Universal Audio Plate 140 offers three different plate reverb settings, each of which can have its own amount of damping.
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As the name suggests, the Universal Audio Plate 140 reverb plug-in ($149), designed for use with the UAD-1 accelerator card, is modeled after the German-made EMT Plate 140. A plate reverb is a large sheet of metal that vibrates when you pass audio through it. To shorten the decay time, an asbestos damping pad is moved close to the plate using a remote control. This technology, as esoteric as it may sound, was one of the main methods of obtaining artificial ambience prior to the advent of digital reverb.
To use Plate 140, you need a UAD-1 PCI card and either a computer with a PCI slot or a card cage. The plug-in supports VST, Audio Units, and RTAS hosts. (Pro Tools users will need to use the included VST-to-RTAS wrapper from FXpansion.)
Plate 140 was modeled after three unique plates at the Plant Studios in Sausalito, California, all of which have completely different sonic fingerprints. The plug-in has just a handful of parameters. But once you hear this effect in action, you'll realize that those are the only controls you will need to obtain stunning reverb sounds.
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The front panel's chicken-head knob selects one of the three plate models. Each model has its own damping control, and you can set the reverb time between 0.5 and 5.5 seconds. The on/off switch lets you disengage the unit without using your DAW's bypass, which is essential given the latency issues (more on that in a moment). Controls on the Universal Audio Plate 140 that aren't found on the original are High and Low Shelving EQ, Pre-Delay, Stereo Width, and Wet/Dry. All of these add functionality while keeping the interface simple.
Hard vs. Soft
For the review, I compared the Plate 140 plug-in with its hardware namesake, as well as with the reverb plug-ins I normally rely on. Because reverb plates are expensive and weigh about 425 pounds each, you won't find them in the average project studio. However, I located some EMT Plate 140s at two Bay Area studios — Tiny Telephone in San Francisco and Fantasy Studios in Berkeley — and both studios were kind enough to allow me to use their reverbs for this review.
I brought in a Pro Tools session and ran the lead vocal, snare drum, and overall mix through the plates, with various decay times. It was difficult comparing the plates, because each of the hardware ones has a unique sound. After hearing the hardware and software plates in an A/B comparison, however, I realized that I like the sound quality of Universal Audio Plate 140 just as much as that of its metal counterpart: the plug-in held its own in terms of depth and resonance, despite the varied sonic characteristics of the hardware plates (see Web Clip 1).
Then I compared Plate 140 with my two main reverb plug-ins. Plate 140 blew the plate presets of my standard reverb plug-in out of the water. That plug-in is more versatile, of course, with numerous algorithms and controls. But when comparing apples with apples, Plate 140's sound was far superior.
When I compared it with a popular sampling reverb that uses impulse responses of many of the world's finest hardware plate reverbs, Plate 140 stood up nicely. There was no clear winner here — I'd call it a draw, with a very slight edge given to the convolution reverb for its ability to offer more plate choices.
Because the UAD-1 plug-ins run off a PCI card, noticeable latency is introduced. Most hosts that support the UAD-1 have automatic latency compensation, although even in Digital Performer 4.6 I still experienced slight latency problems. Pro Tools LE doesn't have latency compensation, so I had to use aux tracks and dummy plug-ins to sync everything up. (The UAD-1 manual describes that process thoroughly.) The latency is a slight annoyance, but a very small price to pay for reaping the aural benefits of the UAD-1 plug-ins.
A Clean Plate
The simplicity and sonic fidelity of Plate 140 make it my new “go-to” reverb, and it has excelled in almost every situation I have used it in. If you are looking for lots of knobs to tweak, look elsewhere. But if you're looking for an easy-to-use and excellent-sounding reverb, and you need an excuse to get the UAD-1 card, look no further.
Overall Rating (1 through 5): 5