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Music Production on a Budget

Audio production tools can be had for minimal cost; are they worth the time?

Sure, you’d love to buy the “Cadillac” audio software, but your budget says “used Honda.”

I recently tried a number of audio production applications that cost little to nothing. I narrowed our search to seven or eight contenders and asked a team of production engineers, using demos of these programs, to produce spots.

We looked at Ableton Live Intro ($99) and Sony Acid Express (free) in an earlier issue. Here are three more.

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Acoustica Mixcraft costs $69.95. It’s simple to install and easy to use.

$69.95 — Acoustica Mixcraft

This was one of my favorites. It’s simple to install, attractive and easy to use.

Like the Ableton Live Intro, this primarily is a music production program, but it was also an easy-to-use audio editor. The editing timeline can switch between beats-based timing and hours:minutes:seconds. It comes with a ton of music loops, samples and sound effects for producing music in any genre, from classical to surf rock to tribal house. Slapping together a short music bed for a spot was easy — actually, fun. It includes a small complement of effects and processors, but also handles VST and DirectX plug-ins. It also handles MIDI and video files and it can also burn a session to CD right from the timeline.


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The NCH Mixpad, also $69.95, is more of a mixer than an editor.

$69.95 — NCH Mixpad

A basic multitrack mixer program, NGH Mixpad also allows the user to import and record audio. The layout is clean, simple and intuitive; the install process is simple as well.

As the name implies, it is primarily a mixer, easily allowing the user to move audio clips around and adjust their levels.

I was disappointed to learn that, in order to do any sort of editing beyond the basic cut-and-splice, the user must purchase Mixpad’s sister program, Wavepad. The two are designed to work in tandem, behaving much like Adobe Audition’s separate multitrack and edit screens. The help file actually is a link to the website, so an Internet connection is required to refer to the instructions. There is no VST or DirectX plug-in support.


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The n-Track Studio 6, costing $64, has a nice GUI and extra features but was a bit clunky in performance.

$64 — n-Track Studio 6

Easy to install and attractive, n-Track 6 made it easy to move pieces of audio around and adjust levels in the mix.

Cut-and-paste editing was a bit more difficult to figure out. Most editing functions are only available via menu selections or keyboard shortcuts rather than using the mouse. This is a bit cumbersome for my way of working. I also found the play/stop controls slow to respond, even on a dual-core processor.

Overall, the program wasn’t as intuitive as some of the others. It has a few included effects and processors; and it also supports VST and DirectX plug-ins, as well as VST instruments and MIDI-compatibility. An interesting feature is the Signal Path window, featuring virtual patch cords which can be manipulated to change the routing very easily. A nice touch. The program can also burn audio CDs directly and convert WAVs to MP3s.


Next time: Audacity, IK Multimedia Sample Tank and Goldwave, plus conclusions about our eight reviewed cheapies.

What’s your favorite production software and why? Write to [email protected].

Curt Yengst, CSRE, is assistant engineer for WAWZ(FM) in Zarephath, N.J.