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Plate Reverb vs Spring Reverb on Vocals [Excerpt]

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Plate Reverb vs Spring Reverb on Vocals [Excerpt]
Plate Reverb vs Spring Reverb on Vocals [Excerpt] - youtube Video
So now, we’re going to talk about plate reverbs. Plate reverbs are pretty darn different than springs, so I’m going to give it a play real quick so that you can hear it, and then I’m going to start explaining the differences, both what we’re hearing, and why physically that happens.

[plate reverb]

Alright, so that’s our plate. Let’s compare that to the spring real quick.

[spring reverb]

Alright, some pretty darn big differences. The first is that the plate is stereo. The spring is mono. If you want a true stereo return from a spring, you have to have two separate sets of springs that are driven by the same driver. To have a stereo plate, you can actually get a real stereo capture with one plate, and the reason is because a spring reverb is effectively one set of one-dimensional transverse waves. It just goes on back and forth lengthwise.

When you have a plate, you actually have a 360-degree pattern happening over a flat surface. You have two dimensions, and so every spot on that plate is going to give you something slightly different, and so by placing two pickups on the plate, you can get a real stereo spread. This has a lot of other ramifications as well, and we’re going to hear those things.

The first is that the combination of echoes is much more diffused. Right? When we listen to our spring, we hear that ridge-y quality.

[spring reverb]

When we hear the plate…

[plate reverb]

We hear a much more even and smooth tail. Now, that’s because all of these different echoes are collecting and coming back in a very fluid pattern, where every echo is coming in very evenly, and so we get this very, very smooth tail. In fact, plates are actually smoother than most real rooms. It’s very difficult to design a room where all of the collected echoes decay so naturally.

Now, the other thing is that we get a much more even frequency response. When we listen to the spring, we hear that certain words, we get very distinct peak resonances. One’s in the lower mids, and one’s in the upper-mids.

[spring reverb]

Right? We hear that very cold sounding upper mid-range tone, and then also on certain words, we hear a low mid frequency, somewhere around 400-500 Hz about, where it just seems to really spike forward.

[spring reverb]

Right? You hear it right on “No.”


Or, “No more.”

Here in the plate…

[plate reverb]

Very even. Now, the plate happens to be pretty bright sounding. Well, that’s because it’s a vibrating sheet of metal. There’s a lot of upper harmonics, there’s just a brighter tone, and so one of the aspects of plates is that you can get a pretty shiny tone out of them.

Now, again, like springs, every plate is going to be different, depending on the material being used, the thickness of the plate, the pickups being used, where the pickups are placed… Basically, and actually even just how well rolled the plate itself is. If the plate is very, very smooth and very even across its surface, meaning there’s not a lot of little bumps or ridges, there’s no bending in the plate, then we’re going to get very even, smooth frequency response. This is an EMT140, they’re known for having very smooth, even frequency responses.

[plate reverb]

Now, mechanical, analog reverbs do share a couple of things in common. First of all, when we listen to this, we’re getting one set of echoes coming out and coming back. We don’t really get any kind of discreet collections of echoes, so while in a real room, you’re going to get sets of early reflections, and then you’re going to get a different set of the later reflections, here it’s not really appropriate to describe what we’re hearing as different sets of reflections. What we’re primarily hearing is one set of reflections with a unique decay tail, particularly with the spring.

In the plate, we do hear what we might want to describe as an early versus late reflection.

[plate reverb]

Right? You can hear that there’s a collection of echo buildup at the front that’s a little bit tighter and has a little bit more high end than maybe like, the very tail of a word.

Right? We lose a little bit of high end in the tail. So there is some difference between the first set of reflections that go out and come back, versus all of the different transverse echoes that might bounce around the plate itself, but overall, they’re pretty connected.

The spring itself being one-dimensional is literally just one set of reflections. There is no separation between anything that can be qualified as early, versus anything that can be qualified as late. It’s just not how a spring works.


