IK Multimedia MIXBOX by Sound-Guy
MixBox from IK Multimedia
IK Multimedia have been on a roll this year with both hardware and software introductions popping up regularly. They just announced a new software “lunchbox” collection of audio processors, and from what I first heard I expected it to be just a “housing” for some of their current modules from T-RackS, AmpliTube or SampleTank, and thought I’d need those modules in my system to use the MixBox. I was mistaken! What I found when I installed the modest 260 MB of code rather surprised me.
What is it?
The MixBox is a virtual “lunchbox” style channel strip and comes as both a plug-in (all the usual formats) and a standalone version. I looked at the standalone version briefly, but since I have no need for it myself, my comments apply to what I tested in the plug-in format (VST3).
Both versions default to a small four bay rack and can be switched to eight bays at the flick of an icon (let’s see a 500 Series Lunchbox Enclosure do that!). The standalone version has an additional feature that enables it to house up to eight sets of eight bays for a whopping 64 slots. And if you don’t already have 64 different IKM processing modules, don’t worry, MixBox comes with its own “plugins” (a plug-in with plug-ins!) – in fact, seventy (yes 70) of them! Many are based on modules you may already have if you have T-RackS, AmpliTube or SampleTank, but they are not those modules (although I’d bet some of the code is being used from the previous modules). The familiar modules are simplified from the full blown processors which I actually found helpful to rapidly focus in on a sound. And there are many modules new to me, some with fascinating capabilities.
The eight bay view fully populated although you can use any number of modules up to eight (64 in the standalone version!).
There are nine guitar amp emulations, three channel strips, three delays, five distortion FX, seven dynamics processors, four EQs, ten filters, seventeen modulators, nine reverbs and three saturation modules! And the rack has a few tricks up its . . . rack. There is a back panel with a fader for every module (which controls the module's output level) as well as solo buttons and a sidechain switch for processors that use sidechain control. And both front and back views include a switch to access a Wet-Dry control for every slot.
Clicking the window above any slot opens the selection window with ten processor categories.
This processor collection can be used on tracks, buses and even a full mix. It is reasonably light on CPU use with the “rack” itself using about 0.2% CPU resource on my machine, and many of the simpler (but still effective) modules adding less than 0.1% CPU resource, while a few modules push 1% CPU. EQ81 hits about 0.9%, “British EQ” and Tape Echo each hit about 0.7%, Tape Cassette uses 0.6% and an excellent saturation module uses 0.5%. Most useful processor chains I used with four to eight units came in under 1%, total although if I threw in one or two of the heavy hitters I could approach 2%. These values were measured in REAPER using its track performance meter.
In addition to having 70 modules to choose from, MixBox has a preset system with hundreds of presets in nine categories (Bass, Delays, Drums, Guitar Keys, Percussion, Spaces, Synth, and Vocals). The presets provide a wide range of examples, from subtle compression and reverb to surprisingly wild and dynamic effects. And of course you can devise and save your own, and call up any preset which instantly sets up all modules and their settings (again show me a 500 Series Lunchbox Enclosure that can do that!). This makes it perfect for live use if you use a computer at your gigs and very handy in the studio.
There are hundreds of presets available in nine categories.
All controls of all modules can be automated with DAW automation – each slot provides 20 control lanes, the first being a power control to turn a module on and off, and the additional 19 controls cover all the possible module functions. Most modules have only three or four controls, so only the first four or five automation lanes are used. I found it very easy to set up automation for any control by using the automatic envelope creation mode of my DAW (worked fine in REAPER and in Studio One).
Why Use a MixBox?
Using the standalone version in a live situation should be an obvious application with pretty nearly infinite combinations of modules and settings possible and available in a split second (remember, the standalone version can house up to 64 modules at once!). But why use a MixBox in your DAW since you can use any kind of FX chain you want right in a track. And you might already have all the plug-ins you want (‘that’ll be the day’, as my wife says!). MixBox provides some advantages. First there are the 70 modules which cover a wide range of FX types with fine audio quality. In spite of having hundreds of plug-ins already, I found several that can do things I didn’t have covered yet. You can instantly “pop” a module into your signal path or change order of the modules, and it does so quietly, even during playback. And the clean, efficient graphic views of each module make adjustments fast and easy.
