Review – Mux UL by Mutools
MUX is MuTools’ versatile modular synthesizer plugin. It is actually much more: a VST host, modular synth, and effect plugin all rolled into one.
by Rob Mitchell, May 2014
MuTools is the software company behind MuLab and MuVerb. MUX is their versatile modular synthesizer plugin. It is actually much more than a standard modular synthesizer. It is a VST host, modular synth, and effect plugin all rolled into one.
MUX is included as part of MuLab for PCs and Macs, and is also available separately as a PC-only VST plugin. There is no standalone version. For my review, I tested the VST plugin on my PC.
Installation was very easy, and uses a key protection scheme. One great feature is that MUX doesn’t install anything to the PC outside of its own folder. This means you could have it loaded on something like a CD/DVD or USB jump drive.
When you first load MUX, the default preset is called “Basic Synth”. What you first see is the Front panel, and the basic controls for that particular preset. To get to the modular section, click the second-to-last icon at the top. This will bring you to the “Deep Editor”. This is where you can set up the modular configuration to your liking.
You can also get there by clicking the last icon, and then in the Editor section, select “Show Deep Editor”. There is a third way to get there as well: right click on the background of MUX (between the control sections), and then click Editor/Show Deep Editor.
That last icon is used for many other settings, and you can configure just about anything you’d like. You can choose an External Audio Editor, edit Preferences, access the Clipboard, and much more.
The Deep Editor
When you look at one of the MUX presets, you’re looking at the Front Panel. This is where you can get at the controls that have been setup for that particular preset.
The Deep Editor is where the modular configurations are actually set up. You can use the various modules in different combinations, creating nearly an unlimited number of sounds. Besides the obvious modular synthesis usage, another way to use it is to set up a modular effect.
There are many modules included with MUX. These include audio generators, such as oscillators, noise generators, and a Poly Synth. ADSR and multipoint envelopes are included, a ring modulator, a bit reducer, and a sample player. It is a long list, way too many to mention here.
I do have to mention the included MuVerb, MuEcho, MuDrum, MuSynth, MuSampla, MuPad, and MultiSampla instruments. These can’t be edited in the Deep Editor. They are set in stone, but they will let you throw together a preset quickly. Just starting out with these instruments as building blocks you can make a wealth of presets.
Of those seven devices, the one I will mention more about is the MuDrum. It has twelve drum pads available, and each one can trigger a different sound. You can load four effects into each of the four included banks (banks are like busses), and route whichever pad to any of the four banks. Each bank can have one of four different outputs. They have also thrown in eleven different drum kits ready to load.
MUX lets you easily connect the devices and modules together. The input/output connections on the modules/devices are color-coded. You can only connect them together if they have the same color. You just click on an input or output, hold the mouse button down, and drag it over on to another input or output connector. Let it go, and it will connect by itself.
After you have it set up the way you’d like, you can also edit colors of different sections of the screen, change any component’s size, and make buttons larger in those components.
Meta-Parameters let you control certain functions that you want easy access to. You can just right-click on one of them, then click “Edit” to get the spot where you can add mapping to a certain control. There are thirty-two Meta-Parameters available, so you have many easily accessible controls on demand.
I will not go into the detail of every single part of MUX components and devices. There are just so many of them included (and MUX can be very complex) that it might take a whole book to go over it all. However, I wanted to make sure and mention more about the oscillators. These are the heart of a synthesizer’s sound, and they generate the primary audio which you can then manipulate to your liking.
When you open up the oscillator module to see its controls, the waveform that is loaded is on the left, while the controls are over to the right. Below the waveform, you can click the left or right arrows to browse through waveforms.
One thing I think MuTools could change for the controls in this section is this: if you keep clicking the right-arrow to browse through the waveforms, it hits a point where it doesn’t go on, and a message pops up “No next file found”. I think it would be better to just have it loop-back to where the first waveform is, and start over from there automatically.
If you click the down arrow (or click the waveform’s name) it will present a menu where you can get to the other waveforms directly. Right-clicking on the waveform will bring up the same menu. Besides some basic waveforms, MuTools has included a huge number of single-cycle waveforms that you can use.
You can use those same menus to load them, but drag-and-drop functionality is also built-in to MUX. Just click, drag one onto the oscillator and drop it on to the waveform that is already there, which will be replaced with the one you have chosen.
Clicking on the last menu button brings up some more useful options for the oscillator section. From it, you can use a Copy/Paste function (copy from one oscillator to another), a Randomizer which will generate a random waveform for you, and many other functions. If you’re feeling more creative, you can also draw your own waveforms. Just click on the waveform that is already loaded, and draw the shape you’d like. You can save the new waveform you designed to use again later.
In the section to the right of the waveform, you have normal controls you see in many other synthesizers. Among the controls are Velocity sensitivity, Transpose, Octave, and the Portamento settings. For each oscillator, the Portamento can be set to different speeds. You can also select a Legato or Poly Glide.
On top of each oscillator having its own Portamento setting, MUX also includes thirteen different Glide types. Each of those thirteen types has various types of settings you can use with the Glide. For instance, if you select the “Stairs” as the type of Glide, it has a field to change the amount of steps for the Glide.
The oscillators in the MuSynth instrument don’t have quite as many controls as the separate oscillator module. All the extra Glide modes in the module are not included, but MuSynth is still powerful the way it is. In a nutshell, MuSynth is a nice subtractive synth which also has multisample player built-in. You can combine it with other modules to get the overall sound you’d like.
One of the best features of MUX is the ability to load in VST plug-ins. Up to VST version 2.4 is supported. They can be brought into the modular environment, and then controlled by other devices in the configuration you have set up.
I tried this out with Dune CM and Tone2’s Firebird. Here’s how: I right clicked on the background of a preset loaded previously (it’s called “Keyboard Split”) and clicked “Add Module” which brings up a browser.
Then I clicked “Browse for VST Plugin…” and from there, I opened my plugins folder, and loaded them in. After that, it’s just a matter of connecting them together the way you want.
I should have started with a simpler preset, but it still worked. Even though I am just getting used to MUX, and probably didn’t connect everything perfectly, I did get audio from both synths plugins that were added within only a couple minutes. MUX makes it quick and painless.
From that one preset I used, there are drums, bass, and piano already included, and the two synth plugins I added to top it off. This is very cool, and I haven’t even done anything complicated yet. When you think of all the combinations possible with MUX, what I set up is just scratching the surface.
MUX does take a good bit of reading to learn how everything works. You can’t just jump in and start making presets right away; you definitely need that manual. It can also be pretty complicated if you want to set up huge patches, but that’s basically how many modular synths are. The included presets are pretty good, and MUX has a great sound, but it could use more in the preset department. In addition to checking out the documentation, studying those presets in the Deep Editor can help. Looking at the overall layout of a preset can show you how to setup them up for yourself, or at least give you some ideas of your own.
As I mentioned before, MUX is included in MuLab for an all-in-one solution to create songs as well as the sounds to go with it. MUX is only 49 EUR, or about $68 USD. If you want to get MuLab and MUX together, the price is 99 EUR, or about $136. You can download the MUX UL demo version here:
For what you can do with MUX, it really is a bargain. It’s very well-suited towards synth programmers who like to roll up their sleeves and design their own presets. If you want to experiment with sound, MUX has lots of options to get you going in the right direction. With that being said, you don’t have to totally lose yourself in all its options either. With the included pre-made devices and components, it really makes it easier to get things started. MUX includes a good number of presets, is well documented, and is very powerful.