We’ve been watching Harrison Mixbus, a DAW and mixing, editing, and recording workstation, as it has matured. In a crowded world of similar tools, this tool, powered by the open source Ardour DAW, nonetheless sets itself apart. Robust, console-style mixing meets modeled Harrison DSP and extensive editing options, appealing enough that many Mixbus users employ it as a mixing front end even with other tools. On Linux, it finally makes the open source Ardour more palatable, but on the Mac, too, it’s winning some converts. Finding an inexpensive DAW from a leading, ultra-high-end console maker – let alone one that plays well with free software – continues to be a pleasant surprise.

Mixbus 2.0 adds a great deal of additional functionality. As expected, that also includes a price hike; the software will cost US$219. That’s still awfully low given the quality of mixing and track processing effects you get; similar channel strips alone could cost as much or significantly more, and wouldn’t be integrated in a host in the way they are in Mixbus. And you get a far more fleshed-out tool with the upgrade.

New in this release – mixing:

  • Mix bus sends, the signature and namesake of the tool, are doubled to eight from four.
  • Map plugins controls directly on the mixer strip – that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a host before, actually.
  • Improved views: More controls in the main Mix window. Narrow mixer strips, hide/show mix buses. Consolidated plugins, sends, inserts, faders.
  • Phase correlation meter, for checking how stereo mixes will bounce to mono.
  • Polarity (phase) buttons for every mixer strip.

Editing:

  • Crossfade, layering, and automation editing improved.
  • Ripple edits in Ardour, at long last.
  • Transparent regions during drag operations for easier edits, and a “Smart Object” mode that requires less tool mode switching.

The upgrade also expands upon previously rather lean documentation, improves installation, adds key bindings, improves the UI and menus, enhances range selection, improves realtime automation recording, and enhances various other features which Harrison says were user-requested.

The images here make this a bit clearer:

I’ll be evaluating the new version on both Mac and Linux. Stay tuned – and let us know if you have any questions (or if users out there have any tips).

Harrison Mixbus
Harrison Consoles

  • http://www.leviathan-avc.com Seablade

    Well you asked for tips;)

    The automation editing improvements do require getting used to using region gain automation to really take advantage of them, not something I specifically used a lot, but after forcing me to change my workflow isn't bad at all.

    I will say the real nice power of MB2 to me comes out when playing with track templates after having assigned the plugin controllers. For both session and track templates, the controllers will be added as they were when the template was created, making for a very nice way to easily set up a channel strip you rarely touch the plugin GUIs at all on. In fact I don't much at all anymore, maybe initial parameter tweaking, if that. Templates were another thing I never used much in Ardour or MB1, but have started using extensively in MB2.

    Seablade

  • http://www.gearsofmusic.com pc0999

    What about the plug ins? I dont know much about Linux but is there good ones (free, good value, expensive?) and easy to use?

    BTW IIRC that is at least 2x the price, right?

    Thanks for the news.

  • humanchu

    The enourmous complexity of a screenshot like this reminds of why I never see myself using a DAW. A Machinedrum or 808 or OP-1 (or my telecaster) is so much more inspiring to me. DAWs remind me of Excel and Powerpoint, both of which i use at work and really want to escape when making music.

  • Peter Kirn

    @humanchu: That's a fair choice, but it's a channel strip. It doesn't look remotely like Excel; it looks like a Harrison console. The other advantage of the Harrison design is, rather than hiding some of these parameters away (as both hardware and software have been known to do), everything's essentially on one screen. It's a lot of visual information at first, but then it doesn't move – you've got those same parameters no matter what, in the same place, and don't have to navigate multiple windows.

    Generally, screenshots are more composed than this … they're developers, not art directors. But my point stands.

  • Justyn

    I really like the Idea of being semi-restrained by console workflow , But apart from the workflow, are there increased sonic benefits?

    I guess that's a long winded way of asking "Does it sound good/better?" . (Not that it sounded bad or anything, but I'd be interested in what you think of the 'sound' of mixbuss)

    Thank you!

    Justyn

  • http://www.anestheticaudio.com Jesse Mejia

    Many of the features mentioned, (phase buttons, sends, routing, etc) including an insane list of other features and improvements- have already been developed for Ardour 3. Including of course a full midi sequencer.
    http://ardour.org/a3_features
    I've been running an alpha for some time now – even in production – I find it to be an amazingly mature piece of software. 

    It looks like mixbus 2 is still running on an ardour 2 build? As great as the DSP looks – theres no way I'm downgrading back to Ardour 2 now!

    @pc0999: there are many top notch plugins both free and inexpensive for linux. Many of which have been covered by Peter on this blog.

  • http://libregraphicsworld.org Alexandre

    @pc0999

    Yes, there are some good plug-ins for Ardour and Mixbus. LinuxDSP ones are rather high quality, albeit not exactly free. There are some good free LV2 ones like Calf plug-ins and the IR LV2 plug-in (best free convolution reverb in my opinion).

