Mackie Soundscape 32 Review

ã2002 by Eddie Ciletti

This review is divided into the following sections: 


Soundscape-32 ($6,500 list) is a 2U hardware-dedicated workstation that supports resolutions up to 96kHz / 24-bit.  You might be fooled by its intuitive and uncluttered design, but Soundscape has an underlying power and flexibility that will make even a modestly endowed PC rock and roll. I’ve been mixing 24-tracks to 5.1 on original hardware since 1998, on a Pentium, a system that is still a reliable performer. (See the SIDEBAR: The Channel History.) Soundscape-32 continues the tradition, with 32-track capability at normal sample rates, half as many tracks in high-res mode. (Prior to purchase by Mackie, Soundscape-32 was formerly known as "REd." That’s good news because both system and software are mature and well tested.)

Soundscape-32 (with your PC) is a stand-alone product, perfect for broadcast and production applications where the emphasis is on efficiency, reliability and simplicity. Music mixing is rarely that simple, but to demonstrate how robust the system is I opened Adobe Premiere and simultaneously played a recent video project while Soundscape played a 24 track automated mix. There were no glitches, no hiccups and no complaints from either program. (My modest computer is a dual Celeron.)

The Big Easy, and my focus for this review, is the Mixpander DSP Card; it raises the roof on processing headroom kinda like dropping a hydrogen-powered V-8 into a Volkswagen. So pop the sun-roof, transport yourself to the AutoStrada cause we’re headed for Tuscany with the hammer down. (That’s my fantasy. Substitute as necessary.)


The ability to add DSP is not exclusive to Soundscape. Pro Tools has "farm cards" and now companies like Universal Audio (UAD-1) and TC Works (PowerCore) are making cards for native-based systems. Mixpander not only increases Soundscape’s power, it also opens 16 bi-directional portals into Native programs like Cubase, Cool Edit Pro (confirmed) and Gigasampler. Unlike any host-based software, Soundscape doesn’t care about computer power, it can tolerate a computer crash and continue to play through it. 

Within the system, latency is extremely low. Even with lots of processing it’s only up about a dozen samples at 44.1kHz, translating to 0.27milliseconds. (Sound travels at about 1-foot/mS. Latency decreases with increased sample rates and / or higher processor speeds.) When interfacing with host-based programs, Mixpander’s driver contribution is about 1.5mS, going and coming.

While experienced with this product, not every new feature could be tested so I tried something unusual — both for myself and as a reviewer — posting a message and a request for feedback on the Soundscape message board.  That a workstation can be many things to many people, I though was important reason to learn how the system is used and what features were important to users.  One user mentioned that Spindelay's ASIO FX processor allows access to the whole range of VST plugins.  Another reminded me of the integrated Video Player, which I did actually test. 

Soundscape-32 can also Import and Export Pro Tools projects and while my own testing was not comprehensive in this area, I learned that the PT session needs to be saved on the Mac side with PC compatability.  The emphasis is on the word "session" which includes the file that will restore all of the audio tracks to their proper location with whatever tweaks may have been done to them. The Import feature can not read individual audio files unless they have been saved in a PC compatible format like ".wav" although with some experimentation I was able to do this will Cool Edit Pro.  My personal request would be for Soundscape to make the Import feature more transparent, capable of opening both session and sound files from other programs regardless of platform.

TESTING 1, 2, 3: The Fun Part

Software installation was fast and mostly quite simple. The program itself fits on two floppy discs, as do most of the plug-ins — although no floppies were actually used — everything was downloaded from the net. The newly updated and released operations manual is the largest file (a 7.4MB Adobe "pdf" document) compiled with plenty of real world experience, it’s extremely detailed and comprehensive.

While it was not necessary to run Soundscape on a Dual Celeron system, the pair of 21-inch Dual-Monitors was the deciding factor, a necessity for all workstations. Some programs consist of several windows that can get annoying on a single monitor. Soundscape has two primary windows. The Arrange Window is the place where audio tracks and automation are displayed. The Mixer Window has two modes, wide and narrow, a multitrack session mixer can easily fill a 16:9 monitor (in either mode), a future upgrade for sure.

Once the hardware was installed and happy (see Playing the Slots) I formatted a new 60gig drive the slow way. There is a quick format mode, but I just wanted to see how long it would take. Let’s just say the process started before the sun went down and didn’t finish before midnight.. Meanwhile, I already had plenty of sessions on the old system ALL were within three-percent of exhausting the available resources. Since the goal was to test Soundscape-32 with Mixpander, it seemed a practical place to start, kinda like moving from a one-room apartment into an entire office building floor.

