- You can see the video track behind the top of the
resizeable video window.
- The Details section can be docked and undocked.
Choose between piano roll and notation views here.
- Choose between piano-roll and notation views
- The resizable controller strip can show any one
MIDI controller at a time.
- An automation lane is available per track, and
can show any automatable parameter.
- Clip automation can be used instead of, or in conjunction
with, track automation.
- The effects selector makes it easy to assemble
effects chains, as well as choose presets for the
- Tabs bring up different windows for the Details
In a world where entire countries are
going bankrupt, money’s tighter than James
Brown’s horn section. So for those getting
into computer-based music, a $75 program
looks great on paper — but of course, when
you start working with it, your expectations
will have to be tempered by reality. After all,
that’s about the price of 15 lattes from the
Starbucks at LAX. How good can it be?
Surprisingly good. Mixcraft is not a
toy, it’s a no-excuses tool for accomplishing
real work, from audio recording, to
MIDI with virtual (or hardware) instruments,
to creating a video to get your
band up on the web. Of course, there
are limitations compared to the “big
guys,” but these seem to be based
around the question “So, does the end
user really, really need this?” Wrap this
all in a straightforward interface, and
you have a program that offers
I GET AROUND
Finding your way around the interface
(which is not unlike Steinberg Sequel) is
easy. The upper part of the window has a
standard track/arrangement view with track
headers, tracks where clips reside, a timeline,
and the like. The lower half, called “Details,”
has several tabbed views:
Project. This is where you specify tempo,
key, auto beat matching, metronome, global
effects, etc., and enter song info in a notepad.
Track. Choose a color and size, implement
track freeze, duplicate a track, and manage
Sound. “Editor” would probably be a better
term; with a MIDI track selected, you
see a piano-roll view with editing tools. For
audio, you see the waveform, with the main
options being to change loop start and
end, do time stretching, change offset and
Mixer. This console view includes faders,
meters, pan controls, solo/mute, a basic
three-band EQ (hi/mid/lo boost and cut),
effects selector, and preset chooser for the
instruments in MIDI tracks.
Library. Access content through this view;
again with the Sequel analogy, it’s somewhat like the Media Bay. Content is organized as
50 sound kits, but you can search for content
based on criteria like tempo, key,
mood, and the like.
The Details section can be undocked,
so you can create more space for the track
view — this is particularly useful with dualdisplay
systems. Or, you can keep the
single-window interface when laptopping.
Mixcraft 5 carries over the instruments from
V4 (Impulse synth, Minimogue virtual analog
synth, VB3 organ, and Acoustica Instruments)
but adds the Messiah polysynth, a
lite version of Applied Acoustics Lounge
Lizard electric piano, G-Sonique’s Alien
303 bass synth, and Acoustica Expanded
Instruments (which adds 66 more sounds
to the existing Acoustica Instruments). One
cool feature: If you insert more than one
instrument, they layer automatically. Lounge
Lizard, VB3, and Messiah won’t load into
other programs because Acoustica’s
license for these is Mixcraft-only, but all
other included VST effects and instruments
will work fine — just remember to flag Mixcraft’s
VST folder in your other hosts.
Messiah is your basic Prophet emulation,
but with an Edit page for editing the
arpeggiator, effects (distortion, delay),
drift for that detuned analog sound, and
modulation (but not matrix modulation;
destinations and sources are fixed). I even
like the presets, and this is a fine addition
to the package.
The name Alien 303 tells you what to
expect, and it doesn’t disappoint if you
want acid-house bass lines — I can see the
smiley faces now.
Like the original Acoustica Instruments,
the Expanded Instruments — 66 in all —
can’t be edited; you call up the preset, play,
and use it if you like. The new instruments
fill in some of the gaps not accommodated
by the original set, and many — if not most
— of these sounds are very useable. And
I’m picky about presets.
The one instrument that’s missing is a
good drum module where you can create
your own kits, although the GM drum sets
and other kits are actually quite good. Then
again, with the money you save, you can
probably afford Toontrack EZ Drummer,
FXpansion BFD Eco, or something similar.
Mixcraft bundles several of its own effects:
chorus, compressor, delay, distortion, EQ,
flanger, and reverb. These are basic; don’t
expect sidechaining or sync-to-tempo. Also
included: Kjaerhus’s nine classic freeware
effects (whose delay does sync to tempo).
Yes, they’re freeware, but they’re good. You
also get the Shred amp simulator, Voxengo
Boogex Amp Simulator, and Voxengo
SPAN Spectrum Analyzer. Though EQ in
the mixer itself is minimal, plug-ins include
two graphic EQs and G-Sonique’s way-fun
Pultronic EQ-110P, which emulates a rare
and expensive Pultec tube EQ.
As most effects are freeware and the
Acoustica effects are fairly simple, this is one obvious factor in the low price. However,
given the plethora of freeware plugins
and the low cost of many commercial
versions, I’d rather see a low price than pay
more for plug-ins I may or may not use.
That said, you’ll probably want to spring for
a better reverb than what’s included.
While you can’t expect engraving-quality
printing from Mixcraft — and you can only
see one track’s worth of notation at a time —
musical notation is implemented very cleverly.
