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Plate Reverb Shootout — Plugins, Characteristics & More

Transcript
Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here — theproaudiofiles.com, and mixingwithreverb.com.

I wanted to do a little bit of a shootout between some different plate plugins and algorithms, just to give a little comparison, because there’s starting to be a lot out there, and you might be thinking, “Oh, what do I buy? What do I listen for?” And this is also going to serve as a good educational tool to really get our ear around what we are actually listening to in the qualities of a plate reverb.

So first, let’s start with this record, just so we know where we’re coming from.

[mix]

Alright, so we’re starting with a Pop style ballad. It clearly is something that’s going to want a lot of space, it’s a little bit down-tempo, so we have a lot of room for some space, and just for demonstration purposes, I’ve dubbed in this snare, it sounds terrible, but I’m going to put it in here anyway, because snares are really helpful for demonstrating the properties of plates.

[song with snare]

So what are we listening for when we’re thinking plate reverbs? Well, there’s a few interesting qualities of plates that make them unique. The first is something called, “The dispersion effect.”

This to me is the quintessential character of a plate reverb, because in a room, in a hall, in a chamber, we have sound propagating through air. When sound propagates through air, there is no dispersion effect, meaning all of the frequency content travels at the same speed, whether it’s high frequency, low frequency, it’s all moving at the same speed, but when sound travels through metal, that’s not the case.

The high frequencies move faster than the low frequencies, which means that the high frequencies form to the receptor first, and the low frequencies form to the receiver later. Receptor, receiver, whatever. I’m making up words, it’s fine.

And so that gives us the impression of something that’s initially bright, gives us an immediate pop, but this darker, smoother tail out, which makes them really cool for things like vocals and snares.

Another property of plate reverbs is that there is content evenly distributed throughout the plate. A room is going to have certain interesting qualities — it’s going to have whatever the materials the wall is made out of, maybe there’s things in the room, and this creates an inconsistent frequency response. Only halls are really designed to have a very consistent frequency response throughout the frequency band, and they do tend to favor the low end a little bit.

Plates, in perfect condition, should have all frequencies propagating at the same amplitude.

Now, the third interesting property with a plate is that there are no discrete echoes, and all of the echoes are coming back very fast.

So in a room, we have sound that bounces around. We have early reflections, we have late reflections, we have medium reflections, technically speaking, and so there are all of these discrete echoes bouncing around, particularly if we have an interestingly shaped room — something that’s oblong, or has its own little corridors or whatever. Then we’ll hear very distinct echoes.

In a plate, however, we don’t have those. We just have all of the sound traveling back and forth continuously. This makes for an extremely high echo density — technically infinitely high, and so what that ends up meaning is not so much density in terms of, “Is the sound very rich in content,” although plates often times are, it’s more, “How smooth is the tail?” And the answer is, about as smooth as you can get, because it’s continuous echoes.

So let’s give a listen to some of these plates, and let’s pick apart the properties. Let’s talk about them from the point of view of, “Does it check off those boxes,” and let’s also talk about it in terms of the more musical side of it. Just, how does it feel to the ear?

I’m going to start with the snare first.

[mix]

Alright, I’m going to bring in my first plate.

[mix, snare with plate]

Okay, so. Let’s talk about the dispersion effect. Are we hearing the bite at the front of the signal, and are we hearing the low end at the back of the signal? Yes, I would say we are.

[music]

We almost hear it as like, a swooping noise of the low end. Kind of a “whoom” kind of a feel.

[song]

I’m just going to solo the return.

[plate reverb return soloed]

Right? We hear brightness up front, we’re still hearing all of that transient of the snare, but then the tail feels pretty dark, and I’m just going to compare it really quickly to a hall algorithm, because it’ll help us in getting our ear around it.

[snare with hall reverb]

You hear how the transient feels slurred, and the high end is damping at the same speed as the low end?

[mix with hall]

Let’s compare it to our plate again.

[mix with plate]

Right? The tail is significantly darker. Now, in terms of the smoothness of the decay, like how linear it is. To me, this one is almost perfectly linear. It’s almost like you could draw a straight line over its shape. It’s about as even as you could get, and in terms of frequency response, it feels exactly balanced to me. It is about as even as one could imagine.

