Larry Crane: Sometimes a plug-in comes out that I totally adore, but I get worried that its subtlety and usefulness will get lost in the shuffle of "whiz bang" over-the-top effects and emulations of vintage gear. The new bx_refinement, developed by Gebre Waddell of Stonebridge Mastering, is one such item, and it also might be the first plug-in simultaneously released for UAD-2, AAX DSP, AAX Native, RTAS, AU, and VST formats. Over the last five years, I have taken on hundreds of mix projects from outside sources, and many of these have been tracked under less than ideal circumstances. A recent project had drums tracked in a bedroom on Monoprice mics through an entry-level TASCAM interface. I think one of the characteristics that accumulates in a situation like this is harshness - the buildup of edgy transient top-end material and prominent midrange peaks that assault the listener. In Pro Tools, I placed bx_refinement plug-ins (via UAD-2) on all the tracks (and polarity correction, EQ, and compression where appropriate), and the results were excellent. When we'd turn off all the instances of bx_refinement, we'd notice an overall drop in sonic quality; the recordings sounded rougher and cheaper. I've always wanted a plug-in like this. In the past, I have abused de-essers, dropping them into the 2 kHz range. I've duplicated tracks and band-passed and recombined them. I've struggled with confusing multiband compressors. Now I've found a tool I can use easily and effectively, that gives me the results I want. As I've mostly used bx_refinement on mono sources while mixing, I dropped my favorite mastering engineer Garrett Haines a line to see what he thought.
Garrett Haines: I don't know if it's due to the voicing in some affordable monitors or inappropriate acoustic treatment in some rooms, but I get a lot of mixes that are harsh. Attacking the problem with an EQ can dull the whole song, while brittle transients continue to poke through. A traditional multi-band compressor works well in these situations, provided you take the time to tweak the parameters. The neat thing about bx_refinement is you can apply the processing from zero to 100%, address only mid or side, and solo and hear the content being removed. Taking a light-handed approach can make all the difference at the mastering stage. Starting with a preset with mild settings, I'll listen to a bar then bypass the effect. If I need more processing, I'll increase the setting. I'll flip back and forth until I have the balance between softening and taking too much original signal away. This can be done in a few minutes. I feel that bx_refinement gives me more control while getting results faster. That's an unusual pairing, but one that makes good sense when time is money. I've been happy with the results; and I only use half of the features in this plug-in.