Review – MXXX from MeldaProduction, Part 2
One FX to rule them all and in the mix to bind them? Not a bad description for something the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Melda has set the bar very high with its new mega-effect.
by David Baer, Nov. 2015
We began our review of Melda Production’s MXXX super FX plug-in in our September issue. You can read that review here:
Two days before that article appeared, Melda released its production (that is, post-beta) product, so this time around we have concrete information about pricing, factory content, etc. As stated, it’s quite expensive but there’s a new wrinkle that will make at least some owners of Melda’s Creative Bundle very, very happy. We’ll get back to that at the end of this review. But for now, we’ll pick up right where we left off last time.
Depths within Depths
The first thing that should be said is that although this is the second and final installment in this review, I don’t believe ten installments could adequately cover everything that’s here and noteworthy. For one thing, there’s a huge breadth to the type of capabilities that reside in MXXX, as I think you’ll readily see in what follows. But there’s also an incredible depth of functionality, most of which many of us will never think of utilizing. I’m going to offer one example of this, but trust me – this sort of thing is found everywhere you look.
Consider the humble ADSR envelope. It’s actually a DAHDSR envelope with individually adjustable segment curvatures. But notice the “Custom Shape” option. Click on that and we see this window.
If DAHDSR is insufficiently complex, then you may define whatever envelope shape you want. But also notice the Tremolo column in the earlier ADSR image. With it you can actually apply an LFO to the Sustain segment (or start it earlier in the Decay segment and/or keep it going during the Release). It’s called Tremolo since an envelope like this will often be applied to loudness, but envelopes can actually modulate pretty much anything.
But there’s still more. Notice the little wrench next to the Tremolo label. Click it and we get a full-fledged LFO edit window, seen at the right. And as I stated, this sort of thing is everywhere you look in MXXX. Of course, these things are not just MXXX features, but they are pervasive throughout Melda’s offerings. The more of Melda gear you have, the greater the payback will be when you to learn how to take advantage of all the sophisticated nuances that are at your disposal. And if you have MXXX, you should have a very great incentive to mount that learning curve.
So Can We Talk FX Finally?
OK, you’ve been most patient, and we can finally get to the goods … well almost. In discussing the modules available in MXXX, it’s convenient to divide them into two groups: modules that do FX-type processing and modules that support that first group (although there’s a bit of gray area with a few of the modules). We’ll start with the support modules.
To the right you see four categories of support modules, some of which should be familiar to you from the discussions in Part 1. Under Building Blocks we have Ratio, Mixer and Feedback to which you’ve previously been introduced. The rest are fairly straightforward except for Channel Matrix. I have yet to see this one used in a preset and I remain in the dark about its purpose.
Under Utility, the module names pretty much identify the function. Modular, you may recall, is the way to nest complex grid arrangements of modules within a single higher-level module slot. Math is a little bit of a puzzler. The only thing I can see it being useful for is multiplying two audio signals (on a sample by sample basis). It can do many other things mathematical, but I’m not at all sure when you’d use most of those functions.
Synthesis is an interesting category, most especially because near the end of the MXXX beta period, Melda inserted the full power of MPowerSynth into MXXX. I was already quite satisfied with just the LFO, Oscillator and Noise Generator, but this was an unexpected bonanza. However, I’m completely at a loss to figure out what to do with this embarrassment of riches. 😀
Finally we have the Stereo category. Here’s one place where there’s a little gray area. On the one hand, we have straightforward utility-type signal splitters and combiners whose names are indicative of what they do. But then there are also modules like Stereo Spread which is the marvelous engine used in the Melda MStereoSpread plug-in, something way too sophisticated to simply be designated as “utility”.
Now, finally, we can discuss actual FX providers. In the image to the right, we see six categories: Modulation, Reverb & Delay, Distortion, Dynamics, Spectral and Equalizers. And you can readily see that pretty much anything needed for mixing and mastering purposes plus all manner of creative effecting is supported. And if something isn’t there … and this is very much the whole point of MXXX … just build it from the components that are there!
A number of vendors of quality gear provide numerous multi-function plug-ins that, for example, mix a delay capability with EQ and/or compression and/or modulation and/or whatever. With MXXX, if you need some combination of FX processes, just can just build your own. Once you’ve mastered the Melda way of doing modulation and setting up front-panel control with Multiparameters, this sort of thing can be accomplished in surprisingly little time. There’s really nothing quite like it elsewhere in the world of computer music production.
You can see from the modules listed to the right that there is a wide scope of capability on hand. We hardly have time and space to explore them all. Instead, let’s just take a close-up look at a couple of modules … but, I don’t want to imply these are “representative modules” since there is so much diversity of function throughout the module collection.
