MixMeister-Fusion-Box

Everyone has a slightly different story to tell about their road to digital DJing. Mine started sometime back around 2004, when I tried out MixMeister to just knock up a few mixes to listen to at my desk. I’d taken a bit of a hiatus from DJing but was still an avid clubber. Coming from cheap belt drive turntables (and the occasionally loaner 1210s), entering the world of digital DJing was a revelation, and MixMeister was an excellent taster of what it can do.

MixMeister Fusion, as it stands, is a very odd piece of software. In its various incarnations, it’s probably one of the oldest pieces of DJ software still being developed. The company has been in existence since 2000. MixMeister is neither a DAW nor a full-fledged DJ software, nor is it either accessible or inaccessible. It’s just… odd.

In a nutshell

MixMeister Fusion is sort of like Ableton Live for making DJ mixes. The software is a timeline-based system that lets you layer tracks over each other and edit fades, effects and other DJ tricks in real time, then export the finished results. You can even monitor tracks in your headphones, just like a real DJ.

Interface

mixmesiter-fusion-fresh-window

This is what you get when you start a fresh playlist

I don’t remember much about the version of MixMeister I first used other than its functionality, but I do remember that not a lot has changed with how you use the software. It’s a timeline based system similar to how many DAWs work, where each ‘deck’ is a row on the timeline upon which you add your music as either primary tracks or ‘overlays’: one shots or tracks which don’t get mixed in and out of.

I think the most lasting mark my time with MixMeister Fusion had on me is the bugs I encountered. There’s no way software with a 15 year pedigree should have these issues. Here’s just a brief rundown of the two weeks I was writing this review:

  • On my brand new MacBook Pro 2015, progress marker leaves trail.
  • I had a hard application crash when adding an effect to the master out effect.
  • I found a typo on one of the options dialogue boxes.
  • Some weird issue where tempo markers wouldn’t delete.
  • I got a weird vibrating effect in the playlist when playing audio.

When it comes to DJing, many of us work with our chosen software fullscreen to maximise real estate and help keep focus on the task at hand. In fact, since Mavericks, OS X has had a native system to allow apps to run fullscreen, in their own virtual desktop. Despite this, there’s no way to make MixMeister go completely fullscreen. The best you can get is for the application window to maximise to the edges. This isn’t a game-stopper, but certainly an annoyance.

Finally, a little gripe I’ve got is that the introductory tutorial is done in Flash, which while less common these days, will almost certainly be absent from any modern computers, particularly now that the major video streaming websites and browsers support HTML5. There’s just so little need to have it installed, and all I got was a message reading ‘missing plugin’.

Workflow

To be fair to MixMeister, on paper it all seems like a great idea. Software that helps you set up and record mixtapes, all beatmatched for you, with effects and EQing done as automation. When I first tried it ten years ago, it was amazing, and while not perfect, it was fun. Not much has changed on the surface with the software.

You’ve got four main parts to your window: the library, the playlist, the timeline and effects rack / song slicer. The main two sections where you spend the most time would be the timeline and library. MixMeister Fusion is heavily reliant on your mouse for navigation, dragging and dropping files from one place to another, or for moving around your mix.

The playlist window shows all your currently used music, along with what transition is set up for them and your global transport buttons. There’s also a set of six sound effects sample slots for your one-shots and textures. These are automatically added to the timeline as overlay tracks, changing how they are treated within the mix. They’re essentially independent from your A/B mixing, so you can drag them all around, change their length and whether they are synced with the mix.

The timeline section is straightforward as well, EQs and loops on the far left and your decks (or strips) stacked across the rest of the middle of the window. You can choose between having two, four, six or eight strips to work with. There’s also a master tempo and your timeline zoom at the top. Adding your music to the timeline is drag n drop, and the files will have volume markers and mix transitions added automatically. When your mix is playing, you can either add EQ and effect automation live, or create markers to manipulate the sound.