The gain faders on every “slot” are very handy to set up gain staging, and they work even without a module in a slot, which can be handy at times. You can switch a series of up to eight plug-ins in and out at once, as well as soloing or muting any of them individually. And although MixBox lacks automatic loudness compensation like T-RackS has, I found it easy to use the output fader and the on-off switch to manually match levels for unbiased checks of the FX effects.
Then there is the sidechain capability. You send the sidechain signal into the MixBox, not to an individual module, so if you wanted different sidechain signals you need to use multiple MixBoxes, though I'm not sure why you'd want compressors in series to be responding to different drive signals! However, if you want to send the same sidechain signal to a couple compressors, MixBox makes it very efficient to set up, and sidechain inputs can be switched on and off instantly from the MixBox “rear panel”.
A Few of My Favorite Things
While I found good to excellent capabilities with every module (yes, I tested all 70) there are some that stand out from the crowd (for me at least). The Saturator X module looks something like the saturator unit in T-RackS and no doubt shares some coding. Although “stripped down” from the full version, it has all the controls really necessary with input gain and output level along with the saturation type dial (ten types of saturation including two tapes types, tube and solid state amplifier configurations, and steel and iron core transformers). And it has the wonderful “Magic Eye” level indicator that took me back to my youth of using a Wollensak tape recorder that used such a tube to indicate record and playback levels. But most of all, it is a fabulous sounding saturation unit!
Eight of my favorites.
The Envelope Flanger is unique to me and I found it great fun. The Tape Cassette module creates not only wow & flutter, saturation and tape aging effects, but even the infamous “tape snap” effect that made wow & flutter seem benign. A lot of fun to degrade your mixes back to the 60’s and 70’s sound.
The Black 76 Limiting Amplifier is of course, the black 1176, although unlike a real one, it processes in stereo. I noticed it even has the “all buttons in” meter defect of the original hardware. Bill Putnam never intended for all four ratio buttons to be jammed on together – and that mode became a classic!
The White 2A Leveling Amplifier is of course the LA2A Leveling Amplifier, one of my favorite compressors, and this one works very nicely with pretty much the same minimal controls as the real hardware, just input gain and peak reduction. And unlike the original, it processes stereo. Both the Black 76 and White 2A lack the meter control that enabled reading output level or gain reduction, but in a DAW only gain reduction readout is really useful.
The Filter Formant is a unique filter that can produce “wah” and “robotic vocal” effects and works great on guitar tracks. AutoPan does exactly that, panning the input signal left and right, with a rate control, depth control and sync capability to lock on to the host tempo. The Slicer is amazing with 50 patterns available plus free running frequency or tempo sync from 1/1 to 1/64, depth and envelope controls. And Tape Echo is a great emulation of the old pre-digital means of creating echos using repeated recording and playback on audio tape.
I found all 70 modules do what they are designed for, and provide excellent audio fidelity (except the distortion and saturation modules that degrade the audio as intended!).
MixBox is available as Audio Unit, AAX, VST2 and VST3 – for 64 bit OS only, Mac and Windows (Win 7 and up). In my test system (PC Audio Labs Rok Box PC running Windows 7 with 4-Core Intel i7-4770K, 3.5 GHz, and 16 GB RAM) the CPU resource varied from about 0.3% to 2% using four to eight modules. Latency is usually low – I found it was only 3 samples for many combinations of modules, and 531 samples was the highest latency I observed for one preset (Crazy Modulation).
An amazingly large and varied collection of high quality processor modules housed in a useful “lunchbox” configuration at a rather low price of US$2.86 “per module” during the intro pricing (US$4.29 per module at the normal price – still a bargain). I'd give it at least 8 stars in the Bang for Buck category if I could!
Excellent and vast collection of fine and very useful audio processors.
Very effective “lunchbox” format makes adjusting interactions between processors quick and easy.
Controls of every module respond to conventional DAW automation.
Much cheaper than buying a hardware lunchbox enclosure and 70 modules – heck, cheaper than buying a single, empty lunchbox cabinet!
Not anything I can really fault unless you wanted to use you old plug-ins inside the MixBox – it uses only the supplied 70 modules. But you can always pop another plug-in onto your track.