Essential – Brainworx bx_console N by Plugin Alliance
There are plenty of SSL emulations around. After trying many of them, our reviewer ended with Brainworx Console N. It always start and ends with a sound, and this one simply sounds good.
by Alex Arsov, Nov. 2017
I must confess that I’ve never been much of a fan of those knob-based equalizers/dynamic processors, but I decided to try this one anyway. To tell the truth, I decided to download all the available SSL emulations that I could get, trying them all using the same audio material, hoping to see if any of them could show me why SSL was so famous and if there really is any difference between SSL emulations and some other well-known developers that offer high quality non-SSL based virtual equalizers and compressors.
Let’s not try to insult all the other respected companies, but after a few hours of research I ended up with the Brainworx bx_console N demo that finally makes some audible difference (considering that I have normal musician’s ears, not the magic ones that audio engineers have). The bx_console N is an emulation of the Neve VXS mixing console that Brainworx have in their studio. They said it was used on numerous records before finding its niche in modeling, measuring and recording material for programming various musical tools.
Of course, as soon as I wrote to my colleagues saying I want to review this one, I got a message back from David Townsend, one of our writers, suggesting a few keywords to use and some standard terms for such a review about analog emulation software: “Mojo”, “Warmth”, “Magic”, “Classic”, “Silky”, “Glue”, “3D”, “Smooth”, “Gooey”, “Goodness”, “Extra something”, “Sweet-sounding”, “Saturation”, “Color” and “Elegance” – giving me the tip that all these kind words could also be reused in any sort of wine review, should I ever decide to change my field of interest. Thanks – Nice one, Dave!
Of course, all those words ring sweetly in our – and the developers’ – ears, but let’s try to keep our feet on the ground. One way or another, the only truth is that I really like the end result. At some point bx_console N added some overall punch and definition to processed material. It is quite hard to explain, but I like how it sounds and I like the fact that some brutal boosting in higher areas doesn’t results in a tinnier, harsher sound. Also, low and high pass filters works really nicely removing all unwanted frequencies in a very satisfying way, while bottom, mid and low bands can really drill a hole in the arrangement making that particular sound quite prominent and even more natural. With some other equalizers I get the feeling that with every cut I lose some essential character of the sound.
Brainworx bx_console N was the first one to give me the impression that filtering on some levels somehow emphasizes the main character of the sound. That was not totally the case with most others I have tried. I also noticed that the overall sound was cleaner – not in a digital terms, but cleaner in such a way that you can hear every part of a drum kit separately, not just as one big joined up soup. Really not easy to define this with words, so I suggest you download a fourteen-day working demo and try it for yourself. I like the general sound of Brainworx bx_console N and I like the way it changes the sound. Not smooth, silky sweet sounding, but simply well-rounded.
The main problem with “in the box” mixing is that you simply can’t achieve that sound on the old records, where bass, drums and just one guitar is enough. Part of that achievement is also the arrangement, but mostly it is the sound itself. In the box mixing somehow makes things a bit tinnier. For that reason we add more and more instruments to get richer, fuller sound, ending up with a crowded arrangement, being quite hard for mixing. With Brainworx bx_console N, I was finally able to make bass, drums and guitar sound prominent enough to make them sufficient for a decent mix. I always adore those mixes where just two or three instruments can do the whole job.
Of course, at the end of the day, it is the same as any other tool, it cannot perform miracles on badly recorded material or from a really bad mix, but if everything is at least-semi sorted, as it should be, you will notice the difference. For me, this is more than enough.
And one more, not-so-insignificant thing. I halved the CPU usage on some of my projects where I implemented Brainworx bx_console N. Not that this plug-in is so magically light on CPU (though truth should be told, it is really well optimized and surprisingly not so processor intensive). The reality lies in the simple fact that I replaced so many other plug-ins with just one instance of this one – setting it on all group outputs and on some tricky channels – the pure absence of so many other plug-ins significantly lightened the load on my processor.
What Do We Get
In addition to the original SSL, the Brainworx team implemented the so-called Tolerance Modeling Technology that emulates electric fluctuations caused by various electronic components inside every analog effect or instrument,. making every channel sound a bit different, a tolerance that can go up to 20% at the end of the electronic chain. So, for every instance of bx_console N you can set different channels or even press the button at the right side of the interface to automate this process. I like doing this manually as there is slight difference between all channels and you can simply browse until you find the sound you like. Not only that there are differences between different instances of the same plug-in, but there are also slight differences between left and right channels of the stereo signal. If you don’t like this feature, simply select Digital on the right side of the console.
High and Low Pass Filters
Let’s start from the left. At the bottom we have two filters, high and low pass filters. High pass that goes from 35 Hz up to 315 Hz, but if you press the X3 button it goes up to 945 Hz, and low pass that goes from 18 KHz up to 7.5 KHz, or from 6 KHz to 2.5 KHz if the /3 button is pressed. I was never quite satisfied with the low and high pass filters on most equalizers, but this one works just fine. It could be just the fact that dealing just with knobs make you a bit braver than you usually are with all those graphics, or they really do a better job than those with graphical interfaces. One way or another, I achieved nice results cutting lows from guitars and synths and use them quite often.
