Every music producer needs at least one high-quality reverb plugin in their engineering arsenal, as without spatialisation, even the most expertly-crafted mix can’t help but come across as dry, sterile and lacking in depth.
Fortunately, there’s no shortage of fantastic plugins out there with which to add ambience, context and scale to your sounds, and they come at all price points, from completely free to crazy money.
For this round-up, we’ve brought together, in our opinion, the eight best plugin reverbs currently available, taking in reliable studio stalwarts, wildly creative sound design tools, and adventurous combinations of the two.
In fundamental terms, there are two types of reverb to consider when shopping for plugins: algorithmic and convolution-based. The first models its virtual spaces mathematically; the second places the source signal in all manner of real-world environments and devices using sampled impulse responses.
• The best VST plugins 2020: the finest synth effects and instruments
• The 25 best VST/AU plugin synths in the world right now
• The best drum machine VST plugins 2020: top beatmaking software
• The best VST compressor plugins 2020: finest-quality mixing tools
• The best VST EQ plugins 2020: the most excellent equalisers
Broadly speaking, convolution is the one to reach for when physical realism and dynamic sensitivity are the goals - putting an orchestra in a concert hall, say, or a singer on a stage - while algorithmic reverbs offer more adaptability and ‘spectacle’, making them more appropriate for dance, electronic, rock and pop production (although those aren’t hard and fast rules, of course).
Only one convolution entrant features in our line-up here, but that’s just a reflection of the reverb plugin marketplace, which is balanced overwhelmingly towards the algorithmic, rather than the quality of convolution reverbs in general. So, as well as Altiverb 7 (our pick of the convolution bunch - as it should be, given the price), be sure to check out the likes of LiquidSonics’ Reverberate, Waves’ IR-1 and AudioThing’s Fog Convolver, too.
Right, with that said and our octet of space race contenders heading for the starting line, let’s get going.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX | $50
Frankly, we could have chosen any from Sean Costello’s amazing roster of reverb plugins for inclusion here, but to our minds, ValhallaPlate stands out as offering far more flexibility than the average plate reverb emulation - not to mention sounding absolutely gorgeous.
You get 12 plate modes, each with its own colouration, character and stereo presence; Predelay, Decay (up to 30s), Size, Width and EQ controls provide ample shaping possibilities; and chorus-style LFO modulation (0.05-5Hz) can be dialled-in to thicken things up.
Based on in-depth analysis of multiple EMT 140 plates, and representing ridiculous value for money, ValhallaPlate is utterly essential.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX | £149
FabFilter’s reverb contender puts ease of use at the top of the agenda, with just six controls (plus dry/wet mix) governing a host of under-the-hood processes, including smoothly interpolated transitioning through “over a dozen” algorithms with the Space knob, which also sets the decay time from 0.2-10s, scalable from 0.1-20s with the Decay Rate control.
A six-band EQ is also onboard, and the innovative Decay Rate EQ works like a regular EQ, but with the response curve defining the decay time across the frequency spectrum - clever and hugely effective stuff.
An intuitive, focused workhorse with a fabulous sound.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX | $199
While the majority of reverbs in our list are primarily aimed at creating realistic rooms, halls, plates, etc, Blackhole - originally an algorithm in Eventide’s legendary H8000 Ultra-Harmonizer - is specifically aimed at sound designers looking to realise wholly unreal spaces in their Mac, PC or iPad DAW.
The interplay between controls (most notably the bipolar Size and Gravity knobs) invites real-time manipulation, and the brilliant Hotswitch and Ribbon Controller jump and morph between two complete parameter states, for wild spatial switches and transitions.
Definitely not the ’verb to turn to for conventional mix treatments, Blackhole is uniquely excellent at huge, evolving soundscapes and weird ambiences.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX | $250
An oldie but a goodie, 2CAudio’s 2009 debut is still one of our go-to algorithmic reverbs, and although the GUI is looking decidedly lo-fi these days (please, 2C, at least make it scalable!), the virtual environments that Aether conjures have to be heard to be believed.
Fair bristling with knobs, the plugin offers an insane degree of control over the early and late reflections, including 33 transformative ER spaces and up to 120s decay time, as well as detailed frequency shaping (input and LR EQ), modulation and tail envelope adjustment.
Complex and deep, Aether is a mixing and sound design powerhouse.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX | $99
Somewhat easier to get to grips with than its intimidatingly busy interface might suggest, RP-Verb 2’s many processing stages take in distortion, chorus and EQ alongside the central ER/LR/Reverb sections, and can be brought to life with the Envelope, Envelope Follower and LFO modulation sources; while the Reverser mixes forward and reverse reverbs to great effect.
Another sound design-orientated plugin that specialises in “hyper-real, scintillating” spaces suitable for modern pop and dance production, Rob Papen’s second-gen marvel requires more care and attention than most, but delivers results that you simply couldn’t get any other way.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX/RTAS | €499
The world’s first real-time convolution reverb plugin has lost none of its appeal since the launch of v1 in 2002.
At the heart of Altiverb 7 is a huge library of impulse responses precisely capturing the ambient qualities of a broad array of famous studio rooms, stadiums, halls, cathedrals, industrial locations and more, as well as vintage reverb hardware, plates, etc.
Expensive but worth every penny to the serious producer/engineer, this is the finest solution money can buy when it comes to placing acoustic instruments and vocals in thoroughly convincing real-world spaces.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX/RTAS | $249/€259
Summarised by the developer as a “harmonic tracking resynthesis reverb” that does its thing “without obscuring the source”, Adaptiverb deploys a machine learning algorithm (the Bionic Sustain Synthesiser, no less) to synthesise a reverb tail based on the characteristics of the incoming source material.
The upshot is an impressive symbiosis of the dry and wet signals, the exact tonal and frequency-based relationship between them adjusted using the Harmonic Contour Filter, which can even conform the tail to specific note pitches.
This might all come across as very ‘sound design’, but Adaptiverb is equally at home invoking smooth conventional spaces, making it every bit as versatile as it is futuristic.
Mac/PC | VST/AU/AAX | $299
Now owned by Boston-based software powerhouse iZotope, R4 is the flagship model in ex-Lexicon engineer Michael Carnes’ Exponential Audio-branded range of high-end software reverbs.
Don’t let that drab, some-might-say-ugly interface put you off - this is unarguably one of the best reverbs on the market, housing an incredible variety of tweakable parameters with which to adapt its spectacular, luxurious reflections and tail to your tracks.
There are four core algorithms (Plate, Chamber, and two stunning Halls), filters aplenty, modulation galore, independent ER/tail widening, tail ducking, dedicated Gate and Chorus modules, compression/expansion, distortion and more, and it all comes together brilliantly in a pricey triumph of a plugin.