Could a reverb plug-in really capture the sound of a world-class recording studio? You bet it could.
Sunset Sound Studio Reverb (SSSR) is a reverb plug-in that gives you access to all of the venerated studio’s live rooms, chambers, and isolation booths, and several of their mechanical reverbs. Complete with models of the studio’s consoles and preamps, the results are as close as you can get to actually recording in the historic spaces where some of the world’s most famous recordings were made.
The impulse responses (IRs) were captured through the Sunset Sound’s own microphone collection. The studio’s console preamps and signal paths for each room were meticulously modeled so that the end results are practically “indistinguishable from recordings made in the actual rooms,” according to IK Multimedia.
A Virtual Studio Tour
The Sunset Sound Studios complex consists of three different rooms. The SSSR plug-in is actually a suite of twelve different reverbs. Impulse responses for the live rooms of Studios 1 and 3 were captured from a single position in the room, while Studio 2’s main room gives you the option of three different positions. Rather than attempting to model virtually moving the microphones around within each main room by the user—à la Universal Audio’s Ocean Way Studios—mic positions for each room were chosen based on studio notes for historic sessions and the experience of the veteran engineers involved in the plug-in’s creation.
Each of the three Sunset Sound studio rooms has its own isolation booth and dedicated echo chamber, which are included in SSSR. Like with the main live rooms, you can’t move virtual microphones around to change the inherent characteristics of each reverb.
Sunset Sound’s vintage mics positioned in the echo chambers have been in place for a very long time, so you get the very same sound you would get if you booked time at one of the studios and used its dedicated chamber—except you have access to all three chambers at the same time.
Sunset Sound has two vintage plate reverbs (EMT 140 and Echoplate) and an AKG BX-20E spring reverb shared by all three studios. As represented in the plug-in, the EMT 140 and BX-20 give you three decay times (low, mid, and high) and the Echoplate provides nine different decay times between 300ms and 6 seconds. These mechanical reverbs all sound top-notch. I would gladly buy a collection of just these three reverbs as a standalone plug-in.
A Combination of Techniques
The reverbs are convolution based, but they are not completely static. Although the specific details are not divulged by IK Multimedia, each reverb consists of multiple IRs as well as physical modeling of the consoles, the preamps, and the entire signal path. Pre-delay is adjustable in milliseconds up to one full second. A Decay knob allows you to shorten the IRs by a percentage amount (but not artificially lengthen them).
An Options feature allows you to tweak a few additional settings on some of the reverbs, such as phase reversal, dampening in Studio 1 and 3, and decay length for the plates and spring. These are not exhaustive options but go a long way to customizing the sound when used in conjunction with the Decay knob and EQ. In practice, choosing an appropriate decay time in Options and tweaking the Decay knob gives you pretty much all the same options you would have in the real studio.
Full-bandwidth highpass (10Hz to 20 kHz) and lowpass (40Hz to 20 kHz) filters at 6dB/octave shape the signal going into the reverb. Fixed low-shelf (200Hz) and high-shelf (5 kHz) EQs at a broad Q of 0.4 provide +/-12dB of range for the reverb output. A Width knob can narrow the stereo image from 100% down to 0% (mono).
One of the more powerful features is a knob that allows you to switch the stereo signal to either the left or right signal only. This effectively makes the reverb a mono unit without resorting to collapsing both sides together. There are subtle differences in the sound between the separate left and right signals for all the reverbs, which serve to add even more flexibility to an already feature-rich reverb collection.
In particular, using just a single microphone signal (left or right) really nails that ’60s and early ’70s sound of mono chambers or plates. But it also makes the iso booth impulses work really well on a dry vocal to give it some animation and life, as if the vocal were cut in a high-quality vocal booth.
The implication is that as the consoles and preamps were modeled, the signals for the rooms and chambers were intercepted and sampled directly from Sunset Sound’s microphones rather than the full signal path taken directly off the console. By that logic, I assume more pristine IRs exist; maybe something interesting will come of those in the future as console and preamp modeling DSP continue to develop.
At Home in the Real World
I got to use Sunset Sound Studio Reverbs on three live tracks recently recorded for BBC Radio 2 and the artist Rumer. Like many others, we are on lockdown at home and working in smaller rooms (although I have a pretty decent home studio). Since this was intended as a live, unplugged-type performance, both of us were singing on Shure Beta 58 performance microphones. I played a Yamaha digital piano live and later overdubbed bass and a nylon-string guitar on one song. We also did a four-camera shoot of the session.
Since this was primarily for BBC radio broadcast, it needed to sound good. I captured audio in a DAW while we performed. Later I remixed the three songs.
Enter Sunset Sound Studio Reverbs. I wanted the session to maintain its live vibe and not sound overly-produced, so getting some good room sound surrounding the elements seemed to be the best approach. Despite being a reverb plug-in junkie, all I used on this project was SSSR.
How Does Sunset Sound?
First up was to create a little space around the vocals. My room is fairly well-treated and not too live, and the mics captured a fairly dry and direct sound. Adding a bit of mono iso booth to the signals helped fill them out and gave them more body and tone. Rather than insert individual reverbs on each of our vocal tracks, I set up the iso booth as a send effect.
Each song used a different studio’s iso booth. The effect was subtle, and I was able to pick the booth that most flattered each song. I had intended to use the iso booths only in mono; however, on one track I forgot and used a stereo version. It still worked. I was exploring the plug-in and working intuitively and, as it happened, each song got different main reverbs, also set up on sends—one with EMT 140, one with Echoplate, and one with Chamber 3.
I wanted to give some space to the instruments as well. This seemed like a good time to try the main live rooms. On one track I inserted Studio 2’s position 2 on the piano as an insert and left the bass dry. A different song got the same room set up as a send this time so that I could dial in the proper amounts on the piano, bass, and nylon-string guitar. The final song got Studio 3’s room for piano and bass.
I didn’t use anything in over-the-top amounts. However, whenever I muted the reverbs, I was astonished at how dry and puny everything sounded in comparison. Not only did the space and depth of the mixes improve drastically, but the overall tone of everything was enhanced as well. The final proof came when I got an email from the BBC audio mixer commenting on how well everything was mixed and how lovely the vocal sounded.
Next Best Thing to Being There
T-RackS Sunset Sound Studio Reverb is a winner. It has become my default plate reverb now, and its spring sits right alongside my UAD version of the BX-20. The chambers and live rooms are every bit as good as UAD’s Capitol Chambers and Ocean Way Studios. SSSR includes much more in a single plug-in that could have easily been broken out into multiple products. We are spoiled for choice.
SSSR is not terribly resource-hungry, either. I have some algorithmic reverbs that chew through CPU cycles, but I had no problem running a number of instances in my sessions. SSSR is quickly finding its place in my mix template.
I have been fortunate to work at this studio and a number of other great rooms in my time. In this current time of limited travel, I am happy to be able to go back and work there from the comfort and safety of my home studio.
Supported Formats: Mac/Windows; AU, VST2, VST3, AAX