Review: Brainworx bx_console

Digital mixer with an analog soul
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The Brainworx bx_console plug-in emulates the rare 72-channel Neve VXS analog mixer owned by Dirk Ulrich, Founder and CEO of Brainworx. One channel of the console was modeled down to the component level, and the resulting virtual channel—Channel 1 in the plug-in—was used as a starting point for coding the other channels. Brainworx’s new Tolerance Modeling Technology (TMT) was used to apply the manufacturing tolerances for the VXS’ components to Channel 1’s model, thereby producing models for the plug-in’s other mixer channels. As manufacturing tolerances cause variations in frequency, phase, and dynamics responses, no two channels of the plug-in sound exactly alike.

bx_console includes the VXS’s controls for input gain, highpass, and lowpass filters (HPF and LPF), 4-band EQ, a limiter/compressor, a gate/expander and output gain. But the plug-in also has some features that the VXS console lacks. The range of corner frequencies for the continuously variable HPF and LPF has been extended. A dry/wet Mix control for the compressor enables parallel compression, and an optional HPF in the sidechain pre-conditions the compressor’s response by rolling off lows. (The HPF’s corner frequency can be adjusted from 10 to 2000 Hz.)

While the VXS’s compressor features a secondary release that always kicks in 40 dB below the set threshold, bx_console allows you to adjust the level for secondary release from 10 to 60 dB below threshold; the secondary release slows the restoration of gain for quiet signals that quickly follow loud peaks, thereby reducing pumping. You can also swap the order of the EQ and dynamics sections and adjust noise levels to taste. The corner frequency for the audio path’s HPF can be adjusted from 31.5 to 315 Hz or, with its “3x” multiplier engaged, from 94.5 to 945 Hz. The LPF’s range is 7.5 to 18 kHz or, with its “/3” divider engaged, 2.5 to 6 kHz. The plug-in’s gate can be triggered from either the input or an external-sidechain signal. A hysteresis control lets you offset the gate’s opening and closing thresholds up to 25 dB; by effectively setting two different thresholds, you prevent the on-off-on gate chattering that would otherwise occur with a signal level that fluctuates slightly around a single threshold level. Turning the hysteresis control fully counterclockwise produces expansion instead of gating. A bypass switch and wide-ranging threshold, range, and release-time controls are also included.

The bx_console’s limiter/compressor provides makeup gain and an auto-release mode. A link switch links all channels within one instance of the plug-in (including any surround channels). Turning the ratio control fully clockwise switches the action from compression to limiting.

bx_console’s EQ section can be placed in either the audio path or the sidechain, and can be bypassed. Adjacent bands overlap. The high-and low-frequency bands can each be switched to provide either peaking or shelving response, and they offer two alternate Q values. The two middle bands are fully parametric.

The plug-in’s output section includes controls for selecting which modeled console channel or pair of channels you wish to use, adding artificial noise (similar to that produced by the VXS console) and phase inversion, and adjusting and muting the plug-in’s output. I/O and gain-reduction meters are provided. For stereo tracks, you can toggle Analog mode on or off; when switched on, TMT’s modeling of manufacturing tolerances are incorporated into the sound of each channel.

A toolbar offers 32 steps of Undo and Redo, four alternate workspaces (global plug-in setups that can be switched using automation), and two buttons that respectively solo the mid and side channels in stereo configurations.

IN THE MIX

Most of the variances among bx_console’s modeled channels only become audible when you apply at least a few dB of equalization or gain reduction. When I used bx_console in that way, I could immediately hear a difference when I was toggling between digital and analog mode on stereo tracks (especially on keyboards, guitars, and other pitched instruments): Analog mode sounded significantly more dimensional and musical. This is the secret sauce that digital mixes are starving for. And you can slosh it on without worry; more than 30 instantiations of bx_console caused only negligible CPU drain during my mix sessions.

bx_console's EQ sounded gorgeous. Lowfrequency shelving boost and a 4kHz lift lent a wonderfully meaty and slappy sound to a kick drum track. Limiting with a fast attack and auto release—producing 15 dB of gain reduction—whittled the kick’s sound down to just the pointy attack, with virtually no sustain.

Dialing back the Mix (parallel-compression) control to 75 percent gave me the perfect combination of beefy (uncompressed) and pointy (overcompressed) sound. The gate cleanly shortened the overbearing room tone and weeded out a muffled pedal squeak that had been polluting the track. I got similarly great results using pre-dynamics EQ and parallel compression on electric guitar tracks.

The compressor (using a 2:1 ratio) dulled lead vocals very slightly when 100 percent wet, but it thickened vocals beautifully and without compromise when I used parallel compression. I could transparently and effectively de-ess a vocal track by cranking the high frequencies, cutting the lows, routing the EQ to the sidechain, and activating the limiter (using the fastest attack and release times). Nice!

Because the VXS is a very clean-sounding console, I couldn’t use a high-input gain setting to drive the plug-in to saturation—a popular technique used with most Neve gear. Even so, bx_console sounds fantastic, and it’s reasonably priced to boot. Two thumbs up!

STRENGTHS

Sounds terrific. EQ can be placed pre-or post-dynamics, or inserted in sidechain. Parallel compression. Mid and side solos. Negligible CPU drain. Reasonably priced.

LIMITATIONS

Cranking the Input control doesn’t produce classic Neve saturation.

$299
plugin-alliance.com
(distributor)

Michael Cooper is a recording, mix, mastering, and post-production engineer and a contributing editor for Mix magazine. You can reach Michael at michaelcooper@bendbroadband.com and hear some of his mixes at soundcloud.com/michaelcooper-recording.