IK Multimedia's latest offering, Classik Studio Reverb (CSR), adds reverb plug-ins to the company's sampling, synthesis, and mastering repertoire. Available for Mac OS X (version 10.3 or later, in AU, VST, and RTAS formats) or Windows 2000 and XP (in VST and RTAS formats), CSR runs standalone or as part of a bundle of IK plug-ins.
CSR consists of four plug-ins composing the “holy quartet” of digital-reverberation algorithms — Hall, Plate, Room, and Inverse — and runs at sampling rates of up to 192 kHz. In fact, the word “Classik” in the product's name indicates IK's intention to bring users the sound and features of classic, but unnamed, outboard digital reverbs of the '80s and '90s. With a strong feature set at a price lower than those of nearly all other reverb plug-ins, CSR presents a real value to those who are on a budget or who like to have several reverb flavors on hand.
Basik Reverb Ingredients
Installation of CSR was simple and problem free. The review copy of CSR used the Syncrosoft hardware dongle for copy protection, but IK reports that it is changing its copy protection. (And good riddance — CSR occasionally lost communication with the dongle and crashed MOTU Digital Performer 4.61, the host in which I did nearly all of my evaluation.)
The four plug-ins use the same basic interface but are color coded to make it easy to see at a glance which one you're working with. The interface is a virtual-hardware front panel designed to look like an early '80s device that used only a 7-segment LED display (see Fig. 1).
FIG. 1: Classik Studio Reverb''s front panels are color coded. Shown clockwise from top left: Room, Hall, Inverse, and Plate.
Some users like the familiar look of physical hardware, which is the primary reason for virtual front panels. In fact, CSR's graphical user interface is easy to understand. I am of a different mind-set, however, and have groused about them before: virtual front panels may look cute, but their functionality is inferior to that of both the hardware they emulate and software interfaces designed to suit the control paradigm of a personal computer. I'll consider exceptions for software that models specific well-known hardware devices, but for everything else, the novelty wore off long ago. Manufacturers are so afraid of intimidating their users that they sacrifice real usability to give a product the appearance of usability.
Clicking on the front panel's Load legend calls up the preset menu. Each plug-in comes with around 20 presets, available in both Insert and Send configurations. (The only difference between the two configurations I could see is the Mix setting.) The presets cover the basic applications for each algorithm. For instance, the Plate plug-in has three presets for drums, three for vocals, two emulating gold-foil plates, and three “vintage” or “classic” presets, and the rest are mostly general purpose.
Save, Save As, and Delete buttons right on the panel make it easy to manage presets quickly. You'd better be sure you know what you want to do, though, because there are no confirmation messages for Save and Delete. The front panel also features two temporary storage buffers for A/B comparisons and pairs of LED-ladder meters for input and output levels.
When you want to edit the presets, you can operate CSR in Basic mode, which provides access to several key parameters, or Advanced mode, which offers five pages of parameters for serious tweakage. The parameters are I/O (mix levels and image width), Time (decay time, predelay, HF damping), Reverb (secondary settings such as diffusion), Color (high- and low-frequency EQ), and Reflections (two discrete early reflections). The Plate program adds an Echo page that has left and right recirculating delays.
Advanced mode also provides access to some of CSR's most potent functions. The Mod button calls up CSR's modulation matrix, which allows any of the advanced parameters to be controlled by one of the four onboard sources: two 5-waveform LFOs and two simple envelope generators (see Fig. 2). Up to eight parameters can be modulated. I got a wonderfully animated sound by applying a low-rate noise signal to the output image width, for instance.
The other powerful performance-modification feature is the Macro page. This page has eight “slots,” each of which allows you to specify one of the four sliders on the right side of the panel as a source, any parameter as a destination, minimum and maximum values, and a curve shape. As an example, I tied Decay Time, Hi Cut EQ Frequency, and Hi Frequency damping frequency to one slider, each scaled differently. Each Macro slider can bear a 5-character name — not a lot of characters, but many more and they wouldn't fit in the small allotted space. As a crowning touch, any parameter, including any of the Macro sliders, can be automated by your digital audio sequencing software.