My old system consisted of two 12-channel boxes linked together, the habit of using only one drive per unit turned out to be quite serendipitous. The two drives slid into Soundscape-32 and mounted transparently. All of the project folders, sound files, arrangements (session files) and mixer files appeared in the File Manager window. Two clicks and the tracks and mixer appeared; only the second set of twelve tracks needed re-assigning at the mixer. I was quickly off and running…

Out of necessity, I became quite adept at conserving resources, sculpting wonderful 24-track to 5.1 and stereo mixes, albeit to outside recorders. There formerly was not enough "extra" DSP to add a single TC Dynamizer (a simple version of the Finalyzer) or a Reverb during a 24-track mix down. (I often "captured" reverb and saved multi-band processing for the mastering stage.)

The recording started life as a 24-track adat session. With Soundscape-32 and Mixpander, I had a Dynamizer on the Main mix as well as a sub-mix of the snare and room tracks. Two kick tracks and a bass were sub-grouped and mildly peak limited using the Soundscape dynamics processor — which I love for its visual translation of the work being done. The four-band equalizer is not new, but is such an improvement over its two-band predecessor both in terms of sonics and features. 

The mix in progress was nowhere near tapping out the system, so Reverbs, Dynamizers and EQs were randomly added everywhere.   The system never ran out of gas and I noticed resource optimization was balancing the load on each DSP chip each time a new plug-in was added.  I could become very spoiled.


With the exception of the initial hardware installation — which included tweaking the location of the various PCI cards along with a beta version of the software — the system did not crash during three weeks of testing.  I used Version 3.6 exclusively.  No sound files were ever lost and there are 99 levels of undo, although the latter consumes memory and, used to excess can slow the system down although I never experienced this. I save often and "save as" when major changes are made. (See the SIDEBAR: Playing the Slots.)


Automation and control surface options deserve mention because Mackie has probably done more to push development in this area than any other since acquiring Soundscape. Randomly mating controllers and workstations will yield mixed results and often, minimum functionality. You expect the faders, mutes and transport controls to work. But Plug-ins vary greatly and present a challenge for developers. That’s why the claim "that Mackie Control interfaces seamlessly with Soundscape-32" is so encouraging. 

I believe a little DIY software package should be included with every controller and workstation so that users with lots of time on their hands can bring all of the pieces together. Like LINUX, people should be able to contribute their work toward the common good. Meanwhile, back in reality land, I tested Soundscpe-32 with CM Labs’ MotorMix ( I did focus on faders, balance, mute and transport controls because those were the required tasks at that stage of the project. My only request is to enable access to Console Manager from more than just the mystery icon at the bottom right corner of Window’s System Tray. 


Who doesn’t have a wish list for their workstation?  My requests are simple. (Yeah Right!) Soundscape has great potential as a mastering tool. Quite often, I put each "item" on its own pair of tracks and stereo fader. Placing ID flags from 101 upward translate into Track Start IDs via the burning package. Only trouble is, the package does not recognize a multitrack session. This adds several extra steps to the process and extra reverse steps if changes need to be made. 

I’d also like to be able to burn CDs in real time from the arrange window to either a stand-alone CD burner or the computer’s burner. My other request is for a Stereo mixer Module with a width control, from Mono to hard-panned. Stereo modules require less desktop space, simplifying level, EQ, effects and dynamics linking for track pairs.


I have always loved the power of workstations. Did I need to describe every feature to sell you on what I believe is a great workstation? Soundscape-32 just happens to be perhapos THE MOST RELIABLE workstation that behaves like a piece of dedicated hardware (because it is).

For all the potential time that can be spent on a session, especially considering musicians fees and their priceless performances, stability becomes one of the best features and the biggest selling points for any product, specifically Soundscape-32. And, while I generally shy away from users groups, I must say the Soundscape crew are a responsive and helpful bunch. Go to the "Support" section of and ask them yourself.  People who have this system swear by it, not at it.

End of review

SIDEBAR: Pricing, Options and Comparisons


The system configuration as described in this review reflects my own personal requirements. It should in no way be misconstrued as the default system — your plug-in needs will determine the required power. Visit for more information on hardware and plug-in options.


In addition to the hardware base unit, Soundscape-32 includes the Edit and Mix software. The primary plug-in is the Audio Tool box, which includes EQ, dynamics and delay/chorus/flanging. Mixpander-9 is nine DSP chips on a PCI card ($2,500 list). I also requested two reverb plug-ins by Wave Mechanics ($299) and TC Works ($599), a three-band dynamics processor called the Dynamizer also by TC Works ($799) plus a CD burning utility ($Xxx list). The total list price of the review system is $10,697. 


