Since a few years I use Toontrack EZ Mix for Mixing and Mastering (sic!) and because meanwhile I am really familiar with the software it’s time to review it. I will look on it from the perspective of a home-recording artist doing everything myself, from the first idea to a finished album. Before I discovered EZ Mix I had made experiences with Cubase and Waves Plug-Ins, then I worked with UAD Plug-ins hosted on two PCI-Cards, and I also worked with hardware gear from SPL and others. I had never any formal training in mixing and learned everything by doing it and reading millions of online-tutorials. Though I enjoy the creative process of mixing, when you decide to use a specific effect for an instrument, sculpting spaces for the instrument-groups using an EQ and glueing everything together with compressors and limiters, I was never much interested in the technical side of audio-engineering and the knowledge regarding audio-production can look quite overwhelming for a tiny living room producer. At last when you do everything yourself – composing, recording, mixing, mastering, publishing, promoting – time becomes crucial, especially, if you have a daily job and family. So after I had produced a few albums I looked for a new way to mix because of two reasons: First I had recognized, that I could not achieve good results with the common method of manually adjusting all components of a mix and get lost in the parameter-jungle of compressors and reverbs. Second I started to hate the waste of time, when I sat days and weeks in front of my monitor and brood over different Pre-Delay times. Meanwhile a preset-based approach is not anymore so unique and the company Izotope has even developed a software, which is not just throwing a preset over your mix, but can take over mixing-tasks with intelligent algorithms. But when EZ mix hit the scene around 2012 it sounded like a fresh and easy approach, so I gave it a try and I hoped for two things: To save time and to achieve better results than before. Since its release around 2012 EZ Mix got some updates and the current version is EZ Mix 2. Everything, what I am telling here is about EZ Mix 2.
What’s the general concept of EZ mix?
Of course you can find also many presets in common plug-ins. For an example the Channel-EQ of Logic 9 offers presets for different instruments and you can try EQ-curves for guitar, bass, drums and other instruments. But if you are using the Channel-EQ’s preset there is still the need for other channel-effects, compressors, delays, reverbs, with all there specific settings. And next you will probably feed a group-bus with all guitars and the group-bus will also need a compressor, EQ and other adjustments. And I can still remember so well, how I struggled with compressor-settings alone. The beauty of the EZ Mix concept is, that each preset contains a complete chain of effects designed to fit an instrument or a vocalist or a group of them. For an example a vocal-preset could consist of an EQ, a compressor, an Exciter, a Delay and a Tape-effect. You can see the effect-chain at the right side of the control-panel, but in EZ Mix you can only control two parameters of this effect-chain. Mostly you can not control specific values and just the overall amount of an effect is controllable. If the preset contains a delay you will not be able to tweak the delay-time, but the Mix of the delay. If there is an EQ EZ Mix would probably offer to control the strength of the EQ, but not single values. All in all it’s pretty limiting. But often you can benefit from limitations in my experience, because less options need less decisions and your work-flow is speeded up. Of course you will miss sometimes specific controls, but if the chosen preset is not working you can easily skip to the next one until you have found the right. However over the years I have seldomly missed EQ or compressor-controls in EZ Mix.
Presets for different tasks
The use of EZ Mix does not end with channel-effects. It also offers effect-chains for group-busses and even mastering-presets for the main-bus, but maybe you have to buy it separately. When you have purchased the basic product, you are able to extend it with so called “EZ Mix packs”, which are designed for different genres and tasks. The Mix pack line contains packages for Metal, Country, Alternative and other styles and it also offers packages designed by famous mixing engineers like Neil Dorfsman or Randy Staub.
EZ mix even offers packages with amp-simulations for guitar and bass, so you could handle a complete production with EZ Mix alone. Later I will tell you, if this is really possible, or if Toontrack is promising too much here.
The Interface of EZ Mix is dead-simple. I never had to look for Help or for a manual and to be honest after some years with EZMix I still don’t know, if there is a manual available. The left side of an instance is filled with an Explorer-style browser, where you can search for the right preset.
At the bottom of the left side you will find only four controls:
- Effect-value 1
- Effect-value 2
On the right side EZ-Mix shows the used effects in a virtual hardware-rack. I love the pragmatic and clear look of the interface, though I would wish sometimes for something more cool and engaging in the interface. Most normal Plug-Ins look cooler than an EZ-Mix instance.
Finding a suitable Preset is easy, because you can filter the available presets. The software will show you then all Guitar-presets suitable for the Group-bus and only for the Metal-genre, or only Presets containing an exciter for female vocals. In this way results pop up very fast and you can save your favorites. Mixing will become even faster, when you have already collected some favorites, which are most handy for your kind of music.
I have a good news for you: EZ Mix is very CPU-friendly. I am working on a 2008 iMac and never experienced an overload of my CPU even if I used twenty or thirty instances of EZ Mix. So besides other advantages this Mix-solution can be a good match for old computers.
