- In 1957, EMT created the world's first plate reverb, the EMT140. Essentially a giant sheet of steel suspended by springs, plate reverb has a denser, warmer sound than the echo chambers that preceded it. Crucially, the EMT140 allowed engineers to adjust the decay time of the reverb reflections using a Damper section. Abbey Road installed four EMT140s in its studios to complement its signature echo chamber, and those plates are still in use to this day.
Abbey Road have always been involved in the development and customisation of audio equipment, and when their new EMT140s arrived, they wanted to reduce the signal-to-noise ratio. EMI custom-built a series of amplifiers for each plate, resulting in three hybrid solid-state pickups for Plates A, B and C to lower the noise floor and one pure valve model for Plate D. Although the EMT140 has received the software modelling treatment from UAD in the past, this Waves version is the first to model these four particular plates and their unique amplifiers.
The plug-in has straightforward controls but a lot of variation is possible with simple tweaks. A linkable stereo input control kicks off the signal chain with the classic Damper and Plate Selector controls taking up the left section of the display. Interestingly, even though the Damper is labeled from zero through to ten, this doesn't relate to a specific timing metric. Rather, it's an indication of how damp or open the plate is, with ten being the longest reverb and zero the shortest. Each plate delivers a different tone and style, and therefore a Damper setting of two on Plate A will cause a longer reverb than the same setting on Plate B. It all means that you use your ears over your eyes, which is no bad thing, but why not include a floating integer, too? This would stay true to the original while also offering a timeout reading for anyone who needs it.
All of the original plates were designed differently and have aged in their own unique ways. On the plug-in Plates A through D sound suitably different and range from dense and thick to shiny and lush. Plate A provides the most familiar plate reverb sound. It's thick in the mid range with saturated highs and makes for a sonic blanket that can sit under any material and enhance its tone and stereo image. B is much thinner. Even with the damper set at ten, the reverb never consumes its source, something that can be common with the other units and plate reverbs in general. B gives a sheen to vocals and again, creates a supporting stereo field around any sound fed to it. Plate C's resonant high-end and soupy lower frequencies can be a little overwhelming at times, but when used subtly, it's the most well-rounded and natural-sounding choice. D falls somewhere in the middle. Its valve circuitry becomes more apparent when the Drive knob is tweaked. The Drive knob increases the Total Harmonic Distortion or THD of the plates, but as the reverbs are already rich in harmonics, it can reduce dynamics as a compression effect is introduced. As is usually the case with harmonic distortion, less is more.
The EQ section includes a Bass Cut control that allows you to reduce low-end rumble. Present on the original units, it's hugely important due to the extra harmonics that can be generated by the plates. Waves added a Treble control from their Abbey Road EMI modelled desk that was absent on the original EMTs. It's a simple shelf EQ from 4000Hz and is usually better put to use reducing brightness rather than adding it. The pre-delay goes all the way up to 500ms, which can create some very interesting delay and stereo effects while the Analog dial introduces or reduces the hum and hiss of analogue circuitry.
One of the best traits of the plug-in is its ability to widen a sound and create a supportive sonic blanket. Though this is the typical role of reverb, rarely have I heard it implemented so immediately and with so little user-intervention. Once you begin to tweak the crosstalk–the amount of leak between the L and R channels, an almost unavoidable trait of early analogue kit–subtle variations in the stereo field can give a mono sound a whole new life.
Drum busses and basslines benefit hugely from even the smallest amount of treatment, while vocals, leads and mid-range frequencies set the plates soaring. You'll find yourself adjusting the Bass Cut and Treble almost every time, but this allows you to effectively fit the reverb in the mix. The caveat here, unfortunately, is the CPU hit involved in running the plug-in. Only the highest spec'd machines will be able to run multiple instances in a mixing session, though Waves have told us that this issue will be resolved in the not-too-distant future. $249 might seem expensive for such a stylised and niche plug-in, but plate reverbs are an important piece of the producer tool belt and this one begs to be plugged in the mix.
Ease of use: 4.0