The Brainworx bx_console N, E, and G plug-ins are predicated on accurate digital models of the channel strips from Neve VXS, and "British" E and G Series consoles. Clearly Brainworx are avoiding use of someone's brandname here, for reasons that didn't take much internet sleuthing. Here's a hint: It's solid state, it's logical, and you get 4000 guesses.

I reviewed the first version of bx_console [Tape Op #112] which is re-manifested as bx_console N. That review is available online, so I will summarize what blew my mind about it — Brainworx patent-pending Tolerance Modeling Technology (TMT). The idea is that, due to the realities of variances in electrical components, no two manufactured units of audio equipment ever sound exactly the same, unless a painstaking process of hunting and testing every component for an exactly matched value is undertaken. This is a significant effort for a stereo pair, and practically impossible for a large console. Differences are usually subtle but sometimes not. This issue has long been the bane of analog circuit designers. With digital models, we get exact channel-matching for free. Isn't that great? Brainworx says, no, not really, because channel-to-channel variance contributes to the huge sound of the old giant consoles of decades past. All three versions of bx_console incorporate TMT. Using TMT, Brainworx supplies each of these plug-ins with 72 analog-style variations, as would have happened with 72 real analog channels. The channels are numbered, and assignable to any instantiation of the plug-in. The premise is that you'll use bx_console N, E, or G on every channel of your mix session to build a virtual model of the chosen console. These plug-ins are super-efficient DSP-wise, and I had no trouble loading 72 channels into my DAW, which is running on a 2012 Mac Mini.

bx_console N, E, and G do whatever a channel on the original analog consoles do, and they include all of the original hardware's compressor/limiter, expander/gate, EQ, and filter controls. But there are also numerous optional enhancements that present themselves as tweaker screws; and in the case of the added hysteresis control for the gate on the E and G plug-ins, the knob just appears when the feature is engaged. E and G can further swap circuits from notable revisions, such as "Orange" and "Pink" EQ on G. Added to all three plug-ins is a wet/dry mix knob for parallel compression, as well as a useful sidechain HPF. My favorite enhancements are the variable THD and noise (labeled "V–Gain") options. The manual suggests to always use a little noise on each channel, and then use the expander/gate to gate it out, just like on the originals. This level of devotion to the old days brings a tear to my eye.

Feature-wise, bx_console N is the same as the original bx_console, with a couple of additions. The additions, which are also common to bx_console E and G, are the Random One and Random All buttons, as well as the THD saturation control. The Random buttons allow you to either randomly assign one of the 72 variants to the current instantiation, or assign random variants to all instantiations. You won't get any repeated variants until all 72 are spent, which means you can easily assemble more console combinations than you can count. The manual suggests you print a completed mix, randomize, and repeat — to achieve different flavors of the mix.

I was curious if bx_console N differed from the original sonically, so I performed a null test of two identical tracks, loading the original plug-in on one track and N on the other, and flipping the polarity on one of the tracks. They were close but did not cancel. Playing with N's new THD control, I was still unable to get the audio to cancel. (Just to make sure there wasn't something wacky going on in my DAW, I verified that I could achieve 100% cancellation with two instances of N.) Through this process, I discovered that the preset files from the original bx_console are not compatible with the new bx_console N, and copy/paste functions do not work between the two — so anything you've done with the original will have to be recreated manually in N. With that said, bx_console N does not automatically replace the original, so my old projects remained intact with no surprises when I opened them.

When I originally reviewed bx_console, I concluded that I couldn't say definitively if a mix sounded better with the same bx_console variant on every channel, or different TMT variations across all channels — but I felt better knowing there was some analog-style deviation under the hood. I had a chance to try bx_console G on a beautiful rendition of the jazz classic, "Beyond the Sea," with 10 channels of vocals. I still feel the same way as before. These new plug-ins sound phenomenal, but on the mix in question, bx_console G sounded phenomenal with or without TMT variations in place. I still liked and chose the TMT version though. Was I feeling sentimental for analog-ness?

My only complaint about these plug-ins is the devotion to the original layout of the analog consoles. Brainworx has added excellent sonic enhancements that were either not practical on the originals or not thought of. Why not extend that thinking to the layout? As it is, you have to learn these interfaces, and I was not able to do that without reading the manual. The manual is great, and full of interesting pro-tips, so I didn't mind; but unless you already know these consoles, you will not hit the ground running with these plug-ins. For example, why have abbreviated labels like "DYN SC" and "RGE" when you are no longer limited by metalwork and space? And why not have some value boxes that you can type into? I'd guess, based on the enthusiasm for the originals that is oozing though the manuals, that Brainworx wants this to feel as much like using the real consoles as possible. But given that I am staring at a glowing screen anyway, I'd like to take advantage of that screen.

The only thing that would make the experience of using these plug-ins more analog is if each license came with a unique set of TMT channels, and you could not rearrange the order. I am of course taking it for granted that these sound like the specific consoles they were modeled after. I have no way of knowing for sure, but on the other hand, I also don't care. They sound great, and all three versions are tied for the most feature-rich channel strips I have. So, in addition to analog enthusiasts everywhere, I'd also recommend these to folks just starting in recording. Despite the learning curve, I don't know of any plug-ins that can do everything that these can do. Once you learn them, you'll have a good grip on dynamics processing and EQ. Just like the analog versions of these consoles, you can truly get away with using nothing but one of these bx_console plug-ins, plus some reverb, to complete a mix. If you've got a nice room, you might not even need the reverb. I can't think of a better bargain.

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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