The Muse Receptor family has gained a large following by providing a robust hardware solution for using software synths, samplers and plug-ins onstage and in the studio. However, a capable Receptor is not the smallest of investments; and the only real alternative until now was a computer-based setup, which requires a number of peripherals and tends to be less stable than a single piece of dedicated hardware.
Enter the MuseBox, a half-rack hardware sound module designed as a joint venture between Muse Research and Peavey. Building on much of the technology of the Receptor, the MuseBox was designed for simple, affordable plug-and-play of soft synths, samples, and effects.
To be clear, the MuseBox isn’t really a baby Receptor. The MuseBox comes preloaded with a fixed set of virtual instruments and effects plug-ins on an internal 8GB solid-state drive; Muse Research tells us these would be valued at over $900 if sold separately. A Compact Flash card slot promises a path for adding more sounds in the future—loading your own custom samples is not currently supported. Two separate synth engines, with roughly 48 voices of polyphony each (polyphony can vary depending on the complexity of the instrument and patch), can run simultaneously alongside up to two external audio inputs that take mic or line level, and all four streams can be sent independently to two separate effects plug-ins and mixed together.
The MuseBox can be played from either a MIDI or USB keyboard. Editing is fairly straightforward via the two-line LCD screen, and two edit knobs on the front-panel. Much easier is the graphic editing, which can be achieved by either connecting a USB mouse and external monitor directly to the rear panel, or with an Ethernet cable connecting the MuseBox to your computer, on which you would run the Muse Remote Control software. For the most part, the Receptor is designed to plug in, turn on, and play.
At the heart of the MuseBox is Play mode. Sounds are organized with “Tags” that organize the presets into various categories: acoustic pianos; basses; strings, and so on. Tags also organize effects suitable for guitar, vocals, and the like. Sounds can have multiple Tags, and user-created Tags can also be used to arrange and store patches into a gig playlist, for instance. Finding a sound is as easy as scrolling the lower of two knobs to the right of the display to find the appropriate Tag, then scrolling the upper knob to find the patch. Pushing the knob in selects that patch.
Due to the nature of loading samples, many patches take longer than an instant to load. This is especially true in the case of the robust acoustic piano (900MB) and electric piano (200MB) sounds. However, it is possible to run two instances of MusePlayer (the plug-in that hosts most of the MuseBox’s sample-based instruments—more on this in a bit) to switch between two patches immediately. Each MusePlayer can hold two separate patches; so up to four sounds can be loaded simultaneously for switching, layering or using keyboard splits.
Editing patches on the front panel requires a fair bit of scrolling, but it’s not difficult. Simply choose the target (Synth 1, Synth 2, Aux 1, Aux 2), hit Edit and scroll to the parameter you want. Press and hold the Edit button to save your edited patch into the User tag area for later recall. A large Play button gets you right back to the main screen.
Two front-panel Aux inputs accept mic or line level signals, complete with 48V phantom power and gain knobs with a three-segment lighted indicator for input level. This is perfect for adding a vocal microphone, guitar, or the outputs of another keyboard to the system, which can have their own effects (more on this later).
In many ways, the simplicity of operation feels like a souped-up Roland Sound Canvas, albeit with much better sounds. The MuseBox is built for travel and gigs, although there is a bit of fan noise that may bug you in the dead quiet of a studio.
The majority of the custom designed sound set is found in the MusePlayer plug-in developed by UVI, the company that designed MOTU’s MachFive soft sampler. A set of sounds from Applied Acoustics, Camel Audio, U-he, and Forefront (TruePianos) are also included. In general, a fairly complete set of pianos, electronic keyboards, drums, basses, guitars, strings, horns, woodwinds, percussion and synths is included to cover most basic gigging needs, which is the main intention of MuseBox. To be clear, these are “plug-ins” in the sense that they’re different software instruments and effects that you can drag into the host OS, but unlike the Receptor line, this is a factory-managed ecosystem and users can’t install third-party VST plug-ins themselves at this time--something we think Muse Research should reconsider in the future.
Most of the patches are built from the UVI samples in the MusePlayer plug-in, which provides over 4GB of sounds and a healthy number of editing parameters. Basic edits, like tweaking a filter or LFO, are a snap when using the external GUI. That is a good thing; because several of the stock patches need some tweaking, like some brass sounds with unnatural amounts of modulation when applying the mod wheel. Many patches don’t do anything interesting when modulated with basic MIDI controllers, which might be a missed opportunity for a box aiming squarely for the plug-and-play performance crowd.
At this time, there’s no implementation of the Compact Flash card slot. It’s intended to let you add additional software instruments and libraries that Muse makes available in the future. This would send the MuseBox over the top for this price range. Considering the large number of exceptional software instruments Muse Research makes available in the Receptor line (and having recently reviewed Receptor VIP), many of the sounds currently included in the MuseBox seem a bit second-tier. Granted, most of the patches are as good as or better than your average hardware ROMpler keyboard; however, they still don’t compare to the high-end mega-libraries available today.
The effects plug-ins included in MuseBox are excellent and would cost almost the price of the unit if purchased separately. This being a joint venture with Peavey, ReValver HP is included. It’s possible to get some great guitar sounds and almost justifies the cost of the unit for those who need a good amp simulation in a live setting.
Other effects include Camel Crusher, Camel Phat, Camel Space, Karlette (an analog tape simulator), Mu Voice Lite, TrackPlug, and MasterVerb; along with a collection of EQ, chorus, phaser, and flanger effects. You can never have too many plug-ins, but what is included covers the bases for intended users.
Each synth and Aux module gets one insert effect, which automatically pulls up the most common parameters for tweaking with the four edit knobs in the graphic editor—though all parameters can be edited. Two additional master effects are accessed via sends on each module. It is possible to dial in some great sounds with TrackPlug on a vocal, ReValver on a guitar, and a splash of MasterVerb across the mix bus. I would love a second insert effect for those times you might want a little EQ before a phaser, for instance, but I’m nit-picking.
The MuseBox is a great solution for someone playing a casual or smaller gig who wants to reduce the size of their setup. In addition to the large collection of meat-and-potatoes sounds, the ability to run an electric guitar, vocal, or second keyboard through quality plug-ins and have control of the final mix makes for a really powerful and effective rig.
I’d love to see the future expansion of the stock sound set through the Compact Flash slot, along with a few more high-end sounds. The build quality convinces me this box will last for many years, to the point I forget it’s a mini-computer running plug-ins. The MuseBox has successfully planted its feet squarely in both the hardware and software worlds it straddles.
Well-built and easy to use. Larger, more detailed sampled sounds than the average hardware ROMpler. Can process and mix up to two audio inputs alongside internal sounds. Graphic editing via external mouse and monitor or Ethernet connection to computer. Internal effects are quite good.
Slower load times for large patches. Some fan noise. Some sounds could benefit from better programming.
A good box for small gigs, especially if you want to add live vocal and/or guitar; however, better sounds, expandability and performance are found in its big brother, the Receptor VIP.
$1,399 list | $999 street | peavey.com/products/musebox