Smooth your sound with Brainworx Refinement

Refinement is essentially a mastering tool for smoothing over any harshness in mixes, by adding tube like saturation and EQ to soften any frequencies that are particularly standing out and painful to the ears! And of course, being a Brainworx plug, it has mid/side capabilities. If you’re not sure about mid/side techniques - this article is great for starters:

The GUI is the usual Brainworx sexy black affair - although this time there is a flickering image of a tube filament in the middle, which lets you know with it’s flickering whenever it’s in action.


A large knob on the left hand side of the GUI is in charge of damping those pesky frequencies. It seems that the frequencies in question are in the upper mids, and the damping knob is essentially a fixed frequency EQ, centered around the areas that tend to cause the harsh sound. How they decided where to center that comes down to the years and years of combined experience, but it sounds like the 2-4 Khz. There are two character types of filtering - soft and hard, or second order and fourth order, which I think might be like the shape of the EQ bell (kind of like the difference between a 6DB filter and 24DB filter). Either way, it affects the way the damping interacts with the source material, and gives you a couple of options. There is a handy solo button just below it, which gives you the exact audio information that you’re filtering out, when pressed.

The damping can be offset by saturation and presence. They’re not really character-type effects, but more just adding smooth highs, and analog type warmth to offset any dullness caused by the damping. They are both excellent sounding, and really bring life to the mix

The damping can also be modulated, with a dynamic range section that limits the damping to peak levels, with options to control the amount of damping, and the speed at which the dynamic reduction kicks in.

As is essential with Brainworx plugs, there is a Mid/Side button, which enables you to choose whether to affect the sound just in the Mid channel, or to use it on both. For the refinement process it seems that the majority of the time, you’re going to want to remove those harsh frequencies across the stereo space.

There’s also a mix knob, which gives you more control over how much you want Refinement to affect the entire mix.


This is the one section of the plugin that I couldn’t really understand the point of - it has a “what else can we add to this plugin” feel to it. It is possible to use it as a subtle creative effect, like a tremolo vibe. However, for use as a side-chain pumping type effect, I would want more control over how it pumps, to get it flowing better rhythmically. It seems that it’s only a sine wave shape that’s available for the oscillation, which compared to other ‘side chain’ style lfo plugins just doesn’t cut it. There needs to be more options.

The Sound

I found refinement to be a useful tool. I found that it worked best on Drum Buss, Synth Buss and 2 Buss. It does what it says on the tin, gently dulling down the digital edginess of some audio, while at the same time lifting the air and life back out of the sound with the saturation and presence knobs. It’s definitely a subtle operator, and the ‘less is more’ adage works best with this effect.

here’s a great video demoing the plugin:


There is no doubt that refinement is excellent at what it’s designed for. I think it’s most useful at the mastering end of the chain, and can subtly but powerfully change the mix for the better. It strikes me as a sort of 'Waves One Knob’-esque sort of plugin. I think it would be possible do everything that Refinement does, with a lot more in-depth control, with 5 separate plugins. Refinement shines because it’s all there in one plugin. If you have an irritating harshness to a mix or a track, it could really save a lot of time over opening an EQ, then a saturation, then an exciter, then a compressor, etc. I would heartily recommend this plugin as a massive time-saver over being anything groundbreaking and fresh.


Product page

  • Few tweaks really can smooth the sound
  • Simple and quick workflow
  • This is quite a specific plugin. Unless you're looking for something that can quickly smooth out harsh sounds in tracks, you're unlikely to really need it. Having said that, there's nothing else quite like it out there
  • Not much depth to parameter control
Written by Andy Dollerson

Saturator V2! Brainworx review

Brainworx is the brainchild of engineer Dirk Ulrich, who while working on a Dream Theatre record, realised that he could really benefit from Mid/Side capability on the plugins he was using, instead of the complicated analogue set up that he had been resorting to. Brainworx was born out of that desire, and is now a mainstay in many professional mix engineer’s arsenals.

Recently they have released Saturator and Refinement - on the brilliant Plugin Alliance platform - which I think is the best platform around for plugin management. (Discussion for another time maybe). Saturator is an update of an already firmly established effect, and Refinement is a brand new plugin. Refinement I'll review in the article following this one.

