In expectation of black friday deals I started to testdrive the Brainworx bx_console SSL4k G at the beginning of November last year. It’s the facelift model of the older bx_console G. In contrast to the older model the new SSL4ks (G & E) have been officially approved by SSL too. Whatever that means it surely doesn’t hurt. I have had an eye on these console emulations for quite some time now. However, the final trigger to testing it has been an article in the german magazine tools4music (vol 5/2018) where the author was obviously impressed by the plugin. Of course I am well aware that most authors of most magazines are almost always “impressed” by a new product. Nevertheless, tools4music has my great respect for being as objective as you can be when running a music magazine. In other words, I am putting great trust into the guys there. Thus, I wanted to test the console for myself now.
To install it you can either download the all-in-one installer from Plugin Alliance and select the respective products there, or you can also download standalone installers for every product seperately. Whichever you like better. I went with the all-in-one installer and have to say that it was hassle-free. You just need to register the product the first time an instance is opened in the DAW (in my case Cubase) and that’s it. However, the “fun” was just about to begin. After opening a test project and several instances of the bx_console, Cubase would suddenly crash. What the heck? I was baffeld at first and thought “ok, that’s it – the testdrive is over before it even began”. But then I had an idea. What if the vst3 version I had been using is to blame and the vst2.4, which is also part of the package, works well? So after finding out that using Cubases Plugin Manager to deactivate the vst3 version wouldn’t make the vst2.4 available and I actually had to remove the vst3-file from the plugin folder I was relieved. Yes, it really was the vst3 version of the plugin that made the problems and the vst2.4 works great. So we can try it.
I have to mention that the problems with the vst3 version are gone with the latest update of the bx_console and I am happily working with that version now. Nevertheless, I think the problems are something one should mention. Even more so, because this is not the first time such crashes occured with vst3 version of Plugin Alliance plugins.
So now let’s talk about the plugin itself. Those of you who know me are probably aware of the fact that I am using a big touchscreen as an interface to my cubase mixing console. After doing that using the standard mixer for over 2 years, I finally made the step to a specific touch interface software – DTouch from Devil Technologies. I will talk about that great piece of software in a seperate post. So now I was controlling all my mixing actions with my fingers (all ten of them, because of 10-point multitouch) but had the problem that a lot of plugins are not really big enough to reliably control the knobs with my fingers. So for me the most important point for testing the bx_console was the huge interface of the plugin. Funny enough the interface size is the only thing the has been rated as a weak point of the bx_console in the above mentioned review. I can see that it is a problem on small laptop screens, but for me, using touch, it is the number one selling point. And I can tell you – the interface is really huge compared to other plugins. And it is really easy to use with your fingers. So if you’re looking for a channel strip to use with a touch screen I would say this is the best solution at the moment. At least the best one I know of.
The second argument for such a channel strip is that you’ve got the most important features in one place. Input gain, polarity, high- and low-pass filters, Expander/Gate, Compressor and EQ. I would say that in 90% of all cases that may well be enough to craft a great mix. That’s also true for the Cubase channelstrip, where you get even more, e.g., de-esser, saturation, limiter, but then again the Cubase strip is too small to be reliably controlled with a typical touch-action. I have to admit that it changed to the better with the new channel strip design in Cubase 10, but it’s still not very ergonomic. What I would find really great would be a freely resizable Cubase channel editor window. Then everyone could tailor it to her specific needs. However, it doesn’t seem that such a feature is just around the corner. Until then the bx_console provides most of the same features in a touch-friendly form.
Concerning the tolerance modelling technology (tmt) that the bx_console incorporates it certainly does something. Output of different channels is slightly different for example and the stereo image is a little bit different in every stereo channel etc. On the other hand, that might be the icing on the cake of a great mix, but it’s definitely not a game-changer in a sense that your mix suddenly becomes great when it wasn’t before you inserted the bx_console. But it might just be that last little ingredient to a great mix.
One other nice thing of the bx_consoles (both E and G) is that they each provide two different types of EQ. The G that I opted for provides the black knob and the orange knob variant of the EQ. The black knob variant uses shelves on the bottom and top frequencies and let’s you divide the operating frequency of lower mid band by three and multiplying the operating frequency of the higher mid band frequency by 3. This way you could, e.g. shelve out some bass frequencies starting from 150Hz but then use the LMF band to recover some special bass frequency – say arround 60Hz in a kick drum. Same on the upper end of the spectrum. That’s a really great feature. On the other hand the orange knob EQ has switchable low- and high-bands, so you can use either shelve- or bell-filters. I would say that’s nearly as flexible as the Cubase channel EQ but with the advantage of a fixed frequency range for every band that helps to keep track of which knob does what.
So to conclude, I finally bought the bx_console SSL 4k G at a discounted price of €99,- + VAT which is a great price for such a great channel strip. I am using it on all my mixes since November 2018 and I am very happy with how it works both sonically and using my touch screen to tweak it. If you’ve got the chance to test these channel strips I would encourage you to do so.
As ever, please leave your thoughts, comments or suggestions below as a comment. I am really looking forward to discussing with you.
All the best,