Having avoided using a computer-based digital audio workstation (DAW) or PC music production software for the past ten years, I was recently given the opportunity to write a MAGIX Music Maker review. So, here goes…
Let me start by giving you a little bit of my home recording history.
My first multi-track recorder in the mid 1990s was a Yamaha MT120 4-track that recorded onto ordinary audio cassettes. In about 2003, I moved into digital recording, with a secondhand Roland VS-840EX 8-track, which recorded onto zip disks.
Around 2005, I decided to give PC-based recording a go, so I bought a fairly cheap DAW called Making Waves. Whilst there was nothing inherently wrong with it, it did give me a few problems when using it on my laptop.
Firstly, there was high latency between the audio inputs and outputs. What this basically meant was that if you tried listening to a backing track through headphones and either singing along or trying to play an instrument along, the recording would be out of sync. The solution to this was to buy a low-latency ASIO external sound card that connected via USB.
Despite the addition of this new sound card, using the software was still a pain due to it stuttering, freezing up, or crashing completely. Of course, my laptop and Windows could have been as much to blame for this as the software itself, but it still put me off using a PC for recording.
A few months later, I bought a dedicated Roland VS-2480CD 24-track digital recorder that recorded to hard-drive, and could master directly to audio CD, and I stuck with that for the next ten years.
Therefore, when I was recently offered a review copy of MAGIX Music Maker Premium, I was a little wary, but also interested to see how PC recording technology has progressed in the last decade. In addition, I now have quite a high-powered gaming laptop to try it on, which should be more stable.
Although MAGIX products are probably seen as being near the cheaper end of the software spectrum, I have been happily using their Movie Edit Pro software since 2011, so I was interested to see what they could do with music.
I’m sure you’re probably already familiar with the basics of multi-track recording, so I won’t go too far into that here, other than to say that the Premium version that I tested allows an unlimited number of tracks, whereas the cheapest version is limited to 99, which is still a lot to somebody who started with a 4-track.
MAGIX Music Maker can effectively be used in two different ways: as a standard multi-track recorder, or as a sort of “music construction kit” using the supplied loops and sounds. Again, the more expensive versions of Music Maker offer more available loops (about 8000) to use in your songs than the base version.
Personally, I wasn’t that interested in using the supplied loops, as I wanted to create my own sound, but from having a play around with them, they seem very flexible, allowing you to change the tempo and key. They also cover several different musical genres, from dance, to rock, to jazz. For somebody who wants an easy to use PC beat maker, I can see how MAGIX Music Maker would be very useful.
Of course, you can also combine the two methods of music making, and use some of the supplied sounds to embellish your own recorded music.
For somebody wanting to create their own music from scratch, MAGIX Music Maker also comes with several supplied soft instruments (or virtual instruments) that include drum kits and synthesizers. These are all MIDI instruments that can be played either via a connected MIDI keyboard, or via your computer keyboard. There’s also an onscreen keyboard that you can click on with your mouse, although this is too slow for live recording, and is best saved for step-recording or note editing.
Unlike that old software that I tried in 2005, MAGIX Music Maker comes with its own low-latency ASIO audio driver. However, I wasn’t able to test this for myself due to a hardware fault on my laptop’s audio input jack.
When it did come time to add some vocals to my songs, I instead used a cheap headset microphone connected via USB, so I was listening to the music through the earphones and recording on its little microphone. This worked pretty well, and there weren’t any problems with latency this way.
A song I created using only MAGIX Music Maker Premium, its included soft-instruments, and my voice.
The more I played around with MAGIX Music Maker, the more I was impressed with what it had to offer. I watched some music mixing tutorials on YouTube where they were using the more expensive Logic Pro X music production software on an Apple Mac, and I was pleased to find that I could replicate most of the things that they were doing, including installing some of the VST plugins that they suggested.
I did find a few glitches with the software though, so I think the best thing I can do is give you a Pros and Cons list.
The price is low compared to some other DAW software, and the cheapest base version in particular offers a good way to get into home-recording and music production.
Built-in Soft Instruments
The built-in soft instruments make it very easy to create music with just your PC and Music Maker. There’s no need to splash out on additional drum machines or synthesizers.