Looping works much like you’d expect in DJ software. You have loop-in and loop-out buttons, as well as a way of setting one, two, four or eight bar loops instantly. Since it uses the beatgridding system, it’s as accurate as you make it.

MixMeister allows for seamless tempo changes on the timeline using tempo markers. As the music moves between your set markers, it slowly changes the tempo until it hits the next marker. This is a really powerful tool for people that play different styles of music that have huge tempo differences. Even

Part of your workflow on a timeline based music application is how quickly you can move around. Scrolling and zooming around your decks needs to be quick and intuitive. Unfortunately, there’s a complete lack of Macbook touchpad scrolling, zooming or any other tricks. There are the usual hotkeys you can use, but even the ‘zoom out’ key (-) didn’t seem to work properly meaning you had to physically use the zoom slider. It’s just infuriating for software at this price.

Short of the MixMeister Control MIDI controller, I can’t even imagine how any other controller would come close to being useful to creating mixes in the software. There’s just too much that relies on the mouse to navigate without it seeming clumsy.

Library management

When you have thousands of music files in your library, finding and sorting through them quickly is vital. The various different software out there all have pluses and minuses to their libraries. Serato has smart crates and Traktor has strong iTunes integration, for example. With MixMeister Fusion, you can import your existing libraries from iTunes, or add folders to be scanned for music.

mixmeister-fusion-library-search

Searching the library is simple and flexible enough

Search and sort works well enough when there are files in the library. It’s still a very basic system, with nothing fancy like crates to manage your sets. You can sort by all sorts of categories, and navigate by folders if that’s how you’ve added the music. Music imported from iTunes can either be individual playlists, or in it’s entirety, though that doesn’t pull in your playlists, I noticed.

I couldn’t for the life of me get the library to stay reliably populated when I added my music folders. One session it shows all the folders and sub-folders, then the next, everything has disappeared, or it shows all my music but none of the sub-folders. It’s lucky that the folder scanning is so fast.

Overall, library management is passable, giving you the most basic tools you might need. Because it relies heavily on file search over some way to sort groups of tunes, I can only imagine what sort of nightmare it would be for anyone with a huge music library. It all comes across as lacking for power users, further strengthening the idea that the MixMeister line is more for amateurs wanting to try out at being a DJ.

File analysis

MixMeister bills itself as a ‘fire and forget’ application that takes the boring tasks like beatmatching out of the equation. Much like other DJ software, it does this by analysing your song files and quantising them, creating beat markers so everything stays in sync. In the small amount of tracks I could test, I found that the track analysis sometimes struggled with a simple 4/4 beat, starting on the wrong beat. This happens in every

Like Ableton, you can timestretch tracks to ensure drifting tracks stay in time, as well as edit warp the music to keep it in time. Also like Ableton, MixMeister Fusion creates an analysis file to accompany the music file. Unlike Ableton, you can change it in the options so your analysis files are all stored together elsewhere. For those of us that spend a lot of time maintaining our music folders, or with borderline OCD, this helps keep everything clean and doesn’t cause a nervous twitch.

Effects

It needs mentioning that MixMeister comes with ‘All new AIR Creative Collection FX. (A $300 value)’. AIR produce a library of professional virtual instruments, along with the included effects, which are a part of the retail Creative Collection. Included with MixMeister you get:

  • Phaser
  • Filter Gate
  • Dynamics
  • Non-linear Reverb
  • Fuzz-wah
  • Flanger
  • Distortion

There are also three Akai effects thrown in.

  • Flanger
  • Reverb Medium
  • Delay Stereo

All of these effects have a lot of depth to their settings. Way more than most DJ software (which tend to have around three parameters to change plus wet/dry). But regardless of how high quality these are, they are probably complete overkill for DJ software, especially since many people would probably only use a few in their repertoire.

mixmeister-fusion-effects

You can chain multiple effects on your tracks, including external VST effects

When you stack up the included effects against other DJ software, it is difficult to justify the $300 value. Serato DJ has effects made by Izotope, and the complete set, including Serato’s powerful Pitch ‘n’ Time can be had for less than $80. It’s not even worth going into the quality of the AIR effects as they are already not worth the price compared to other software.

