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MuLab is a little known gem of a digital audio workstation

Jon L. Jacobi | April 1, 2013
At first glance, MuLab from MuTools might appear to be one of those simple, feature-deprived efforts you see from a multitudes of software vendors trying to cash in on Garage Band's success. However, just a few minutes with the free edition of this audio recording and MIDI sequencing program, and you'll realize there's much, much more to it than first meets the eye. Indeed, it's now my favorite track-based recording app--and I've used nearly every product on the market. It's available for both PC and Mac.

At first glance, MuLab from MuTools might appear to be one of those simple, feature-deprived efforts you see from a multitudes of software vendors trying to cash in on Garage Band's success. However, just a few minutes with the free edition of this audio recording and MIDI sequencing program, and you'll realize there's much, much more to it than first meets the eye. Indeed, it's now my favorite track-based recording app--and I've used nearly every product on the market. It's available for both PC and Mac.

Where MuLab shines is in hiding its power while still keeping it in easy reach. The secret is right-clicking--much of the program functionality is found in context menus. Everything looks nice, but the use of icons is for the most part spot on--minimal and limited to those that are easily intuited. Too many vendors try to squeeze every feature onto the main screen, use too many similar-looking icons and wind up with a severe case of information overload. The interface isn't perfect, but it's a lot closer to it than the majority of competition.

MuLab supports drag and drop so you can import MIDI and audio files directly from the desktop (there's also an integrated browser). I recreated/imported an entire 12-track MIDI/audio Studio One project in about ten minutes. The program also fully supports VST effects and instruments and includes its own reverb, EQ, sample player, drum set, and synth. You must initially scan for VSTs manually, but I find this approach appealing since you don't waste time automatically scanning each time the program boots as most do.

Besides power and simplicity, perhaps MuLabs greatest asset is its incredibly flexible routing, which reminds one of a modular synthesizer. You can send signals along any path to any effect, MuLab rack (versatile routing and mixing strips), input, output, etc. You can view and edit the entire routing scheme in the session mux routing schematic. Once you're used to the power of free-form routing, it's not easy to go back to the stricter mixing board concept.

MuLab is not without foibles. It makes you confirm deleting any object (it should probably limit this to destructive actions such as deleting audio files) as well as referring to some of these actions as "remove". And unlike most programs, you won't see a representation of what you're recording in real time, you only get a visual waveform after you've finished recording. For those used to programs that provide more feedback on the process, this requires an initial leap of faith, but you'll get used to it quickly and it's less distracting. Some of the visual elements draw your eye to the wrong area, but by and large, the interface is top-notch.

 

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