I just found my favorite reverb plugin. In fact, Aether 1.5 (OS X and Windows, AU, VST, and soon RTAS plug-in, no PPC version) may be my favorite reverb period (with the possible exception of the spring reverb in my old Roland Space Echo (R.I.P.), but that’s another story). Generally, I don’t like software reverbs. I find them to sound metallic, harsh, or unnatural. In the case of certain Convolution Reverbs, having to wait for them to recalculate after I change important parameters is a total buzzkill that can ruin a creative flow. This effect is especially pronounced when I have a paying client in a vocal booth waiting for me to find or create a useful patch. Aether exhibits neither of these shortcomings.
2CAudio has succeeded in producing an incredibly deep reverb plugin with an intuitive user interface and workflow. This combination produces immense immediate gratification for the grab and go engineer, but allows for nuanced and sophisticated processing if the user is so inclined.
Architecture Much of the usability of Aether can be attributed to a large, well designed GUI. Big knobs, buttons, and fonts make navigation a breeze. Parameters are grouped by position and color to outline the different zones on the main page. Finally, within any section, size is used to denote the relative importance of the parameters on the overall sound, e.g. the Time knob is the largest.
Aether has an ever-present navigation bar that allows the user to handle global preset and file needs (such as selecting or saving) and to quickly switch between the 3 pages of the plugin as follows:
Main: All plug-in parameters
Browser: Browse and Easy Mode controls
Info: Preferences, Quality Settings, and Karma Boost (aka Authorization)
The navigation bar is fairly self explanatory, but has one feature I’d like to note: the Active State buttons. These buttons store 2 patches which can be toggled between for comparison with a single click, such as when you have an effect you like, but want to search for an alternative. This feature should be on every plugin. Much of the mixing process involves making a series of quick comparison judgements, so to be able to do this rapidly is a boon to efficiency.
The Main page offers the deepest level of editing. It is parsed into 3 main sections as outlined below: 1. Early Reflections (ER)(Green, Left Side) 2. Input/Master Section (IN)(Orange, Center Low) 3. Late Reflections (LR)(Blue, Center High and Right Side)
Early Reflections Space is the most important element of the ER section. 2C provides a library of virtual spaces that form the foundation of any patch. It’s important to note that these are not merely combinations of the other visible settings, but are instead complex mathematical models of the given spaces conveniently disguised as a pretty picture and a short description. The additional editable parameters allow you to shape the sound to your specific application, but more often than not, finding the correct Space is the first step in creating your patch.
Input/Master In addition to the requisite metering, input gain, and mix control, the Input/Master section contains a overall Low EQ and Hi EQ to tailor the entire sound. Each filter can be a shelf or cut filter depending on the settings, and the range extends from 8Hz all the way to 32,768Hz. Astute readers will notice that this range extends both below and above the thresholds of normal human hearing. This size helps minimize the phase shifts and other filter distortions that occur near the cutoff frequencies. I almost always have to insert an EQ after other reverb plugins to clear up the low end or soften the higher frequencies. In most cases I found Aether’s Master EQ to be sufficient or better than my previous approach. Certain parameters can be locked to facilitate preset browsing without having to reset known invariable parameters after every selection. For example, because they are essential to the sound for each preset, the Input Gain and Mix vary dramatically between presets. If you’d like to use Aether in “Send Mode” (e.g. using and auxiliary send to route part of a channel’s signal to a bus, then inserting the effect on the bus), you can lock the Mix at %100 and the Input Gain at +6 or +12dB (recommended for maximum wet/dry range).
Late Reflections In conjunction with the Space, the Late Reflection engine can have some of the most dramatic effects on your sound. The most powerful parameters here are the Time and Size controls. Once these are dialed in, Attack and Sustain can be used to shape the amplitude envelope of the late reflections within those constraints. Aether provides frequency dependent decay filters that permit different reverb decay times for 3 frequency bands, Low, Mid, and High. After you set the crossover points to define the 3 bands, you can adjust the Low, Mid, and High knobs to multiply the reverb time for each band. By de-emphasizing the reverb time of the prominent frequencies in my dry signals, I used these filters to apply indulgent reverb while maintaining clarity in my tracks. They are also helpful for things such as preventing the reverb from emphasizing sibilants in a vocal track, or allowing you to apply reverb liberally to a stereo drum mix without low frequency reverberations from the kick taking over.
