When I was learning about mixing and recording during my formative years (in the 80’s), there wasn’t a lot of choice in the world of equipment.
All of it was wildly expensive, and the only way you could get it to work was by connecting analog cables (I HATE CABLES!) to them. Lots of noise. Lots of difficulty to use. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the discipline of outboard reverbs. I mean, people were using springs and plates to simulate reverb.
I know, I know.
Sometimes those sounds can be useful. Sure. But using them to try to recreate the ambience of a scene or set? Forget it. Heck, some of them were monophonic.
The Power of Plugins
Enter the 21st Century and we have a host of possibilities for our reverb needs, and there is no need for cables of
any kind: they’re plugins. Nowadays they integrate perfectly into NLEs and DAWs alike, and they can sound so good, they sound better than “real.” How do we know which plugins to spend our money on? The most critical thing to consider is your budget, of course, and next would be the kind of material you’ll be running through them. After all, an action scene is going to need a very different kind of reverberation than a quiet drama. But, even though you’re all rich and could purchase reverb plugins for a single specific use, the rest of the world can’t afford that, and they need a reverb solution which can serve as many uses as possible: the most bang for the buck. What follows is a two-part article on four things to consider when purchasing – or even using – a reverb plugin.
The nature of digital reverb is found in high level digital mathematics. Whether algorithmic or convolution (more on those later), the plugin must do a lot of calculations really fast in order to create its effect on the sound. The better the math is, the more the computer resources needed. Some plugins have better math than others, and sometimes the computer power taken isn’t made up for by a lousy plugin’s math. These kinds of inefficient plugins should be avoided at all costs. How can we tell if a reverb plugin is inefficient like this? Simple. It’s in the sound.
Do this: regardless of the reverb type, take the setting for the length of reverb and make it as long as possible.
Then take the setting for the “density” or “depth” or even “processing power” and run it as high as possible. Lastly, take the room size control and make it as small as possible. Send the plugin a transient, sharp signal. This will “pop” into the reverb and have the decay fall off without any direct signal present. Listen to that decay – the reverb. Does it sound super smooth? Does it feel like you were in a real room? Or, instead, does it feel “grainy” or have “stuttering” or other artifacts?
What you’ve done is forced the plugin into its worst possible settings, and it’s doing the equivalent of mathematical gymnastics in order to make reverb sound good. NEVER use a setting with a small room and a long reverb time. This is the acid test which will reveal if the plugin is “worth its salt.” Ideally, a reverb plugin which can create a smooth sound with this kind of setting will always create a beautiful, smooth, real sound at a good setting. It’ll also, generally, take less resources to do this.
In the continuation of this article we’ll discuss how many bells and whistles you need, to Convolute or Algorithe, and some other surprises to help you choose the right reverb plugin.
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