The GUI is classic Brainworx. Dark, simple, good-looking.


Saturator is a very versatile multi-band distortion plugin. The way the plugin is set up enables it to be useful for creative sound design, track mixes, and even mastering. As is the Brainworx way, it’s set up for Mid/Side processing, which in and of itself is extremely useful. Saturator V2 is a big update to the first version. Most importantly, the update contains a brand new audio algorithm that vastly improves the sound quality, reducing aliasing, and improving the performance of the plugin.

Saturator is divided into four separate distortion modules, Mid and Side Channels, Hi and Lo frequencies. Each module contains Drive, XL (amount, or mix) and gain. The Drive adds distortion to the signal, from very low levels of added extra harmonics, through varying stages of saturation, to the heavy solid fuzz of complete overload. The XL controls the amount of distortion you add to the original signal. The gain allows you to increase overall volume of that module. What I immediately loved about the distortion is that it’s applicable in almost every circumstance. When the knob is set to number 1 in the range, the distortion applied does not sound like marshall stack break up; rather it is a very gentle addition of those extra subtle harmonics. This has the effect of ‘lifting’ the sound. It’s hard to describe without actually listening, but fitting descriptors would be ‘adding life’, ‘air’ ‘richness’ to the sound. Much like when you run a digital signal through analog hardware or tape, the very slight harmonic distortion adds that element that just seems to bring a bit of life into sound. As you turn that distortion knob, the saturation gradually increases, passing through a really lush, smooth grit, into thick and heavy distortion. It's not a character distortion type, and I didn't find the extreme distortion setting to be a 'tone' I loved. But it was far from a harsh and jarring flavor.

I ran the plugin on loads of different audio sources. The results were always beneficial, whether on vocals, drums, synths, guitars. It just seemed to inject more life into the sound.

The crossover frequency for the modules is controlled with a slider that runs down the middle of the plugin window. It utilizes a freshly designed algorithm, that ensures the mid and side channels always stay in phase regardless of what you’re doing with the crossover frequency. You can set the crossover for both mid and side channels independently, or linked together. Using this crossover in conjunction with the distortion give multiple possibilities in how to shape the distortion. You can choose at what frequency to put some crispness into big pads on the side channel for example, without detracting from the main energy of the center sound.

As you introduce distortion to a signal, the level inevitably increases. Saturator has two different types of level compensation to deal with that, cleverly named compensation 1 and compensation 2. To my ears, they sound essentially the same, but comp 2 has a slightly louder outgoing signal than the original material, whereas 1 remains the same.

The overall amount and concentration of distortion of the plugin is controlled at the top of the plugin window with the Master XL and Master drive knobs. Next to them is a very useful auto-solo button With that depressed, every time you click on another button or knob in any of the modules, that particular module is solo’ed - focussing your ears on the area you’re working on.

Mono maker

This is an excellent addition to the plugin, For really solid foundations on tracks, it’s often useful to have the bass frequencies in mono. Any audio in the track/mix sounding below a frequency that you set on the knob, is changed to Mono. This can really tighten up the bottom end of a track, giving it a lot more energy and power. Very useful! Either side of this are gain controls for the complete mid and side channels for slightly more mix control of the distortion.


It’s absolutely amazing what this plugin does. This analog-style distortion really can lift parts. Anything dull or lifeless sounding can have the life blasted back into it with this plugin. I really loved using this on many different sources. Adding extra harmonics to most sources created a very pleasing feel of lift, air and life to tracks. Adding it to a synth line or Rhythm guitar helped the sound come more alive in the mix without it standing out volume-wise. Brilliant! Saturator adds a richness to the sound without necessarily adding any edge or grit (unless you want to, of course) I loved the multi band, and mid/side aspects of the plugin. That enabled you to really hone in on areas in a general mix that you want to add life or depth to. I found that adding it to pads and synths on the side channel really added to the quality and life of the sounds without making them cloud over other audio sources. If you need to add a little extra weight to guitar parts, the stronger distortion adds to the flavor without overtaking it. And of course you can use that heavy distortion creatively on vocals and kits to smash the sound up a bit.

