Pro Audio Files

Train Your Ears Become a Member

9 Great Reverb Plugins for Mixing (+ Mix Tips)

Article Content

Have you ever heard of the concept “feng shui?” It’s a practice that originated in ancient China that claims to enable humans to live more harmoniously with their environment. The idea is that we are connected to the different spaces in our homes, and if we make adjustments to these spaces by arranging them in ways that promote positivity, we will live happier (and healthier) lives. Strange way to open an article about reverb plugins, right? Not really. Reverb is space. If we don’t curate that space and caringly place our tracks within it, it can negatively affect our mix in a variety of ways. I’ll admit, I have a love/hate relationship with reverb. This might just be me, but sometimes I feel like I really have to put in significant work to make a reverb sit perfectly in a mix, far more work than it takes for me to feel satisfied with other types of processing like compression, saturation and even delay.

Worth considering is reverb plugins are essentially recreating many, many copies of whatever is fed into them, so if you’re sending in something that is deficient, you’re only multiplying the deficiency. So in that sense, while you can “hide” things using reverb, you can’t fix things with it. Once you understand this, and use reverb not as a band-aid but as a tool to create separation between elements (and to add character and tone to tracks), you’ll find that the elements of your mix will live more harmoniously with one another.

Here are my top 7 reverb plugins to use when mixing …

1. UAD EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverberator

The original hardware plate reverb from German company Elektromesstecknik was released in 1957 and revolutionized how reverb was used in the recording industry. The original 600 lb. EMT 140 Plate consisted of a thin piece of sheet metal suspended by springs and attached to a metal frame. A transducer attached to the center of the metal plate would vibrate the plate when it was fed signal, and one or two pickups mounted to the plate would return the vibration of the plate. The design evolved over time, but the legendary sound of the EMT 140 was preserved in the form of thousands of records on which it was used. When I found out that Universal Audio captured the dense, natural, versatile beauty of the EMT 140 and created a plugin that weighed significantly less than 600 lbs., I was sold.

I use this plugin all over the place when mixing. I’ll use it on vocals, guitars, pianos, strings, horns, even drums. Occasionally, I’ll create an auxiliary track, insert an instance of the 140 and send several elements to it, which creates a lush sense of cohesion. Some mixes require a more subtle application of reverb, and the 140 works well with shorter reverberation times in the .5 to 1.5 second range. Other mixes call for reverb to be more prominently featured and the 140 shines here too, as the longer reverb times combined with the modulation (MOD) feature create a beautiful, detailed reverb tail which is perfect for ethereal, dramatic lead vocals.

Mix Tip

Sometimes a dense, washed out sound is in order, and I quite enjoy combining reverbs. Obviously, in this context I am not going for a natural reverb sound. The EMT 140 works great when combined with another reverb, in particular because it offers you so much control. You’ve got the multiple types of plates included in the plugin, reverberation time, an input filter for taming low end, stereo width, an onboard equalizer, modulation and pre-delay. Because of this, the EMT is incredibly flexible and not only works well on its own but plays well with others.

UAD EMT 140 Classic Plate Reverberator

2. FabFilter Pro-R

As you’d expect from FabFilter, Pro-R is loaded with leading-edge features, a sleek user interface and impeccable sound quality. It can sound natural, other-worldly and everywhere in between. The space knob allows you choose from over a dozen room models which offer decay times ranging between 200 milliseconds and 10 seconds. The brightness, character, distance, decay rate and stereo width allow for additional control over the sound of the space in which you place your signal. Pro-R goes even deeper by incorporating a decay rate EQ and a 6 band post EQ. In physical spaces, high frequencies usually decay quickly while bass frequencies linger. The decay rate EQ allows you to fine tune the decay rate across the frequency spectrum, which is great for subtle fine tuning of reverb tails or creating wild, unnatural sounding reverbs. Lastly, the post EQ enables you to sculpt the overall tonality of your reverb.

Mix Tip

Get weird with this one. Experiment with unorthodox decay rate EQ curves, different character and brightness settings and tweak (or even automate) the post EQ for reverb tails that sound unique and unlike anything you’d find in actual physical spaces.

