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Focusrite MixMasterD Review

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The first thing that impressed me about this processor (aside from the sound quality, which is very impressive) was how fun and easy it actually is to use.

I’ve done a lot of mastering work over the years, both with various software programs and plug-ins as well as the various digital all-in-one mastering processors on the marketplace; so, when I heard that Focusrite was coming out with an all-analog mastering processor a few years back that was priced below most of the digital boxes out there I was intrigued. I expected the processor to be a huge success, and while it has been to an extent (there are several glowing reviews out there) and everyone I’ve sold one to has been very happy with it, it still seems to be a candidate for a “best kept secret”-type box. After spending a few months with mine I’m convinced it’s one of the more underrated products on the market right now.

Great Sound – Fun & Easy To Use
The first thing that impressed me about this processor (aside from the sound quality, which is very impressive) was how fun and easy it actually is to use. While it doesn’t have the surgical control over every paramter that some digital devices do, there’s something to be said for the instant gratification of having each knob control one function, and not having to go hunting through menus and submenus to find the parameter you’re looking for. For instance, you don’t have control over every paramter of each band of the compressor, or every band of the equalizer, but the settings and frequencies that are preset or switched have been chosen very musically. For instance, the ratio and release controls for the compressor have several switched settings, which not only doesn’t give you enough proverbial rope to hang yourself with but also makes comparing and restoring settings easy. Likewise, the high and low frequencies on the 3-band EQ are switched, as are all three boost/but controls, but the frequency selection for the midband is continuously variable, as is the “Q” setting. You also have continuously variable control over the compressor threshold, make-up gain, and levels of the low and high bands. The crossover point for the low-frequency compressor can be switched from 200 Hz to 100 Hz which also adds a little low -frequency bump which is great for dance music, and the low- and high-frequency EQ sections also offer what Focusrite calls a “tilt” setting which offers a more gradual boost or cut over a wider range of frequencies, which I found very useful for sublte tonal enhancements. These extra features really do make the Mix Master a more versatile piece.

Tons Of Features
There are other useful features as well, the expander on the front end works well for eliminating background noise between tracks, and the enhancer can effectively make your mix wider or more narrow if used wisely. There’s a peak limiter for pushing your tracks to competetive levels, and an extra post-processing stereo input which is great if you want to process, say, your vocal independent of the rest of your mix. Even if you’ve never mastered anything before, it’s easy to compare what you’re doing to your original mix as each section is switchable in and out individually, and the whole processor can be bypassed as well. The metering is also extremely comprehensive, there’s very detailed metering for the expander, each band of the compressor, output levels (switchable to inputs), the limiter, and even a phase meter (great for keeping an eye on mono compatibility, literally). The meters are very precise where they need to be, but it’s also easy to keep tabs on your levels at a glance as there are a variety of green, yellow, orange, red, and even blue LED’s. When you’ve got a mix running through this box and turn the lights off in your studio it’s sure to impress!

Real World Experience
I was able to get great sounds out of the Mix Master fairly quickly and didn’t find myself missing the extra control at all. If I needed more than it was capable of (four bands of compression, for example, or five bands of fully-parametric EQ) I could always get that digitally. But I was able to do everything from very sublte enhancements to pushing mixes up to hot, yet still dynamic, levels to squashing the life out of things. I also found a lot of use for the Mix Master for purposes other than mastering – since the processor has a high-quality A/D converter built into it it makes an ideal front end for a digital recording system! I haven’t bothered to A/B compare it to my higher-end dedicated converters, but having used it with some frequency I can certainly say that it compares favorably to it and would exceed the performance of most soundcards’ converters. The multiband compressor makes it ideal for tracking more complex instruments such as drum overheads and piano, and the three bands can be locked together so it functions as a standard compressor which I really liked for tracking vocals and bass, and the enhancer does a very nice job of keeping background noise down without chattering. The EQ can sweeten just about anything and the enhancer can help any stereo source really stand out in a mix…great front end for recording keyboards. And while I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it primarily for this purpose, the extra stereo inputs can make the Mix Master a very effective 4×2 stereo mixer for recording systems with a single stereo input.

In Conclusion
Don’t be fooled…the Mix Master really is a serious piece of professional recording equipment. The fact that it’s an analog processor makes it unique to the market, and the fact that it’s priced lower than most of the digital mastering processors out there makes it even more of a bargain. Coupled with a good D/A converter this device could really give the aspiring project studio a unique edge in the services they offer, and the higher-end studio could certainly find multiple uses for it as well. But what it really comes down to is the sound, and it sounds very good and is easy and fun to work with to boot.

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