Making music using a computer is an increasingly popular activity, but if you want your tunes to sound professional, you need to delve into the often complex art of mixing.
Grasping the basics of fundamental mix effects like equalisers (EQ), compressors and reverbs can be hard enough, but learning how to use them to make a great mix can take years. However, for those who like it quick and easy, Toontrack claims to have the answer in EZmix.
The idea is that instead of using chains of effects plug-ins, you place EZmix on each channel in your mix (guitar, keyboards, vocals, snare drum, etc). Under the hood, EZmix uses its own effects to process the sound, the exact chain depending on the preset. The 16 underlying effects come from Overloud, developers of TH1 and Breverb.
There are just over 200 presets, including 89 general purpose ones (EQ, compression, delay, etc), 60 that are drum-specific (kick, snare, drum bus, etc), as well as 15 for vocals and 11 for guitars.
EZmix features a dead simple preset management system that's always visible on the left-hand side of the screen. This includes columns for Genre (Pop, Rock and so on), Instrument (Drums, Guitar, All, etc), Type (Reverb, Master, Insert, etc) and Producer. All of the columns can be sorted alphabetically and resized horizontally, and you can add or remove them to taste.
However, the real strength in the preset system lies in the free text search located at the top. This is the key to using EZmix effectively, and once you've found the right sort of presets, you can still sort them by column (alphabetically, for example). You can also tag the presets that you like and bring them up in a separate favourites list. This includes the same sorting options as the main list, but also enables you to duplicate, rename and save modified presets, enabling you to build up your own set of custom presets.
Broadly speaking, the presets are aimed at rock music, and the sound can be adjusted with the three faders. The rightmost fader always works as a volume control, but what the other two faders (Shape and Blend) do changes from preset to preset, as indicated in the info box.
This shows the effects chain of the preset (eg, EQ, chorus, limiter) and details on which of them the Shape and Blend faders will affect. Shape might dial in compression and boost the treble, for example.
In use, it's all pretty 'EZ'. We found ourselves spinning through every preset in an instrument category to find something appropriate, then tweaking as best we could. At times, this was fine - at others, we wished for deeper control.
Overall, the effects do sound pretty good, with solid compression, reverb and chorusing. The distortion and bit-crusher sound excellent on drum loops, and there are some cool multi-effects presets in there, including a couple of 'telephone' options.
Unsurprisingly, the drum presets work very well with Toontrack's EZdrummer, although we discovered that the default output levels from Superior Drummer 2.0 weren't loud enough to trigger some of the gated presets properly, and there's no input level control to remedy this.
Clearly, EZmix is intended to make complex processing more accessible and quicker to achieve, and this it does well. While you still need a decent ear to get the best from it, it's far harder to make a mess of things than it is with conventional plug-in chains. It's also handy for anyone who needs to mix in a hurry or make rough mixes on the move (it's light on CPU, too --great for laptops).
However, if you can't find the effect you want, or you want to adjust EZmix beyond the limits of its trio of faders, there's a chance you'll either end up frustrated or reach for other plug-ins to achieve your goal.
Hear what you can achieve using EZmix:
1. Snare: spinning through various snare presets, adjusting shape and where available the blend. First, three gates then three EQ/compression combinations, snare plus reverb, gated snare with transient, snare EQ, then snare EQ/gate/transient combo.
2. Picked electric guitar: working through guitar presets, starting with three acoustic presets (the third has the reverb), then a large scale ambient preset, two chorus types, one with a tape simulator and EQ, then delay, reverb 1, reverb 2 and slap delay, finishing with comp/EQ and straightforward EQ.
3. Beats loop: Hear some of the more creative effects on a basic drum loop. Distorted delay, distorted verb, basic distortion, crushed, delayed, cassette, radio, tape.