For musicians the search for the perfect reverb plug-in is like the quest for the holy grail. As I started out composing with samples I first used algorithmic reverb, then was the arrival of convolution reverbs and I used the inexpensive, but very potent SIR engine with an impulse response from something called TC 3000. At that time I had no idea what that was, because I never cared to use hardware reverbs in the first place. (Read on and you’ll see that I made a mistake there).
My next step was using the Vienna convolution reverb with carefully selected impulse reverbs from the Teldex scoring stage and other venues. That worked really well and has up until now been my first choice when it comes to put instruments in a room. (Which is going to change very soon, but that’s another story).
Recently I’ve come to appreciate the advantages of UAD plug-ins and the Lexicon 224 in particular. They kind of soften the signal and they are processed by the UAD audio interface that I got last year which means they don’t stress my CPU. Very handy, but they also kind of mess with my mix in a way that I don’t feel comfortable with. I have to keep them up during composing because activating them in the end would result in something completely different than I would have recorded before. Still no grail.
Then I discovered Valhalla and found it sounded warmer and fuller, but… it’s kind of aimed at professionals who know what they’re doing. I’m humble enough to know my place as a mixing engineer, which is in the last row really. I rely on prepared templates, and you have to be very careful with Valhalla not to overdo it. I ended up configuring very carefully which instruments to send through the reverb and with how much amount. Sounds complicated? It is – so still no grail.
I had already given up hope and ended up thinking that I was just too dumb to get it right , trying or rather struggling to compensate any reverb’s deficiencies (like making double bass sound so booooomy that my monitors crackled or making high strings hurt the ears), when I came across a webpage from Orchestral Tools where they jotted down some thoughts and recommendations for use of reverb with their sample libraries. There I read for the first time about the legendary Bricasti M7 device. It’s a hardware device not manufactured anymore that was heavily used in all kinds of studio productions around the world and there are second-hand devices sold on the web for EUR 3500 and up. The engineer who wrote the article said something that resonated strongly with me: He said that the Bricasti hardware device was one of a few reverb devices ever made to be capable of adding reverb without mudding the mix.
When I read that line I suddenly knew that it had never been my fault that I didn’t get my mixes right. Because if an experienced engineer said so, how would I expect to get it right with my EUR 50,- plug-ins?
Long story cut, well not so short already. 🙂 I did some research on the web and found there is a software plug-in called Seventh Heaven that emulates the Bricasti M7 reverb. People who use it say that it’s pure magic, but it still falls behind the hardware original in terms of leaving the mix intact. Since there was a sale I thought I’d give it a try and got me a licence for about EUR 200,- which is kind of a bargain considering the price of the hardware original.
Guys, I tell you without any exaggeration, it’s a whole different league working with this plug-in. I’ve not yet gotten fully into it, but I already re-mixed two recent works of mine (Day of the Falcon and Curse of the White Wolf) and guess what – the mix worked out perfect out of the box!! No muddiness, no booming bass, no shrieking strings – it just sat perfectly within the frequency spectrum, adding a wonderful, soft reverb that glues slow parts together and doesn’t fall too heavy on staccatos. I couldn’t believe that something like that was even possible!!
Bottom line: Don’t waste your time trying to make up for cheap gear. If you want to get it right, do your research, don’t think that you can compensate for plug-in deficiencies by adding EQ or stacking up black box plug-ins. Just don’t. It’ll cost you time and nerves and you’ll never get there in the end. Spare your time and spend your money on the right stuff.
Now reduce 30% from my initial enthusiasm and let’s see where I’ll have gotten with my Seventh Heaven reverb in a few months. 🙂 I’ll keep you posted!