Reverb is one of the most important tools for audio engineers. It’s an audio effectused on every mix you’ll ever hear.
There’s so many reverb plugins out there. Deciding which one to use is a big challenge. And sifting through hundreds of plugins can sap your creativity pretty quick.
But if you know your way around the different types of reverb plugins, you’ll have head start on choosing the right tools to create the perfect ambience to enhance your mix.
Here’s a primer on the different styles of reverb and the 15 best reverb plugins for each reverb type.
In the early days of audio, engineers discovered they could use transducers to create vibrations in a piece of metal.
These vibrations could be captured with an electromagnetic pickup like the kind used in electric guitars.
This led to the development of two main types of electromechanical reverb—spring reverb and plate reverb:
What is spring reverb?
Spring reverb takes advantage of the unique behaviour of a coiled spring. The transducer is fitted at one end of spring and the pickup is at the other.
Spring reverb has a darker, edgier character that can vary widely from spring to spring. It’s often found in classic guitar amplifiers.
Using spring reverbs will give you a sploshy, metallic reverb with lots of character.
Best spring reverb VST plugins
Free: Hotto Spring Reverb
Hotto Spring Reverb is a free, no-nonsense spring reverb that’s effective and easy to use.
Cheap: Aegean Music Spirit Reverb
Aegean Music Spirit Reverb is an affordable and authentic way to get spring reverb onto your tracks. It also includes other tone shaping effects like delay and tube preamp emulation.
Pro: PSP Springbox
PSP Spring Box has a ton of control to dial in your perfect spring reverb sound. It can go from realistic vintage spring reverb to seriously weird textures.
Where to use it?
Spring reverb is at home on electric guitars, but you can use it anywhere where you need a grittier flavour of reverb.
What is plate reverb?
Plate reverb is the main style of reverb from the golden age of analog recording. It’s created by exciting metal with a transducer just like spring reverb.
However, giant metal plates are required to create high quality plate reverb, so today these devices are expensive and rare.
They’re well loved for a reason though. Plate reverbs create a very recognizable sound that blends well into a mix and doesn’t overpower the dry signal.
Best plate reverb VST plugins
Free: TAL Reverb 2
TAL Reverb 2 deserves to top the list of best free reverb plugins. It’s a fantastic sounding reverb that’s modelled on a plate but can go from natural and realistic to lush ambient textures.
Cheap: VallhallaDSP ValhallaPlate
ValhallaDSP makes some of the best value-for-money reverb plugins. Sean Costello’s plugins are widely respected in the pro audio community despite their low price tag.
ValhallaPlate is a fantastic, inexpensive way to get into plate reverb.
Pro: UAD EMT 140 Plate
Universal Audio is the top name in vintage emulation and their plugins run on a dedicated hardware platform.
Their loving reproduction of the classic EMT 140 tube plate reverb is a smash hit. It’s incredibly authentic and sounds eerily close to a real plate.
Plate reverb uses
Vocals, snares, or anywhere else you need an even sounding reverb with smooth early reflections and distinctive character.
Algorithmic reverb uses digital trickery to create reverb. It usually works by using many cascaded digital delay lines to create the illusion of acoustic reflections. The earliest electronic reverb devices were algorithmic, so many of the classic sounds we associate with studio reverb were created this way.
Algorithmic reverbs aren’t always realistic since processing power was so limited in the early days. But they can still create a desirable and characteristic reverb sound that works in tons of mixing situations.
Best algorithmic reverb VST plugins
Free: Smartelectronix Ambience
Smarteletronix Ambience was one of the first quality free reverb plugins on the scene. And it’s still a great option for dreamy, ambient, algorithmic reverb.
Cheap: VallhallaDSP VintageVerb
Valhalla VintageVerb is a versatile algorithmic reverb with vintage style modes to simulate the frequency and sample rate limitations of 70’s and 80’s hardware reverbs.
Pro: UAD Lexicon 224
The UAD Lexicon 224 is a painstakingly accurate replication of the classic vintage hardware.
The original Lexicon 224 was one of the first readily available digital reverb units introduced to studios in the late 1970’s. It’s responsible for so many classic reverb sounds from that era.
Algorithmic reverb uses
Algorithmic works best for Synth pads, effects, or anywhere else you need a stylish, enveloping reverb.
Convolution reverbs create ambience through a mathematical process called (wait for it) convolution.
These reverb plugins use Impulse Responses to create their effect. Impulse responses are made by measuring the reverberation of a real space with a microphone and a specialized tone called an impulse.
The impulse response is a sonic profile that the plugin uses to apply its specific reverberation characteristics to your sound.
To put it simply, convolution reverb lets you use the ambience of any real world space inside your DAW.
Hot tip: Convolution can also be used to model things like speaker cabinets for electric guitar.
If you have an all purpose convolution plugin, you can use IRs of speaker cabs to get a convincing sound when you record amps direct.
Best convolution reverb VST plugins
These free simple convolution tools are capable of loading great sounding impulse responses. That’s the beauty of convolution! They may not be the most full featured plugins out there, but they can totally get the job done.
Liquid Sonics Reverberate Core is an effective, inexpensive convolution reverb solution. It has the ability to load and tweak parameters of any impulse response.
Pro: Audio Ease Altiverb
Audio Ease Altiverb is the gold standard for studio convolution reverb. Its powerful convolution engine and IR collection are capable of creating extremely realistic and compelling acoustic spaces.
Convolution reverb uses
Close mic’d instruments or wherever you need natural, realistic sounding spaces.
Convolution reverb is a great choice for acoustic instruments like strings and piano.
There’s a few classic reverb sounds you might know that I haven’t covered yet.
I’m talking about special effects like gated and reverse reverb. These sounds are all examples of “non-linear” reverb.
Electromechanical, algorithmic and convolution reverbs all attempt to model real spaces—with varying degrees of success. Even though some examples are quirky and not at all realistic, they still have a “linear” decay.
That means the reverb rings out with the normal, uniform decrease in energy that would happen a real acoustic space.
Non-Linear reverbs throw that idea out the window. They’re the classic reverb “effects” from the 80s like gated and reverse reverb.
Best Non-linear Reverb VST Plugins
Free: Longsound MicroVerb VST
Longsound MicroVerb VST is an emulation of the Alesis Microverb hardware unit. This entry-level hardware reverb is known for its three non-linear presets, which sound pretty weird in all the right ways.
Cheap: ValhallaDSP VintageVerb
We’ll have to give this one to Valhalla VintageVerb again for its fantastic nonlinear algorithms.
Pro: UAD AMS RMX16
The hardware AMS RMX16 is another early digital reverb that has been painstakingly modelled by Universal Audio. It’s nonlinear presets are responsible for many of the gated reverb sounds on recordings from the 1980’s.
You need a sense of space in your recordings for them to sound natural and inviting.
That’s why reverb is an essential element of every mix. And to use it properly, you have to know your tools.
Whether you’re adding a realistic ambience to an acoustic guitar, creating a cavernous space for a synth pad or just trying to nail that classic 80’s gated snare, knowing which reverb to reach for is key.
Plate, spring, convolution, algorithmic and non-linear reverbs all have helpful applications in your music.
Try any of the plugins from this list see how the how the different types work for you.