Here’s a great video demoing the saturator:


This plugin has very quickly become an essential mixing tool. I’ve been blown away at how useful Saturator is at alternately bringing life, grit, edge, smoothness, and presence to tracks or mixes. I found that it doesn’t have too much to offer as a creative sound design tool, and I can think of several plugins that I’d rather use for creative distortion. For use in the mix, however, I think it’s unparalleled. It’s easy to be heavy handed with saturator, but I find that the subtle use of the XL and drive is the best way to use this plugin in bringing richness to your mixes. Very highly recommended.

SALE! until Aug 16th $149 down from $199

...This plugin has very quickly become an essential mixing tool...

Product page

  • Adds a definite WOW factor to your audio
  • Interestingly CPU light
  • If you're looking for a character distortion plugin, look at guitar amp emulators or Fabfilter's Saturn. If you're looking for something that can bring a lot more life to a mix, look no further
  • None really
Written by Andy Dollerson

Free Eventide UltraChannel plug-in (until July 8th)

When the words free and quality happen to meet, ANR is always here to share the good news with you. This time it's REALLY great news, since we're talking of Eventide, since 30 years a top name in the audio industry. They just announced a special promotion, running until July 8th 2014, for their new native channel strip plug-in, UltraChannel. Available for AU, VST, and AAX64 for Mac and PC, featuring micro pitch functionality from Eventide's flagship H8000, stereo delays with variable feedback paths, plus two stages of compression, gating, and five bands of parametric EQ.
UltraChannel is available as a free download through midnight July 8, 2014, after which it will cost $249.

To get UltraChannel visit this special promotional page and use the following access code: 06E3F20B

Note: You DON'T need an iLok, you'll just need to download (if you are not using it already) the iLok License Manager free application. Further instructions on the Eventide page. Enjoy! :-)

Spitfire Audio BML Bones Vol 1 review

Spitfire audio is a UK company established in 2008 by a couple of film composers looking for good sample material they could use for their projects. Encouraged to commercialize their work, they are now are a benchmark for orchestral sample libraries the world over.

The British Modular Library is a massive collection of all the separate orchestral sections, unfinished as of yet, so far the library consists of symphonic and chamber strings, horns, flute and low brass. Bones Vol. 1 is the latest addition.

Using the firmly established king of the soft samplers; Kontakt (full version required), Bones Vol 1 is 40GB (uncompressed) samples of Tenor and Bass trombones played by some of the best instrumentalists in London, recorded with several mic positions in AIR studios - home of some of the biggest soundtrack recordings, such as Gladiator, James Bond, and Harry Potter to name a few.

2 players per section - the future volumes will have soloists - but this one is recordings of two tenors and two bass trombonists.

The GUI has been scripted with ease of access to all the various elements and performance parameters. All the basic articulations are covered - laid out on a stanza, with each note representing the particular articulation. Very easy to access. I really like that the articulations are all there for really simple switching. If you want to go template crazy, there is also an option to load up separate articulations as their own instrument. But the simplicity of this layout seems to make it unnecessary to me.

Longs (regal)
Longs cuivre - a more edgy tone
Shorts staccatissimo
Multi tongue (double triple and quadruple blimey!)
Rips and Falls
FX Glissandi

Mic Positions

There are four main positions (Close, Tree, Ambient, Outriggers) 3 other secondary positions, which as of this review are being released imminently (Stereo Mic, Gallery mics, Close Ribbons) and 3 set positions created by Spitfire's chief engineer Jake Jackson for more economic setups (Broad cinematic symphonic mix, Medium - more intimate but very classy version of the mix and Fine - a more detailed and immediate sound with less hall)

The different mic positions are lovely. The Dry mic truly is dry, which is refreshing. A lot of the 'dry' mics on other libraries still have enough room in the sample to not be able to take away from the symphonic hall feeling. This dry mix gives you the opportunity to get that tenor trombone in your electro track without it sounding like it's been recorded on a different planet. Combined with the rips and falls, and other fx, this is definitely the closest library yet for trombone that I could forsee being used in genres other than massive film scores.

I also like the way that you can save mic positions as presets - you find the position and amounts of mics that you want, and you can transfer that preset to another instance you load up, or presumably also different BML modules.

