The MixBox!! You didn’t think we’d go without reviewing this, did you?
Look, IK Multimedia has been heavy on their game this year. They’ve released several products, both hardware, and software and they stay active on Instagram Live putting out tons of good information and music-making tips.
I’d like to give you my perspective of MixBox as a music producer/composer as well as an owner of T-Racks. I already know this question is coming -> “if I have T-Racks do I need MixBox?” and vice-versa… just hang in there, we’ll get to that.
As with anyone who is an IK Multimedia fan, I was super excited about this release as I made an Instagram post not long before the announcement of MixBox asking them when they were going to release a 500 series styled look to the plugins.
Slate Digital went this route, a lot of people gravitated to that look. I know many who purchased Mix Rack mostly based on the look and sound second, then we have PSP who took on the same look. So, I figured it was only a matter of time before IK jumped onboard.
What is MixBox?
MixBox is a lovely 500 series lunchbox styled channel strip that comes with 70 units derived from IK Multimedia’s T-Racks, AmpliTube, Sampletank as well as a few units that they’ve newly created. This is broken down as such.
3 Channel Strips, 5 Distortion units, 9 Amps, 10 Filters, 17 Modulation Fx, 9 Reverb Units, 4 EQ’s, 7 Dynamic Units, 3 Saturation Units, and 3 Delays. That’s a lot of FX right there, more than enough.
Let’s talk about some of my favorite units within each section and how I use them
Many of the amps are based on known brands like Mesa Boogie, Roland, Fender, and some others. They do what they’re supposed to do and they sound very good. My two favorites (currently) are ‘Tone Control’ and the ‘SVT Classic’ (Ampeg emulation).
I like using the Tone Control to shape my main instruments and the SVT on bass (808s, Synths, Guitar) for a little edge, don’t ask me why, it just does the job and I love the results.
All five of these Distortion units are great but I’m really favoring The Crusher and the Lo-Fi units. I use Crusher to bring out harmonics in baselines and synthesizers handling low-frequency information within the music. Lo-Fi is used to taper off and or tame harsh sounds.
I really enjoy dirting up strings and acoustic instruments with Lo-Fi as well. It’s a few knobs, easy to operate, and gets the job done.
There isn’t a filter I don’t like in this section but for brevity’s sake, I’ll pick two I’ve used most recently: Filter – M (Moog) and Filter – O (Oberheim). These are very good sounding filters modeled after the filter sections of classic synthesizers. I typically put these after my reverbs and on drones with a bit of automation to keep things interesting.
From this batch, I mostly use the Convo Reverb because it has a HP and LP filter, but when I’m not, I’ll use the Inverse Reverb. The Inverse Reverb is also in the flagship T-Racks bundle.
Everything needs a little bit of space, nothing is more of a turn off than dry sounds. It’s unrealistic and makes everything sound amateur. With that being said, I use a combination of sends and inserts when using reverb. Inserts = more CPU usage but there are times when ‘sends’ don’t cut it.
Lastly, I like adding reverb to my master bus, just a little bit to add space and depth to tracks. Don’t go overboard, just a touch can yield beautiful results.
Right off the bat, my favorites here are the EQ PA1 and the EQ PG. Both are emulations of iconic EQ units. The PA1 is based on the Pultec EQ, the PG is based on the API 560 EQ.
The PG is my main coloring/shaping EQ, little moves make a huge difference. I do a high pass filter, followed by a compressor (most of the time) then an EQ PG. It’s in my template on every single channel, that’s how much I use it.
I tend to use the PA1 for the classic Pultec trick (that’s what it’s called) and I also find myself placing it at the end of my busses for an extra boost of the high end and or tonal shaping. I’ve known engineers to place the Pultec after the limiter on the master as well. That’s right, after the limiter.
Autopan, Ensemble, and Chorus C1 are my go-to units in this section. I have a custom rack built that gives my sounds good width and depth. The rack is assembled in this order.
- Chorus C1
- Auto Pan
- Saturator X (optional)
- See the above image
The entire rack is set to 25% to 35% wet this way I can keep my mono compatibility while still dialing in some nice stereo juiciness. I find this rack works very well with lead synths, pianos, and brass.
Black 76: This is an emulation of the widely known 1176 compressor. Very good on drums and fast performing elements with hard transients due to its fast attack. The compressor can be turned off and used strictly as an amplification device. I tend to do this a lot with the 1176.
Keep in mind, it’s built differently from most compressors with its attack and release settings. The far-right means fast and the far-left means slow.
Bus Compressor: This is based on the SSL Glue compressor and is typically used on a bus, but can be used on any sound at any time. I like using it on instrument and synth bus as a smooth way to control and gel sounds together, but still, keep the musicality within the sounds.
