It’s been nearly two years since I reviewed MuLab 6 which you can read about here. So a review for MuLab 7 which was released in May 2016 is somewhat overdue. The latest version is 7.2.23 and is available for Windows (32 & 64 bit) and Mac (64 bit). System requirements are not too demanding – Windows XP and above, MacOS 10.6.8 and above; a decent soundcard / driver. A minimum resolution of 1024 x 768 and powerful multi-core are recommended but not necessary although it is an important point when considering how you will use MuLab. As you’d expect it will run more efficiently and with a lower CPU load with a higher spec machine but many modern synths and effects have complex architecture using a lot of maths and calculations and so require multi-core processors and their performance will be limited by your system rather than MuLab.
There have been a myriad of updates and improvements since the original review. To try and summarise these, version 7 brought improved sound; easier audio recording; improved audio marking; improved support for streaming files with different sample rates; a step sequencer; new modules including audio rate modulation, sample and hold, parameter randomisation (also works on VSTs), pitch bend; enhanced racks; user definable grids; swing parameter; improved piano roll.
Version 7.1 was essentially a re-write of the MacOS code along with a number of improvements and fixes. Version 7.2 included a grain player along with a number of improvements and bug fixes which have continued up to the latest version.
These are all listed on the change log page should you require any further information.
There are a number of different purchase options, a new MuLab licence costs 69 Euros which includes an integrated MUX modular system. You can purchase the MUX modular system separately as a plugin for 59 Euros and this allows you to use MuLab in other DAWs. You can also purchase both together for 99 Euros. Essentially you would only need to purchase a separate MUX licence if you are likely to run MuLab in other DAWs. Upgrades are also available at a discounted price. One point to note is that when you purchase the full version, you will be granted an initial user key so that you can use MuLab straight away. The permanent key is then emailed once the order has been manually processed which is normally within 1 – 2 working days.
The good news is that a free version is also available and it is recommended that you try this first to ensure that MuLab meets your needs. The free version is limited to 4 tracks and 8 VSTs. However, if you can create a great demo song (conditions apply, for instance no VSTs allowed) you could win a MuLab and MUX Modular plugin licence. Full details and terms and conditions can be found here.
What’s impressive is that with all of the updates that have occurred, users of MuLab 6 will still feel at home with the latest version. The GUI is familiar but the updated fonts and design give a more modern look and feel. It is still intuitive to use and setting up the audio and scanning VSTs is the same straightforward process. If you have a lot of VSTs like me it can take some time to scan them all but then any subsequent additions can be done very easily by scanning a single file or folder. Another useful feature when you upgrade versions is that you can copy your user folder to retain your user settings and files.
The factory content is also very impressive. There are a number of devices – MuDrum, MuSynth, MuPad, MuSampla and MultiSampla as well as MuEcho and MuVerb which are very good echo and reverb effects. The instruments cover a very wide range including bass, leads, pads, sequences, organs, soundscapes. Similarly effects include chorus, distortion, filters, delay, reverb, flangers and experimental units. There are also a number of audio generators, audio processors, event generators and event processors.
This is what the GUI looks like using one of the demo songs. The ‘Mulab’ and ‘project’ buttons in the top left provide the main menu / settings options. Next to these are the ‘compose’, ‘edit’ and ‘modular’ buttons which give you different views. Next to this is the transport panel and completing the top row is a focussed module keyboard.
To the right of the screen is the file manager where you can browse and load samples, midi files, instruments etc. The main part of the screen is determined by the selected view button. ‘Compose’ shows the whole of your composition, ‘Edit’ allows you to edit an individual sample or pattern and ‘Modular’ allows you to add different effects and modules and route the signal between them accordingly.
The left hand side shows the tracks within your composition and the bottom of the screen shows the racks. The racks hold modules, VSTs, effects, event processors etc and are very flexible. They can be linked to specific tracks, used as part of an elaborate effects chain or used for event processing to control external hardware for instance.
To see MuLab 7 in use, the basic intro video is really good. It introduces the workflow and demonstrates a number of the instruments and effects:
The devices are worth a further look because they offer lots of creative potential.
MuSynth is a versatile and flexible synth. It has 2 oscillators with pitch LFO and/or envelope; a multi-sample player with pitch LFO and/or envelope and a noise generator. These 4 sources can be processed by a ring mod and up to 3 filters which have very flexible routing options and there are also 4 plugin slots to insert global effects.
