When it comes to home recording software, Apple’s GarageBand, which ships free with every Macintosh, casts a long shadow. While many of the music-making alternatives available for PC users have either been expensive or complicated to set up, Magix Music Maker 17 sets the benchmark for quality of simplicity on a budget, letting users make CD-quality recordings for around £50.
Plenty to play with
Music Maker comes with 1,500 loops, a selection of built-in instruments that you can play via an attached MIDI keyboard (or with the computer keyboard, if you don’t have one). It also enables you to record digital audio from other sources, which means you can create arrangements that mix pre-recorded loops, synthesised instruments and real performances on guitars and vocals to create finished songs.
You can apply effects like delay and reverb to individual sections of songs, entire tracks or a whole arrangement – and there’s a built-in mixer to help you get the right balance between individual tracks. Songs can be saved as WAVs for burning to CD, uploaded directly to MySpace and YouTube or shared on Twitter and Facebook via Soundcloud.
Magix Music Maker has already built up a notable pedigree. Version 17 adds some significant improvements. Its newly simplified interface is just the job – welcoming enough for complete beginners, and sufficiently stripped down for it not to get in the way of anyone who knows what they’re doing. There’s a new integrated MIDI editor that lets you fiddle with individual notes, correcting mistakes, adding new notes with the mouse and even delving into individual events for fine-tuning.
We’re also deeply impressed with the quality of the two included instrument collections – Century Keys and Saxophonia. Both are expressive and realistic-sounding (this is especially true of the sax, where you can hear the ‘breath’ of the player and the vibrato at the end of long notes). Both offer plenty of variations, including electric and concert pianos, honky tonks, oboes and English Horns. We’d have been happy to pay than the price of the program for these instruments alone.
Easy to use
Music Maker’s digital effects (such as delay and reverb) have been organised into a new rack for easier access, and there are plenty of environmental sound effects (such as cathedral, bathroom, vocoder, space reverb and echo) that you can apply to tracks without having twiddle a single knob for yourself.
The main settings dialogue handles all the audio/MIDI inputs and outputs, and Music Maker automatically picks up any utilities you may have installed that are designed to handle latency – the digital delay that can occur between striking a note and hearing the sound device play it back. In fact, there’s only one small ‘gotcha’ in the setup – make sure your MIDI keyboard is connected and switched on before you load the program; if you do it the other way round, Music Maker doesn’t recognise there’s a keyboard attached. We wasted 10 minutes on this.
Music software in general has a reputation for suffering the occasional catastrophic crash – and in this respect, Magix runs true to type. We managed to fritz the program by trying to switch ASIO drivers mid-session in an attempt to improve latency.
We were pleasantly surprised, though, to discover that the program caught the crash and gave us a chance to save our current arrangement under a different name. It was also a bit unresponsive on our old Dell, especially when opening the various editing windows.
There’s a Premium version of Magix Music Maker 17 available for £92.98, which adds the Revolta 2 virtual analogue synth plus ‘elastic audio’ – a feature that offers pitch correction to fix flat or sharp notes. There’s also instant harmonies, 5.1 surround sound and professional mastering tools (to give your recordings a final polish). It’s worth investigating if you’re serious about home music making, but beginners will find more than enough in the standard version to keep them occupied.
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