  • Peter Kirn

    @Jesse: That's correct — but Mixbus 2 is still based on Ardour 2.x because Ardour 3.x isn't yet really a stable branch. I expect Ardour 3 support will come when it's ready. And the features you're listing, while they are in Ardour 3, are integrated here with the Mixbus interface.

    That said, you can move files between Ardour 3 and Ardour 2, so you could, for instance, use Mixbus as your final mixing and mastering tool.

    We'll have to look at plugins separately; there's some brilliant stuff.

  • http://libregraphicsworld.org Alexandre

    That said, you can move files between Ardour 3 and Ardour 2

    I'm not sure it's a safe advice :)

  • Peter Kirn

    @Alexandre: append "with backups." The fact that Ardour does use a simple XML file format to me means you can more easily avoid trouble. Anyway, if you're using Ardour 3 for MIDI support, it's a moot point anyway, because you won't have that facility coming the other direction.

  • http://www.leviathan-avc.com Seablade

    @Peter

    I doubt very much, though haven't personally tried it, that Mixbus will open A3 sessions directly as that session format wasn't even finalized till not to long ago, and due to A3's alpha status could conceivably still change if the need is great enough.

    @Jesse Mejia (And really anyone:)

    That being said, I will say there are a variety of features in Mixbus that have not yet made it into A3, for example the plugin control shortcuts which I personally love, or the new editing improvements(Smart tool, region gain based automation improvements, etc.) including ripple editing.

  • http://www.leviathan-avc.com Seablade

    …I will say there are a variety of features in Mixbus that have not yet made it into A3,…

    That should read "I will say there are a variety of features in Mixbus 2 that have not yet made it into A3,"…

    Seablade

  • santusarc

    $220 it had best SOMEhow fully support VST. Or I have no clue why I'd bother. Just me personally, I am not otherwise slamming the app or those who find it useful.

  • http://antisound.net stk

    @Peter – "Map plugins controls directly on the mixer strip – that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a host before, actually."

    REAPER, since v3 ;)

  • http://v-picks.com/ mandolin pick

    I am grateful for these applications that can help artists produce and mix music to create something unique. As a guitar player, I find these programs helpful especially when I want to put my own spin on songs that I like.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    @santusarc: our approach to handling VST plugins on OS X is the same as Logic's. VST is a declining plugin API on OS X. What our approach will be if/when there is ever an Ardour or Mixbus release for Windows, its too early to say, but VST support seems much more obvious there.

  • http://ardour.org/ Paul Davis

    regarding a3/a2/mixbus session files: the stated policy is the same as most other software tools, audio other otherwise: new versions of ardour (and tools like mixbus that are based on ardour) will open OLDER versions of the session file format, but not vice versa. In some cases, where concepts change radically (e.g. panning in a3 compared to a2), the information in the session file may not be preserved BUT a backup, renamed copy of the original session file will be written.

    so, you can open mixbus and a2 sessions in either of those tools, but a2 will not honor the mixbus-specific settings.

    a3 will open mixbus or a2 sessions, but will make a backup copy of the session file, and may discard aspects of the data because its no longer applicable.

    specifically: you cannot open a3 sessions in a2 or mixbus, just like you cannot open PT9 sessions in PT5.

  • http://wizkidsound.com Robert Dyson

    I'd be very interested if there was a free trial. I can't understand why there isn't one.

  • martin

    For all saying "why bother?" Download and install the demo, run MB parallel to Ardour, load the same sound files in both and do an A/B test using the mute buttons on the respective mixers. Hearing is believing. Reaching for my credit card. 

  • Matt Jackson

    So what's the final verdict on the analog summing emulation?

  • Scott

    All functionality aside, could it be any uglier? I think not.

  • Artifact

    Just got my grubby hands on this an i must say, the way it glues my tracks together is next level compared to a lot of DAWS ive used in the past. I route Ableton straight into this mixer and my tracks slam harder than ever. to me, its worth more than the $210.

    • tubetone

      Im sorry to bother you. But how did you route Ableton into Mixbus? And could I do this with logic?

  • TREAD miller

    This is my host for a M.H.ULN8 and it is up to every task sonically. I record into it from M.I.O. and fold back some tracks for additional processioning at times. Yet at summing I only bounce to one track . A Mix Bus track and My hand to GOD not a thing is lost. Tracks are way open and heavy .Just good sound don’t really say it. It is at a very high end and I would not replace it for any amount. And due to its hand in glove integration with my I.O. Would use it even if I had an High end analog mixer. As all your routing is phase aligned automatically. All the good no bad Highly recommended And its not forcing me to retire my old Power mac. O.S.X 10.5 K.P. Miller treadmill .