The Audio Ease Altiverb XL plug-in is a convolution reverb, meaning it uses impulse responses of ‘real’ spaces to capture the true essence of a room or concert hall. To put it into simple terms, it is to reverb what sampling was to keyboards back in the early 1980s.
Altiverb comes in two versions, a stereo plug-in limited to 96kHz samples rates, or this the XL version which is 5.1 surround capable at sample frequencies up to 384kHz. While this review is based on the Alitverb XL, it applies to the standard stereo version too and that is how we have tested it. The standard Alitverb is €499.00 and the Altiverb XL plug-in is €849.00 making them the most expensive plug-ins I know of, and may just make you stop reading right now, but I urge you to continue as you will see the plug-in is worth ever cent!
Impulse responses, what are they?
Like I said earlier, in simple terms it is very much like sampling, but instead of sampling a sound, it is sampling the response of the room when a test tone is played in it. Thus recording the way a room or space responds to sound, and for our interests the decay of the sound reverberating within the space. There is a whole lot more to it than that but that should be enough to understand what this plug-in is capable of doing.
Audio Ease Altiverb XL is a whopping 7GB in size which also makes it one of the biggest plugins I have ever used too. The reason it is that big is because of the enormous number of impulse responses that it ships with. There are countless samples from cathedrals, concert halls and stadiums the world over, each adding an extraordinary sound to your recordings. There are also what would seem like some pretty useless stuff like bathrooms, bedrooms and office spaces. I guess for us dealing with music mixing that would not be of much use, but for film production I can see these being very useful indeed.
To be honest, going into this review I had little interest in these impulse responses, because Alitverb also offers up a great number of impulse responses of hardware reverbs, many rare and expensive. The Sony DRE-2000 for which there are a huge number of impulse responses on offer, they have left no stone unturned. As well as the Sony there is also impulse responses for the AMS RMX16, Klark Teknik DN-780, multiple EMT 140 plates, Yamaha Rev7, Yamaha SPX990, Ursa Major Space Station SST-282, Eventide SP2016, Roland RE-201 Space Echo and much…much more.
If you accept the fact that convolution reverb using impulse responses does in fact capture these reverbs in their full, then that makes this plug-in something of a bargain. If you were to add up the cost of buying the hardware reverbs listed above, and remember there is way more than what I have listed here, then you start to see the true value in the Alitverb plug-in. A used Klark Teknik DN-780 is around US$900-1000 on it’s own, add in an Ursa Major Space Station and you could triple that figure. At around US$1000 the Audio Ease Altiverb XL starts to look like very good value indeed.
This being Vintage Digital my interest as I said earlier was in these hardware reverb samples. After all, that is why we are all here right? But something happened on the way to listening to these hardware samples. I became curious as to how useful the cathedrals, stadiums and concert halls might be so I had a quick listen. Before I knew it half a day had flown by as I was so mesmerized by the spaces on offer and just how extraordinary they sounded.
Real World Spaces
For the next hour or so I prepared a string section recording to use for testing these amazing spaces as a drum kit simply wasn’t going to cut it. (Or so I thought) The strings I used were from a song on my album from a few years ago, with everything stripped out but the strings. They are not real strings, but sampled strings and they were recorded very dry. When I put those dry strings into one of the many real spaces it was just, wow! There is something surreal about being able to have your string section played back in the Kings Chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza, where I think the strings sound amazing.
Curiosity got the better of me however, and I simply had to hear how the drums would sound in the Great Pyramid and when I first put it on, there was of course way too much reverberation, but Altiverb allows you to turn down the decay time, and when I did that I had a great sounding reverb for drums. I am quite sure those who built the Great Pyramid never envisioned it being used for such things, but wow what a sound! You can literally hear the stone walls of the Pyramid, the drums sound so alive and vibrant.
I have loved the sound of a good plate reverb on drums for some time now, but I have to say I am starting to rethink that with the Altiverb plug-in. I could very well start using The Great Pyramid of Giza as my go to reverb from this day forward!
I then tried one of the other real spaces, Saint Quen Cathedral, but even after reducing the reverb time, it still sounded too bloated. I then reduced the level of kick going to Altiverb and it all came together nicely. The result is a much warmer sounding reverb than the Great Pyramid, but still very usable in it’s own right.
Next I tried my local venue, the Sydney Opera House which defaults to 18m stalls with a 4.9 second decay. Once again I backed off the reverb decay a bit and it sounded good, but then I switched to 12m choir stalls and something happened to the stereo spread of the reverb, something very nice.
Moving right along, I tried the 20th Century Fox Scoring Stage, a very different space to the Sydney Opera House that worked well on the drum kit, and equally well on the full band but could have benefited from a little less bottom end and the Altiverb plug-in allows you to do just that. So with a 15dB cut in the bass, I listened again, much better.