De-Esser: I don’t know what to say here, a De-Esser is a De-Esser and IK has done a good job with theirs. I really enjoy the De-Esse vs Normal switch for Ab-ing reasons. These are very popular to use with vocals, but I would encourage using it on any sound with harsh high-end sounds. You could even place it on the bus to further control sibilance throughout the entire track.
Model 670: IK’s version of the Fairchild 670 (another tube) compressor. This is said to be the ‘Big Daddy’ of all tube-based compressors. What makes it special is it’s fast on transients (unlike the LA2A) minus the pumping sound that you’d run into with the 1176.
The 670 sounds amazing on busses; keyboards, synths, vocals (magical on the vocals). Literally, a ‘glue master’, you could use 670 as a gluing unit vs the SSL Buss compressor. I tend to strap this compressor on various instrument busses.
White 2a: The White 2a is an emulation of the classic LA2A leveling amplifier. It’s one of the easiest compressors to use due to their only being two knobs. The 2A has no attack and release knobs as you see on most compressors (1176, Glue, etc). These are more so fixed-ish with the attack at 10 milliseconds and the release being around 60 milliseconds.
What’s interesting about this compressor is it can double as a preamp so to speak. A lot of music producers and engineers love to use it on bass, synths, and vocals due to its slow yet smooth response (release), I like using it on everything, including drums. I like its tone and texture so everything has to get a little bump through it, especially if the sound is low, to begin with.
I can’t pick a favorite here. I’ve used all three units from both sections and I like them all, this may change as I continue working with MixBox.
Who doesn’t like saturation!? It’s a great way to excite harmonics, increase perceived loudness, and not to mention, when used correctly it can kind of act like a limiter especially if you’re using the right saturator!
The Saturator I use mostly is Saturator X. I don’t know what it emulates or if it’s merely a combination of inspirations tossed into one unit, but it’s been my go-to for quite some time. What’s unique about it, is all the different modes it has.
- Tape 2
- Master 6 and 12db
- Push-Pull (Solid/Tube)
- Class A
I like the Tape and Master 6/12db modes best. I find placing this on busses or synths really adds some color and fullness. Sometimes, I’ll even drive sound into it with a 2A or 1176.
The new ‘Tape Cassette’ unit has found its way into one of my templates as well. I only use it to add vintage-like characteristics to my strings and keys, but I keep the noise off. Mixing both, Saturator X and Cassette can yield some interesting results (experiment).
Is MixBox Worth The Money?
This is a very important question. If you don’t own any flagship plugins from IK Multimedia this is a no-brainer because you get 70 effects, all good in terms of CPU usage/sound quality for a good price.
Let’s say you already own T-Racks then, on the surface, you’re seeing some crossover. If you own Sampletank and AmpliTube (along with T-Racks) there’s even more crossover. Now, as an owner of basically everything IK Multimedia has to offer I say ‘YES” MixBox is absolutely worth it. I say this because I’m thinking about workflow, speed, and efficiency. I don’t want to have to open Sampletank or Amplitube to access units I want to mix with, I’d rather have those all in one place.
On top of that, there are over 500 ‘quality presets/preset chains’ you can cycle through to quickly get your mix off to a good start creatively. Some people rag on presets but they’re good starting points for beginners and professionals alike.
For beginners, aside from a preset being a good starting point, it can teach you a great deal about the plug-ins and serve as an excellent learning aid.
If you’ve been creating music for a while you know how beneficial presets are for inspiration, writing, getting ideas out, and assisting in carving/creating a unique sound. Everyone should have a good set of presets at their fingertips, they’ll save your ass especially when you have a deadline and that’s priceless.
MixBox Preset Tip
It’s rare that I use a preset based on its name. Over the years, I’ve learned that not everyone has the same taste in music or sound design. You can’t expect a company to know exactly what you like and cater sounds/settings designated 100% for you, it’s just not possible.
So.. you experiment! I’ll take a preset made for bass and use it for my strings or my synths or whatever. I go by ear at this point and if it sounds good, I’ll run with it.
What’s Missing/ What I’d Like To See Added
Not much in the grand scheme of things, but it would be nice to see the following items/features added.
- Stealth Limiter or something better
- Tape Machines
- Classic Clipper
- A dedicated Low and High pass filter
- A good transient designer
- Mid Side Processing (Like T-Racks)
- Independent Left and Right Processing
- I’d like the images to match that of T-Racks (needs consistency)
More units from T-Racks in general as well as their features: Preamp buttons, stereo link/unlike, mid-side, and left-right processing. I’m sure they’ll get to this during their updates, they’re always on top of those.
Overall, it’s a great product, I’m excited IK Multimedia decided to go the 500 series route and I can’t wait to see what else they bring to the table.