Gate, Limiter and Compressor
First we got Gate that came along with the Inversion Gate button that allows you to duck the signal and not just gate it. There is a Hyst threshold knob that also works in extreme positions as an Expander, otherwise set the threshold relative to the closing threshold to avoid gate stuttering. That is something that I should elaborate on in future, so don’t ask. Of course, there is also a normal Threshold along with a Release button and “Gate Range” gate knob that also serves to set a fast attack for the gate just by clicking on the knob (a pull off/on emulation). At first I did a little trial and error, but by the end everything worked as it should. There are also many tips inside the user manual that can lead you through every part of the plug-in. Dear Dirk, thanks for all those tips. I found them to be quite useful.
Next is a Limiter Compressor section with all appropriate knobs and options. It even offers Auto release if you set the knob fully clockwise. There are also two special small knobs, one for setting the dry/wet signal, applying parallel compression, and second one is for secondary release threshold that is set below the first one. Quite useful when you get a grip on it, still working on that but thankfully there is a video explaining how this could be used and it is a great starting point for starting your own “preventing pumping effect” compression adventure.
Compressor also comes with Side-chain option that effects how the gate, limiter reacts on an external incoming source having integrated High Pass Filter that you can enable at the input for preventing over reaction to a kick drum. I didn’t understand what the real function of L/C link button was, as in the manual it was not so clear, but after contacting the support section it turns out that this button links left and right channels to provide same compression/limiter levels on both sides rather than compressing/limiting them independently.
On the right is an equalizer section with Low, Low-Mid, High-Mid and High sections with Q, Gain and Frequency knobs. High and Low sections can also be set as a shelf filter by pressing the shelf button. A nice addition which is not implemented in the original Neve desk is a Pre Dyn button that sets equalizer modules before the dynamic section. Regarding equalizers, I’m quite impressed how the low end sounds tight and strong and how it is almost impossible to make the high end harsh, even if you boost it by six or even ten decibels.
Channel Master Section
On the right we find input and output gain knobs, the latter even adds authentic desk noise in the leftmost position. There is also one small knob called THD, adding analog saturation to, or even removing it from the signal. Quite handy if you need an extra clean or an extra dirty signal. For me, default -60 dB works just perfectly. At the top are also Phase switch and Mute buttons. Below the input and output gains is a Console Channels switcher where we can select from 72 console channels. As mentioned before, feel free to browse between them to find a sweet spot. We already mentioned the Digital/Analog button for switching between identically processed left and right channels or going for unstable Analog.
Random channel selector can set random unused numbers on just one currently used channel or it can set random, different numbers on all channels. At the bottom we have a Wu-meter for output and input signals along with Gate and Compressor meters.
It may cost $299 USD but this could be some of the best money spent in your musical life. With the new Tolerance Modeling Technology this plug-in adds wings to the sound. Not just that it makes the low end really punchy and well-defined and the high end pleasant and crisp, but it also adds dimension to the whole mix making it sound wide and open. I experienced the original SSL twenty years ago, just sitting near the technician and giving some stupid suggestions, as musicians usually do. So, I can’t say if this sounds exactly the same as the real mixing console, but I really like the sound of Brainworx bx_console N, and yes, it brings a very noticeable difference to your mixes. Finally even we mortals can hear that famous analog-ish addition without feeling ashamed while watching those video clips where sound experts turn a few knobs, smile into the camera and ask us if we can hear how warm, silky, sweet sounding it is now. By all means, almost always I felt like a deaf idiot not hearing any difference. Maybe my Mama was right when she told me that music is not my thing.
Plugin Alliance claim that this one is their bestseller. Download a fully functional demo and you will see why. Absolutely amazing plug-in (especially if you consider that I have never been a fan of those knob tools – I’m more the visualizing type). I’m far from being a mixing engineer but with a few tweaks I was emulating the technique I saw in the presentation video clips and got quite good results.
Room for Improvement
There is always some room for improvement. There is a nice number of presets that come with bx_console N, but it would be useful to have an option to save new presets directly along with those that are already implemented. I made a few presets for Studio One and had to make them again for Cubase, as I had some older projects still there. Secondly, I noticed that setting the Analog function on the whole drum kit, or even on some wide bass instrument, that my subs sounds a bit odd, slightly phased. So, it would be helpful to have an additional option along with Analog/Digital, a third option that sets extra low end in Digital mode (where both channels are the same) and Analog, where the higher range is processed slightly differently, as was the case on real analog consoles. I don’t know how this is done on a real Neve, but I found that after putting some mono maker on the sub while processing the whole drum kit with just one instance of bx_console N, or processing some wild stereo subby bass, it gives rather better results in the mastering phase.
Except for that, it is simply an absolutely fantastic plug-in. As someone mentioned in the bx_channel N presentation video clip – if you don’t have the money, then don’t try their fully functional 14-day demo. If you’ll do, you will absolutely end up buying it.
AAX, DSP, AAX, Native, AU, Audio Suite , VST 2, VST 3 working with Mac and PC.
More info at: https://www.plugin-alliance.com/en/products/bx_console_n.html
Price $299 USD
ESSENTIAL FOR: It simply sounds good. Highly recommended piece of software.