In today’s wide world of audio, mid-side processing is a feature that isn’t typically standard in effects plugins. Recently though, next-gen M/S plugins have become available and they are changing the way a lot of us are mixing – when this type of processing is done right (and with effects), it can achieve awesome results.
M/S was first realized in the analog recording world by utilizing a special M/S micing technique that essentially splits a single source into three separate channels using two microphones – a unidirectional mic and a bidirectional mic. This allowed the user more control over the sources space in the mix. That is all the control you could possibly ask for, right? Well what if it were multiband?
Back in late April, the German software developer Brainworx announced the first addition to their new “Brainworx Rock ´n ´Roll line”: The bx_saturator. This plugin was designed to work with mixing, mastering and sound design applications.
Bx_saturator is a mid/side multiband saturation plugin that excels in several respects: exaggerated distortion, simple operation, and — most notably — providing subtle saturation in a discrete way which analog tape and tube gear 0 typically accomplish the
M/S processing plugins aren’t anything new to the plugin world, but the “mid/side” appeal is relatively new for saturation, and the bx_saturator is the result of this sector’s evolution. Bx_saturator isn’t the only saturation plugin on the market to offer M/S processing but, from what I’ve experienced, it is among the first to not only provide exaggerated effects, but to also effectively bring out subtleties and balancing of source tracks and master tracks.
With Brainworx’ history of excellent M/S mastering plugins, I already had high expectations. Now, after getting my hands on Bx_saturator and throwing it on everything but my salad, I have to say – I will be using this plugin on everything I mix from here on out! Read on to find out why…
The bx_saturator is composed of several easy-to-comprehend sections.
Being as it is a multiband M/S processor, users have control over separate mid-high and mid-low sections as well as side-high and side-low sections – four “XL units” in total with individual “Solo,” “Gain,” “Drive,” and “XL” controls.
The frequency range for each section is determined by the X-Over Frequency controls where the user can set the point at which “high” and “low” channels are differentiated at any point between 20Hz-20kHz. The X-Over Frequency section also includes a Link mode which allows the Mid and Side x-over points to move together.
The four XL Units are located to the left and right of the X-Over control area. These are what control the saturation characteristics of each channel – Mid-Hi, Mid-Low, Side-Hi, Side-Low. The XL Units make up a majority of the plugin and have the same controls for each respective box/unit.
The XL knob is responsible for controlling the level of distortion for the individual channels by creating additional harmonics. The addition of the harmonics is what actually helps to create the subtle saturation effect while aiding in balancing the dynamics of the
signal, without using compression or raising the level too drastically.
Another useful feature that is fun to experiment with is the pre/post modes for the “Gain” control found in all four of the XL units. Pre mode influences the amount of distortion being applied as ‘”Drive” is adjusted, while post offers more of a level control function, having no effect on the amount of distortion applied to your source.
The Drive control has two compensation modes as well. Compensation 1 mode makes up for the increase in level caused by drive by lowering its output. Compensation 2 does the same thing, just with a slightly higher output level. Compensation modes can be switched off but this will increase the output level caused by the Drive control.
With three separate saturation controls for just one XL unit, you can see how the simple layout is still very customizable.
Mono-Maker and Mid and Side Output Gain Controls
The very bottom of the plugin also includes some additional simple-yet-powerful features including a “Mono-Maker” knob that allows anything below the set frequency point to be summed to mono. Playing with this setting was interesting and actually helped tighten up the bass response of the masters it was applied to. Low frequencies in mono still sound big!