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This article was originally published in issue #54
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Hardware modelling technology is fairly mature, and each of the bx_console plugins has its own flavour of console sound, just as it should; but they each go further with a number of well-thought-out additions and improvements.
They sound great
Well thought-out additional features & workflow
TMT really does work
I’d have preferred snapshot slots to be independent of presets
N console interface took me a few minutes to get used to
You may end-up wanting all three models!
Brainworx recently added a couple of new console strips to its product catalogue: the bx_console E and bx_console G bring SSL 4000E and G series emulations to the party, plus there’s an updated version of the bx_console N model of the Neve VSX desk. Now Brainworx produces some excellent plugins, but is there really anything new to be done with these classics? As always, the devil’s in the detail! Andi Picker takes a look.
Character console strips, often based on specific classic hardware models, are incredibly popular; we can make a single plugin-choice for gain, dynamics and eq, concentrate on getting the settings right and then move on and actually finish some mixes on time.
Part of that detail is a thing called TMT (Tolerance Modelling Technology) which actually turns the idea of a virtual channel strip into a virtual console. Real, live hardware designers go to great lengths to minimise the effects of differences in component values between channels, but oddly enough, those differences can add a certain something to the sound of the console. TMT allows for virtual components to be different within real-world tolerances, which allows us to have up to 72 slightly different channels that can be assigned specifically (type a number into a box) or randomly (press a button) to just the open plugin, or randomly (with one button press) to all instances of the same plugin in a project. In the case that we want both sides of a stereo channel to have identical processing, there’s a Digital Stereo Mode button which assigns the same channel number to both L and R.
So far as I can tell, one channel of the console has been modelled in detail, and the others are all variations on that (as against actually modelling 72 real channels), but by whatever method, it gives each channel a subtly unique character. The best I can try to describe the effect is that across a mix there can be an added sense of movement and openness that makes the whole thing just a little bit more alive. Note that I say that there “can” be: not every combination is magical, and it’s often worthwhile to hit the Random Channel All button a few times until it hits gold, but TMT definitely has a certain-something that I can’t quite figure another way to achieve (go buy a hardware console I guess).
A top-class plugin needs to sound great and be easy to use, and it’s often the “less interesting” parts of the interface are what make for good workflow. The bx_console plugins all have a similar approach with a Master Section with Input Gain adjustable between -10 and +10 dB, and separate controls for adding noise (V-Gain) and distortion (THD), Mute and Polarity Invert switches, metering for input/output signals and dynamics, master fader and the TMT options. Along the top edge of the window we have access to presets, undo/redo options and four snapshots (based on presets – selecting a new preset overwrites your snapshots and you’ll need to use the undo button when you do this by mistake). Settings can be saved, pasted or reset, and on a stereo channel, we have options to monitor L-R or M-S signals.
Hardware modelling technology is fairly mature, and each of the bx_console plugins has its own flavour of console sound, just as it should; but they each go further with a number of well-thought-out additions and improvements. Adding features to a classic device is always going involve a balancing act between making the result better on the one hand and spoiling its character on the other, and I think that the Brainworx team has done a great job of finding that balance. I’ll just add here that the product manuals are very-much worth reading for both the details of the plugins and also the additional insights and tips from Brainworx boss Dirk Ulrich.
Like the real-thing, bx_console E has high and low-cut filters, 4-band eq, a compressor/limiter and a gate/expander. Eq can be run pre or post dynamics or in the dynamics side-chain, filters can be in the signal path or in the side chain or out of circuit, the dynamics can be triggered from a different channel (DAW permitting) and set for normal or fast attack characteristics, and linked for stereo/multi channel operation. So-far-so-good.
Unlike the real thing, the ranges of filter frequencies can be multiplied/divided by a factor of three, turning them into mid-pass filters (great for telephone effects and hard-core mid focus duties), the compressor has a dedicated, adjustable hi-pass filter on the sidechain, a secondary release-time control that (once you get your head around what it’s doing) works wonders for reducing compression pumping, and a mix control for in-the-plugin parallel compression; the threshold setting for the gate/expander can be extended by -30 dB, down to a whisper quiet -60dB, and the gate has a hysteresis control which allows up to 25 dB of difference between gate opening and closing thresholds for eliminating gate-chatter, as well as an incredibly useful inverse function that allows us to hear what’s being gated rather than what’s being left – I often use gates to reduce breath noise on spoken word and this facility is so useful in this case! Just in case you need something a little different, the dynamics section can be switched to that of the later G revision consoles (generally considered to be less characterful and cleaner sounding), and the eq section has both the classic brown and black eq revisions.
The G series plugin has mostly the same feature set as the E (the eq has orange and pink revisions, orange has controls like the E series, pink has shelving high and low bands and the mid range band frequencies can each be shifted by a factor of three). The difference here is the overall sound, often considered to be more pristine. Just as a note of caution: if you’re a particular fan of a specific E of G console, don’t necessarily assume that the best match will be the logical one; those consoles had interchangeable parts, and many will have been modified with earlier or later dynamics or eq modules, and just because an eq section has black knobs doesn’t necessarily mean that it has the black revision eq!
This plugin is based on Dirk Ulrich’s own Neve VXS console, and like the SSL models, it has its own characteristic look and sound. High and Low pass filters have the multiply/divide by three facility, four band eq has parametric mids and shelving or bell (with high Q options) low and high bands and can be switched to be pre/post dynamics, in the sidechain, or off, and the dynamics section gets the same additional flexibility as described in the E console section. The interface is a little more “road worn” with some of the buttons on some of the channels being wedged in place with match-sticks, and it has a slightly cluttered look that isn’t quite as clear to navigate as the SSL models.
I have to say that I’m stunned by how good these plugins are. There are plenty of alternatives available and recent ultra-aggressive “special offer” pricing from some manufacturers may make these look a bit expensive, but in my opinion the bx_console plugins are top-class contenders and are well worth the investment. TMT may sound like something the marketing department just made-up, but it works well and it does add something over and above what any of my single-model strips can do.
Brainworx plugins are distributed by the Plugin Alliance, and part of their approach to market is to provide fully functioning 14-day trials of software: if you’re in the market for an exceptionally good console emulation I’d suggest giving all three models a go and see which grabs your ears.
Formats: AAX DSP, AAX Native, AU, AAX AudioSuite, VST2, VST3
Platforms: Mac OS X 10.8 through 10.12 and
Windows 7 through 10