Fabfilter Pro-R

3. Valhalla VintageVerb

Described as a “postmodern reverb plugin, inspired by the classic hardware digital reverbs of the 1970s and 1980s,” VintageVerb covers a lot of sonic ground. The minimalist GUI, which is a trademark of all products from ValhallaDSP, is a treat on the eyes. VintageVerb comes with 18 different reverb algorithms that include chambers, rooms, plates and more. It offers a lot of control over the different elements of your reverb, but because the user interface is so intuitively designed and clearly laid out, it never feels overwhelming or crowded.

If you’re interested in a free foray into the wonderful plugins from Valhalla, check out Supermassive.

Mix Tip

Play VintageVerb like an instrument by mapping parameters to a MIDI controller. I’m all about adding performative elements to mixes in unexpected ways. Think of the additional level of musicality, depth and feeling that can be added by performing simple fader rides, and then consider that you can do the same by automating plugin parameters. VintageVerb has so many controls that lend themselves to be used in this manner. Map the parameters to your controller of choice in your DAW and have fun!

Valhalla VintageVerb

4. Soundtoys Little Plate

This is another emulation of the classic EMT 140, but Soundtoys took a minimalist approach here by putting only four controls total on the user interface of Little Plate: modulation, mix, low cut and a big ol’ decay knob. That’s a strength, not a weakness however, because sometimes less is more. I can dial in a thick, musical reverb sound in mere seconds using Little Plate.

Mix Tip

The decay knob goes to infinity. Utilize it. Send a sound through Little Plate, preferably a single note or chord — otherwise the sound will get overly dense and dissonant pretty quickly. Use this never-ending reverb tail however you see fit. Automate it, process it, print it, chop it, whatever.

ADVERTISEMENT

Soundtoys Little Plate

5. Audio Ease Alitverb

If you’re looking for an all-in-one convolution-based reverb solution, it’s hard to argue against Altiverb 7, which is widely used in both music and audio post-production. If you need to make your sounds seem as if they are in halls, rooms, chambers, clubs, stadiums, cars, trains, boats or as if they are being run through plate, spring or digital reverb units, Altiverb comes loaded with impulse responses for these and more.

Mix Tip

Combine impulse responses. Embrace the unnatural. To be honest, it’s somewhat rare that I am trying to establish an entirely natural, believable sense of space when mixing music. You wouldn’t figure that placing a lead vocal in a mausoleum, while placing synthesizers in a stadium and placing a string quartet in a toilet is advisable, but Altiverb allows you to do just that. You’ll never know until you try.

Audio Ease Altiverb 7

6. Any (or All) Of These Reverbs From UAD: AKG BX 20, Capitol Chambers & AMS RMX16 Expanded

I didn’t want to have virtually every other plugin on this list be one created by Universal Audio, but the truth is you’d be well-served to have all of these emulations of classic spaces/gear in your arsenal of reverberators. Each of these offer authentic reverb sounds that have been heard on countless records through the decades.

FEATURED SPONSOR

Mix Tips

The AKG BX 20 is a spring reverb, similar to the type you’d find within a guitar amp. Try placing an amp simulator plugin in front of the BX 20 in your signal path for an instant re-amped sound. It works great on vocals, percussion and of course, DI guitars.

The Capitol Chambers emulates the classic sound of the spaces beneath the Capitol Tower in Hollywood, and it works splendidly in both vintage and modern contexts. Out of any reverb plugin, I’d have to say that I like using this one in mono the most, as it offers an instant 1960s character.

The AMS RMX16 Expanded was designed by Mark Crabtree. The legendary RMX16 Hardware unit surely isn’t a one-trick pony, as it offers a wide variety of effects (not limited to reverb), including echo, chorus and reverse. While I absolutely recommend using the classic nonlinear sound for an instant 1980s character, don’t deny your productions all of the other great sounds that the RMX16 has to offer.

UAD AMS RMX 16 Expanded

7. PSP SpringBox

This offering from seriously underrated plugin makers PSPaudioware offers a different flavor than the previously mentioned AKG BX 20 — it’s brighter and more jangly. It also offers a bit more control over sculpting the shape of the reverb tail. As with mostly everything that PSP has released, the user interface is intuitive, and the sound is rich and full of character.

