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What Is Plate Reverb? A Lead Vocals Perfect Companion

February 29, 2024 
BY DAN SPENCER
what is plate reverb.
Last Updated on February 29, 2024

Have you ever listened to a song and felt like the singer's voice was wrapping around you, making you feel like you're in a big, echo-y room? That magical effect is thanks to something called reverb. Reverb is like an echo's cousin, but it's smoother and blends into the music better. Today, we're going to talk about a special kind of reverb called plate reverb, which is a singer's best friend when recording music. Let's dig in.

What Is Plate Reverb?

Steel Plate Acoustic Footprint

So, what exactly is plate reverb? Back in the old days, before we had all the fancy computer effects, people came up with a cool way to add echo to their music. They used a giant metal plate, yes, like the kind you eat dinner off, but much bigger and made of metal. They would send sound to this plate, and it would vibrate and create an echo. That echo is what we call plate reverb.

At its heart, the plate reverb mechanics are best understood as an electro-mechanical device. It's different from the natural echo you get in a big, empty room. Instead of relying on air to carry sound, it uses a big steel plate to do the job.

Now, there's this key piece called the transducer. Think of it as the spark plug of the system. It takes sound and turns it into energy that makes the steel plate vibrate. These vibrations zip across the surface of the plate, reaching from one end to the other. Unlike in a room, where sound bounces off walls and creates echoes, the vibrations on the plate keep moving smoothly, without any sudden bounces. This creates a unique type of echo that starts quickly and fades out evenly, giving the sound a rich and full texture.

Type Of Reverb Compared

When we talk about making music, there are many ways to add that special echo or reverb effect to a track. Among the stars of the show is plate reverb, which, as we've explored, uses a steel plate to create a unique sound. But it's not the only type of reverb out there. Let's compare a few to see how plate reverb stands out.

Spring Reverb

Another classic sound is spring reverb, which uses a metal spring instead of a plate. It's great for a twangy vibe, think of the bouncy sound in a lot of classic rock. However, when you use plate reverb, you get a smoother, more even reverb sound, perfect for vocals that need to shine without the extra twang.

Digital Reverbs

Digital reverbs and plugins have revolutionized how we access reverb effects, including emulation of the EMT 140, a legendary plate reverb unit. These digital tools can mimic the natural reverb of a room or the specific qualities of plate and spring reverbs. With plugins like Soundtoys Little Plate, achieving that lush, ambient reverb effect is just a few clicks away.

Natural Reverb

Referring to audio plugins and hardware that replicate room and hall reverbs, natural reverb captures the essence of physical spaces. Unlike the mechanical vibration of a plate or spring, these plugins simulate the reflection and decay of sound as it naturally occurs in different environments. They provide a wide palette for producers seeking to imbue their tracks with the ambience of specific locations.

Plate Reverb In Music Production

Digital Plate Reverb Plugins

Plate reverb isn't just a tool in the music producer's toolkit; it's a paintbrush that adds color and depth to the canvas of music. While it can enhance almost any instrument, there are a few where it truly shines: vocals, snare drums, and acoustic guitars. Let's dive into why plate reverb is the go-to choice for these instruments.

Vocals

When it comes to vocals, plate reverb is like a spotlight, focusing attention on the singer's voice and making it stand out in the best way possible. It wraps the vocals in a warm, lush ambiance adding a layer of emotional depth and resonance. Whether it's a powerful ballad or an intimate acoustic performance, plate reverb ensures vocals sit right in the mix.

Snare Drum

The vibration and decay provided by plate reverb adds body and character to the snare, making each hit feel more pronounced and lively. This is especially useful in genres where the snare plays a leading role, like rock or pop, as it can help the drum cut through the mix without overpowering the other instruments. When set correctly, plate reverb can achieve a snare sound that's both punchy and resonant.

Acoustic Guitar

Acoustic guitar, with its rich harmonics and delicate overtones, can benefit greatly from the subtle embrace of plate reverb. It can turn the strumming or fingerpicking of a guitar into a fuller, more atmospheric sound. This is particularly useful for creating ambient backgrounds in ballads or adding depth to the rhythmic foundation of a song.

How To Use Plate Reverb On Lead Vocals

Using plate reverb on a well recorded lead vocal track can take it to whole new level. However, achieving this magic requires more than just turning on the reverb. It's about fine-tuning settings to complement the song and the singer's voice. Here's how to use plate reverb on lead vocals effectively.

