At its core, Brainworx bx_shredspread is a stereo enhancer plug-in, with additional features aimed at guitar processing. Despite its amp-esque appearance, though, there's no amp or cabinet simulation here.
Each knob's function is activated by the labelled button above it. The speakers beneath slide along to indicate stereo enhancement, with a 'mute' icon appearing during mono events - cute but ultimately pointles and a waste of screen space.
The two basic controls are Shred and Spread. The latter controls the width of the stereo field, ranging from 0% (mono) to 200% (maximum widening). 100% means that no enhancement/reduction is taking place.
Shred tames harsh treble frequencies and beefs up the bass and mid-range. This can put meat on the bones of fizzy, thin or overly 'scooped' guitar tracks.
The Mono Maker function converts the signal below the specified frequency threshold to mono - that is, it 'monoises' the bass frequencies. This can tighten up boomy/flappy guitars. The Gain control is an overall volume knob. Finally, there's a decent undo/redo system and four memory slots for comparing settings.
We tried bx_shredspread on double-tracked guitars first - ie, the same thing recorded twice and panned hard left and right, with the plug-in placed on the guitar group channel.
In isolation, guitars can at first sound thinner when the Mono Maker knob is increased; however, it helps alleviate phasing issues caused by the widening. With the guitars in a mix, the thinness isn't really noticeable but the additional width is, with a greater impression of size.
In use, then, bx_shredspread can impart extra 'life', at least when applied in moderation. Note that using this kind of stereo widening reduces mono compatibility, making the guitars quieter when heard in mono - worth bearing in mind.
We found bx_shredspread more interesting on lead guitars and stereo guitar effect passages, which we felt stood to gain more from the enhancement. And of course, bx_shredspread can also be applied to non-guitar material.
It's not brain surgery
While bx_shredspread does what it claims, the tech-savvy will realise that its enhancements can be replicated with any half-decent mid/side EQ and a basic stereo expander plug-in.
Mono Maker is equivalent to a high-pass on the side channel, Spread is standard stereo width expansion (ie, adjusting the level of the side channel), while Shred seems to be a broad shelving EQ.
The only 'unique' part is Auto Pan, then, although you could move mono guitar parts to a 'dry' track for much the same effect.
At the end of the day, our main issue with bx_shredspread is that it's overpriced for what is basically a box of bog-standard mid/side EQ tricks in a guitarist-friendly interface.
We'd happily recommend it as a convenient plug-in for novices if it had a price tag to match, but it's got a pro price tag and a pro would know to use stock plug-ins to get the same results.
Now listen to our audio demos to hear the bx_shredspread in action:
Dry first then Spread enhance plus MonoMaker
Dry first then Spread, MonoMaker and Auto-Pan
Dry first then Spread, MonoMaker, Auto-Pan and Solo Pan
Dry first then Spread, MonoMaker, Auto-Pan, Solo-Pan and Shred
Can add size and width. Shred control delivers heft. Handy for special effects and solos. Auto Pan is a time-saver.
Overly large interface. Auto Pan not as tight as automating it. Mid/side EQ can achieve much the same. Pricey for what it is.
A well executed plug-in that will appeal to newcomers, but experienced engineers would be better off with an M/S EQ.
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.
Stereo enhancer-focused plug in tailored towards guitarists