Expression controls

The expected expression controls are to the right of the panel, each with set #CC. But alongside Dynamics and expression, there are some more exotic but extremely useful parameters to control - a nice Vibrato control, a speed control that enables you to change the speed of the legato between notes - very useful from slow to quick note movement. Another - tightness, is an excellent control parameter: The amount of times I’ve been frustrated with fast ostinato passages, because the sample is recorded from the beginning of the sound, and one of the round robin attacks is very slow, which creates weird sloppy timing. Tightness removes that problem.

Ostinato Panel

You can really have fun with this element of the library. You can play in the notes you'd like to feature in the ostinato, and either have them play as chords, or separately. You then select the rhythm you'd like the pattern to play (you can save 8 per instrument in the drop down menu), hit the notes, and off you go. From marches to crazy arpeggios made with a few simple clicks.

The death of Keyswitching

As sample libraries have expanded, and taken over more of the keyboard range, the traditional keyswitches for changing articulations have been pushed out to the extreme ends of the keyboard. Cue multiple button pressing to get to the keyswitches, which are in different places per instrument library anyway, and you end up just automating them in later, with no small amounts of grumbling.

Enter the UACC - Universal Articulation Controller Channel. This is a solid move by Spitfire to unify articulation switching across the entire range of their virtual sample instruments. When you lock the articulations to UACC you lock all the articulations to 1 Midi #CC (number 32 by default), using all the midi data points (127) for the different standard articulations (listed on Spitfire's website)

This is made in mind of the now standard switch controller, or iPad app to switch between all these points. You could use automation data on ONE track to ensure that the articulation you select for that particular section of the music will always be to the right selection. I really hope that this works out, as it seems to be a very succinct solution to a growing frustration, and could have a profound affect on the speed at which articulations are automated, especially if they're used across the whole of Spitfires range (and further...)

If that’s not enough, there’s also some alternative ideas some of which I think are very clever. By control clicking on the articulation button, an option menu pops up, giving you quite a large amount of options of how to switch to that current articulation. The standards (Keyswitch, velocity range) are there, but there’s also CC range, Midi channel, and my favorite - ‘By speed of playing’. The computer measures how fast you are playing notes, and by ranges you define, the articulation can switch between smooth long legatos to marcato, to staccato, just by speeding up!

The sound

The sound is incredible. The legato is smooth, the different articulations are gorgeous sounding, and clear. One of the intentions of the creators of the Spitfire sound was to have a natural sounding library - complete with little quirks and tweaks of the players, (such as small lip buzzes, or slight bends in the tuning) with the understanding that as part of a larger whole the little artifacts add to the realism of the full sound. In fact, I found some of it a little too much - especially the louder samples which I felt over emphasized the natural flattening that occurs once full volume is reached. But one of the great things about this library script set-up, is that if you’re not wanting the quirks and the squeaks you can punch in each and every round robin, tweaking various elements such as tuning, volume, release, or you can remove that note from the sequence. Brilliant!

You can see a really in depth walkthrough of Bones Vol 1 on a great video posted by spitfire themselves:

Spitfire audio are really challenging the market for fantastic sounding orchestral sample libraries. The Bones module is no different, with a full coverage of the various tones and timbres the orchestral trombone player would be expected to perform. The sound, it goes without saying, is excellent, and out of the box you can create great Trombone lines. However, like a luxury sedan, it has all the mod cons - you want to change or tweak it to fit your style/template/demands, it can do it, all in a cleverly laid out script. The constant clicking through menus and buttons to get the sound you are looking for has been minimized, which for speed of writing, is essential.

279 GBP (Roughly $470)

...The sound is incredible. The legato is smooth, the different articulations are gorgeous sounding, and clear....

Product page

  • Excellent, authentic sound
  • Fantastic attention to detail
  • Real promise with a new version of keyswitching.
  • For Symphonic Trombones, this is brilliant, and even for pop brass, this library would fit. For an addition to a full orchestral library, it’s unbeatable. If you’re a beginner orchestrator on a budget, I would look for full orchestral packages.
  • Tuning slightly flat on very loud full notes (although you can change that)