Review – Valhalla Plate from ValhallaDSP
Think you have all the reverbs you need? Well, we have some bad news for you because evidently you haven’t yet encountered Valhalla Plate, the just released creation from ValhallaDSP.
by David Baer, Nov. 2015
Just as we were about to go live with our Nov. issue of SoundBytes, a new plug-in hit the market and it’s causing a great deal of excitement. So, with just enough time to look into it, we present here a review of ValhallaDSP’s new reverb, the Valhalla Plate.
Now, the first thing a lot of you are going to ask yourself is “why would I ever consider getting another reverb when I’ve already got a bunch of them that I never use along with a couple of go-to plug-ins that always just get the job done?”. Fair question, and if you’re asking it, then it also admirably shows that you have your GAS under control.
After all, how important is having extensive reverb options really? My fellow SoundBytes writer Dave Townsend once made the sage observation in a forum post that went something like this: why do people tend to obsess over the qualities of this or that reverb to produce audio that usually ends up down 18 dB in the mix anyway?
Although ValhallaDSP reverbs are quite popular, in my own case I had never jumped on the Valhalla bandwagon. I have two superb reverbs (an algorithmic and a convolution) that came with Cubase. I have another excellent convolution reverb made by Waves and lastly, I have the oh-so-elegant Aether from 2CAudio. So, for all the widespread enthusiasm the home-studio community has for Valhalla gear, I just never thought it would be of interest to me. But the excitement of this new plate reverb most definitely roused my curiosity.
Why a Plate in the First Place?
Plate reverbs do something quite different from the natural reverberation caused by enclosed reflective spaces – the mechanisms by which reverberations are produced by plates are physically very different. One chief difference is that there are no early reflections in plate reverbs. Sound travels way faster in metal than it does through air, so the reverb tail begins almost instantaneously. But there’s much more to it than that, and I’m not going to attempt to plumb those depths here or even pretend that I halfway understand them. For those wishing to do so, I’ll provide a link to information provided on the Valhalla web site at the end of this review.
One thing I found fascinating, and this is chiefly from reading some very informative material on the ValhallaDSP website written by Sean Costello, the man behind ValhallaDSP, is that chamber reverbs have many common characteristics with plate reverbs. Chamber reverbs were a reverb solution used by major studios in the olden days before computers. They were literally that: an isolated chamber with very reflective walls that had a speaker at one and a microphone at the other. While this being a natural reverb, there were early reflections, the small size of the chamber minimized the arrival times and the result was mostly reverb tail. The bounciness of the walls allowed for suitably long reverb tails. Interestingly, the reverb times got longer as chambers aged since the plaster on the walls got drier and less absorbent (thus more “bouncy”).
As to Mr. Costello himself – well this fellow is as much of an audio geek as you’re ever likely to find. In a recent post on KVR he wrote: As a kid, I used to play around with our old upright piano as a reverb. Hold down the sustain pedal, and sing into it. Your voice will excite all the strings that are close to the pitch of your voice. It makes a pretty cool reverb. So, given this kind of obvious obsession, we soon get the sense that we’re in the hands of an individual who clearly knows his subject with deep expertise.
But back to reality – so what? Why not just take a garden variety algorithmic reverb, nix the early reflections and call it a plate. Well, that (among other things of course) is just what most algorithmic reverbs do in providing their plate presets. How accurate a reproduction of the real thing is this? Personally, I have no idea since, probably like most of you, I’ve never had my hands on the real thing.
So, the question we must ask ourselves is: does a reverb that specializes in plate algorithms sound that much different from a general-purpose effect? Frankly, I was quite surprised to find out just how much it can, at least in the case of Valhalla Plate.
Valhalla Plate Up Close
Let’s take a close-up look at the UI, which like all ValhallaDSP offerings makes no effort to imbue charm with nostalgic recreations of analog gear faceplates. On the other hand, compared to many reverbs, the interface is refreshingly spare and non-intimidating.
We see a simple array of controls, the biggest of which is Decay. This is as it should be, at least according to mixing guru Mike Senior in his book Mixing Secrets. He states in no uncertain terms that by far the most important parameter on any reverb is “time” (or “decay” or “length” or whatever it happens to be called by the software’s designer). He states:
There’ll be a slew of other controls … but for typical small-studio operators – and indeed a lot of professionals – there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to worry about what all of those do (They do serve a useful social purpose, however, in distracting computer anoraks from ever getting any music finished.)
Decay is adjustable between 0.5 s and a whopping 30 s – and a very smooth 30 seconds that turns out to be. Between decay length and mode (see below) one can quickly dial in a sound to suit the reverb subject.