[song with plate]

Put more succinctly, it almost feels like the snare is being put through a diffusor. It has very low — this plate that’s being modeled has very low self resonance, so we don’t even hear bumps in the frequency spectrum. Maybe there’s a touch of low end, that’s about it.

Alright, I’m going to switch over to another one. Let’s give it a listen.

[music with plate 2]

So this one is very, very similar to the last one I played. The only differences are that there’s a little bit of frequency shaping that I’m hearing. It sounds to me like there’s a sweetened part of the low end, which I find really aesthetically pleasing. It’s like some of the 500, 600 kind of like, I don’t even know exactly how to describe it, but some of those muddier low mids are a little bit attenuated, and the emphasis is on the sweeter low mids, like the 200Hz kind of range, and it gives a sort of rounding quality to it.

It also feels like the very top end is rounded off a little bit, so it’s not quite as bright. It’s a little bit smoother overall in terms of frequency content.

[song]

What I don’t like is that sometimes, that kind of frequency distribution is not actually as flattering as we would first think. When I bring the snare in and turn the reverb down…

[music, snare in]

If I jump back to the first one…

[song, plate 1]

We actually notice that the first one is bolder sounding — it has more pop to it. And depending on what we want, we may or may not want one that pops more, or we might want one that’s a little smoother. It just depends.

Alright, let’s move on to the third one here.

[music, plate 3]

So this one has an exaggerated dispersion effect, in a sense that I’m hearing a lot more low end bloom immediately. It’s a darker sounding plate reverb than the other two. It doesn’t sound quite as sophisticated, but at the same time, it has a really, really nice spread to it, like it has a really good stereo image, which is also very important.

Generally speaking, if the pickups on a plate are placed exactly correctly, you would have a mono return, even if you were using two different pickups. However, slight variations, and we’re talking even millimeters, will create a stereo effect in the reverb as we get certain frequencies coming in a little faster to one side, or whatever it might be.

This one has a nice stereo image without feeling like it’s leaning to one side.

[mix]

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Alright. And the last one that we’re going to bring in here.

[mix with plate 4]

So this one is really interesting to me, because it does not check off a lot of the boxes of a traditional plate. First of all, I’m hearing the high end decay almost match the low end decay, so that dispersion effect is not really quite happening the way you would expect from a plate.

The other thing is that there’s this sort of rolling wave, a discrete second set of echoes, and that is also not characteristic of a plate either.

[mix]

We are getting really nice transient definition up front, it’s more — so we’re getting the dispersion effect in terms of the preservation of the transient of the snare, what we’re not getting is the shortened damping of the high end.

So we’re kind of getting a little bit of both, and I think it makes for something that’s interesting, it certainly is going to get a lot of brightness and pop.

It’s also just generally very smooth sounding, it doesn’t feel like there’s any frequency contouring, but at the same time, there is a smoothness to it that I think is not really echoed in the other ones, like the echo density is just so dense, we just get this really, really, porcelain sounding, super smooth response.

[song]

A lot of pronunciation on that low end too though, so I guess that’s kind of making it plate-ish.

Alright, let’s bring it in with the snare.

[music with snare]

And let’s go through the 4 real quick, just for comparison’s sake.

[music, alternating plates]

To me, all of those work. I feel like depending on what you’re trying to do, given enough set of settings, you could really get a great sound from any of them for a snare drum. I wouldn’t be mad at having any in my arsenal. I know that doesn’t really help when it comes to selecting which one to buy, but you know, basically you just have to use your own ear to determine it. All of them work.

But let’s switch to vocals, let’s see what they bring out. I’m going to use the same settings, but let’s try it and see how it changes things around.

Alright, so let’s start with our plate number 1.

[mix, vocals with plate 1]

And I think the fun of this kind of comparison actually might be not to listen to it in terms of the technical side of things, which is what we did in terms of the snare drum, it’s actually listening in terms of the more musical side of things, and what kind of emotion is being presented, what kind of sound is being presented.

This first plate plugin that I’m using — plate number one — it has this very — because the frequency distribution is so even, it’s like putting up a crystal clear pane of glass over the vocal. It’s like, it’s super emotive in the sense that everything is perfectly preserved, but extended.

[music, plate 1 on vocals, then off]

Alright. Here’s number two.

