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Focusrite Platinum MixMaster

Stereo processor with expander, three-band compressor, EQ and a limiter By Glenn Bucci

The Focusrite Platinum MixMaster is a 2U analog stereo processor designed for mastering music in project studios. It includes (from left to right) an expander, three-band compressor, EQ and a limiter. There is a bypass button on each section which allows you to compare before and after on each effect. The unit by the way has lots of lights. I found the lights not only look impressive, but they are a great aid in knowing what the unit is doing to the signal. All the knobs have a solid feel with black rubber grips that make adjustments easy. The back of the unit has stereo inputs and outputs which are both XLR (+4 db) and balanced connectors (-10 db). The back panel accepts an optional 24-bit/96kHz converter which allows you to output your signal directly into your digital recorder. (I would recommend getting this option, as converting at the source and using less analog cables will help not degrade the signal.) Finally, there is additional stereo pair of inputs which allow for a second signal to be input into the chain. With the influx of mastering plug ins from companies such as Waves and Steinberg, can this hardware unit offer something that software companies lack? Let's take a look.

Those who are familiar with Focusrite know that their Platinum Series is their consumer product line. Though their Platinum series offers products of very good value, they are not on the same level as their ISA series, which is found in numerous professional studios. However, after working with the MixMaster, I would not say this unit is a consumer piece of gear. I would put it closer to their old Green series, which was a step above the Platinum in regards to sound and quality.

Mastering is an art of its own. Focusrite realized that they needed to make something simple to use, which would produce desired results quickly. They also designed this unit so a Master's degree in audio engineering would not be required. In order to assist the user, the manual comes with very good tips on how to master. Though the manual is helpful, I would suggest looking at internet sites such as Sound on Sound or Mix for articles on mastering for additional insight. I would also suggest having decent monitors that can give a good representation of the low end as well, such as Mackies, or Tannoy System 800s and up, which appear to be up to the task in a project studio.

Expander controls
Expander controls
The Expander has threshold and release controls, as well as an LED meter. The meter shows the amount of gain reduction, and how fast the release is working. By using optic circuitry, it has a soft knee character which gives smooth results. In carefully setting it up, I was able to cut out a vocalist's breathing noise before she began singing. It can also reduce noises at the beginning and end of songs. With the popularity of DAWs these days, you can mute background noises fairly effectively. However, the Expander could be a good backup just in case you missed something.

The Multiband Compressor allows you to switch the low mid crossover from 200 Hz to 100 Hz. But it does not give total control on all crossovers like the Waves Mastering suite. Luckily, Focusrite selected good crossover points on the unit, so you don't have to agonize about where to set them for each song. Many times in a mix, a kick drum or bass guitar could allow a single band compressor to squash the high end as it would come in too strong and too quick. By having the multiband control, you can set the low, mid, and high frequencies separately, which is very helpful at the mastering stage. There is just one threshold knob in this section. Due to this setup, I found it best to adjust the midrange first, as there is no MF trim knob. As always, use your ears first, and the meters second, as a guide for adjustments. Then move to the LF trim to adjust the compression on the kick and other low frequencies. Finally, adjust the HF trim to control the cymbals, high hat and other high frequency instruments.

There is an attack button which switches its speed between slow or fast mode. The lock button gives you the option to have compressor work as a single band compressor, making the unit more flexible for different situations. The ratio control has fixed settings of 1.3, 1.7, 2.2, 3, 4,and 5. I found the 1.3 setting too gentle and not adding much to a mix. To add more of an effect to the mix, I found moving the ratio to 2.2 or higher allowed the compressor to be heard as it works. Generally though, I found on several mixes that a 1.7 ratio was just right in taming the peaks and to assist in having the mix gel very nicely, without affecting the sound. There is a separate meter for each band starting with low signals in red lights and the stronger signals in yellow. Focusrite included four release settings as well as a fast and slow program-dependent mode. I found the program modes work fairly well. There is a makeup gain knob which goes up to 15 db. In using this with the limiter, it can be made to work like a Maximizer in giving you a louder sound without increasing the signal. Sadly, this effect recently has been overdone on many recordings we hear on the radio. There is also an LED clip light which will indicate when the signal is overloading.

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Related Keywords:Focusrite Platinum MixMaster, expander, three-band compressor, EQ, limiter

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