VST Plugin Compatible
MAGIX Music Maker supports Virtual Studio Technology (VST) plugins with both VST2 and VST3 formats, meaning that you can add extra effects and tools.
Lossless FLAC Export
As popular as the MP3s are, converting a song to the MP3 format causes a loss in sound quality, which is why many music download sites now also offer songs as lossless FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files. Luckily, MAGIX Movie Maker can export to FLAC just as easily as MP3, meaning that you can upload your completed songs to almost any music site that you wish.
Limited Effects Bus
One feature I like in Logic Pro X is the ability to put effects in the bus in any order that you like, and as many times as you like. Therefore, you can one EQ before a compressor to perhaps clean a nasty pop off a vocal track, and then have another EQ after the compressor to shape the sound. MAGIX Music Maker doesn’t let you do this, and the effects must always be in a set order, with the EQ coming after the compressor. You can also only have one EQ per bus.
This also caused a problem when I added a waveform plugin and a dynamic range meter plugin for mastering. Music Maker insists that the limiter must be the last thing in the master FX bus, so you can’t put a meter plugin after it to examine the final sound.
Some Significant Bugs
Although the software seems pretty stable, there are a few significant bugs.
Some are just minor annoyances, like the way that the sound sometimes starts to develop a weird distorted crackle after a long session, requiring you to shut down the software and restart it. Others though, can cause a fair bit of time and rework.
The first such bug happened when i decided to change the order of my audio tracks by using the “move track up” function on one of them. At first, all seemed well, but when I played the track, something was very wrong.
What had happened was that as well as moving the track I wanted up one place, all the soft instruments on the tracks above it had also been bumped up a track, but their MIDI data remained where it was. What this meant was that my drum notes on Track 1 were now playing the synth sound from Track 2, and the Track 2 notes were playing the instrument that was on Track 3, and so on.
Annoyingly, I’d already hit “save” before realising the problem, and performed another small operation, so that I couldn’t undo it. My only option was to manually reset the instruments for every track, which of course meant trying to remember what they were.
The only positive from this is that I’d only used standard instrument sounds, which therefore made it a little less stressful than if I’d manually adjusted all the knobs on one of the soft synths, for example, and then lost those settings.
The second bug is a peculiar one, which I’ve not quite got to the bottom of yet, but it seems to affect the MIDI data.
Quite often, when opening up a saved project, I’ll get an error message about MIDI data. To be honest, the message is long and not very clear, so I normally just ignore it and click “continue”, especially since it appears over and over again whilst the project opens up. In most cases, it’s never seemed to have caused any problems.
One time, however, I found that the 4 bar MIDI loops that I’d neatly placed on one track had all grown in length and were all overlapping each other and creating quite a mess. It was this that made me think that I may have figured out the cause of this particular bug.
When I originally recorded the MIDI loops in question, I recorded 8 bars, but then trimmed them down to 4 bars by just dragging in the end of the block. I believe that this then caused the software to have some problems when reopening the project, as there were MIDI notes effectively hidden in bars 5 to 8 that didn’t have a physical position in song. Its solution seemed to be to open up those hidden 4 bars again by expanding the loops in question back to 8 bars.
Although I’ve not proven this theory yet, I believe the way to possibly avoid this problem would be to delete any unused MIDI notes before trimming a loop, so that your project only contains MIDI notes that have an actual physical position in your song.
I think MAGIX Music Maker is a bit like an over-emotional friend. If you get used to its quirks, and you keep your wits about you then you can have a lot of fun together. However, if you get a bit careless or get a bit carried away then it may throw a tantrum that causes you some problems.
For somebody wanting to experiment with home recording or music production on a PC for the first time, I do think that it’s a worthwhile investment. You’ll be able to start creating music or making your own beats, and experiment with the finer points of mixing and mastering, all at a reasonable price.
Since you could be working with quite large audio files though, just be sure that your PC is of a decent spec, and is fairly stable.
The minimum requirements given on the box are a 2GHz processor, and 2GB of RAM.
Full Disclosure: My review copy of MAGIX Music Maker Premium was supplied to me by the PR company representing MAGIX. I am also a member of the MAGIX affiliate program. For more details see the Affiliate Disclosure page.