Our Top 6 Real Reverbs You Have to Try

Posted by Rob B

Reverberation is a term used in conjuction with recorded music. Ever since the first recordings, engineers have been interested in controlling the ambience of a sound, manipulating it to best showcase its original sound source, embellishing it with lush ambiences and textures.

Our Top 6 Real Reverbs You Have to Try


While nowadays there are endless possibilities in terms of digital and analog units, there is something special about real reverbs – those big and bulky items that require their own special room, a unique environment where sound can be convoluted and engulfed in the lushness of such reverbs.

There is something quite artisanal about using real reverbs, something innately human, perhaps passed on from our ancestors’ throughout history. We, as human beings have always been fascinated by manipulating sound through echoes and reverberation – it has been present ever since the early gatherings in caves to our cathedrals and to our modern concert halls. Perhaps there is more than just ‘that magic box’ that we enjoy about the effect it has on sound and the way we perceive it.

In this article, I will be presenting Studio Assistant's top 5 real reverbs – those units that use mechanical components to affect the sound, units that require care and dedication, meant for the true engineers with passion for their craft.

Lightning Boy Audio LBA 1401 Plate Reverb 

Based on the classic EMT design, the Lightning Boy Audio LBA 1401 is a brilliant Plate Reverb with some extra features non-existent in the original EMT models.

The sound of this unit is lush, texturally-rich and warm – characteristics hard to achieve in digital emulations. These are obtained through the use of a 5x8 feet resonating plate weighing in at an astounding 180 KGs [for the entire unit]. Additionally, the unit features a Class A tube amplifier for the driver [input stage] housing NOS EL84, 12AX7 and 6X4 vacuum tubes while at the output stage it features yet another tube amp built with NOS 6922 and 6X4 tubes coupled with the finest audio transformers which round out the output amplifier.

Unlike other classically designed plate reverberation units, the 1401 boasts a selection of controls including decay time adjustments ranging from 2 to 5 seconds, a dedicated input and output level control and a passive EQ for bass and treble adjustments of the wet signal. Given these features, the unit lends itself to a variety of tasks, being able to achieve anything from a soft and subtle effect, ideal for adding a sense of depth to any instrument as it helps it sit better in the mix, to a vividly colourful vocal plate by driving the input level and by adjusting the eq settings to suit the mix.

Overall, this unit can offer a huge range of sonic possibilities. We recommend trying it on vocals and drum sounds – although it sounds great on pretty much anything that needs a sense of depth and space in the mix.

Pluto Plate Reverb 

Pluto Plate Reverb is a modern unit based on classic design with a twist. Considered by some to be somewhat of a hybrid, Pluto features an 8 by 4 ft resonating plate weighing in at 120 KGs, less than Lightning Boy Audio’s LBA 1401 unit, the standard input and output connections and also a USB connection. Yes, it is a fully-working PC and Mac-compatible USB connection – how so, you might be asking (and you probably should, if you’ve read my article this far).

It turns out Pluto’s decay time can be controlled by its proprietary app, from the comfort of your own control room, despite it being a mechanical reverb and the app also allows users to save presets.

Another note-worthy design consideration is the fact that the plate is passive, allowing the engineer to use their own driver amp and pre amp for the return. The output stage is a class A transformer design spitting out a microphone level signal – I wonder what it would sound like going through a 1073 at the end, or maybe going into the unit, heck, why not both!

Due to the Pluto’s larger plate, compared to other models, it has a very warm sound while also keeping the same natural richness usually associated with these designs. We recommend trying it out, whether with a vocal, a string ensemble or even a synth.

EMT 140 

Requiring no introduction, the EMT 140 Plate is the de facto standard for plate reverbs worldwide. Ever since its release in 1957 by Elektromesstechnik – the name behind the acronym EMT – the 140 Plate marked a change in recording history.