This is a good time, however, to mention the documentation. Melda has an incredible challenge on its hands to document everything in all the modules. Right now, your best bet is to use the little question mark icons that appear all over the place. These will produce a window with brief explanations of all the settable parameters. Barring that, the best bet is to download the PDF documentation for the associated dedicated plug-in. If you need more information about the Delay module, for example, go to the Melda website and grab the PDF for MMultiBandDelay. The individual manuals are all there and easily accessible, even if this is not the most convenient option. For the near term, at least, it will have to do.
And speaking of the Delay module, let’s start with that, since delays will no doubt be integral to a great many composite presets built with MXXX. We see two fully independent taps.
The controls within the Tap tab are mostly self-explanatory. Mode can be normal or ping-pong. The delay amounts can be absolute time or synchronized with host tempo. Now, you might say that there’s nothing special here. Most readers will be able to point to a delay on their DAW that has more functionality, more bells and whistles. But that’s missing the point of MXXX. If you have an odd requirement like routing your delay output through a phaser followed with EQ and compression, just build it. You truly have all the pieces at hand to easily do so. And although I don’t want to sound like a broken record, I’ll repeat that if you are the owner of any significant amount of Melda gear, you have a compelling incentive to learn to use the Melda modulation and multiparameter mechanisms. It will take a few hours of dedicated study and experimentation to do so, but once using these things becomes second nature, there’s no end of marvelous things that can be fashioned (and fashioned quickly) within the MXXX framework.
Let’s move on to one more FX type: the Filter module. There are a huge number of filter types to choose from, and some of the other parameters will be enabled/disabled depending upon the filter type currently selected. The image below shows the window you see when you click on the Filter Type parameter. In real life it’s much larger and readable. The point I want to make is to simply show you the vast selection of filters available to you.
This being a filter, many of the parameters, but most especially Frequency, beg to be modulation targets. But with the Filter module, some restraint is called for. Depending upon the filter type selected, some rather extreme behavior can result from modulation. In some cases, the processing demands of rapid modulation are too great for practical application of that modulation. The moral of the story is: try modulation manually and do so while keeping your monitors on a low volume until you know what to expect.
One thing you’ll note is the sidechain capability. What is that all about in a filter? It turns out you can modulate the frequency with the sidechain signal. Why would you want to do that? Well, MXXX modulators only operate up to 100 Hz. But you could drop an Oscillator module into the grid and let its output become sidechain input to the filter. Walla … we have audio rate filter frequency modulation. Now, there may be other, better uses for this capability, but this is the one that seems the most obvious application to me.
I want to highlight one filter parameter in particular: Panorama. This is similar to features in Fab Filter’s Volcano and Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere. When you set it off-center, one L/R channel has frequency decrease while an opposite corresponding increase happens in the other channel. So this is a pretty cool feature, but that’s not my point. I made a feature request for this during the MXXX beta cycle. The next release happened just a few days later and there it was, just like that: filter panorama. Talk about a customer-centric operation! Now, by no means do all feature requests get implemented, of course. But when one comes along that fits with Melda’s grand design, they can happen and can show up with surprising promptness. Vojtech Meluzin, the man behind the Melda brand, routinely interacts with users to a very satisfactory degree on the KVR forum. One has to wonder just where he gets the time, however.
One final point is noteworthy before leaving the discussion of MXXX modules. Since it was released (about seven weeks ago at the time this is being written), two additional FX processor modules have already been added to MXXX. These additions have shortly followed the release of two new Melda standalone plug-ins, MMultiBandBitFun and MTransformer. MXXX now has new modules called BitFun and Transformer that are the engines that provide the capabilities in the standalone versions. We can almost certainly look forward to similar additional developments in the future. It looks very much like MXXX will just keep getting better and better.
There Are Presets … and Then There Are Presets
One thing we should probably cover is something that will likely be a source of confusion to new MXXX users, even those familiar with other Melda offerings. With any preset, we can get a detailed view of the preset composition and have access to all the parameter settings when in “Edit” mode. This is what we’ve been looking at all along so far in this review.
But when in “Simple” mode (i.e., not in Edit mode), if the preset is an “Active Preset”, then we see a simplified view like that in the image below. But the preset does not have to be an active preset; a preset that simply uses named multiparameters will have a simple interface exposed with the named multiparameter controls on the UI panel.