Usually I am working with 24bit/44.1khz projects and maybe I could achieve slightly better results with higher resolution, but it’s a good compromise between quality and CPU-usage. Compared to high-end Plug-ins like the UAD-stuff the EZ-mix effects might sound a tad weaker, but on the other hand a high-end plug-in will only sound as good as you are able to dial in a correct setting. So I dare to say, that you will sound better with the right EZ Preset than with a wrong setting of the most expensive high-end effect. The effect-chains of the EZ-presets are thought out so well, that they often cause a smile on my face without any further tweaking. I made the experience, that for an example the UAD Pultec emulation sounded (as I remember it) a bit more noble than the common EZmix-Preset, especially in the highs, but the final result with EZ Mix turned out much better for me than the final result using UAD-plugins. Of course this might be caused by my lack of mixing-skills, but at last I will use, what works. I recognized with EZ-Mix, that you have to keep good care of the input-level, otherwise the signal will get distorted and the sound will be less transparent. All in all I think the sound-quality of EZ Mix is very good and more than sufficient for the ambitious emerging artist and represents an amazing value for the money.
You get the basic EZ Mix 2 for 139 Euro regular prize, actually you even get it for 111 Euro. In my opinion most people will like to add some additional effect-packs depending on their desired genre, so I would calculate around 200 Euro to invest. Toontrack is also offering some bundles including some EZmix-packs for a reduced prize. Compared to other Plugin-lines the price is quite attractive, especially if you think about, that you can also use it for mastering and amp-simulation.
Toontrack is advertising EZMix as the “one click, good sound”-solution. However in my experience it is necessary to do a bit more to achieve a fine result. Meanwhile I use it for around five years, so I had enough time to develop a good workflow. I have found some favorites during the years, which I stored into the favorites-section, so when I start to mix a new song I just apply my favorites to the instruments depending on the character I want to achieve. Though many of the presets immediately create a great sound (and often I thought “Wow”, when trying one of them) it becomes a a bit more complicated, when you do a complete mix. Because you can not see the EQ-curves, which are used, it’s hard to care for masking-effects and separation. However it works surprisingly well mostly, though sometimes, when I recognize by ear, that frequencies of two presets are colliding, I have to choose a different preset. What I really love about EZ Mix is, that you are working with your ears. When I recognize, that bass and kick are not separated enough, I just klick through presets for the kick while playing the whole mix until I find one, which makes the kick audible and separated. The principle is functioning like “Try and error”, but the solution is coming much faster than with adjusting a dedicated EQ for each instrument. However I discovered, that EZ-Mix don’t use “radical” EQ-setting, which are often necessary to achieve a clear mix. For an example, if you want to low-cut a choir up to 200khz and also cut the highs at the same time to leave space for the main vocals, you will hardly find a suitable preset in EZ-Mix. I tackled this problem, as I combine EZ Mix with other plug-ins.
Regarding the choir-example I would choose a good preset for background vocals or choir in EZ-Mix, which already delivers Compression and other effects and add Low- and Highcuts with the internal EQ of the DAW (I am working with Logic 9). So usually I use one or two EZ-Presets in a channel and add Low and High-cuts with the internal EQ. Sometimes I use also additional EQ for Kick and Bass, cutting the bass at one frequency and boosting the kick at the same frequency. And there are some other situations, when EZ Mix can not deliver, what is needed for the mix. Sometimes I miss deeper delay-settings. Sometimes I wish I could switch off one effect of the effect-chain. But in combination with other plugins you will always find a workaround. If you don’t like the reverb of the EZ-Preset, you can mostly turn it down. Then you could use a second EZ-Preset with the right kind of reverb, which is set up as a Send-effect. If you can not dial in your desired delay-time, you can combine a Preset with an external Delay.
Toontrack’s Ezmix-Packs “Mastering” and “Mastering II” deliver a fine collection of presets, which are all meant for different purposes. Some are pointing to a special genre, some are meant to fix a mix (more bass etc.), some are working with subtle rooms. I think everybody should find here a preset. But when you decide to master yourself and not to invest in a professional mastering, you should not think, that it’s as easy as:
- I mix the song
- I apply a preset
The downside of presets is, that you can not adjust much. The mastering-presets of EZ Mix let you only control two values and mostly they have chosen the values, which control the loudness (Compression, Limiting), or EQ-curves, but the EQ is mostly very specific. Therefore I doubt, that you will end up with a good result, if you mix first and then apply the mastering preset in a second step. In my experience it’s much better to mix into the preset to get all at once: A decently mixed and mastered song. The reason for this unusual approach is, that you will adjust your mix for the mastering-preset, because the other way – adjusting the mastering-preset – is not sufficient.
To sum up I think Toontrack’s EZ Mix 2 offers a great value for the money and a pragmatic approach. If you are working alone and are looking for an all-in-one solution, which delivers fast results, you don’t have to look further.
- Sound quality
- Fast Workflow
- Easy User-interface
- Covers Mixing, Amp-simulation and Mastering in one package
- Dedicated presets for Insert, Send or Groups
- Good prize
- Only two controls
- EQ sometimes not radical enough
- Delays could benefit from deeper controls
- The Interface could look more stylish
Two examples mixed with EZ-Mix