But obviously this is oversimplifying things just a bit. If you are using the plug-in as an insert, then clearly the Mix control will be a huge factor (and although it’s not obvious, Mix can conveniently be locked by clicking the “Mix” label when auditioning presets).
Predelay can be a big factor as well, either for purposes of separating the reverb onset for clarity (as might be wished for vocals) or for adding depth (a predelay of 50 ms can make things seem closer than the same settings other than zero predelay). This predelay can be extended to a half second – more than you’re ever likely to want.
The other significant parameter is Mode, of which there are seven (all named for various common metals except for the elusive substance Unobtainium). However, the names are just that. They do not denote an attempt to match the characteristics of physical plates made of the named metal. It’s all just in fun. Here are the hints presented for each of the seven modes:
- Chrome – Medium attack, bright
- Steel – Medium attack, dark
- Cobalt – Soft attack, dark, resonant
- Brass – Sharp attack, bright tone
- Aluminum – Medium attack, high modal density, bright
- Copper – High modal density, dark
- Unobtainium – Soft attack, high modal density, somewhat longer decay at high frequencies
The remainder of the controls should be somewhat self-explanatory. But that provides me with a a good segue into a few minor gripes about this plug-in. First, the only manual I could find is online, which does you no good if your DAW is normally not connected to the Internet, as is the case with so many of our DAWs. There is flyover help which somewhat mitigates this oversight, and, after all, there aren’t that many controls to begin with. But as a documentation fan, I would like a manual.
Another annoyance I found was that there is no mouse action to reset a parameter to default. This may seem a small thing, but for a newcomer just learning a piece of software gear, it can be quite beneficial to know what an expert’s opinion on what is a good default setting. Finally, there’s no way I could find to set the preset to a default state other than instantiating a new instance.
An easy way to evaluate or actually use this plug-in is to get to know the factory presets, of which there are thirty five, if I counted correctly. The menu image to the right gives you an idea of what to expect. But I think you’ll find it more informative initially to stick to the default preset, and explore the seven modes.
And here is the proof in the pudding. What I think will amaze and impress is the sound quality. This plug-in can sound as gentle as soft silken tofu feels to the touch. It adds a sheen that is simply lovely, to my ears at least, and produces results that I’ve never gotten out of another algorithmic reverb. And I think you will also be surprised at how wet you end up setting the mix level. I use the same approach to setting the mix level as probably most others do: crank it up to where it starts to be cloying and back off somewhat from there. Valhalla Plate just doesn’t go there. It can be deeply lush and still sound pleasant all the way to 100% wet. I’ve honestly never heard anything quite like it.
Now, when we get to comparisons with convolution reverbs, the differentiation gets a bit tougher. I’ve got several convolution impulses of real plate reverb units that can be used to give Valhalla Plate a good run for the money (and remember, we’re talking about a mix component that’s going to be largely unnoticed in the final mix anyway). But here’s the argument on that front. Yes, a good convolution impulse can give you a real plate experience. But Valhalla Plate can take you to places a convolution of the real thing cannot. The various modes aren’t just emulations of different models of physical equipment. Instead, internal factors in the algorithms are being tweaked to create an emulation of something that is not real. And let’s not forget that 30 second decay – no convolution effect is going to deliver something like that. So even if a convolution solution and Valhalla Plate can produce similar results in some cases, Valhalla Plate can take us to places convolution cannot.
Is Valhalla Plate for You?
First a few practicalities. Given time constraints, I wrote this review based on the demo version of the plug-in, so I cannot tell you if registration/activation is effortless. But I did like the install process letting me only install a 64-bit VST in a location of my choosing. The software comes in most common formats and 32/64-bit compatibility for PC and Mac (64-bit only for AAX format).
Valhalla Plate costs $50 USD and as far as I know, ValhallaDSP never has sales or group buys, nor is there a bundle price for purchasing multiple plug-ins. But at $50, given the quality, the price seems easily justifiable.
To purchase or find out more, go here:
From that page, you may wish to check out the Blog link in which you’ll find a number of recent entries that give a lot of insight into the background of this newest member of the ValhallaDSP family. You can easily also navigate to the online manual, and finally, you can download a demo version. The demo has fairly non-annoying sound dropouts periodically and will not save presets but is otherwise fully functional.
I think in the case of a plug-in with such specific function, it’s not up to the reviewer to convince the reader to buy or avoid, but simply to convince the reader whether or not it’s worth the effort to download and install a demo. In this case, I think you will be well-served to demo Valhalla Plate. But DO NOT go there unless you have fifty bucks that you can immediately part with. You have been warned.
As for me, I’m actually in quite good control of my GAS. I have plenty of excellent reverb capability already, so I’m going to pass on this one. I’m going to stick with and be happy with what I’ve got. I’m not going to … oh hell, whom am I trying to kid? This one had me at Default Preset!