This is one of the great things about Altiverb, apart from being very easy to use, it still has enough flexibility to tweak the presets to your liking. The tone controls are perfect for tuning a reverb space to your needs, and of course the decay time, damping, pre-delay etc all add to the tool kit for tweaking a response.
After being lost in real world spaces for days, it was time to get back to why I started testing Altiverb, the impulse responses of hardware reverbs. In essence what we have here, is impulse responses of hardware reverbs, trying to emulate real world spaces. It would seem we are going around in circles somewhat, and with the real world spaces that Altiverb offers, you do start asking yourself, why bother with the gear samples at all?
The simple reason is that the hardware reverbs had a character to them, particularly the old plate reverbs like the EMT 140 and the Ecoplate. In total Altiverb offers five different EMT 140 reverb impulse response sets, yes, from five different EMT 140 plates as they all sound a little different.
The AMS RMX 16 is represented here as well, along with other reverbs of interest such as the Klark Teknik DN-780 which I like a lot, and of course Chris Lord Alge’s favourite, the Sony DRE-2000 which offers up the best samples of this reverb yet. Yes you get a bit of a taste of this reverb with the Slate VerbSuite Classics, but it pales next to what is on offer here. As well as a couple of Yamaha classics, curiously there is an incorrectly labelled Sony SDR 1000, which is actually the Ibanez SDR 1000. Yes it is based on the Sony MU-R201 but the 1000 (not the 1000+) uses different algorithms to the Sony MU-R201.
There are some very rare hardware reverbs here, such as the Infernal Machine 90 and the Ursa Major Space Station SST-282, character reverbs if ever there was one! Lexicon is well represented of course, with the Lexicon 480L and Lexicon 224 both present. Everyone will have their own reasons for wanting these hardware reverbs, if like me you already have the Lexicon reverbs Plug-in then they may be of less interest to you and so for me the Sony DRE-2000, Ecoplate and Klark Teknik DN-780 are of most interest. There is something here of interest for everyone though I think.
More tricks up it’s sleeve
Audio Ease Altiverb has a few very useful tricks up it’s sleeve, one in particular took my fancy. There is a gated reverb section that allows you to add a gate to any reverb you have selected. It has two options for the gate time, Realtime which allows you to manually select when the gate will come in, and Beats, which automatically applies the gate based on the BPM of the song.
It applies the gate a quarter note after the drum beat which is perfect. But, if that is not suited to your needs, you can select the note value that does, very nice touch. To test this I selected the Klark Teknik DN-780 Hall preset which has a 7 second decay, I then selected gated reverb option Beats and had an excellent gated reverb on the snare.
You can also import impulse responses form other sources, either purchased or self created. The process is as simple as drag and drop and works very well. I tried this with an impulse response of the Sony MU-R201 Preset 31 patch supplied to me by a Vintage Digital member some time back. There was nothing to fix or tweak after the drop in, it just worked and sounded just like the real deal.
In addition to the bass and treble controls, there is also a graphic equaliser built into Altiverb. This equaliser features a low and high shelf, plus two mid band controls.
This review did not go the way I had planned. I started out wanting to review the Audio Ease Altiverb because of it’s impulse response collection of vintage hardware reverbs. Thankfully, Altiverb has plenty to like in that respect, with a plethora of vintage reverbs available to you including ultra rare classics like the Sony DRE-2000 and Ursa Major Space Station, both of which sell for around US$5,000 each. Given the rarity and the almost impossible maintenance on the Sony DRE-2000 for example, Altiverb is an easy choice, for that one reverb alone.
When you add in all of the other rare reverbs you start to realise just what is on offer here. A rack full of some of the best hardware reverbs ever, that require no maintenance, and they sound excellent. You can stop reading right now if that is all you are after, just buy it and be in vintage reverb heaven.
But, I think you will find as I did, that the real attraction here is the enormous collection of real world spaces that will simply blow your mind. For years we have used hardware reverbs that try to simulate these real world spaces through computer algorithms, and to their creators credit, some do a fabulous job. But nothing, to me at least, comes close to the real world spaces on offer here in Altiverb.
I can not fathom the work that has gone into capturing all of these spaces from around the globe, or the hoops they have had to jump through to get permission to do so in historic places like Notre Dame or The Great Pyramid of Egypt. But I for one, am so thankful of the work Audio Ease have done here, and what they continue to do with this plug-in. It almost feels like a disservice to call it a plug-in actually as it is such a major leap forward in reverb that I for one, will start saving because I simply have to own this amazing reverb, and you should too!