WHEN LAPTOPS MET PLUG-INS, MUSIcians started taking computers on the road to run instruments and/or effects. MuseBox provides the same functionality with- out the computer. Well, it is a computer, but one optimized for gigging. It’s substantial, compact, and housed in a roadworthy, all-metal case.
MuseBox is a four-channel device. Two channels accept audio, which could be mic and guitar, two mics, or a stereo instrument such as a drum machine. Each can run through its own plug-in, and phantom power is switchable simultaneously for both inputs. The other two channels host plug-in virtual instruments, playable via MIDI controller (keyboard, drum pads, etc.). All four channels go through two additional master effects, such as reverb, compression, and EQ.
MuseBox ships with a bunch of plug- ins: 13 effects (including some really cool AdrenaLinn-type ﬁlter effects and a looper) and six instruments, But that’s a little misleading, because many of the effects are more like multieffects, and the instruments are very ﬂexible. The MusePlayer instrument alone has 4GB of samples, while Peavey’s ReValver HP is the “crown jewel” of the guitar-oriented effects. This smaller version of ReValver MK III.V has six Peavey amp models and 30 models of stompboxes and rack effects.
You can’t upgrade to the full version of ReValver, or add another amp sim, because MuseBox is a closed system, and it only runs plug-ins that have been adapted for use with the MuseBox engine. However, while you can’t install your fave plug-ins, MuseBox has a slot for CompactFlash cards on the back, and Peavey plans to offer additional plug-ins via this medium.
MuseBox can handle a wide variety of musical applications, from drummers who want to hook up pad controllers and drive the onboard drum sounds to guitar players/singers who want a system that can process acoustic guitar and voice. Overall, MuseBox tilts somewhat toward keyboardists—not just because of the huge selection and quality of the instrument sounds (many of the best ones are provided by UVI, who also do work for MOTU and Spectrasonics), but because the compact size is a major plus. Drive it with a MIDI or USB-over-MIDI controller, and that’s all you need. Keyboards with a control surface are the best choice, as eight parameters can be assigned for real-time tweaking from MIDI controllers.
From a guitarist’s standpoint, there are four main scenarios for using MuseBox. Latency is sufficiently low that I didn’t ﬁ nd it an issue.
Guitar Processor. You’ll ﬁnd lots of pre- sets for both electric and acoustic guitar (as well as bass), so you can just use these pre- sets to “load-and-go.” To create your own sounds, you can insert ReValver HP as a processor on one of the audio inputs, along with two additional post-ReValver effects to shape the overall sound. You can increment through presets with a footswitch, and decrement with a second footswitch, but note that loading a new preset takes a couple of seconds.
Guitar and Voice. Each signal would go into its own input and have its own effect, like ReValver HP on guitar and MuVoice LE on the vocal. These could both be followed by the master effects, like a little delay or reverb, along with EQ.
Musical Group. A keyboardist could play one instrument, a drummer could trigger drum sounds, and you could play guitar and sing. The master effects would affect all sounds, so you’d probably use bread-and-butter effects such as reverb, EQ, or compression.
Yes, the rear panel looks like what you’d ﬁnd on a computer, because the MuseBox is a computer.
The MuseTools editing software lets you edit, create, save, load, and transfer presets.
MIDI Backing Tracks. If you have a MIDI ﬁ le player or sequencer, you could trigger two instrument sounds (like drums and bass) while you play guitar and/or sing through the audio inputs.
Presets are “tagged” as being in categories, so you can look for suitable presets within a particular category, and blow off the ones that aren’t relevant. As a result, one of MuseBox’s outstanding features is that you can simply treat it as a signal processor with plug-and-play presets. However, you can also go very high-tech by using a variety of included software tools to edit, create, save, and re-order presets.
There are two ways to play “custom shop” and modify the presets. One is to network the MuseBox to a Mac or Windows computer via Ethernet, and run the editing software. The MuseBox Ethernet can connect straight into the computer through a crossover cable, or hook into an existing network, like what you use for Internet access. However, when using this method, the software is quite sluggish, and the lag as you move controls is considerable. At ﬁrst, I thought it might be due to running 64-bit Windows 7, but I experienced the same performance on a quad core Mac running OS 10.6.8.
A better option is to connect a video monitor to the rear panel’s VGA output, then plug a mouse and keyboard into two of MuseBox’s four USB jacks. This eliminates the computer—and frankly, it’s pretty slick to just hook up a monitor and start tweaking—and, as a bonus, the editing software is much more responsive.
Editing can make a signiﬁcant difference in terms of personalizing the presets. Sounds are subjective, and amp sims are particularly so, because whoever designed the presets was probably not using your guitar, strings, pickups, pick, and playing style. I could often take an “unusable” (at least for me) ReValver HP preset, and make it “sing” by adding a notch after the cab using one of ReValver’s parametric equalizers, and then tweaking the amp drive settings a bit.
Finally, while concentrating on live per- formance, MuseBox is also a very utilitarian studio tool. The instruments can lay down just about any type of track, and you can use the presets if you want to record with effects, as well as for external processing on DAW tracks. There’s nothing quite like the Muse- Box (except for Receptor, the “big brother” on which it’s based), and it packs a whole lot of functionality into a small package.