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Tag: eucon

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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Slate VMR lack of mapping

Early on I liked the sound of Slate plugins, although we had many issues with them, it really seemed that they care and will make things right. After a certain amount of time it wasn’t really encouraging that their support always answered every question or request with one not really informative sentence.

For example I reported to them the fact that their VMR is practically unusable because the mapping is not telling you anything about the inserted processor. So instead of displaying Neve Low-Gain, it only shows A01. And it still A01 if you change the process order.

When I reported this to them, the answer was simple: “yes, it’s a known issue, please read knownissues.pdf”

And the rest is silence…

I commented on forums how bad this mapping is, but it seems they really ignore this issue. Even got messages telling me that according to some insider info, they are working on this.

Well, few days ago Slate released a new update and guess what, they didn’t do anything with the Eucon mapping. This is their idea of mapping in 2016:

slate eucon mapping

I think it’s sad. I know there won’t be a billions of control surfaces, but these issues certainly alter the decision process about what to buy and what to leave alone.

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More than a year with Pro Tools and S6

Maybe a bit late to summarise, it’s already 2016. To be honest though, the end of the year is not the end of the busy schedule so maybe even the start of this new year is just as fine to take a look back and sum up what was it like to use the Avid S6 controller with Pro Tools during many, many demanding production.

Early adopters

We are early, I should say very early adopters. It is because the launch of the S6 was perfectly timed to our bigger development plan. Although back then it seemed a bit bold to jump right into the latest-greatest control surface, we thought that just as with the Icon series, it must be something Avid really take seriously. We decided to purchase two M10 S6 controllers. It fit the budget, and our thinking was if it really is that great, later we can change the brains to M40, buy some additional fader bays and maybe even screen modules for even greater integration and comfort.

The other thing is, you can’t mention any other controller on the market which deliver all the points:

  • deep integration with Pro Tools and Nuendo
  • scalable and easy to make custom configurations
  • will be supported for many years
  • able to become smarter by every update
  • able to reach out to developers

We considered some other products from different manufacturers, but all failed quickly when we tried to check all points. I thought there was going to be a much tighter race, but apparently we had an easy time with the decision.

The first steps

When the huge package (actually lots of little boxes) arrived, obviously we couldn’t wait for another day, immediately started to assemble the controllers. We were all excited like the little child at Christmas day…

And after a few hours of work we had the first working Avid S6 in Hungary. The credit goes to my trusty colleague who assembled it all together while I was working on the MacPro and Magma cases. First it was a strange experience to see that to build a controller today, you might need more knowledge in computer technology than in audio. But hey, it was 2015, we knew it’s not an old analogue monster.

S6 brand new

I won’t describe every tiny thing in detail, all software installation went fine, without any issues, including the S6 activation and software update. The first test run was, of course, like magic. We were unmeasurably happy, I played with it like an amused teenager with his new iPad.

Back then the S6 was not that clever. The Icon series had more features, even the Artist series knew a few trick the S6 couldn’t even emulate. But honestly we put our trust in Avid. I know it may raise some eyebrows, but so far for us, Avid has been responsive and helpful, much more so than other competing companies.

The plan

The plan was ambitious, and probably a bit bold. As we have multiple studios in the building, serving a complete video department, the national radio and tv, commercial channels, foreign broadcasters, producing concert DVDs and CDs and mixing for web we wanted to have the S6 to be also used in live broadcast situations with Pro Tools.

Many told us that it’s simply a bad idea. Others told us that we must be on drugs, while some just thought we might missed our daily pills. Still, our aim was clear: use the S6 with Pro Tools in live and in post production.

To make this really efficient I made some templates that looked like a current digital console today, all channels had a channel strip, had some audio buses, 8 VCAs, and at least four effects. This was the basis for the more demanding and complicated templates. My thinking was to start small and try to expand on that foundation if that works. And, drumroll… it worked so fine that it even surpassed our expectations.

It was the time I still missed quite fundamental things from the S6 software wise. But I didn’t have to wait for long until Avid release the first big update for the controller, transforming the somewhat basic feature set into a much more promising one. I always tested the new versions in one studio, while the other was still on the older version for safety reasons. I follow the same precautions today, but frankly, so far every software update on the S6 has been almost perfect, didn’t cause any show-stopper things to happen.

S6 in action

We’ve some issues on the Nuendo side with PCs, but that might has to do something with our PC hardware configuration. It’s still nothing serious, but we have to be more cautious updating them. On the Mac side though, we never had a problem.

I must say, the attitude of the S6 developer team could be the best example before every company. They are really helpful, very encouraging about user input and it is evident that many of them is or was working professionally in some field in the music and post industry, because they really understand us and improve current things while introducing clever, great new features. Can’t praise them enough honestly.

The results so far…

So, after a bit more than a year, it’s time to look back and summarise our experiences.

Regarding the evolution, we’re very happy with the S6. So much so in the next few years we plan to expand our inventory, maybe swap the brain modules to M40s, plan to purchase screens, fader, knob and process modules, and have even more S6 in the studio department.

With Pro Tools Avid introduced the much debated subscription model. I won’t go into detail here, for us, as a corporation it is a good thing. For my own personal things, well, so far I think it’s good, but time will tell. We have seen rapid update cycle recently which suggest Avid has its momentum with Pro Tools, surely partly because they want to convince the user base to subscribe to their new model. If they continue to improve Pro Tools with the same speed and dedication as they did in the last 1 or 2 months, I’m sure everybody will agree with me that this new system is good for us. Although they introduced some features incredibly slow, I have to say the implementation of the new features are top notch.

And lastly, let’s see our statistics: during the last year we did more than 200 shows with the S6, many of which was quite demanding live broadcast events.

The usual workflow is to record all input channels, record stems if required, record a stereo or 5.1 master mix, while recording all automation (usually volume and send automation). So now, let’s see the results:

During this period, we didn’t have a single crash! Yes, you’ve read it right, NOT a single one (knock on wood…).

PT session

So contrary to the popular internet belief that Pro Tools is unstable, etc. it seems to me that is actually very, very stable and solid. Hope to be able to tell you even greater stories about this at the end of the year.

But now, Happy New Year to everyone, I promise you’ll read many great articles here in 2016!

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