You can also use external VST effects that are installed on your machine, further increasing the power of the effects engine. If you’re a producer wanting to knock up a mix, you’ll already have a good selection of effects you’re familiar with, so you’ll be good to go. I couldn’t seem to find a way to show VST’s native interfaces. The online tutorial mentions a button in the effects section that can bring it up, but it never showed for me.

You can add effects either per deck or global, which applies them to the master-out. There are no markers for global effects, unlike deck effects, meaning they can’t be automated. This isn’t really a problem, as the only real effects you’d add to the master-out would be something like a limiter to make sure your mix is consistent.

Sound quality

Always a subjective… subject in our line of work, but with software, sound quality means more than just ‘does it sound good-like?’. There’s more to consider, such as how it handles effects being applied, large tempo and pitch changes, or limits the audio and red lining.

mixmeister-fusion-audio-settings

Audio settings are fairly simple, even with the advanced options showing

For general playback of tracks using four strips, things mostly ran smoothly with audio latency set half way along the slider. I got no pops or crackles in the mixes, though some effects seemed to cause the odd crackle. I also found that adding some of the more aggressive effects would cause horrible distortion, and with so many parameters to tweak, I struggled to isolate what was causing it.

MixMeister Fusion lets you export your mixes in a wide range of music formats and quality settings. The exported files render everything from the audio strips to overlay tracks, EQ, and effects, whether automated or manually recorded actions. None of the crackles in playback seem to be present in the rendered files.

Support and ‘complete experience’

It’s gotten to the point that reviewing DJ gear has become quite difficult because there’s so little difference in the quality of products out there. Bar the £30 toy controllers you get in electronics stores, you’re going to get a reasonable experience. It was quite refreshing to have a product that could pour constructive criticism on while reviewing it. But there’s more to your purchase than just the ‘thing’. There’s the grander experience of the brand.

From the moment you consider buying software – any software – your experience is part of what you pay for. Visit the Ableton site, or the Serato site, you get a slick, helpful experience that guides you through the process of buying, installing and using the software. It’s the least you deserve. After all, you’re shelling out hundreds of Dollars/Euros/Pounds for something that may not play nice with your setup. Manuals, videos, packaging, hardware are all top notch.

mixmeister-website

What is this, 2005?

With MixMeister, everything feels outdated. The website, the Flash tutorials, the brand, the interface all feel like relics from an age gone by. The software’s interface in particular, looks horrible on bright, high resolution screens. Buttons and icons are pixelated. It feels dark and sometimes difficult to see things. In the end, it’s just not value for money, by any means.

Ratings

Quality

Compared to its rivals, MixMeister Fusion is a lacklustre offering, with bugs, typos in the menus, an ageing look, and a broken website that instills anything but confidence in its users. The inaccurate library scanning and unreliability make this a risk for professionals

Features

On paper, there’s much that MixMeister Fusion can offer, but in all honesty, you can find much better software for your needs elsewhere.

Value

At $330, you’re spending silly money for this software.

The bottom line

I mentioned at the start how I felt that MixMeister Fusion is an odd bit of software. Allow me to explain why… I’ve been trying to reconcile the costs involved with buying it, but $330 seems like a huge amount of money for software trying to compete in the competitive DJ software market. You can get Live Lite 9 for €80 and One DJ for €70. In fact Live Lite with a Push was on offer for €350 recently, giving you both software and hardware more powerful and flexible than this. Maybe at a $30 price point I could recommend this for beginners who want to try their hand at creating some mixtapes, but not at this price point.

This is actually the first time reviewing a product for DJWORX has made me so angry and frustrated I had to step away. I wouldn’t have gotten so worked up if it was just completely terrible, but I have fond memories of MixMeister software being a stepping stone into the digital era. The concept of it is great, it’s just mired by some glaring issues that shouldn’t be found after 15 years of development.

