Having been using the Digidesign Mbox 2 with Pro Tools for the last five years and having everything at my disposal with this DAW, I did not know what to expect with Propellerhead’s newest DAW audio interface, but I was quite impressed with this compact unit’s end results as it gave a solid performance and a huge sound.
What most impressed me with Balance is its ease of use, whereby anyone into writing, creating, arranging and producing their own music can achieve it successfully here as there is no tweaking of different sound modules, rack mounts and cable connections involved (despite the usual guitar, studio monitor or mic connection to this audio interface) to quickly start making and recording your own sounds. To use Balance, you need not be a professional studio engineer or sound designer as it is very simplified to grasp all its power.
Balance also comes with Reason Essentials software, which features the common core roots making up Propellerhead’s Reason software suite, but not so deep like the latter, so as to make it easy for the first time user or a DAW enthusiast. However, do keep in mind, that everything included in Reason Essentials is sufficient enough to record your very own record, mix and even master it, but you can also use the full version of Reason with Balance should you decide to upgrade at a later time.
Lets go over the Balance audio interface unit in brief detail so you know what it entails and it offers the novice as well as the experienced user.
Balance is the audio interface, which you connect to your desktop or laptop computer via a USB connection. You get a 3-foot USB cable with the actual unit. Balance is a low latency unit, so whatever you are playing through it, you should be able to hear it instantaneously provided you have a faster computer.
The Balance audio interface, which is a high-quality audio interface, has stereo inputs and outputs along with the following features: Multiple inputs. You’ve got the headphones input right on the front right side, and on the back of the unit you’ve line outputs (white) for the studio monitors, two line inputs (line 2-orange) for MIDI keyboard and other musical instruments, two line inputs (line 1-pink) for other MIDI equipment or and an MP3 player. You also get two guitar inputs, which feature “pad” buttons on each input that helps lower input level during the recording of “hot” signals, which could come from guitar pickups and give you unwanted distortion. In addition to all of this, you get two mic XLR inputs with 48V phantom power options on both.
One aspect I personally found very useful was that the user is able to hook up multiple instruments at once and be ready to go when recording any one particular instrument.
Also, you have physical controls on the Balance unit for all of the inputs found on it, which I found to be very useful and convenient, such as the Main Out Level (monitor volume control knob and Headphones Level knob. You’ve also the Mute/Direct Monitoring with a LED light. This feature I also found handy because when I wanted to listen to what I had recorded through my headphones, with the press of a button I was able to, and you press this same button again to listen through the studio monitors.
There are two other buttons, which should be looked into, the Clip Safe, which enables you to repair any audio that has been clipped during the recording process. The other button is the Meter/Tuner feature and this helps you adjust the sound input level for your incoming sound signal, say from a keyboard, and you just use the input level knobs on the upper left corner of the Balance unit, and this shows you whether or not your sound is going into the red or not. While here, you can tune your instrument such as a guitar or bass guitar. When you press this button, a big display pops right up on your screen for easy visual access. I really appreciated this feature as it makes a difference when you’re in the middle of your songwriting and recording process.
The other eight buttons you will see on the front of Balance is for the inputs found on the back of the unit. I loved the fact that every button has a LED light, which shows you what input is active.
Okay, now onto the Reason Essentials software, which is just perfect for first time users but good enough for vocalists, songwriters, musicians and producers.
This software package includes The Mixer, based on the original mixer in Reason but more simplified for mixing and finishing your songs. I very much enjoyed using this mixer version as it was enough for my trials and worked great.
The Sequencer, the same as in Reason made the arrangement of my individual tracks a breeze as you can assemble, record and arrange your music here. The Instruments utilized in Reason Essentials are the classic synthesizer, Dr. Octo Rex loop player, Redrum Drum Computer, and you can also connect your own musical instruments such as a guitar or synthesizer. There are also Effects consisting of Line 6’s models of amps and cabinets, which I enjoyed using a lot as they’ve many killer presets to choose from on this one. There are also a good number of Mastering Effects to choose from such as the MClass collection. For those of you more accustomed to Reason¹s advanced features will be happy to know that the Routing Tools found here feature mixers and Reason¹s open modular interface for creating custom work methods and sounds, so in turn this gives the more experienced and novice user to grow. And the library of sounds contained within Reason Essentials features a gigabyte of unique sounds from Propellerhead’s user community, which definitely gives you a lot to work with right out of the box – now this is very impressive. This is one of the main reasons I’ve always had the pleasure of using Propellerhead’s software because you get so much value for your hard earned cash.
Here is a rundown of the virtual instruments and mixers you will find within Reason Essentials (for those you familiar with Reason, will be glad to know at least some of their core instruments and mixers are available for your use here.).
The Mixer, a professional style-mixing console, which I really enjoyed using as it helped me shape my sounds and clean up the unnecessary background sounds on my songs.
The featured instruments: ID8, a shortcut to commonly used instruments such as guitars, bass guitars, drums and synths. NN-XT, an advanced sampler based on recorded sounds, and where you can also create your own sounds to be sampled through NN-XT. Dr. Octo Rex, a loop-based player, which also features percussion and drum loops built into Essentials Factory Sound Bank. I did get carried away using this one as it just sparked my creativity to go even farther. Redrum, a drum machine in the classic sense, whereby you can also create your very own drum and sound patterns. – very, very useful for any style of music. Subtractor synthesizer is made up of classic synths, which you can manipulate and even recreate something truly out of this world. This virtual synth is one of a kind as I experienced its vast arsenal of sounds when I was trying it out for one of my experimental tracks and again got carried away playing around with it, ha, ha.
Some of the other devices, which makes Reason Essentials such a hit are: Delay and Chorus/Flanger. All three of these feature presets you can use or you can create your own as well. I used these three on my trial song and was completely blown away by there quality as they just uplifted my work.
The RV7000 Reverb is a great device for giving your songs that extra depth of feeling of vast spaces and eeriness. This one made my guitar playing very interesting as it gave it a weird and twisted edge.
The Line 6 Guitar and Bass amps will rock your world as these have presets you can use or again, just create your own sound.
The SuperCrunch preset on the Line 6 guitar amp just freaking blew my guitar rhythms out of the water, as they sounded so damn thrashy – yes!!!
And my lead playing was taken to another level as well – kind of sounding like a professional studio musician.
And if you add the Scream 4 distortion device to the Line 6 guitar amp picture, it becomes a heavy metal head’s dream come true as the distortion is not just pure heavy as hell, it is audible and the crunch is brutal enough to rip off your ears (not in the literal sense, but it sure felt like it when I married the two.). There are also a few other devices, which are sure to impress too.
Please keep in mind, I used Reason Essentials in conjunction with Balance and got the results I was aiming for, so with this in mind, Balance is built quite well and should stand up to the rigorous use you might put it through.
The Balance unit is very easy to use once you plug in your guitar, synthesizer and mic as all you have to do is indicate, on this audio interface, which instrument you want to use. This all can be achieved with the buttons corresponding with the different inputs featured on the back of the Balance unit.
So, check it out and let the sounds flow from your creative universe.