, and there’s only one type to choose from, so no confusion at all there. Any track can be configured for any use you’d like, an input strip, bus, VCA, etc.. Absolutely everything in the mixer can be reordered, with the corresponding lane reordering in the editor performed automatically, as any sane person would expect.
– Nested folder system allows group editing, routing, bussing, all in one step.
– Frequent bug fixes and additional functions added.
– Comes with over 200 plugins, well organized by type, category, and even the developer. Of course, you’re also free to add as many of your own as you’d like.
– Powerful JS scripting engine.
– Multichannel support. Each track supports up to 64 individually routable channels!
– The editor is really well designed making it easy to use, and I’ve not found a single thing I haven’t been able to accomplish as with any of the previous DAWs I’ve used.
– Very nice automation of the usual things like volume and panning, and also on-the-fly plugin control.
– The REAPER Forums are just the opposite of Mixbus, with lots of discussion about anything to do with any DAW at all. There’s lots of assistance to be had there from both users and developers, both of which are very responsive to questions and possible bug reporting.
No lie, I’ve gotten more done on the remix of the same song in REAPER in just a few hours than I previously had in Mixbus during the month I stupidly spent on and off trying to get it completed properly in the latter.
Here’s a quick look at its editor and mixer panels:
Check out REAPER for yourself, you’ve absolutely nothing to lose. Cockos even allows a 60 day, fully functional evaluation period.
If you do decide to purchase it after evaluation, there are two different licenses, operating on an honor system:
$60: Discounted license for personal use, exactly what a small-scale operation like mine needs, through v6.99 (current version is 5.70, so that should be good for a while).
$225: Full priced commercial license, exact same version support limit.
That’s it, and there’s absolutely no difference in function between these licenses. Cockos produces only one version of REAPER.
Here are the relevant links, read for yourself about all of the powerful features of REAPER, my new DAW for now: