Frequently underestimated by beginners, the quality of a reverb plug-in can make a huge difference in the production of a song. That's why we made a brief review of the most essential plug-ins in this genre.
After the trend of convolution reverbs rocketed, the small audio world quickly became aware of the limitations associated with this technology: while very realistic, reverbs produced this way have a very rigid side and, in the end, lack the musicality of good old algorithmic reverbs, which we can hear on most legendary albums. In fact ─ and without questioning convolution reverbs, which are interesting for certain applications ─, many developers went back to creating algorithmic reverbs, to the delight of our ears and our productions… as well as our wallets, since the offer is huge and for all budgets..
We will not deal here with the plug-ins that most major sequencers on the market offer (besides the convolution processor de rigueur and algorithmic reverbs of sometimes very questionable quality). If there is one single effect worth an investment, it’s without a doubt the reverb (much more than EQs, compressors, delays or modulation effects that almost always are a joke). Are you satisfied with the nice little algorithmic reverb included in your Live, Logic, Studio One, Cubase, or Fruity Loops (the list is long…)? Well, take the time to test the following plug-ins, which might just end up revolutionizing the quality of your productions.
Enough with the talking, here’s the list.
Lexicon LXP / PCM Bundle
$200 / $600
Protection: no iLok, no luck
Together with TC Electronic, Lexicon is without a doubt the manufacturer that has had the biggest impact on the music world with its high quality reverbs: very few studios do not have a 480L or a module from the PCM series. And if their price used to make them accessible only to professionals, the introduction of this bundle revolutionized many things by making such quality available to the average home studio owner. Even if they are not emulations in a strict sense, these seven plug-ins use the same algorithms as the PCM modules while adding all the comforts computers have to offer: presets, automation and, above all, an unlimited number of instances. What about the sound, you ask? There’s not much we can say, except that it is hard to control the Dry/Wet parameter because everything sounds simply amazing. Whether it’s plates, rooms, halls, or chambers, the algorithms are always of such an exceptional musicality that any sound engineer can settle for this bundle to cover all his needs in terms of reverberation, be it for musical applications or broadcast. It’s important to note that behind its air of simplicity, the interface hides a lot of parameters reserved to connaisseurs… A professional plug-in in every sense of the word, which Lexicon has now fortunately democratized with the LXP bundle. It provides four simpler versions (in terms of parameters) of the sumptuous algorithms used in the PCM bundle, at a third of the price. It is actually the perfect solution for people on a low budget that want to benefit from quality reverbs without having to pay a visit to their banks. You can bet that with a room, a plate, a hall, and a chamber of this quality you won’t feel too limited when it comes to music productions. An excellent compromise in any case.
ValhallaDSP ValhallaShimmer, ValhallaRoom & ValhallaVintageVerb
Three plug-ins for three different reverb processors that provide the most amazing price/quality ratio on the market: after testing them, it’s hard to believe that each of these plug-ins costs only $50 ─ it even makes you start worrying about competing “professional” products. Their creator is not a beginner: he used to work at Analog Devices and is actually responsible for the algorithms of the Audio Damage Eos, so it’s not surprising that the ValhallaShimmer is reminiscent of his predilection for huge hall-like reverbs. On the other hand, people looking for a versatile tool can turn to the ValhallaRoom and its eleven room or chamber algorithms, or to the ValhallaVintageVerb ─ inspired by legendary reverbs of the 70's and 80's ─ that offers more classical reverbs with nine algorithms (Concert Hall, Bright Hall, Plate, Room, Chamber, Random Space, Chorus Space, Ambience, and Sanctuary) that come in three flavors (70’s, 80’s or NOW)… If we had to choose only one, it would be the latter… for starters! Particularly as, just like the two others, it is very easy to use and has an extremely clear and resizable screen. A bargain? Definitely!
$150 each plug-in
Included in most of the Waves bundles, and despite their age, the Renaissance Reverb and True Verb are still favs of many users, who appreciate their versatility (the Renaissance provides twelve algorithms, while the True Verb addresses room simulations in a more global way), the few resources they use and the ease of use of their interfaces. However, in light of newer products, we have to say that their $150 price tag might seem a bit high. Fortunately, Waves often has special promotions and you can get them for a much lower price.
Protection: no UAD-2, no luck
Given that Lexicon didn’t want to offer simulations of its hardware units, Universal Audio took upon itself the task and persuaded the reverb manufacturer to license them the algorithms of the original device: eight exceptional reverb programs and a chorus. But not only that, UA also put a great deal of effort into modelising the analog components to achieve the most perfect emulation. Replicating the design of the remote control and proposing plenty of artist presets, the plug-in offers only benefits in relation to its celebrated ancestor. Plus, there is no need for an overheating rack anymore. For $350 (on top of the price of a UAD-2 card), it might seem pretty expensive, but the memory of the Talking Heads’ Remain In Light, Grandmaster Flash’s The Message, Vangelis’ Blade Runner, U2's Unforgettable Fire, and Peter Gabriel’s So is there to remind us that the amount of money asked from us — ten times less the price of the original unit ─ is not exorbitant since we are acquiring a true legend.
Flux:: Ircam Verb/Session/SPAT
€149 / €599 / €1029
Protection: no iLok, no luck
What happens when the researchers at France’s IRCAM talk to the French guys at Flux ::? Everything reverberates. And ain’t that some… the alliance between the prestigious research institute and the mastery of Flux :: has produced one of the most impressive reverbs on the market. It consists of three products: Verb Session (€149), for people looking for an easy-to-use stereo unit; Verb (€599), that gives us access to all parameters of the algorithm, plus surround management; and SPAT (€1029), which on top of handling source localization, is a tool that has been tailor-made for audio post production and broadcasting, among others. Based on years of research, these plug-ins have a modular foundation that, in the case of Verb and Spat, might prove a bit complex for beginners. But the quality of the results and the authenticity of the reverbs are such that we can’t deny all three reverbs have an outstanding quality/price ratio. You must try them out. Try them out. What did I just say? Go try them out, now! ;-)
Overloud has a very good reputation when it comes to algorithms, so it’s no surprise that their Breverb2 is considered one of the top reverbs around, mainly due to its audio quality, versatility and even the few resources it needs. Apart from very well accomplished algorithms (Plate, Room, Hall and Inverse) inspired by Lexicon reverbs, the BReverb2 distinguishes itself from similar products due to its Spaces and Sources engines that, for their part, seem to take after TC Electronic. The result: myriads of possibilities in terms of placement in the sound filed… at the expense of more complex parameter options that might scare beginners away. The advantage is that this reverb will prove to be a real Swiss army knife for lots of applications beyond music, like post-production and much more. And everything at a very aggressive price in relation to the quality offered.
Protection: no UAD-2, no luck
Do you know what’s the reverb Prince used on Purple Rain? That’s the EMT 250, one of the first digital reverbs in the world. A unit as rare as legendary that has been emulated with an incredible fidelity by the sorcerers at Universal Audio (with the kind help of the creator of the original device: Dr. Barry Blesser). Very easy to use, the plug-in replicates the interface of the original and gives us access to lots of other things besides the reverb: delay, phaser, chorus, etc. Yet another legend reserved to UAD-2 owners willing to spend $249.
$370 to $625
Protection: no iLok, no luck
After being involved in the conception of the famous Oxford OXF-R3 recording console, the talented guys at Sonox introduced the Oxford plug-ins, which would become a standard in the industry. Among them we find a reverb that ─ luckily ─ mixes quality and simplicity with an excellent engine of early reflections (a key aspect, some will say). With a price tag of $370 in native format or $625 in AAX format, it seems the entry requirements to such professionalism is a bit hefty, specially in a market that has been evolving a lot in the last few years.
2Caudio Aether / Breeze / B2
$100 / $200 $ / $250
As the roundness of its New Age interface seem to imply, Aether was not conceived to emulate a past legend. The introduction of this plug-in in 2009 was a real event, since it set a new standard in the industry thanks to the beauty, musicality and quality of the reverbs it produced. Its interface might certainly be a bit complex and disconcerting for beginners, but luckily 2Caudio also offers Breeze, a light version of the Aether based on the same algorithms. Both plug-ins include plenty of presets. Capable of producing all sorts of reverbs, Aether is in a class of its own when it comes to producing reverbs of huge spaces whose reverb tails never end thanks to very complex modulations. It will make you cry, whatever it is that happens inside… We’re talking serious stuff here! But not as serious as B2, Aether’s big sibling. A plug-in that is even more far-out and fascinating, considering that it is a modular dual reverb processor (two engines connected in series, in parallel or in a hybrid configuration in Cascade mode) that incorporates dynamic processing modules and even distortion! Capable of producing the same reverbs as Aether, B2 goes even further and ventures cheerfully into sound design with very fitting results. The obvious downside of all this potential is a certain complexity, but apart from that, the B2 has certainly earned 2Caudio a place among the major players.
This reverb was an event when it came out more than eight years ago. The IK Classik Studio Reverb pack is still a reference due to its four plug-ins, each of which takes on a different algorithm: Plate, Room, Hall, and the more incidental Inverse. Among the good things, besides the sound, we can mention the Easy mode, which limits the plug-in parameters to the most important only; as opposed to the Advanced mode, that gives us access to more than 100 parameters. The best news however is the price of the pack, which was revised downwards a couple of months ago. You can now download it for €80 from the developer’s website. A safe bet and very accessible.
€99 / €249
Protection: no iLok, no luck
Without trying to emulate any particular reverb model, the Tsar-1 offers heaps of programs inspired on some of the biggest legends (EMT, Lexicon 224, etc.) together with original creations. From room to hall and plates, from vintage to modern, the range of ambiances offered is extremely large. However, the controls are strictly limited to the minimum: five faders, some switches and knobs. And that’s actually the main advantage of this reverb: it sounds incredibly good and is incredibly easy to use, in contrast to most competing products that go overboard with parameters and controls that require you to read a 300-page manual to be able to use them. Let us not forget that there is also a lighter version, called Tsar-1R, with even less parameters that costs less than half what the Tsar-1 does. In my opinion, one of the most underrated reverbs on the market considering that its quality/simplicity/price ratio make it very attractive for beginners and professionals alike.
Initially available exclusively on the Duende platform, the SSL X-Verb is from now on also available in a native version, after SSL realized that DSP-based solutions struggle asserting their advantages over general-purpose processors. And that’s all the better for us, since the quality of the plug-ins developed by the famous manufacturer of mixing consoles is simply excellent. This reverb is proof of that. Based on the proprietary HiD algorithms, it offers original features, like morphing two different space simulations with an exceptional quality, as well as very natural simulations regardless of the size and type of the program. The numerous controls will certainly frighten off lovers of minimalistic interfaces. And its price is also out of reach for many. There’s nothing left to say except that its owners will never regret having bought it.
€150 each plug-in or €200 for both
Relying on the expertise of Softube in terms of reverbs (like the TSAR), Native Instruments offers two beautiful renditions of the famous Lexicon 224 and 480 in the form of the RC 24 and RC 48 (strictly speaking they are no emulations). Sold one for €149 and both for €199, they are also available as part of the Komplete Ultimate bundle (€999). And that is perhaps their strongest argument, besides their excellent sound and friendly interface, because the huge Native Instruments bundle offers such a quality/quantity/price ratio that its plug-ins (which maybe one day we will find in Komplete, for €499) will surely make its way into more than one VST/AU/AAX repertory as a luxury cracker jack prize. As for the rest, it’s a Softube, which means it’s solid and good, even if the developer’s TSAR is more versatile.
Faithful to its policy, EaReckon offers a reverb “fine tuned by ear” to guarantee that no matter what the modeling equations say, the result will always be musical. And it is!! Regardless of whether it has to simulate small or big spaces, the EAReverb always performs really good, without being too complex (it still has 20 parameters, even if the most essential things can be adjusted with only five controls).
Stemming from the famous Sonic Flavours R66 ─ which was conceived from excellent modules coded by Martijn Zwartjes for Native Instruments’ Reaktor (Rev-6 and Space Master) ─, this Redline Reverb inherited its personality (it even reads the presets of the R66) within a completely revamped interface. Two things make it stand out: its unique algorithm to produce any sort of reverb (meaning the algorithm is the same for all reverb types, be it plate, room, hall, etc.) and its great musicality. In terms of parameters, it is relatively simple, thanks to the intelligently hierarchical interface that doesn’t conceal its complexity under tabs and sub-tabs: the most important controls are the biggest ones, while the smaller ones are only meant to handle details. It will definitely seduce more than one beginner.
Like all Audio Damage productions, Eos offers a very good price/quality ratio. Based on three algorithms (two plates and a Superhall), this plug-in is in a league of its own when it comes to simulating huge spaces and filling with ambiance the dullest tracks. The plug-in’s GUI is very clear and ls limited to enough parameters so as not to intimidate beginners. A safe bet for the price, even if it has to put up with subsequent developments of its creator, who founded ValhallaDSP.
Instead of trying to emulate a hardware processor or offering a version of more than one type of plate, hall or room reverb, Toraverb is based around one single algorithm that covers all needs in terms of space simulation. We have to admit that the reverb doesn’t lack any charm nor suitability, even if it shows a predilection for big spaces. And considering that the price is very reasonable…