Our resident studio hound Chris Lyth picks six of the best reverbs for limited budgets
Reverb is arguably the most common effect used in music production, and has been a fundamental mixing tool used by producers since the dawn of recording history.
Fashions in reverb may change over time, but virtually all mixes require reverb to create a convincing Illusion of space for the music to occupy. Reverb also creates a front-to-back depth within the mix, and strengthens and supports certain elements such as lead vocals. Without this fundamental tool, mixes would sound flat, unnatural and lifeless.
There may be times when you want to capture a stunningly accurate acoustic space, and need something like a Bricasti M7 (£3,700) to do that – realistic acoustic spaces cost serious cash! However, we are making electronic music, not recording a harp quartet, so our needs are somewhat different. We need our reverbs to give colour and character, and be able to create unique and diverse soundscapes. Sure, clarity and transparency are important – no one wants an indistinct, veiled, muggy reverb – but sounding distinctive is more important than sounding 100% acoustically accurate.
With that in mind, here are some great reverbs all of which offer something a little bit different in terms of sound, function and platform. While entire books could be written about reverb, we have taken the liberty to spare you the science and curate some options that sound great and won’t force you to sell a kidney…
Over the last few years, Valhalla DSP have built up a solid reputation for designing high- quality plug-ins that are intuitive to use and sound seriously impressive. Their Valhalla Plate, Room and VintageVerb happily sit in the collections of many top producers/engineers, often overshadowing reverbs that cost many times more. This one, however, will not cost you a penny!
Supermassive is a reverb/delay that can create huge, lush reverbs that swell, modulate, mutate and feedback, sometimes over minutes. To be concise, it sounds utterly gorgeous and works wonders on electronic music sources. This is not the sort of reverb you'd use to recreate a convincing real world environment such as a concert hall, but one that invites you to experiment and explore new otherworldly spaces. Valhalla products have a character of their own and one that’s as classy as it is strange. There are free plugins and then there is this one! Grab it free here.
Lexicon MPX Native
The original MPX1 was a mid-90s hardware unit that occupied the middle ground of the Lexicon range, and doing so gave it something a little bit special. While it didn’t quite have that upmarket polish of Lexicon’s top-of-the-range units, it did have a slightly coarser texture which suited the grittier electronic aesthetic better in some ways than its more expensive relatives.
Don’t get the wrong idea, though: this still sounds extremely classy, as you would expect from a Lexicon, and its features are as comprehensive as it gets, offering a multitude of different algorithms from the smallest to the largest spaces. The plate reverbs in particular work wonders on drums, and have a magical ability to let you really pile on the reverb without the source sounding lost or suffocated.
The magic of the Lexicon sound is that it’s able to sit beautifully in a mix without eating up all the space. It’s lush, big and swirly, but still stunningly clear. All the starting presets are spot on and often only require a few tweaks if any. This plug-in nails the original MPX1 perfectly and the great thing about plug-ins is that you can use more than one in a mix.
Eventide make some of the best-sounding effects in the business, but often have a slightly bolder take on sound design than their super-slick rivals Lexicon. This plug-in highlights the point perfectly.
The vintage spring reverb sound is derived from sound waves traveling between two springs. It was often found in guitar amplifiers and has a very distinctive tone, some may say a slightly crude tone. Eventide have taken this concept and refined it for the 21st Century. They are far from the most natural-sounding reverbs, but they do offer a very unique timbre, which helps synths, drums and vocals stand out in a mix.
In typical Eventide fashion, there’s plenty of scope for creativity here, such as tempo syncing various parameters to your mix or morphing between parameters using the ribbon strip function. They have also included a tube-style tremolo which can be added before and after the reverb, opening up a whole other avenue of sound design. A very modern interpretation of a grungy, primitive technology – bravo.
If you are looking for a very modern reverb that strikes a balance between ease of use and versatility you simply have to check out the Pro-R. While perhaps not quite as characterful as some of the other verbs mentioned, it sounds sophisticated, rich and classy.
Its plate reverb is superb on leads and vocals, as it will sit just underneath, very discreetly supporting the music rather than overwhelming it. There are a plethora of rooms and spaces to explore, ranging from bathrooms to vast cavernous cathedrals, and its ability to sound like a part of the source sound, rather than a layer of reverb superimposed on top, helps to keep your mixes clear and focused.
It’s by no means a vanilla-sounding unit, either. The 'character' dial allows you to quickly move from a smooth clean sound to a more deliberately synthetic one. This gives the user a very broad palette to work with, without having to negotiate a bewildering matrix of minutiae. If you can only use one reverb and can’t stretch to something like the Lexicon PCM Bundle (£263) then add this to your audition list.
TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2
There was a time when pedals were the unwanted guest at the pro audio wedding. They were noisy and the quality was a million miles away from what you would get from a studio-based unit. However, in recent years a host of pedals have emerged that could happily sit alongside any hardware studio unit or high quality plug-in.
TC have packed a whole lot of reverb in to this tiny unit, which would make it ideal for a portable hardware set-up or one where space is at a premium. As the name suggests, this is the second incarnation of the Hall of Fame pedal. Like its predecessor you can store and edit patches via USB with the TonePrint software. Sound-wise it covers a lot of ground.
While you may wish to look elsewhere for truly convincing small room reverbs, it shines with big expansive spaces such as hall and church settings. Its newly added shimmer preset, which pitch-shifts the reverb up one octave, is ideal for lush ethereal effects. To top it off, it adds a pressure-sensitive 'expression' switch which is great for adding swells and live dynamics to your spaces.
Electro-Harmonix Oceans 12
For a pedal, the Oceans 12 is twice the cost and size of the TC, but it’s a seriously deep and accomplished reverb unit.
It has two independent stereo reverb engines covering 28 different modes, from classic hall and plates to more abstract tones like shimmer and polyphonic pitch shift. The sonic potential in regard to electronic music is pretty vast: if you want a brash, in-your-face 80s sound no problem, if you are looking for lush clouds of endless reverb step this way! The shimmer reverb is super-smooth and is one of the best I’ve heard.
My favourite however is Auto-Inf, a massive reverb that crossfades to a thick wash when a new note is detected. While its bread and butter effects all perform well, it’s Oceans 12's more irregular, exotic tones that really steal the show.
Words: Chris Lyth
Tags: reverb, delay, FX, mixing, studio, plugins, plug-ins, production. pedals, Valhalla Supermassive, Lexicon MPX Native, Eventide Spring, FabFilter Pro-R, TC Electronic Hall Of Fame 2, Electro-Harmonix Oceans 12