Review – Pro-R from Fab Filter
Fab Filter extends its line of “Pro“ plug-ins with Pro-R, a reverb that will live up to your high expectations of software from that company.
by David Baer, Jan. 2017
There is a subset of the small-studio-engineering community who hold Fab Filter in very high regard. It’s clear, if you spend any time at all on the various small-studio forums, that these people tend to own most if not all the offerings in the Fab Filter catalog (disclaimer – I am one of these people myself) and regard these plug-ins largely as the gold standard.
So, at the end of 2016 when Fab Filter announced that it had a new product, this time an algorithmic reverb, you can probably imagine an inner debate in which more than a few members of FF-nation engaged:
“Sheesh, a new reverb … as if I need another algorithmic reverb!”
“Yeah … but, hey, it’s Fab Filter!”
“But I really can’t justify the expense – another reverb is far from being a priority studio item!”
“Yeah … but, hey, it’s Fab Filter!”
… and so on.
Well, I’m sorry to have to tell these people that Fab Filter has indeed done it again with a knock-out offering. I can’t report that Pro-R is a realistic reverb because reality has never sounded so exquisite. But it’s very special nonetheless. Add to that the ease of programming. You may, for the first time ever, feel sufficiently confident to build your own reverb settings completely from scratch and forgo the use of presets. And then there’s the user interface, perhaps Fab Filter’s most compelling graphics yet. But, hey, it’s Fab Filter. You were expecting anything other than total excellence?
Let’s start by going through the various controls on Pro-R. You may expect a high-end algorithmic reverb to have an intimidating number of controls governing innumerable obscure parameters as so many tend to do. But that’s not so with Pro-R. As you’ll see, this is a triumph of economic interface design.
One general note first, however. You might be expecting to see some explicit control over characteristics of early reflections (ERs) – after all, these are pretty much standard on better reverbs. But not so here. However, we’ll defer the topic of ERs until we cover the Character and Distance controls later.
At the center is the large knob called Space. It goes from small enclosure to large enclosure and the decay time displayed in the center increases as larger enclosure sizes are dialed in, from very short to a full 10 seconds. To the right is the decay time, which adjusts the time assigned in the Space control between 50% and 200%. So, that maximum time is a whopping 20 seconds. If you’re trying to emulate a space like Saint Paul’s Cathedral in London, then you’ll still have excess seconds to spare. There was a bug in the initial release that maxed out the tail after 10 seconds, but it has been corrected.
Stereo Width comes next to the right and it’s not obvious what it does. At 50% (the value is displayed only when making changes), we have true stereo reverb. At 0%, we have mono. At 100%, the L and R channels become completely independent and effectively are mono L and R reverbs. Above 100% (you can go to 120%), the side component of the stereo signal is boosted above normal.
Mix has the usual function. However, one thing you will rapidly note is that Pro-R benefits from higher Wet to Dry settings than most reverbs. 30% would be overkill for many reverbs, but for Pro-R it’s often just about right. As a matter of fact, I would estimate that as many as half of the presets have Mix set at 50%.
Returning to the far left, there’s Brightness, which appears to be a simple high-cut filter. To the right, you can see the 100% wet output of the reverb in an otherwise default (the Basic preset) setting when using white noise for the input. The three respective curves show the output when Brightness is set to fully Bright, half-way between Dark and Bright, and fully Dark. I won’t say there aren’t other nuanced changes resulting from different Brightness settings, but I could not discover any.
At this point we’ll take a brief detour and discuss Predelay. This is offered as a pop-up control at the bottom of the UI. You can specify a host-tempo-synced value or an absolute time.