Weighing in at an earth shattering 270 KGs, this heavy champion provided a smaller solution to the reverberation chambers available at that time. The original version was intended for mono use; however, in 1961 the company launched the 140 ST capable of dealing with stereo sources.

Considered by many to be the very fabric of modern music, this pinnacle of German engineering boasts a distinctively lush sound with silky smooth edges, perfectly rounding off the highs and lows of its frequency response.

Even if you’ve never seen one of these beasts in real life, I’m sure everyone has tried some form of EMT 140 plate emulation – the problem in this scenario, as with most other analog equipment, is the fact that every unit sounds different, especially if a long time has passed since its construction. Components age just as materials do hence why each EMT 140 will have its own unique character – something which makes them even more revered.

 

AKG BX10-II 

We are all familiar with the sound of spring reverbs - from the early 60’s surf music fast picking guitar lines to a modern rendition of such tracks in the form of indie rock and even world-class, pop-oriented bands such as Kings of Leon, springs have an indistinguishable, invigorating and addictive sound.

Unlike the plate design, spring reverbs work on the principle of torsional transmission line (TTL) by which sound is passed through a physical spring whose design characteristics directly impact the frequency and time domain of the original signal. From a technical standpoint, this design offers a high degree of statistical diffusion in both domains, a more linear frequency response and a high density of resonant frequency imparting a thick and rich sounding tone.

Another consideration worth mentioning is that the AKG BX10 was the only reverb at the time who could produce a pure 100% wet signal meaning none of the original signal passed through the unit was passed onto the output unless specifically manipulated from the units’ controls.

While its bigger counterpart, the BX20, had some advantages over the BX10, its most important feature was its size. The unit was twice as small as its bigger brother and was a popular choice for both recording studios and touring musicians.

Sound-wise, the AKG BX10 is great for adding that 60’s vibe to electric guitars, is superb on vocals that require this type of sound and can indeed add a very unique character to most sources passed through the unit.

Bandive Great British Spring Reverb 

There is something quite special about trying various bits of kit, especially when it comes to the low end side of the budget spectrum. Such was the context for the Great British Spring Reverb built by Bandive, a company who supplied musicians and engineers with affordable tools.

Used by the likes of Mark Wallis on U2’s The Joshua Tree in the ‘80s and more recently Tom Elhirst on Amy Winehouse’s Back to Black as well as Adele’s vocals on 19, this unit is an exceptionally simple yet extremely effective design based on a tensioned spring suspended in a tube similar to those used in household drainage systems.

These days, the Great British Springs are fairly hard to find and rather sought after, given their popularity brought by such big industry names. The units sound different from one another but they all work great on vocals, guitars and strings as they infuse their era-specific character onto the original sound source.

AKG BX20 

Perhaps one of the most popular spring reverbs ever produced, the original BX20 was developed by the Austrian engineers at AKG in the late 60’s, concluding the sound of an era. Rich in musical, social and political context – the BX20 replicates this through the sonic richness of its reverberation, which echoes a dark, mysterious, yet fascinating musical past.

Prior to its introduction, the two main reverberation technologies available were the echo chamber and the resonating plate. The qualities of a reverb, as defined by the Austrian engineers, are the high density of resonant frequencies, a high degree of statistical diffusion, a relevant onset delay between 20 and 50 milliseconds, the difference between the decay of high and low frequencies and of course, being able to produce various decay times to suit a variety of applications. In essence, the AKG BX20 combines the benefits of both worlds, having a short onset similar to classic plates, the natural-sounding density and decay found in a chamber, and the audible springiness associated with this type of design.

Favoured by producers such as Jacquire King [Kings of Leon, James Bay and Norah Jones] and recently re-incarnated in digital form by Universal Audio, the BX20 has a dark and moody sound, naturally lending itself to electric guitars, vocals and drums. Whether you’re a ‘sound purist’, a gear aficionado, or simply want to hear the difference between the real unit and its digital counterpart, we recommend trying it – it will certainly not disappoint.

1461