Active presets are a Melda convention, but they work a bit differently in MXXX than in other Melda software. Elsewhere, active presets are intended to be factory content that appears in a simple menu structure and which have “easy” UI versions (all presets, active or otherwise can be switched into edit mode for full access to all parameters). In other Melda plug-ins, the user may not save an active preset. But, again, users may define multiparameters and have the “easy” UI for their custom preset creations. So, elsewhere, there’s not a tendency to get confused over two preset namespaces: “active” and “normal”.
In MXXX, it is quite a bit easier to be a victim of confusion. There are two namespaces and two corresponding menus from which to select presets. When in “easy” mode, we can access the active preset menu shown below.
We see category filters that can be selected to refine a search. In MXXX, users can in fact create and save active presets. But most will not want to bother assigning criteria and adding explanatory commentary to document their work. So, user-created active presets are not off limits for end users, but they are not of significance outside a user’s own DAW. In fact, the preset exchange maintained by Melda for MXXX presets will not support active presets. I hope you found this explanation useful, since this was a source of considerable confusion to me until just recently.
As to factory content, there is a huge number of active presets shipped with MXXX – I am guessing about 500 or so. The content is somewhat of a mixed bag, however. The majority of presets are rather simple and do not show a lot of innovation – not that simple presets can’t be used to very good effect in a mix. But maybe one in five of the presets demonstrates just how far you can take things in MXXX. There are a number of real gems here that can be a great source of guidance for one hoping to learn the MXXX way of things or one looking for inspiration for building their own MXXX “mad-scientist” creations.
Is MXXX for You?
OK, now we get to the 64,000 dollar question: what does MXXX cost. I know I warned in Part 1 that this plug-in would not be cheap, and it is not. But before I throw out prices, recall that Melda routinely has 50% off sales on both bundles and individual plug-ins. So, I am just going to quote the sale price (although I am in no position to guarantee the sale policy model will last indefinitely).
MXXX will cost approximately $563 USD on sale. Now, before you cry “ripoff”, do recall that the full MXXX version contains all the Melda crown jewels of technology and that there are free updates for life. But if you are going to spend that kind of money, I think a better approach would be to wait for a bundle sale and purchase the MTotalBundle for just $165 (or so) more. That gets you everything Melda has to offer (currently in excess of 80 plug-ins) along with anything new from Melda that is released for all time. Also, Melda has a recently-introduced customer account setup on its web site. When buying a bundle, your price will be individually tailored so that it is reduced by 70% of the purchase price of anything already bought that happens to be in that bundle. Those of you who picked up half a dozen individual plug-ins may find the price of MTotalBundle is well under the full list price. And the price reduction feature has applied during previous bundle sales as well. So, the path to “MTotality” may not be as expensive as you originally thought.
Fortunately, there’s also hope for those on a somewhat more modest budget. MXXXCore is a vastly scaled-down version of MXXX. It has all the infrastructure and utility functionality but next to no FX capability other than the Filter module, a basic compressor and the Delay Tap module. Core FX capabilities becomes available as equivalent Melda individual plug-ins are purchased. Need the MXXX vocoder module? Purchase MVocoder and it is enabled in MXXXCore. While individual plug-in acquisitions are a way to eventually get to a usable MXXXCore capability, I think that the sweet spot is probably to purchase (on sale) the MCreativeBundle for $225 USD and pick up MXXXCore for around $110 USD (or presumably half that when on sale).
That would get you all the creative action except EQ (although you have some control there since the filter and the band-pass modules are available). Melda has published a roadmap on the MXXXCore product page that shows what standalone plug-ins will unlock what modules in FX. But assuming you’re satisfied with the on-board dynamics and EQ capability, with MCreativeBundle acquired, you should only be missing a few special purpose modules like the spectral dynamics and the stereo spread engines, which are not normally going to be needed in general creative FX construction (don’t get me wrong – MSpectralDynamics and MStereoSpread are my two most-used and highly-valued Melda plug-ins, so I’m not lightly dismissing either of them). In any case, with this route, there’s a bit more complexity, but at least we get the price of a mostly-complete MXXX to somewhere in the mid-$300s.
But even all by itself, MXXXCore is a killer effect because just the filter and delay-tap alone with all the modulation and routing capabilities can compete feature-wise with many other sophisticated filter FX plug-ins in the market. Pick up MMultiBandDelay for full delay capability when on sale for less than $30 USD, and now you’ve got a killer delay and filter double threat – all for a grand total of less than $90 USD. This is one hell of a lot of functionality for not very much money. So, in the end, you may find that MXXX magic can be in your life after all, even if budget is somewhat tight.
MXXX is utterly unique and there’s nothing else to which it can be compared at this time. Is it worth all that money? Do you want and/or need almost limitless FX capability? I would suggest that the answer to the former question is the same as the latter.
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