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Some of you probably know that I work for a company where modularity and flexibility plays a huge role in our workdays. Few years ago when we decided to upgrade to Avid S6 controllers we had to find a viable solution to integrate them into our existing workflow. This also means we had to implement things that make changing from one workflow to another feels easy and can happen within a few minutes.

Our Studer systems has been updated and maintained for several years but for many reasons we felt that to remain future proof and to be able to serve the enormous amount of work we need better solutions, yet without abandoning the old one. We achieved this with special roll-over-car for the S6.

Here’s a video sped up to show how one person can change to S6 within five minutes. Five minutes including putting the S6 into position, connecting all the necessary cables and booting up Pro Tools and loading the session. The video is only a bit over one minute:

Avid S6 roll over the Studer system. from Tamas Dragon on Vimeo.

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Experiences with the Bx_console

Last week was the first time that I’ve thoroughly tested the Brainworx bx_console. As you probably all know, it’s a Neve VXS console emulation with one very interesting twist that is called Tolerance Modelling Technology. As Brainworx states that basically means they’ve modelled all the channels instead of only one, so they built in the analog components’ variations you’d find in a real console. Although of course all manufacturers try to keep everything as perfect as possible, there are certain tolerances between analogue components as nothing is completely perfect and this is even more true when it comes to older gear. This plugin includes these differences.

Make it even more clever

But “simply” modelling the console was not enough for the team, they made the original thing more clever than ever. There’s some inherent noise in the original which can be easily switched off in the plugin. Also parallel compression is easy within the plugin with the small mix knob. They improved the HP/LP filter section, we can swap the order of EQ and Dynamics. These little and not so little things can make our mix life so much better.

I truly love this new era of plugin emulations where a company not only capture the original hardware and code it into a plugin, but adds certain features that are really useful in real life. This is why we need real audio guys around the geeky coders because this is where engineering meets art and practicality.

Build a console

To really hear and feel the possibilities of this channel strip I decided to virtually build my Pro Tools session as a Neve console so every channel has one instance of the plugin with different channel inside to truly test the new TMT thing.

Only the audio subgroups and the final mix master had different processing. I made my own default preset that has no gate, the compressor is active but works only from -14dBFS if needed, eq flat, noise off.

Just a quick note. I applaud Brainworx for supporting the AAX DSP platform so it doesn’t matter if you use and HDX or a Native system, you can freely and interchangeably use this channel strip. The other huge plus is that their Eucon implementation is great! It’s very convenient to use it with the Avid S6. All the controls are mapped properly so even though it has a nice GUI you don’t see that most of the time because adjusting the parameters from the S6 feels natural.

The sound

Well, this is the hard part. To convey the whole experience, what I experienced, heard and felt during the test period. I only had very little time to test the TMT technology alone, but I feel it adds some intangible thing to the sound, you’ll perceive it’s there in depth rather than tone. It’s very, very subtle so anyone expect to hear those huge night and day differences will be disappointed. This is why I intentionally used the word feel. It’s definitely there but I don’t think there’s a proper term for it to describe what it does sonically. Truly the best way to appreciate it is to use it during a mix and then play the mixed material with and then without it. I liked it so much I saved a template with a full Neve console where every channel has a different number inside the channel stip.

Many times there’s an argument that you can recreate these EQ characteristics with a basic built-in EQ so these vintage emulations are rather useless pieces. Well, I’m here to disagree with this. I mean yes, there’s this possibility. If it’s very easy to recreate your vintage emulation with a built-in EQ, then you know you shouldn’t buy that emulation. This time I really tried to match the Neve curves with a few clean processors and I failed miserably. Sometimes I felt that I got so close but as soon as I tried to A/B the two it was obvious that I’m still far away from it. The key is that this is a real Neve console emulation and it reacts differently, it’s not a clean stock EQ. You can experience this if you really mix with the bx_console. I deliberately ignored the parameters during the mix, just did what I felt sound good and enjoyed the process. It turned out that I used bigger cuts and boosts than I thought. For example with a surgical, clean digital EQ I might cut 1-2dB at 2.3kHz, but with this channel strip it was 4-6dB at the same frequency. The same goes for boosting things. Most of the time I wasn’t shy to boost 4-6 or even 8-10dB and trust me it sounded spectacular. For me this is one of the main differences. You can be brave and nothing bad will happen, trust your ears here.

All in all you might get close to recreate these curves with some other processors but in my opinion it is a useless exercise. Why would anyone spend considerably more time to get in the near ballpark when you can reach THE SOUND in a second with this?

I’d been testing this on very delicate symphonic material where many different processors tend to show their weaknesses but bx_console really shined there. It’s very interesting that this EQ is almost never get nasty. The cuts are not surgical but effective, the boosts are gently shaping the overall sound without the obvious feel of EQ usage.

The second thing I fell in love with is its dynamics section. It’s a very versatile piece but this time you have to be cautious because it’s very easy to overdo things. My advice is to first use a signal generator to understand the threshold values. It works a bit differently than the usual ones. Once you get accustomed to it you can delve into it. This is the section where I feel the guys at Brainworx really did a great job adding more features. Without these, it’s a nice compressor but many times a bit too aggressive for my taste. But, additionally we have the high-pass section and the wet/dry knob. With the help of these it can be a real trusty weapon that does not change the characteristics of your source.

My favourite default setting is to have the dynamics high-pass section at 100Hz and use the wet/dry at 80% wet. Other favourite wet/dry ratios are 70% wet to dry and the 50/50. With these you are able to carefully choose how drastically you want to control the dynamics.

