Hands-On Review:How I got a major creativity and productivity boost
By Andrew Wright
You might remember me from a few issues back: I'm the guy who after years of doing mixes that were "off," picked up a pair of Event Project Studio 6 Bi-amplified Monitors, and now, at long last, my mixes are totally "on." Well, I'm back to tell you about another piece of Event gear-the amazing EZbus.
Like many musicians, I'm jazzed by all the things I can do with my computer-multitrack recording, practically unlimited effects processing, playing cool virtual instruments, mixing, and mastering. But I was frustrated by the tedium of controlling all that stuff. After turning real knobs and grabbing real faders, tediously setting parameters with a mouse just wasn't cutting it. Here I was with an awesomely powerful creative tool, but saddled with a lame interface for using it.
I knew the answer lay in a control surface of some sort. I'd seen some but they were expensive, and most were too big. My studio is small so I needed a control surface that would give me all the flexibility and control of the "big boys" without their excessive size-and cost.
When Musician's Friend asked me to review the EZbus I jumped at the chance to check out its control surface capabilities. At first I was less interested in its abilities as an audio interface and digital mixer. But I quickly learned how the three functions interact to give you way more control that any one function would on its own. And then I saw the price-right up my alley!
While waiting for the sample to arrive, I checked out Event's website. Their online newsletter had stories showing how people were using the EZbus in the real world. One of these stories profiled a film composer who was using the EZbus on his latest project. Like me, he was a Cubase VST user who had been frustrated by having to do everything with a mouse. He talked about using the EZbus faders to write VST automation (instead of drawing volume changes by hand!), and how the EZbus let him adjust multiple EQ parameters simultaneously in real time. Since adding the EZbus to his setup, he's once again working in a truly intuitive and creative way. Man, I thought, this guy is talking to me.
Another eye-opening story was about a band that runs practically their entire live setup with the EZbus-keyboards, virtual synths, vocals, drum loops, acoustic guitar, and so on. They had created different mixes for rehearsal, for recording, for live performance, and the like. They would simply select the appropriate mix, and all of their settings-fader levels, EQ, dynamics processing, audio routing, everything-were instantly recalled. They were even able to generate multiple monitor mixes and could record their entire live show into Cubase! While reading the story I thought about my current analog mixer setup and the endless patching and repatching I had to do. It'd be a blessing to leave all that behind!
Taking the plunge
These articles (and a couple of others that highlighted expansion possibilities) really whetted my appetite to get my hands on this unit. Two days later I had the EZbus out of the box, connected to my computer (by a single USB cable!), and I was ready to rock. Between the unit's simple user interface and some step-by-step tutorials, I had it nailed in no time.
I then set about applying the techniques detailed in Event's newsletter to my own setup. First I created a number of custom mixes. I now have one for songwriting with my synths, another for recording my vocals, another for tracking my guitars, another for transferring tracks from my MDM, another for . . . you get the point. I also made song-specific mixes, which are total timesavers, because I don't have to manually re-create dozens of settings every time I go back to work on a tune.
I've also made the EZbus "command central" for the majority of my gear. I have all of my synths, some crucial effects, my old Fender P Bass, my favorite vocal mic, and, of course, my computer (for monitoring virtual instruments and track playback) all plugged in. Talk about convenience! I don't have to constantly repatch or route and re-route my signals. I can't tell you how cool it is to be controlling all of my gear from the EZbus, then simply press a button and be controlling my entire computer setup! And being able to combine my real synths with my virtual instruments-live, in real time-is simply awesome.
To say the least, I'm totally blown away by my new setup. I cut a deal with Musician's Friend to keep the EZbus. Next on my list: Event's new EZ8 card, which expands the EZbus by adding eight channels of full-duplex recording and playback via ADAT optical. That will allow me to start tracking multiple players simultaneously and will open the door for doing multichannel surround mixing-my next frontier.
Features & Specs: