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Final Mix

Digital mastering with unprecedented ease for Mackie's D8B By Frank Moldstad
The Final Mix interface (click for larger view).
One of the great things about a digital mixing board like the Mackie Digital 8 Bus (D8B) is its capacity to integrate third-party effects and signal processing plug-ins. In addition to freeing up precious rack space, on-board plug-in effects can be automated in a mix. Plus, they eliminate the D/A-A/D conversion necessary for routing the signal to an outboard analog processor and back.

There are analog signal processors I'll always use, such as Avalon's 737sp EQ/compressor, and others I'd love to have, such as Universal Audio's 1176 compressor. But I like mixing digitally because of the fast, integrated workflow, instant recall and automation. And the convenience of having EQ, compression, reverb and other signal processing plug-ins on the board, quickly assignable to various channels or busses, is a powerful lure -- especially since the settings can be saved with a mix.

The D8B ships with very serviceable on-board compression, gating, EQ and effects (delays, echos, etc.), assignable to any channel. But the real power of on-board effects processing is realized by adding optional UFX cards ($495 list) to the mixer. These cards are installed into slots on the rear of the mixer by removing a plate fastened with four thumb screws and sliding them in ("So easy, even a game show hostess could do it," according to Mackie).

The board can hold a total of four UFX cards, each of which can simultaneously support the following effects configurations: 1) four mono effects; 2) two mono and one stereo effect; or 3) two stereo effects. Doing the math, this means that with four UFX cards installed, the D8B can run 16 channels of mono effects or eight channels of stereo effects simultaneously. After purchase, plug-ins are enabled by entering an authorization number into the board, which comes with a custom computer head end that has its own operating system.

Like most people, I generally wait for a "killer app" to come along before I plunk down my hard-earned cash for an upgrade. I didn't buy a UFX card for my D8B until Mackie released the MDW 2x2 parametric equalizer plug-in, designed by esteemed producer/engineer George Massenburg. Its long-anticipated release set the Mackie user forums buzzing last year, because of its surgical, transparent accuracy. I promptly bought a UFX card, ponied up for the Massenburg EQ ($599 list) and assigned it a permanent home on my board's L/R main outs. Which is where it stayed -- until recently.

The Digital 8 Bus
The newest D8B plug-in, Final Mix, caused me to shuffle everything around. Final Mix ($399 list) is a powerful stereo mastering plug-in, and I consider it the second gotta-have-it killer app for the D8B. It's replaced the MDW EQ on my board's L/R main outs, and I've added a second UFX card to the board so that I can run six instances of the MDW EQ (four mono, one stereo) simultaneously with Final Mix in stereo.

Designed by Acuma Labs, a Canadian audio applications developer acquired by Mackie in August 2000, Final Mix was a well-kept secret until its release, in contrast to some of the other plug-ins, such as Massenberg's and the well-regarded Drawmer ADX100 compressor/gate plug-in -- both of which caused considerable impatience on the forums because of the extended time between their announcements and their release. But if D8B users were surprised by this one, it didn't take long for the buzz to spread after they began downloading Final Mix demo versions.

In simple terms, Final Mix provides multi-band dynamics processing and equalization -- the essential mastering tools. There are three overall sections on the main interface: EQ, Dynamics and a Global control section with assignment buttons and meters.

Final Mix in Action

Acuma Labs, creator of Final Mix, has posted five examples of songs before and after being mastered in Final Mix, in MP3 format:

At the upper left, two large horizontal screens graphically represent the EQ and dynamics curves, with colored nodes for each band that can be pulled with a mouse (via the mixer's on-screen interface). At the bottom left are three smaller screens, one for each of the dynamics processor's three bands, where you can set frequency and bandwidth keys for each band.

A middle section of the main interface has in/out buttons affecting various EQ and dynamics functions, such as pre- or post-EQ and clipping or gating functions.

At the far right is the Global Controls section, which houses separate stereo input/output meters, a preset menu (more on this below), insert L/R controls, A/B switches for comparing mix scenarios, a write button for automation, and an "active" button that bypasses the plug-in. A very helpful inclusion here is a global help button, with a block diagram of the Final Mix signal chain and explanations of every function. Also, a drop down menu here allows you to load, save as, cut, copy and paste.

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Related Keywords:Mackie, D8B, Final Mix, mixing

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