Hands-On Review:Mastering Processor


Focusrite MixMaster: Mastering Processor


Part 1: Ratings / Chained Processors / Line Input Section / Stereo Expander

Perfect for the home or project studio, MixMaster is an all-in-one stereo mastering processor purpose-built for maximizing level and punch.


Ease of Use: 4
Value: 5
Functionality: 4


The MixMaster is an analog stereo audio processor designed for mastering applications in project and home studios. The review unit we received came with the optional 24-bit and up to 96kHz analog-to-digital converter for direct digital connection to a DAT or CD recorder. While the MixMaster is made specifically for mastering stereo mixes, it is useful any time you want to maximize the level and "punch" of single- or two-channel audio. MixMaster's complete tool set contains all you'll ever need for this task and will free up other analog or digital processors you may have connected.


The two-rackspace unit has both balanced XLR and unbalanced 1/4" input and output connections on the rear panel as well as direct inputs for mixing external audio sources with the output signal. There is extensive LED metering: a single meter that reads both input and output levels (although there is no indication of which is being metered, so pay attention to whether the button is set for "in" or "out"); separate gain reduction indicators for the stereo expander, spectral compressor and peak limiter; stereo phase and separate overload indicators for the compressor and equalizer processor sections. All of this metering makes for quite a light show when the unit is hard at work.


Chained Processors
A block diagram in the wonderfully written user's manual shows that the MixMaster has five stereo processors or sections: Stereo Expander, Spectral Compressor, Stereo Parametric Equalizer, Image Width processor, and Peak Limiter. The order of the processors shown in the diagram is consistent with the front panel layout of controls. There is no way to "re-order" the chain of processors, and in actual use, I found little reason to require it. For each processor there is a lighted, hardwired bypass switch, and a global bypass button takes the entire unit out of circuit. Note that setting up a processor requires the respective section to be engaged for the LED meters to read. I find this unfortunate, especially for live sound work where I would like to get a ballpark setting beforehand (using active meters) and then switch in the section on the fly to fine tune.


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Line Input Section
Both +4dBu and -10dBu levels can be used with the MixMaster, making it the perfect "bridge" between semi-pro gear, such as your small mixing board, and fully professional gear such as analog 2-track machines or digital DAT machines. There are no switches to set; just plug whatever you have into the back panel and go.


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Stereo Expander
The expander section is first in the chain because it operates much like a very soft noise gate, shutting down and cutting off any signal below the front panel's threshold setting. Called "downward expansion," it is useful for noisy analog tapes or residual noises because it works all the way down to the noise floor. I liked this feature for killing sound like amp buzz, noisy effect returns and the room tone audible right before the opening downbeat of a song. There is a Release time control which I set to the maximum of six seconds so that the expander stayed open throughout the song once it started (assuming there'd be no gap in the music longer than six seconds!).


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