Character and Distance
Back to the top row of controls. First let us talk about Distance. The Dial has two markings at the extremes: Close and Far. Here distance denotes the distance between the listener and the sound source, not the depth of the sound source in the soundstage. To think how this control works, consider thunder. When lighting strikes close at hand, you hear a loud clap immediately followed by a decrescendo. With distant lightning, you hear a rolling sound that starts with a crescendo and then decrescendos. This is a bit how the Distance control affects the wet sound. Below are three images of a more-or-less default reverb setting but one in which Distance is fully Close, half-way and fully Far. The input is just a 5 msec. burst of noise and the Mix is about 70% wet (that first spike is the input noise burst). You can readily see the Close is louder in the early stages.
The Character is said to have two functions. Between Lively (at the 12 o’clock position) and Chorus (fully clockwise) the reverb tail is run through a chorus effect and at higher settings, the results are quite audible. The other half of the Character story is a little more elusive. The documentation (excellent as usual, by the way), states that the Clean setting causes early reflections to be emphasized. If it does, I found the results to be subtle. In fact, I captured the output, using the same 5 msec. noise burst used to test Distance. The Distance setting here was fully Close. The results below show the output (this time 100% wet) at fully Close, half Close and half Lively, and fully Lively. I’m afraid I don’t see a lot of difference.
One more thing before we leave this subject. If you do want to use Pro-R to simulate soundstage depth, you’ve got all the tools you need, Predelay being your best friend here. Try something like this recipe to start. For front-of-soundstage, set Predelay to 50 ms, Brightness to fully Bright, Mix to, say, 30%. For rear-of-soundstage, set Predelay to no more than 25 ms or even 0 ms, Brightness to something approaching Dark and Mix to 50%. Play with these settings until you get a satisfactory result. Mid-soundstage will then be something in between.
Pro-R has two EQ curve settings, one of them conventional and one of them possibly unique in reverbs to date. Both govern the reverb output only. The post-EQ equalizer is pretty much a conventional EQ stage, the controls of which will be immediately understood by users of Pro-Q.
The innovation comes with the Delay Rate EQ (the blue curve in the above image). What this controls is the decay rate of the reverb tail, but it controls it in a frequency specific fashion. It’s not uncommon to have reverb algorithms induce higher decay rates for higher frequencies – this is how things usually work in the real world. With Pro-R, you have an unprecedented level of control that can enforce realism or flights of fancy as fanciful as your imagination can dictate. Consider the Comb Filter Space A preset shown below – pretty wild, eh?
Speaking of presets, there is a generous supply of them, arranged in the categories: Ambience, Small, Medium, Large, Very Large and Tempo Synced.
There’s one more thing to mention before we leave the EQ topic, and I have no idea if this feature will be of any actual practical value to anyone but it’s vastly cool in any case. Pro-R has an animation of the decay (the wispy white lines seen amidst the blue decay and gold EQ lines) that are mesmerizing. Even a static screenshot of Pro-R is worthy of display in a modern art museum. Watching it in operation … well let’s just say it will make some of you nostalgic for the days when you used to put artificial substances in your bloodstream to achieve a similar visual experience.
Is Pro-R for You?
As you will no doubt have gathered, this plug-in has gotten me a little more than excited. As much as I thought I had no use for another reverb, I am smitten. I have only one piece of advice at this point. If you do not have the money to purchase Pro-R, then whatever you do, do not download and audition a demo copy. After all, there are certainly other excellent algorithmic reverbs available, some of them costing less than Pro-R. But knowing that is not going to stop you from feeling lust, envy and … oh what the hell … gluttony.
Pro-R retails for $199 USD but owners of other Fab Filter titles get a progressively higher discount the more is owned. I believe that frequent flyers will see a price reduction of 40%. Fab Filter has only rare sales of individual plug-ins but does offer the occasional sale on bundles, Pro-R being in a number of them. If you don’t own any Fab Filter but want to join the club, the Essentials Bundle, including Pro-R, Pro-Q 2 (an EQ) and Pro-C (a compressor) can sometimes be had on sale for $299 USD, which given the quality of the three items is really a very fair price.
Pro-R may be purchased directly from Fab Filter here:
It is also available from a number of other music software retailers.