The FREQ ddisplay graphically represents the frequency response of all the filters. In addition to providing a useful visual summary, this section allows you to select from a library of Freq Profiles to apply to the other elements of your preset. Freq profiles are savable as well, so you can create and label your own as needed.
The Link buttons were not immediately obvious, but understanding them allowed me to explore this plugin efficiently without getting lost in the process. 2CAudio has suggested ER and LR settings for each Space that are good starting points for your customization. If the Space link for ER, LR, or Both is selected, then choosing a new Space will automatically set the other sections accordingly. As such, you can browse dramatically different Spaces without having to readjust all the ER and LR settings for every space. Likewise, there is a Freq Profile Link button that allows you to select which other section(s) of the plugin are affected when you switch between different Freq Profiles.
Finally, the Info Page offers preferences for plugin appearance and quality settings. Each quality setting includes separate values for Oversampling, Modulation, and Interpolation. By tweaking these settings, I was able to reduce latency substantially and/or increase my plugin count for realtime recording. After deciding on particular settings for my tracks, I could render in offline mode at the highest quality. I want to be clear that even at the “lowest” settings, Aether performed admirably, and better than many other reverbs I’ve tried.
Performance I performed my tests on a 2Ghz Core 2 Duo Macbook running Logic Pro 9.1.1 in 32 bit mode on OS X 10.5.8. I inserted single instances of Aether on individual channels on whose tracks I placed stereo Apple Loops. I was able to use 9 instances of the plugin before I received an overload message. Realtime recording was less forgiving. With an i/o buffer size of 128 samples (about the highest I can stand for software monitoring, and even that’s pushing it), I could only have 3 instances of Aether on 3 tracks (one per track) before I exceeded the capabilities of the machine. Reducing the realtime modulation quality setting from Ultra Smooth to Balanced helped ease the processor strain a bit, but not enough for another instance. The activity meter showed that only 1 core was being utilized, however, so the instance count could be doubled if I figure out how to force the computer to use both cores. Normally, as long as plugins are on separate channel strips, Logic will split the loads between cores as needed. This behavior warrants further exploration. In any event, using Aether on a Bus via a Send is a way to get around this limitation for tracking. If you require different reverb settings for each track in your final mix, you can insert separate instances directly on the channels as needed, since playback performance is much greater.
Positioning Aether includes some advanced tools for controlling the width of and position within the stereo field. While they have an involved section entitled “Understanding Cross and Width” in the manual, I found the real life applications of these techniques to be less than obvious. Of these controls, width was the most useful, and did come in handy for enhancing perceived width without an obvious “Chorus/Ensemble” effect, as might be provided by other plugins that purport to do something similar. The plugin provides 4 stereo modes, including 2 Mid-Side modes that allow precise control over the amount of reverb applied to both the mid and side components of your signal, respectively. I’d recommend reading the manual anyway, here you find the latest version.
Automation I was initially excited that many important parameters respond to realtime changes very smoothly (without zipping) when you move them with the mouse. Some of the most important ones such as Time can be automated (an option not available on a certain convolution reverb of note). Sadly, size is not an option. More frustrating, however, was the fact that Time responded very coarsely to automation within Logic, which completely defeated my ability to make this parameter change smoothly through the course of a track. I’d like to know how Aether responds to automation in other hosts.
Conclusion Whether it was used for tracking, standard mixing tasks, or as a sound design tool, the plugin is a joy to use, and, like a good synth, encourages and rewards exploration. It has sped up my workflow by putting an easily navigable library of reverbs at my fingertips. When I needed to go beyond the available settings, I was able to achieve satisfying results quickly. I especially enjoyed pushing its boundaries (a 250 ft. tall telephone booth sounds very interesting). The plugin accomplishes the hat trick of creating stunningly lush atmospheres while retaining clarity in tracks, and doing so with enough efficiency to be useful in tracking as well as mixing.
Price $249 USD. Serial number protected, no dongle required. A demo version is available. Click on your OS to download (Windows or Mac OS X)
2 preset expansion packs are available ($24.95 ea. or 39.95 if purchased together). The Integrity Expansion focuses on ultra realistic space recreations for traditional use. The Creativity Expansion takes the gloves off and showcases Aether’s performance in the FX Reverb department.
…stunningly lush atmospheres while retaining clarity…