The only parameters I found myself wishing for were ones that would let me set separate high-frequency (HF) and low-frequency (LF) decay times with an adjustable crossover. HF damping can fill some of these needs, but it's not the same thing, and there are times when it doesn't really work (nor do the low- and high-cut filters work as a substitute in this case).
Puttink CSR to Use
CSR's parameters are reminiscent of '80s and '90s reverb units rather than what you'd find in the newest generation of convolution reverbs. IK also touts CSR as having more controllability with less CPU hit than some convolution reverbs, and that is unquestionably the case. This makes it viable to use multiple instances in a session.
CSR was probably the last new thing I would be testing on my dual 800 MHz Mac G4, since my Mac Pro finally arrived. (The Mac Pro was not configured in time for this review.) It was impressive to me that I had no problem running several instances of CSR on the old machine while playing 12 to 16 tracks, many with other plug-ins on them.
I tried CSR on a number of sources, including drums, percussion, vocals, vibraphone, and guitar. After becoming acquainted with each of the algorithms, I decided to put together a quick comparison test. I started with a little drum jam centered around dumbek and djembe. I called up a Room drum preset and tweaked it until it sounded good. (The raw preset was too spitty and seemed to lack enough diffusion for the hand drums.) I then tried to create similar presets in Waves Renaissance Reverb, Audio Ease Altiverb 5, Universal Audio DreamVerb, a Lexicon PCM80, and a Kurzweil KSP-8. All of these except Renaissance Reverb cost considerably more than CSR, so it was certainly a trial by fire. (You can hear the results in Web Clips 1 through 6.)
Compared with the others, CSR's Room algorithm sounded almost like there was dry sound mixed in, even though I had the mix set to 100 percent wet. The reverb tail seemed somewhat low level compared with the early reflections. However, the reverb tail did have good density and an open timbre, whereas some of the other reverbs had darker sounds. The smaller room and ambience sounds were nice and tight, and I got some great sounds putting a few of those on a vocal and then adding a touch of a second, longer reverb on top of that.
FIG. 2: Classik Studio Reverb allows control through automation and the Modulation (top) and Macro (bottom) pages.
I enjoyed having many parameters available when tailoring the sound. I think IK has struck a good balance between offering sufficient control to give flexibility and maintaining a set of parameters familiar enough to make the plug-ins easy to understand and work with.
When it comes to the Plate program, I must admit I've never been impressed with anyone's digital reverb plates; they generally strike me as not as useful as other algorithms. In fact, the only one that really knocks me out is Universal Audio's Plate 140. CSR sounded fine but sat with the rest of the pack well behind the UA plug-in.
Hall algorithms are the strong suit of reverbs like Altiverb and the PCM80. CSR sounded good but needed some EQ to clean out the low midrange, which was somewhat tubbier than on the other reverbs. Long decay tails on CSR were not smooth unless the high frequencies were fairly heavily rolled off. I noticed that quite a few presets on all the algorithms used the highest setting on the HF damping amount, HF Cut.
In all cases, CSR exhibited good density and provided a lot of variety (available through tweaking). In general, however, I was not so happy when I created settings that allowed a significant amount of high-frequency content in the reverb.
Many reverb solutions are available for project studios today, at a wide range of prices. CSR is one of the most economical choices and provides a solid sound with a rich set of features that make it very versatile. The Macro and Modulation features add even more creative options. The user interface is easy to understand and familiar enough that most people will be able to jump into tweaking parameters easily.
In short, CSR makes a great bread-and-butter reverb and delivers handsomely on an investment for that use. Give it a listen.
Larry the O has stolen his own identity, leaving him with no User account on his new Mac Pro. Then again, some would say he's always been a no-account.
Classik Studio Reverb 1.1
digital reverb plug-ins
FEATURES4EASE OF USE4AUDIO QUALITY3VALUE4
RATING PRODUCTS FROM 1 TO 5
PROS: Features four basic digital reverb flavors. Good parametric flexibility. Powerful macro and modulation capabilities. Easy-to-understand interface. Reasonable CPU impact.
CONS: Long decays show some artifacts, especially in high frequencies. Tonal quality often needs tweaking. Virtual front panel somewhat constrains interface.