Think of Musebox as a compact, rugged tone module on steroids - with a bunch of effects and audio options, too
By Craig Anderton
While the power and convenience of computers are a given, so are the issues: operating system problems, fragility, bugs, and expense. MuseBox keeps the good stuff (Intel Dual Core processor, 2GB RAM, 8GB solid-state drive, plug-in instruments and processors) and ditches the bad by running Linux in a solid, 2U half-rack enclosure.
MuseBox has four main components, all available simultaneously: two virtual instruments you trigger from MIDI controllers, and two audio inputs (mic, guitar, or line levels), each of which can go through a unique preset effect. Any or all of these can be processed through two additional effects.
What You Need to Know
The all-metal case is clearly designed for life on the road, and there’s an external global power supply.
The user interface and I/O are comprehensive. The front panel has two Neutrik combo input jacks (with switchable +48V for the pair), two gain controls, headphone out with level control, two knobs for tweaking, and eight lit, obvious buttons for setup, editing, etc.
The rear panel has four 1/4” phone jacks (left and right for balanced line in and unbalanced line out), 5-pin DIN MIDI input (although it also does MIDI-over-USB), single- or double-footswitch jack, VGA port, four USB ports, and Ethernet; its cooling fan is considerably quieter than the typical laptop fan. Physically, it’s very impressive.
There are hundreds of instrument presets—keyboards, basses, guitars, synths, percussion, drum kits, loops, wind instruments, strings, arpeggiated synths, sound effects, and more—all sorted as categories (“tags”). With one knob you choose the tag, and with the other, presets within each tag.
The lack of disk drive whirr (thank you, solid-state drive) is a major plus.
Sounds are subjective, but there’s a huge variety—and even some sounds that are hard to get right (like strings) came across as authentic and useful. Being able to layer and split two sounds adds to the versatility.
There are also real-time effects for guitar and voice. The guitar presets are based around ReValver HP, while the vocal effects include EQ, doubling, harmonies, formant alteration, etc. There are effects for use with PAs, recording, acoustic instruments, and more—like the instruments, it’s a rich selection.
You can do deep editing by connecting via Ethernet (including wi-fi) to a Mac or Windows computer running the included editing and remote software tools. Furthermore, you can do all your editing without a computer or network by simply patching a VGA monitor to the MuseBox’s video out, and plugging a mouse and keyboard into the MuseBox USB ports.
Musebox is a closed system—you can’t install standard plug-ins. There’s a CompactFlash slot which Peavey could use to introduce new plug-ins, although no extra plug-ins are available as of this writing.
After selecting a sound, it can take several seconds to load it into RAM, depending on the instrument size.
Make sure you get the latest updates for the editing and remote software. The original software was very slow, and the updates speed up operation considerably.
MuseBox is a clever and eminently useful instrument/processor that’s also unique. I wasn’t expecting MuseBox to be this easy to use—or this deep—yet it does both, and extremely well. The ability to control two virtual instruments (with splits and layers) while running two audio channels simultaneously makes Musebox exceptionally well-suited for solo and duo acts, as well as some small ensembles. However, it’s not just about live performance; for a solo recordist laying down one track at a time in the studio, there are enough instruments and processing to pretty much cover any scenario. Musebox wasn’t designed to be all things to all people, but for the intended target audience, it hits the bulls-eye.
Musician’s Friend catalog page ($999.99 street price)
Peavey web site
Musebox downloads page: This is loaded with videos, audio examples, documentation, and more
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.