Rax 2.0 Review
With a virtual mixer, a facility for creating custom songs and sets and a full-screen OnStage mode with support for live visualisers, this radically redesigned version makes playing live music with your Mac easier than ever.
The primary screen in Rax is a virtual mixer, into which you can easily add Audio Unit (AU)-format instrument and effects plug-ins. That means, unfortunately, that Rax won’t work with the instruments built into software like GarageBand 3, Logic Pro 7, and Ableton Live 4, though you can use MIDI synchronisation via MIDI clock messages to run Rax alongside these programs.
Rax’s strong suit is its ability to manage and switch between combinations of plug-ins. You can create sets of songs in advance, which could include layered and split synthesiser plug-ins for a keyboardist, or different sets of software effects for a guitarist or vocalist. Each song can include text notations, pre-recorded MIDI files, and presets. The one thing you can’t do is record MIDI, so you’ll still need something like GarageBand for sequencing.
Musicians have been reluctant to take laptops on stage because navigation is fiddly. Rax’s solution is OnStage, a full-screen mode with visual feedback you can see at a glance (it provides a simplified interface that can be manipulated in a variety of ways), and the ability to easily switch between song settings via mouse, keyboard, a MIDI controller or Apple Remote. For the adventurous, the software can also accompany your playing with real-time, interactive 3D visuals. You can use the included visuals, or build your own in Quartz Composer, Apple’s free developer tool.
If you’re looking for easy access to music plug-ins without a lot of distractions, or need a way to quickly select virtual instruments and effects on stage, Rax 2.0 is a must-have. Its major drawback is that you can’t use it if you rely only on features like Ableton Live’s live loop playback or the instruments and effects in Logic Pro. But if you have a lot of third-party plug-ins and want to access them without those high-end programs, or want to use Quartz Composer for live visuals, Rax could be an essential part of your musical toolkit.