MuDrum is one of my favourite drum modules. It allows you to create virtual analog sounds, use samples or a hybrid of the two. As well as volume, panning, tuning and envelope controls you can also layer 2 samples which is a really useful sound shaping tool in itself. There are 4 racks so you can apply specific effects to individual drum sounds and well as 3 plugin slots to insert global effects. There are 12 pads which correspond to each note of an octave so you can trigger the sounds by pads or a midi sequence and save created drum kits as presets for future use. If you want to get really creative you also have access to a complete MUX which offers virtually unlimited modular options with envelopes, filters, LFOs etc.
MuSampla on the one hand is a ‘basic’ sample player but this is not the best description because it is very capable and flexible with parameters for amplitude envelope, pitch with envelope and LFO, filter with envelope and LFO which can be switched on and off as required. There are also 4 plugin slots to insert global effects.
The grain player is an excellent addition. You can get some very interesting effects by changing the start and end points of a sample and then adjusting the start, length and attack settings for the grains and then altering the global pitch settings.
I like the change to audio recording, it’s now much simpler. You create an audio track, select the input whether this is direct such as a microphone or from a rack. Decide how to monitor i.e. always or just whilst recording and then click record to record the desired vocals or vst output etc.
Snap markers are also a great addition. They can be very useful for precisely aligning vocals with a drum beat for instance. They are easy to use, simply put a marker at the desired point on the vocals and set as a snap marker so that the file snaps to the marker rather than the start of the recording.
The MUX modular deserves a special mention. This is essentially the engine behind MuLab and is a modular synth and effect. It allows you to create pretty much anything you like from synths to sample players to unusual effects. You can combine the three different types of signals – audio, event and modulation in the modular area and create a front panel to control the different parameters. There are a number of modules and presets that you can use to get started.
I’ve created a demo track which is embedded above using a number of VSTs and effects including Enkl (Klevgrand) processed with Incipit (Inear Display); Carbon Electra synth; Noisetar (NuSofting) processed with Spaceship Delay (Musical Entropy); sound effects processed by Convex (Glitchmachines) and Incipit (Inear Display) and also loaded a NASA sample of the final journey of shuttle STS135 into the grain player processed with Deelay and Spaces (both by Hornet). I also mastered the finished track separately in MuLab using Neutron (iZotope).
I find MuLab easy and intuitive to use. The workflow has a logical feel with tracks on the left, racks at the bottom and the composition components such as midi files, audio files etc in the main window which are arranged linearly. It’s easy to create racks by adding devices, effects or processing modules as required and select the appropriate routing for the audio signal. Completed racks can be saved as presets and you can also colour code them and arrange them in an order as you see fit. You can drag a rack to create a track or alternatively you can add a track and then assign it to a rack.
Once you’ve created a track, it’s easy to add an audio file or sample loop, load a midi file, create a new sequence and record this with a midi keyboard or enter it manually using a mouse. You can then copy and paste sections, edit to give variations, record automation of VST parameters or volume, adjust fade in / fade out, set sequence loop points for poly-rhythms and so on.
A screenshot of the project is shown above. I’m sure there are ways to do this more efficiently, for instance using loops on the individual sequences, using common effect racks instead of multiple instances of insert effects but like many DAWs you tend to find ways that work for you.
This is an example of a drum pattern using the midi sequencer. One tip is to give the pads meaningful names and then when you create a sequence these will be displayed as notes in the octave making it easier to enter your drum pattern as shown above. Incidentally there are some excellent examples of drum patterns and how to process drum samples in the ‘Beat Dissected’ section of Attack Magazine website.
For the demo song I recorded the grain player output to audio so that I could switch it on and off and edit settings live as I recorded. This is because I am used to live editing and live recording in Usine Hollyhock II whereas I could instead use automation and edit this to give a more precise recording. I’ve also started using MuLab for mastering as with the demo track and these are great examples of the flexibility that MuLab offers.
Overall MuLab 7 is a very capable DAW for a very reasonable price. There are a host of improvements that have been implemented since version 6 which make it an even more attractive option. It has excellent sound quality and despite the complexities is intuitive, flexible and easy to use. It also has good support in terms of documentation, an active user forum and regular updates and improvements.
MuLab and further information is available from Mutools