Brainworx‘s Bx_Refinement is a labeled as a “harshness control” plug-in for use in mixing or mastering chains. This review will focus on it in the mastering chain. Given the opportunity to master a track for a friend, I was excited to try out BX_Refinement in my mastering chain and put it through it’s paces.
Opening up the plug-in, it looks sleek. The UI is a good size, it has good labeling, good metering, and a good color scheme. The first thing I was attracted to was right in the middle: the tube. The tube lights up and flashes depending on how much processing the plug-in is doing.
Your main source of harshness control is the “damping knob”, which uses a dynamic peak band EQ. What that means is that the EQ is triggered and only active when certain frequencies are present. In this case it’s the high, harsh frequencies we’re looking to tame that are the trigger.
Right next to it is the “Soft/Hard” switch, which determines how broad the bandwidth of the processing is. Underneath the “Soft/Hard” switch is the “Solo Filter” button. When you press that, you hear just the frequencies that are being processed.
Over on the right side of the UI, you have your Mid/Mid-Side control. This allows you to control the processing on stereo information. You can process just the mono information, or the entire stereo field. Processing just the mono information is great if you want to subtly enhance your stereo image.
Next, there are the “Saturation” and “Presence” knobs. The “Saturation” knob adds tube-like saturation to the incoming signal as another way to help dampen harsh frequencies. The “Presence” knob adds gain to frequencies and harmonics that are pleasing to the human ear. Through testing this plug-in, I found that adjusting the “Presence” knob was most notable and pleasing while in “Mid” mode, only processing the mono information, especially on a lead vocal.
Down on the bottom of the UI are your “Damping Modulation” parameters. This is where you can fine tune the “damping” knob to create a plethora of effects from subtle compression to breathing, pumping mixes.
The “Dynamics” section further controls how much the damping knob affects your mix, as well as how fast it reacts to opposing frequencies. Those are done by the “Range” and “Speed” controls. Next to those is a horizontal meter displaying gain reduction.
Last but not least, underneath that is the “Oscillator” control. Here, you can “sync” it up to your DAW to achieve rhythmic pulses of saturation, to help lift your track and give it some breath, or you can use it in “free” mode to control exactly how fast or slow you want your saturation to be. The only complaints I could find with this plug-in are that you can’t change the waveform of the oscillation, and you can’t lock the oscillation to the beat. The waveform display is completely floating, where you have to manually drag it in small increments to find the right sync spot.
Like I said, I was given an opportunity to master a song for a friend. In the example, you’ll hear the first time through with no BX_Refinement, and the second time through with BX_Refinement in Mid mode, focusing on widening the stereo field and fixing some minor frequency spikes in the lead vocal. When you listen, listen for how the mono information feels more glued together, and more centered with BX_Refinement than without, and how the acoustic guitars feel wider now that the mono information is tighter.
BX_Refinement is a mixing and mastering tool that is designed to subtly enhance tracks and mixes that sound digital or harsh. Putting it through it’s paces, it does that in a way that is extremely pleasing to the ear. Using musical, tube emulation, Brainworx have designed a tool that is capable of bring analog warmth to in-the-box mixes. Go check it out today!