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One extremely useful way of ensuring that your ears aren’t tricking you when listening to one of your mixes, is to compare it to other tracks that you know well, and like the production on. Typically this process is a faff, finding the tracks you like, either dragging it into your DAW, or opening on another program, and flicking between to check and compare. If only someone made a plugin that sat in the DAW, and enabled you to check the consistency and quality of your work with other expertly mixed tracks….
Enter SampleMagic’s MagicAB. Actually version 2, as it’s been around for a couple years now, and has just been updated.
Magic AB2 is a simple window with 9 slots for reference tracks – either drag and drop or menu dive and select. Magic AB2 supports most formats – uncompressed Wav and Aiff through MP3 AAC, etc. Once loaded, you can set a track to play continuously, and start toggling the big AB button – to instantly compare your track and reference. As the plugin fully loads the tracks, they get placed in RAM. If the RAM usage gets a bit much, you can de-activate any of the tracks, until you have use for them.
With a smart bit of programming work (and the right placement in the master buss), you can compare your track using the mix plugins on the master buss, and the reference files will not be affected by those plugins, but will come in clean – so you get accurate referencing.
You can select up to 4 favored sections of each reference, name and loop them. As levels in mixes are always different, you can adjust levels on the A/B references, so you’re getting as close to equal level comparison as possible.
There are 3 different modes to playing the references: Latch, which follows the DAW actions, plays and stops when the transport does. Sync, which follows the timeline of the DAW – which is really useful if you want to compare exact timings of reference and source track (a previous mix, for example), as the timing of the reference track will mirror that of the DAW. Manual mode means you have complete control over when the reference tracks start and stop playing. All of the main parameters of Magic AB are midi-controllable, enabling even quicker track switching
Another extremely useful element to the upgraded MagicAB is the Mono mode. You can switch between mono and stereo on both reference and source tracks. I’ve come to find listening and mixing in mono is a very useful technique for a clear mix. If you get everything sounding well in a mono mix, you’re well on the way to an excellent stereo mix.
You can minimize the plugin to purely the play buttons for the ref tracks, and the AB toggle, to save space. And you can save presets of the playlist of reference tracks, thus enabling different presets for different genres, or settings. Very useful!
While you could argue MagicAB is not an essential plugin for mix, (what does it do to the sound?) I would say it is extremely useful, and many top quality mix engineers swear by the comparison technique to hone their own work. This plugin is simple, yet highly effective, as proven by the usage from hundreds of top engineers. And at the price, it is a plugin well worth the purchase in my opinion.
OSX10.7 or higher 2GB RAM
Windows Vista or higher
On sale at the moment for $67.99/£44.95, or a small upgrade cost if you own the first version. More info here.