Each note is superimposed on a
grayed rectangle, like what you’d find in a
piano-roll editor. You can change the rectangle’s
duration (which also changes the
corresponding note’s rhythmic value
onscreen), as well as move the rectangle
around to change pitch or start time. It’s
also possible to snap to particular rhythmic
values, “tidy up” notes to try and
make a performance more notationfriendly,
and print out the notated track.
This is an interesting way to edit, as it
bridges standard notation and MIDI
BALANCE IN THE FORCE
As you work with the program, you’ll find
little things you didn’t expect, as well as
features that are missing from other
programs. For example, although you can
drag-and-drop clips, you can’t drag-copy
MIDI notes in the piano roll editor; you
have to cut/copy, then paste. For crossfading,
your only curve option is linear (I would
have preferred equal-power). To zoom in
and out, either in the track view or in the piano roll editor, you can use the + and –
buttons or a mouse wheel (very handy),
though there aren’t click-and-drag or “spinner”
zoom controls. I also couldn’t figure
out any way to hook up a control surface
(e.g., Mackie Control), or do custom
keyboard commands. And, not supporting
REX files is an issue: These
days, sample libraries often include
REX files as the primary timestretchable
On the other hand, the noise
reduction feature works like ones you
find in dedicated digital audio editors:
It finds a space that’s blank except for
the noise, “learns” the noise, then
removes anything from the file that
matches that sample’s “noise print.”
Marker implementation is also cool, as
markers can not only serve as navigation
references, but also indicate
changes in tempo, key, or time signature
in a manner similar to Acid. Furthermore,
Mixcraft can record at
sample rates up to 192kHz.
Video used to be considered a relatively specialized feature found in high-end DAWs,
but that was before YouTube. Adding video to a program isn’t trivial, but Mixcraft
does it well: You can import or drag-and-drop AVI and WMV files, which creates a
video and audio track. (Although Acoustica says you may be able to import other
formats if you have a suitable codec on your machine, I didn’t have any luck with
Flash, MOV, or MPG files. It would also be cool if version 6 could render videos to
Once loaded, you can open a resizable video window, split clips (yes, remove the
part between songs where the guitarist is tuning up), trim beginnings and ends,
stretch video, and even crossfade between clips. After creating the soundtrack, you
can save the video by itself or with the soundtrack; and Mixcraft simplifies the arcane
rendering process by letting you simply move a slider to choose quality vs. size, but if
you’re savvy, you can open up a separate window for WMV compression settings
(video bit rate, encoding type, audio quality, dimensions, etc.) or basic AVI settings.
This is very impressive in a sub-$100 audio program.
Some might see Mixcraft as a reaction
against bloatware, but I think that with much
music software, the bloatware tag is unfair.
Some people really do use most of what a
DAW offers, and different people use different
features. One feature set wouldn’t be
adequate for everyone.
Even so, Mixcraft convincingly accommodates
the world of straight-ahead audio
recording, MIDI-based composition, looping,
and beat-matching — even with video.
The essential features you need to create
music are there, the interface is pretty obvious,
and the virtual instruments not only let
you make music out of the box, but are a
bargain in this context. Throw in the free
downloadable content library, and you have
a very complete package.
Mixcraft is a likable program, combining
friendliness, value, and a realistic feature
set. While there are some definite omissions,
I doubt anyone would dispute that Mixcraft
5 offers exceptional value for the money.
But don’t take our word for it: There’s a
downloadable demo, and you can see for
yourself what the program has to offer.
Although there’s never been a better selection
of budget programs, Mixcraft goes the
extra mile in several crucial aspects, and for
that, wins our Key Buy award.
Outstanding value. Better than expected
video support. Several decent virtual
instruments. Now includes a dockable
mixer view, track and clip automation,
and unlimited sends. Built-in per-clip
noise reduction. Can burn Red Book
CDs. Notation editing and printing.
Considerable free content is available
via downloading. Lets you play notes
from a QWERTY keyboard.
MIDI editing, included effects plug-ins,
and mixer channel EQ are basic. No
support for REX files or ReWire. No
MIDI plug-ins. No control surface support.
Can see only one track of notation
at a time.
$74.95 download, $14.95 for 60-day
license (just enough to record your
NEED TO KNOW
C’mon, what can I expect for $75?
A lot. Just remember you’re paying for
an efficient, capable core program, not
a big bundle of effects plug-ins.
Will Mixcraft 5 work with my computer?
Yes, if it’s a Windows 7, Vista,
or XP machine — including Macs that
run Windows via BootCamp. It works
fine with a 1GHz processor and 2GB
Can you actually do anything with
the video track? You can split video
clips and do crossfades, lengthen or
shorten clips (similarly to how you
stretch audio within the program), as
well as export movies as AVI or WMV
files. Realistically, Mixcraft 5 is about
solid video support for audio more than
What are the biggest missing features?
MIDI editing is basic; you won’t
find features like drum maps, logical
editors, or MIDI plug-ins. There’s no
REX or ReWire support, and though
you can bring in Acidized clips, you
can’t edit the transient markers. Also,
there’s no support for control surfaces.
What kind of plug-ins does Mixcraft
5 accept? VST, DirectX, and
Acoustica’s own plug-in format.