[spring reverb]

So that’s one of the things that we have to think about that basically, the reverb is going to be one set of reflections, and however it sounds, that’s kind of how it sounds. Other things that we need to consider is that without some kind of mechanical system in place, we cannot change any of our timings, so you know, with an EMT140, you can shorten it with a rubber stopper. With this spring that I’m using, which is a hardware spring, it is as long as it is. It just decays for as long as it’s going to go and that’s it.

Some springs, you can adjust the timing by moving stoppers closer or further apart, same idea, or you can even manually adjust the tension to get different tonalities and things like that. So it really depends on the exact individual unit, but in general, they just function as they function mechanically, and there really isn’t much to them.

So now, let’s play it with the lead vocal again, and let’s do a little bit more comparison.

[vocals and spring reverb]

So with the spring, we hear a lot of texture. It’s very clearly presently there. It has a certain quality to it that can be evocative of something being a little bit more lo-fi, or a little bit more trashy. It has a very specific modal response where certain words are being emphasized, because there’s more frequency buildup there, and when we listen in the overall record…

[mix with spring reverb]

It’s pretty obvious what’s happening. Now, I’m going to bring in the EMT.

[mix with plate reverb]

Because the frequency response is so even and because the echo decay is so much more diffused, it ends up sounding a lot more transparent when it’s actually inside the mix, and so even at louder volumes, because actually, the EMT is turned up quite a bit compared to the spring, it’s really not as noticeable, and if we want something that just adds a subtle gloss, this plate is going to be a really good choice.

If I turn this down about 11dB, here’s the vocal without it.

[vocals, no reverb]

Here’s with it.

[mix, with reverb on vocals]

It just makes the vocal sound a little shinier, a little glossier, and it gives it more dimension. It doesn’t put it in a specific room, it doesn’t sink it back in space necessarily, it just puts a certain gloss around it, and that can be really useful, because a lot of the time, when we’re mixing our vocals, we want our vocals to be very forward in the mix, but we want them to have that sort of gloss and polish that a reverb provides.

Plates end up being a really good choice for that, particularly EMT style plates, which are known for being a little more on the shinier side, and having this very even frequency response and modal response.

Now, the spring reverb, even at a lower volume…

[mix, with spring reverb on vocals]

It’s immediately applying a very distinct texture to the vocal. Sometimes we want that, sometimes we don’t. It’s not like one thing is better and one thing is worse. Now, the other thing to consider is that when it comes to quality of plate, sometimes we want a cheap plate, sometimes we want a nice plate. When it comes to quality of springs, sometimes we want a cheap spring, sometimes we want a nice spring.

The nicer springs and nicer plates are defined, and generally more expensive, because the tension is more even on every side. Everything has been calibrated in a much more accurate way to create a much more even and pleasing response. That takes more work, it takes more engineering, but we don’t always want that. Sometimes we want something that maybe is a little bit trashy.

With a plate, a plate has to be manually tuned on every side to create even tension across the entirety of the plate, and if you don’t, you end up getting those modal responses that change the frequency balance. Sometimes we want that affect. Sometimes, we want something — particularly, there’s this cheap plate effect that creates this sort of hashy sounding top end? Sometimes we want that very distinctly. That’s in a lot of David Bowie records. There’s a lot of times where that can be desireable.

So it really depends on what you want.

What I’m going to do now is I’m going to bring in the banjo spring, and also a plate return on the acoustic, and now I’m going to bring in the plate return on the lead vocal as well, and we get this.


I’m going to mute them all up, and here we go again.

[mix, no reverb]

We don’t even necessarily notice the reverb when it’s on, because it’s fairly subtle, but once we take it off, this whole thing just sounds sort of bland, and lifeless, and dead. I’m going to put it right back on, and here we go. I’m also going to turn this cello down, because gosh, that is loud.


I mean, even with the reverbs way exaggerated like that, frankly, I’d rather hear it that way, because it becomes much more interesting. We get a lot more texture, we get a lot more tone, and it starts to sound, for lack of a better way of putting it, a lot more musical.


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:

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