In terms of price and features Soundscape-32 sits between Pro Tools HD and Pro Tools MIX24 and is priced about $1700 above Nuendo (a host-based system). While it was not possible to make precise plug-in comparisons, Table-1 provides a basic overview of aforementioned Operating Systems and their essential options. Since Native workstations push their host processors to the limit, many plug-ins are economically written and "sonically anemic" to minimize processor drain. All DSP cards reduce processor load and allow code writers ample resources to increase the plug-in quality.

Basic System
******** DSP *******
Reverb Plug-in
Multi-band Dynamics

includes 24-ch digital I/O plus analog stereo in, 4-channel out 

$299 (WM) 

$599 (TC)

$799 (TC)
$1299 (4-chip)
includes plug-ins
Includes 24-channel digital I/O only

(1-chip, includes LA-2, 1176, Pultec and Reverb plug-ins)

Pro Tools
$7,995 for HD Core card
$2500 for HD process card
$495 D-Verb (Digidesign) 

$999 (TC)

includes chorus delay and parametric EQ

$499 (TC)

Mastering plug-in

TABLE-1: A very short list of similarly featured workstations and DSP expansion cards. There are many plug-ins for Soundscape including offerings from Aphex, Arboretum, Cedar, Dolby, Drawmer, Spin Audio and Synchro Arts, in addition to the TC Works and Wave Mechanics plug-ins mentioned above.

HARDWARE: The Old In-Out

Unlike many systems that provide only a digital interface (that may also be proprietary), Soundscape-32 includes basic Analog I/O — Stereo IN and 4-channel OUT — perfectly suited for basic Audio Production and Sound-for-Picture applications. Digital I/O comes in two flavors: AES and TDIF. The AES I/O replicates the Analog connections (plus Word Clock I/O) but in addition, these portals can be independently routed.  The three TDIF connectors can directly interface with any or all of the following: Tascam’s DTRS products (DA-X8 series of tape machines), Soundscape’s own 8-channel I/O boxes or your own preference of digital conversion. (That’s 24-channels plus the Analog and AES inputs.) MIDI I/O for Timecode is part of the package, options include SMPTE Timecode I/O and RS-422 / 9-pin support.


A flip-down front panel reveals two hard drive caddies that accept standard IDE drives. (There are two internal IDE hard drive bays as well.) Each bay supports up to 137GB, providing over half a Terabyte (548GB) of storage capacity. Soundscape-32 is capable of thirty-two tracks of 24-bit recording at 44.1kHz / 48kHz, half as many tracks at 88.2kHz / 96kHz. 


For processor-intensive applications such as multi-track music production, an Expansion port links Soundscape-32 to MIXPANDER — there are two PCI card options with an additional five or nine DSP chips. Of course I chose the 9-chip card! Two systems can be controlled from a single PCI interface card — up to four hardware units max — totaling 128 simultaneous audio tracks at standard resolution. The system can also be controlled via printer port and a special "EPP" cable, handy for portable applications via laptop. (The cable was not supplied and this feature was not tested.)

SIDEBAR: The Channel History

I first reviewed Soundscape in 1994 after which I purchased two systems (8-tracks each) and then upgraded both to 12 channels plus real-time effects. That the system is still running on a Pentium and only last summer did software development — which had been running concurrently with Soundscape 32 — reach the limit of the hardware is testimony to the foundation on which the system was built. Compared to that old hardware, Soundscape-32 adds 8 tracks and higher resolution, in half the rack space, with the same familiar interface. 

Soundscape has been in existence since 1993. Two years ago Mackie purchased Sydec — Soundscape’s Belgian parent — translating into higher visibility and more users on this side of the Atlantic. As a result of the acquisition, original Soundscape and Paris owners have, for a limited time, a $2,500 trade-up credit that can be applied to a new Soundscape-32 system. 

SIDEBAR: Playing The Slots

Computers are remarkably powerful and fast, yet there is still a system performance limit as determined by the weakest link.  This might include the operating system, a hard drive's performance as well as the PCI slots and what’s stuffed into them. Not all cards play well with others, not all PCI slots equally gifted.

I am a firm believer in dedicating a computer to a minimal number of tasks. That said, my own PC is a dual-processor Celeron, running Win2k, with dual monitors and five PCI slots. Four slots are stuffed with cards — Network, Soundscape Controller, Soundscape Mixpander and Canopus (for video capture). I wanted to fill that last slot with a Creative Labs Audigy2 card — it has a soft DVD-A player as well as a Game Port for MIDI (to interface with the MotorMix controller) — but as soon as that slot was filled all sorts of bizarre things started happening. That card will go into another computer. A generic sound card worked just fine in one of the ISA slots.