Mix Tip

Try adding compression after SpringBox for a more in-your-face spring reverb sound.

PSP SpringBox

8. BABY Audio Spaced Out

I had a bit of difficulty deciding which plugin roundup Spaced Out should be included with. While it is a reverb, it’s also a delay, a modulator and, truthfully, it’s a musical instrument unto itself. If you simply want a quick to dial-in, inconspicuous-sounding reverb, perhaps you’d be better suited looking elsewhere. But if you’re looking to really craft something unique, memorable and beautiful, Spaced Out offers a lot more than other plugins included in this list. As with all of BABY Audio’s plugins, the GUI is stunning and encourages exploration. The center “space” module controls the plugin’s reverb effect and comes with four unique programs — vacuum, small space, medium space and outer space. It also features controls for pre-delay, “stardust” (which is a gorgeous octave-up shimmer effect), “mellow” (which adds low and high end damping filters), “clean-up” (which feeds an altered signal into the reverb, resulting in a less dense response) and a “width” control. In the middle of the plugin is an X-Y based “joystick” control that allows the user to morph between the reverb length and modulation behavior. As you can tell, this plugin goes deep, so I definitely suggest putting the time in to learn the many different controls.

Mix Tip

Don’t wait until you reach the mix stage to incorporate Spaced Out. My first experience with the plugin was with my guitar plugged directly into Logic, with that signal then sent to an auxiliary track with Spaced Out inserted upon it. The sounds I was achieving were dramatic, ethereal, lush and sometimes unruly. These are the kinds of sounds that you build an entire production around, not generally the kinds of sounds you want to “fit in” to an already fleshed out production. If you simply want to use Spaced Out in a more conservative way as a subtle delay and reverb effect, then by all means go for it, but I personally feel as if this plugin is best utilized expressively during the production stage.

ADVERTISEMENT

BABY Audio Spaced Out

9. Your DAW’s Stock Reverb

As with any other type of processing, don’t feel as if you need to go into debt by buying every third-party reverb plugin available. While you might not be able to obtain the colors and authenticity offered by the aforementioned reverbs, a lot can be accomplished using the plugins that come stock with your DAW of choice.

People like to make fun of Avid’s D-Verb, which comes stock with Pro Tools. But if you’ve got to place an element back in the mix, D-Verb is better than nothing. If you’re just getting into music production and mixing, it’s not a bad idea to learn using the tools you’ve got on hand. If you can make something sound nice and lush using D-Verb, then you can likely do the same with the many better sounding (and functioning) tools currently available.

Pro Tools also comes loaded with the AIR Creative Collection which includes a standard reverb, spring reverb and non-linear reverb, all of which are quite serviceable and simple to use.

The Reverb plugin in Ableton is actually quite flexible and sounds good, too. It comes with a “Freeze” button, which will freeze the reverb tail as long as the function is activated.

Logic comes with four separate reverb plugins, two of which I use regularly. Space Designer is a handy convolution reverb that features both traditional and wacky impulse responses that can be used to created interesting washed-out textures. I’d argue you can do certain things with Space Designer that you can’t accomplish with any of the aforementioned reverb plugins. Also, Chromaverb is a smooth-sounding, slick-looking reverb plugin that also has a freeze function, as well as both a damping and post EQ, great for sculpting the overall tonality of your tails.

Ableton Reverb

While not all of the aforementioned reverbs are represented in this listening example, check out this tranquil musical cue run through several of my favorite reverb plugins:

No Reverb


Valhalla Huge Synth Space Preset


Valhalla Concert


Soundtoys Little Plate Long Tail


FabFilter Pro-R Resonator Preset


EMT 140


Capitol Chambers


AMS RMX16 Nonlinear


AKG BX 20

Ian Vargo

Ian Vargo is a Producer, Mixer and Audio Professor based in Los Angeles. He has worked on numerous major label and independent records. Get in touch on his website or learn more from him in Mastering in the Box and Mixing Pop.