We hear a lot of talk about ‘real DJs’ doing this or that on Facebook and in our comments, but whatever software or hardware you might use, it’ll be more fun, more hands on and more accurate for mixing than MixMeister Fusion. For the pro or enthusiast audience that it’s aimed at, MixMeister Fusion strips out so much of what makes mixing live fun, it completely misses the point.

I get the feeling that MixMeister is a dying brand, everything about it feels creaky and outdated, particularly when you stack it up against the slick offerings from competitors. There’s so much that would need to be done to make it competitive, if it’s even worth it.

What I’d like to see

You may have noticed from what I’ve written so far in this review that I’m pretty disappointed with what MixMeister have to show with their software. There’s so much potential and I wouldn’t want to finish without being at least a bit constructive, so I thought I’d talk about the future of MixMeister and what I I’d like to happen.

I think it goes without saying, that there needs some serious time spent underpinning the foundations of the software. Squash the bugs, typos and unreliability. Modernise the look and feel. Start adding features for power users like improved library management tools and a way to see your saved playlists within your library. On the usability site, the software needs a fullscreen mode, which is standard these days. Add some touchpad and gesture control on laptops, as well as a way to scroll through the timeline with a mouse.

A serious look at the brand needs to happen. I’m pretty sure the logo uses the font from the Lethal Weapon films, or something very close to it. Stack up the brand against other modern DJ or DAW software and it starts to look ageing. The whole retail experience, from first visiting the site to decide if you want to purchase, right through to the tutorials and support needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. Google now penalises websites that don’t provide mobile-friendly versions, meaning the MixMeister site will sink in the search results.

The whole MixMeister range desperately needs a more reasonable pricetag. Regardless of how good those $300 worth of AIR effects are, they need to be optional or just included in a competitive price. MixMeister can’t compete with DAWs like Ableton and Bitwig, because it isn’t them, either in features or reputation. It’s not worth the same as them, and none of the DJ apps cost much more than $100. Sell MixMeister Fusion for $50, include a few of the standard DJ effects and market the AIR effects as a premium addon.

Finally, I’d also reposition MixMeister as software for creating podcasts and mixtapes to upload. Adding a way to have a microphone input as a channel would further strengthen this and help differentiate more with MixMeister Studio. The only real difference between Fusion and Studio is that Fusion allows for headphone monitoring. At the moment, the only option for professionals is to use something like Ableton, which is very high level, or fudge together different bits of DJ software and hardware. The concept behind MixMeister is perfect for this corner of the market, if they can sort the software out.

A response from MixMeister

It’s unusual for us to have such a negative view of a product. We want it to be great but it’s not in its current form. So we contacted inMusic to discuss our review, and to offer them a right to reply. This is what they sent:

The Team at Mixmeister where very sorry to hear of the technical issues faced during the review. While we where unable to reproduce all of the issues highlighted in the review we will investigate them further to find resolutions for future updates.

MixMeister software isn’t quite like anything else on the market and has a very loyal following from its users. Its largest market is Fitness followed by Online Radio/Podcasting (Studio/Express) although it does have a good number of live performance users.

We do recognise that the program has some areas which need love to bring it up to the latest technological standards. We are continuing to work on this. This update brings a significant number of improvements over previous versions and adds commonly requested features from our users such as deeper iTunes integration, Smart Playlists and improved OS support (total rebuild of some components). In total over 100 in some cases behind the scenes changes/improvements have been made. We have never charged for updates so customers who even received the software for free or at a lower cost years ago continue to get support.

The valuation of the AIR FX is based on their value within the Protools Platform.  Air FX are relied on and loved by top producers and studios round the world. We have included these to provide a fantastic out of the box experience and appeal to higher end remix/studio users. We plan to offer additional FX for purchase later as well as supporting a wide range of 3rd party VST FX.

Mixmeister is in the process of a total online presence relaunch and pricing re-evaluation to bring the titles in line with the market. Watch this space for further developments.

Have you ever used MixMeister? What was your experience?