[music, plate 2 on vocals]

This one, that difference in frequency contouring kind of stands out a little bit more in a way. It’s like the low end of the vocal kind of rolls a little bit. Which is a really neat effect. It doesn’t have the same presence and brightness, but it has this sort of like, waving, undulating quality, for lack of a better way of putting it.

[mix]

Alright, let’s try the third one.

[song, plate 3 on vocals]

So playing the vocal, I’m hearing a slightly different tonality coming from the third one that I didn’t notice before, and that’s a little bit more emphasis in the 1kHz range, which I think is kind of cool.

In this vocal to me, I feel more angst coming from it. That 1kHz feels stressed. It feels — because the singer, Elijah is putting pressure on his vocal cords, and so he’s presenting tension in the first sets of harmonics, and this is bringing that out. So while the first plate sounded very open…

[song, plate 1 on vocals]

Which is almost like a more romantic quality, this one — plate number three…

[song, plate 3 on vocals]

Feels like it’s got more angst to it. More tension.

[mix]

So this is number 4, and here we clearly hear the discrete echoes, the movement of those echoes, in a more pronounced way. I’m not mad at that — I think it actually works really nicely — it’s not what we would expect from a plate, but let’s listen again.

[mix, plate 4 on vocals]

Like, we hear almost a slap-back-y quality to it. Like, subtly, it’s not super pronounced in there, but in terms of everything else, getting that shine and that sheen right up front, and then extending the low range a little bit further, I actually feel like on the vocal, this is doing it better than the other ones, so it’s putting a little bit more — I don’t even know. It’s so hard to use words for it.

[music]

It’s like a little bit more cinematic I guess. Like, there’s a depth to it that makes it feel more dramatic.

[mix]

So let’s go through them again one more time.

[song, plates one through 4 on vocals]

Of course, they’re also all not exactly level matched, which makes the comparison a little bit tricky to do if we’re trying to look at it in terms of good, better, best, but I really prefer to look at things in terms of the qualitative characteristics, because sometimes, you know, you want the absolute worst sounding reverb on something, because you want it to sound trashy, and have broken up frequency distribution, or whatever it might be.

These all sound very high quality to me. I think every one of these is perfectly acceptable. So my feeling is that whatever one stands out to you the most if you’re looking to purchase a plate plugin, go for the one that speaks to you based on this demonstration, or do some demoing just to kind of lock it in there.

But to give you the run down of what each plate was, our first plate was the brand new Lustrous Plate by Slate. This is a really cool plugin, because it gives you a lot of control over the different characteristics. For example, that dispersion effect, we can actually turn it up or turn it down, depending on what we want, and there’s a whole bunch of little nice effects under the hood, different plate algorithms that change the frequency distribution, all sorts of stuff like that.

The second one is the Abbey Roads Plate by Waves. It’s got four different plates here, we also have some finer controls like some EQs, our dampers, the basic kind of stuff like that, a pre-delay selection, a drive selection, which is going to add a little bit of distortion based on the amplitude, like the amps that are being used in the plate, so we can get some really cool little textures out of that. It’s a really great sounding plugin.

Our third one was Little Plate by SoundToys. I imagine SoundToys being who they are will probably come out with a more advanced version that will give us a finer control over everything that we can modify. This to me was a really good vocal plate, because it got out of the way. It sort of focused things into the mid-range, and sort of cut down some of the lows, cut down some of the highs, and that could be good for adding a little bit of ambience and flavor to it. So another really good one.

And the very last one was actually my outboard Bricasti unit on the London Plate setting, which is one of my favorite vocal settings in general. I used that on Kahn, I used that on Swae Lee, I used that on Anita, it’s a go-to reverb for me that I use all the time.

To me, it actually was not necessarily in my personal opinion the winner this time around. I think I could’ve gotten better results with maybe one of the other software versions, which I usually don’t feel, but it just goes to show that any time you’re working on a mix or doing something like that, you want to be wary of what you’re choosing, not to have expectation bias, but to keep your ears open.

Alright guys, I hope that you found that little comparison useful. Again, it’s not really to say one being better than others, or in what way, it’s really just to get an idea of how I listen, and how you can listen when you are actually listening to these reverbs.

Alright guys, until next time.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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