I’d like to emphasise something because if you simply want a vintage Neve emulation for the sake of having the “Neve hype” plugin then be prepared for a terrible disappointment. The original console is considered as a quite natural sounding clean device. It’s not a 1073!

What you get is a very subtle real analogue sound that actually behaves exactly like if you were using a desk for mixing. Except the hurdle of maintaining a real monster and paying the electricity bill. Not to mention the fact that this includes total recall capabilities and improved functions.

I highly recommend to use this channel strip in many cases to get used to its idiosyncrasies. As I already mentioned above, the threshold might feel a bit odd at first, the high and lo-pass filters are not what you might expect from a general digital EQ, as well as you need to get used to the fact that you may boost or cut bigger amounts than you think you should. But once you really start to feel how it really works, you’ll start to feel how fun is to just twist the knob and achieve great sonics without overthinking the whole process. I honestly highly recommend you to check out the bx_console if you haven’t done that already.

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Making our own presets

Sometimes it’s all seem like every engineer has his own preset for every favourite plugin. Which is basically true. But the question is, when do they search, modify and save their own presets? The most obvious answer is during mixing of course. But it’s only partly true.

As a mix goes, if I find something that I really like, I save it immediately. Maybe I’ll tweak it further later but this way I’m sure I don’t loose the new discovery. But this is only one method to create your own preset library. It’s great because if it works in the mix then you can be sure about that it’s not some isolated hit or miss setting, but on the other hand, just because it works on one mix doesn’t mean it will work on any other. The same is true with the built-in presets. Although most of time they are good starting points, most likely you need to tweak them further to really use any of it. Not to mention the fact that we have no idea what material they’d used to make that particular setting.

My preferred way

The other method is to designate sessions for making presets. That is my real go to technique. I always flag material when I’m mixing. Meaning making notes and selecting reference material which is great for listening but also great to experiment with. It can be anything really. A great concert recording, a stellar score or even your own composition. The point is you have to know the material intimately because you’re going to dissect that session.

One thing that is very important is that you need ample time to experiment. Without that it’s pointless to start. You need to listen to the same material with different plugins or adjustment over and over again. You must take breaks in order to hear the tiny details. If your ears are tired, it absolutely makes no sense to try to tweak the nuances.

Usually I start with discrete instruments. Like a violin, a snare, a clarinet, a guitar, etc. Just one bar maybe, looped so the same thing plays over and over again having enough space behind the sample to really hear the tail of the effect, and to have a second or two before the start of the sample again. If I find that something works really well in isolation I make notes, save those settings into temp preset folders. When I have let’s say 5 or 6 really well working setting I put them to test in context. Meaning using them not only on spot things, but on complex symphonic material, synths, drums, etc.

Sometimes it’s a nice discovery that what worked great in isolation absolutely doesn’t work in context, and what you thought wouldn’t work might be the best ever. Very enlightening experience. If you have the few that really works great both in isolation and on complex material too, then it’s time to save it as a permanent preset.

Last thing to remember about presets. They can speed up your workflow, but never ever forget that they’re merely starting points. If you too heavily rely on them, there’s a real danger of loosing creativity and originality in a mix.

Next time I’ll describe how I save, organise and backup my presets to never loose them.

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Plugin purchase #5

The fifth plugin is something special for me as this is, in my opinion, the par excellence bus compressor. So be warned I’m really biased. I love the plugin as much as the original hardware.

Meet the Millenia TCL-2

millenia tcl 2

If you are looking for that vibey, coloured compressor than stop reading, this is a very clean one with subtle character. It’s a twin topology opto compressor/limiter which can be the intangible sheen on the master bus that you don’t even recognise it’s in the chain until you bypass it.

The original hardware is already an excellent unit, but Brainworx managed to made it even more clever.

tcl2 ms option

In the plugin version we have MS option which is my favourite thing to have. If you deal with many stereo material you must try it!

tcl2 wetdry

The other very useful and clever thing is the Dry-Wet capability. Parallel compression built-in. With these extra features the already spectacular plugin becomes an incredibly powerful tool.

I suggest to try out the presets as they are really good starting points and you can build your very own favourite settings from these easily. Well, everyone has a fetish bus compressor, this is mine.

As it is almost natural from Plugin Alliance, the TCL-2 is AAX DSP which is a big advantage in my book.

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Plugin purchase #4

Probably the easiest to use and one of my favourite both in original analogue format and in digital reincarnation too. It has a few knobs only and one large meter in the middle, still it can do wonders on a wide variety of materials. From being so subtle that no one can hear it to really smash it but still being musical, performing equally well on single tracks and on mix buses too.

From hardware to plugin

I had the chance to use this beauty in real life on numerous sessions and surely that was the time I’ve fallen in love with it, its sound and easy of use was a win-win. The original concept and design comes from two masterminds: Michael Papp and David Hill. I think it’s absolutely futile trying to list their magic designs over the years. Let’s just say that all the hype surrounding them are true!

Softube tla 100a

I was very excited back then when Softube announced that they’re doing a plugin version of the TLA-100A tube levelling amplifier. Kudos to them, they even made it more versatile as now we can separately adjust the harmonic distortion and the wet/dry balance (parallel compression).

softube tla100a addons

I really don’t want to praise it through many pages, anyone who don’t know the unit or never tried the plugin should download the demo and give it a test ride. I think you’ll agree with me that it’s a stellar unit and an amazing plugin. Oh, by the way it’s available in AAX DSP too.

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