The reverb plug-in Aether offers a tremendous amount of programmability, including independent control over early and late reflections.
Offering more than 40 adjustable parameter controls — many of them unique — Aether ($249.95) may be the most programmable reverb plug-in on the planet. But that wouldn't mean much if this processor didn't also sound good. No worries — Aether sounds incredible!
Aether is available in mono-to-stereo and true stereo versions in VST and AU formats; an RTAS version is planned. I reviewed Version 1.0.1 of the AU plug-in in Digital Performer (DP) 6.02 on an 8-core 2.8MHz Mac Pro running Mac OS 10.5.4.
The plug-in's GUI is well organized, with parameter controls divided into color-coded sections pertaining to input, early reflections (initial, discrete echoes) and late reflections (reverb decay). All of the early reflections (ERs) parameters can be tweaked independently of the late reflections (LRs) parameters. Imagine combining the ERs for a bright, large space with a short, heavily damped reverb tail, and you'll begin to understand Aether's tremendous power and flexibility.
Aether's input section includes controls for gain, wet/dry mix and 2-band EQ. EQ types include low and high shelving, and lowpass and highpass filters. You can set the gain and cross-channel stereo imaging for ERs and LRs independently and bypass either section — a terrific feature. By muting the LRs, for example, you can create very short-lived ambience using only ERs that won't clutter your mix with long reverb tails.
GIVE ME SPACE
Choose from 33 Space presets — including stadium, cathedral, hall, stairwell, tunnel and phone booth — as a starting point for customizing your reverb settings. Then change the character of the resulting ERs by tweaking controls for the Space's size, complexity of shape (the number of virtual nooks and crannies), timbral coloration and absorption (damping).
You can also tweak the LRs' size and complexity of shape, along with many other parameters. Adjust the pre-delay, decay time, diffusion and envelope (attack and sustain) of the reverb tail. Boosting the Spread control creates echo-like ripples in the reverb tail. Control over the damping (absorption of frequencies over time) of LRs is at least as sophisticated as that found in high-end hardware 'verbs: You can set the crossover points for low, midrange and high-frequency bands and dial in each band's damping coefficients (degree of absorption). You can even change the slope at each crossover point to fashion either smooth or unnatural transitions.
As with the ERs, a high-shelving cut can also be applied to soften the reverb tail. A frequency graph helps guide your various filter adjustments. And unlike with convolution reverbs, Aether's reverb tail is dynamic, thanks both to adjustable LFO-modulation controls and behind-the-scenes engineering.
The sheer number of parameter controls — some of them unusual — makes programming Aether a complex affair, but totally worth the effort. Documentation was a work in progress at the time of this writing, making the learning curve steeper still. Thankfully, a built-in browser and a neatly categorized Preset menu provide quick access to more than 250 factory presets, many of which are outstanding and cover a wide range of applications. You can save your own custom presets and switch between A and B setups to compare them.
LET'S GET WET
DP doesn't support Aether's mono-to-stereo operation. My workaround was simple: Send tracks to a stereo aux track on which Aether was inserted, and set the plug-in's Mix control to 100-percent wet. The control settings for Aether's input gain, mix and stereo mode (mono-to-stereo or true stereo) can all be locked to avoid unwanted changes when a new preset is recalled.
Feeding an electric guitar track to Aether, I was immediately impressed by how ultra-smooth the reverb tail sounded (see Web Clip 1). Setting DP's buffer size to 512 samples for mixdown, one instance of Aether consumed only about 10 percent of my CPU's resources using DP, although 2CAudio reported better CPU efficiency than I experienced.
Once I got the hang of what all of Aether's controls did, I was off to the races. Muting LRs, I fashioned complex and gorgeous-sounding ERs for vocals and violin that gave them wonderful dimension. Activating the LRs, I boosted Aether's reverb time to the max to create virtually infinite reverb decay time (lasting well over a minute) for interstellar effects on background vocals and synth pads.
Aether sounds awesome on drums, especially using a high diffusion setting, an envelope with fast attack and long sustain, and very little damping (see Web Clip 2). That said, Aether doesn't offer gated reverb, but that's okay: Aether is an engineer's dream. The outstanding sound quality, deep programmability and great price make Aether the reverb plug-in to beat.
Overall rating (1 through 5): 5