Understanding Pre-Delay

One of the key settings when applying plate reverb to vocals is pre-delay. Pre-delay is the time between the original vocal sound and when you start to hear the reverb effect. Adjusting pre-delay is crucial because it allows the clarity of the vocals to shine through before the reverb effect envelops the sound.

For a cohesive sound, sync the pre-delay with the song's tempo. This alignment ensures that the reverb effect feels natural and part of the song's rhythm. A good rule of thumb is to start with a pre-delay setting that complements the tempo, and you can go as high as 166 ms. This range allows the vocals to be surrounded by reverb without getting lost or washed out, maintaining the vocal's presence and intelligibility in the mix.

Setting Decay Time

Decay time controls how long it takes for the reverb to fade away. For lead vocals, you want to find a sweet spot where the reverb is noticeable but doesn't linger too long and muddy the mix. A shorter decay time can make the vocals feel more intimate, while a longer decay time can give the impression of a larger, more open space. This can also be synced to a songs tempo.

Adjusting Wet/Dry Mix

The wet/dry mix is another important setting. The "wet" signal is the amount of reverb, and the "dry" signal is the original vocal track. For most vocal tracks, a subtle approach works best, with enough wet signal to create depth but not so much that it detracts from the vocal clarity. It is best to use reverbs on busses so that you can utilize them across multiple tracks without sucking up CPU resources.

EQ And Final Touches

Using an EQ on the reverb can help you shape the sound even further. For instance, rolling off some of the lower frequencies of the reverb can prevent the mix from becoming too muddy. Similarly, adjusting the higher frequencies can help the reverb blend better with the vocals, ensuring they stand out in the mix without harshness.

Famous Recordings That Used Plate Reverb

David Bowie singing live with plate reverb on his voice.

Plate reverb has left its mark on countless iconic recordings, providing that lush, spacious sound that music lovers have come to cherish. This unique effect has been used to enhance everything from soaring vocals to intricate instrumental arrangements, helping to create some of the most memorable moments in music history. Let's explore a few famous recordings where plate reverb played a pivotal role in shaping the sound.

"When The Levee Breaks" by Led Zeppelin

One of the most legendary uses of plate reverb can be heard in Led Zeppelin's "When the Levee Breaks." The song's massive drum sound, recorded by John Bonham, was achieved by placing a microphone in the stairwell of Headley Grange and using a plate reverb unit to amplify the natural reverberation. This technique created a thunderous effect that has become a hallmark of rock drum recording.

"Bridge Over Troubled Water" by Simon & Garfunkel

The lush vocal harmonies in Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" were given an ethereal quality thanks to the use of plate reverb. The effect added a heavenly ambiance to the vocals, perfectly complementing the song's emotional depth and making it one of the duo's most enduring hits.

"Heroes" by David Bowie

David Bowie's "Heroes" features an iconic vocal performance that is enhanced by the strategic use of plate reverb. The effect adds a sense of space and drama to Bowie's voice, contributing to the song's anthemic quality and helping it stand out as one of his most beloved tracks.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can plate reverb be used on all genres of music?

Yes, plate reverb is versatile enough to be used across various genres, from rock and pop to classical and jazz. Its ability to add depth and warmth makes it a popular choice for many music producers and engineers, regardless of the genre.

Can I use multiple reverb types, including plate reverb, on the same track?

Yes, it's possible to use multiple types of reverb on the same track to create depth and complexity. However, it's important to use them judiciously to avoid muddying the mix. Blending plate reverb with another type, like room reverb, can add richness and variation, especially when used on different elements of the track.

What is the difference between wet and dry signals in reverb?

The "wet" signal refers to the sound processed by the reverb effect, while the "dry" signal is the original, unprocessed sound. Adjusting the balance between wet and dry signals determines the intensity of the reverb effect in the mix.

Can plate reverb be used effectively in live performances?

Yes, plate reverb can be effectively used in live performances through digital reverb units or pedals. This allows musicians and engineers to add the lush, ambient quality of plate reverb to vocals and instruments in real-time, enhancing the live sound experience.

What Plate Reverbs Do We Recommend?

Our favorite plate reverbs are the LiquidSonics Lustrous Plates and the Waves CLA Echosphere.

Final Thoughts

Plate reverb is more than just a tool for adding space to a track; it's a bridge to the past, a nod to the classic sound of vintage recordings, and a versatile asset in modern music production. As we've explored, its unique ability to enrich vocals, give depth to snares, and enhance acoustic guitars makes it an indispensable part of the audio mixing process. From the legendary tracks that have utilized it to the countless songs yet to be created, plate reverb continues to be a beloved effect for producers and musicians aiming to add texture and atmosphere to their work.

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