Talk about timing: Nearly the same day that I first sat down to give this latest offing from Trillium Lane Labs a test drive, I had the good fortune of meeting up with an old producer pal of mine whom I hadn't seen for a number of years. We shot the you-know-what awhile, then got talking business: producing, new artists, new gear, old gear, general studio chitchat — great stuff! We got onto the topic of reverbs and, specifically, the whole new crop of convolution reverb plug-ins that has emerged recently. “Sure, they're great if realism's your goal, but there's too much thinking behind it all for me when I want to get something really crazy, quickly,” my friend says, frustrated that the interfaces of convolutions on the market remind him more of science projects than musical instruments. “Not only that, but I haven't found one that thinks like me — like a remixer, like a producer of art, with a creative and free-flow spirit.” Now, I'm thinking, “This dude's got a point!” I'm just sorry he left before I got around to installing and trying out TL Space, because he might have had to eat his words.
Designed specifically for Digidesign Pro Tools|HD systems and promoted as the ultimate Pro Tools reverb for music and post, TL Space is the first TDM-powered convolution reverb on the market and the first TDM plug-in to harness multiple DSP chips in parallel. Convolution processing is the opposite of a walk in the park for a processor. In fact, delivering stunning realism by combining the sampled acoustics of real spaces (known as impulse responses or IR recordings) with advanced DSP algorithms, TL Space really prefers to hack into the latest Pro Tools|HD Accel hardware to achieve maximum benefit. There, it harnesses as many as eight DSP engines in parallel, allowing TL Space to deliver 32-bit processing with zero latency on the HD Accel platform. The TDM Edition contains TDM, HTDM, RTAS and AudioSuite formats. All fun is not lost, however, if you're not an owner of an HD system: Pro Tools LE users, particularly, can rejoice that a Native Edition of TL Space is also available, for half the price, containing RTAS and AudioSuite versions of the plug-in only.
If you're thinking of using TL Space in RTAS or HTDM modes, you'll want to be running them on nothing leaner than an Apple Mac G4/1GHz or Pentium 4/2GHz to afford room for other plugs and processors. I tested TL Space on a Mac G5/dual 2GHz, Pro Tools|HD3 Accel system with a 192 I/O as the main monitoring and input-signal interface, running Pro Tools 6.9 under Mac OS 10.3.9. I downloaded the latest version 1.1 update of TL Space, and installation was of the typical Pace iLok variety using a chip from the software license card. Now marketed and distributed by Digidesign, TL Space came with a manual supplied as Acrobat PDF only, and in typical Digi style, it is highly detailed and extremely well-written, with a relatively massive 52-page count. More than 2,000 (or 700 MB of) impulse responses come bundled on separate DVDs for Windows XP and Mac OS X installations. Also included within the packaging is a piece of paper containing your IR license itself. This 13-digit serial number is your ticket to the TL Space online IR Website, where, by registering online, you gain access to all sorts of great new impulses that the company will be updating on a continual and regular basis for years to come.
Trillium Lane engineers brilliantly split the TDM version of TL Space into three distinct plug-ins: Short, Medium and Long. In an effort to accommodate varying effective uses, session demands and TDM-hardware profiles, TL Space Short has a maximum sample rate of 48 kHz and a maximum reverb time of 1.1 seconds; TL Space Medium and Long carry maximum reverb times of 2.3 and 3.4 seconds, respectively. Although the Short TDM reverb will run on either regular HD or HD Accel cards, both Medium and Long absolutely require HD Accel cards with their special extended-RAM DSPs and, in return, provide an increased maximum sample rate of 96 kHz. TL Space does not support 192kHz processing. To achieve TL Space's maximum reverb time of 10 seconds, you must run either HTDM, RTAS or AudioSuite versions of the plug-in.
ROOM WITH A VIEW
One quick look at the user interface, and you can tell that TL Space was designed with musicians and old-school engineers brought up on Lexicon LARC controllers in mind. Push a fader, and you get an audible response: No tooling around with confusing menus or cryptically labeled entry buttons. Clearly, logically and musically laid-out, the welcoming LCD is the first thing you notice. Capable of being engaged in one of three modes — Waveform, Picture Preview and Snapshot — the screen changes based on the mode-selector buttons located at the top right of the LCD. In Waveform mode, a graphic of the currently loaded IR sample is shown, allowing you to see and zoom in on the IR for each channel separately. Picture Preview displays descriptive JPEG images of the IR space, which can include anything from a large photo of the cathedral or concert hall that was sampled to thumbnail shots explaining how the microphones were set up for IR recording (more on Snapshot mode to come).
On the left side of the LCD are level meters that reflect the input and output channel configuration of the TL Space instantiation. Just to the right of the LCD is an IR Browser drawer that you can open and close. There, you can load and easily organize IRs across your local hard drives and even create favorites and user-definable IR groups and subcategories. At all times, the info bar at the bottom of the LCD shows the Snapshot menu, loaded IR name and a set of browser controls for changing IRs.
Three primary control faders, located on the bottom left of the plug-in, are visible at all times and allow control of key reverb parameters such as wet and dry and overall decay of the IR waveform, which is displayed as a percentage of the original. To the right of these are the five group-selector buttons and their associated grouped control faders, collectively representing TL Space's meat-and-potato edit parameters. The Levels group provides control of the overall input and output of the reverb, including individual controls for early and late reflections.
The Delays group allows control of delay timings of the reverb, which will recalculate the IR waveform in the LCD when time adjustments are made to predelay; late delay; or front, rear or center delay. Predelays can be ±200 ms, in which a small negative predelay value can be cool to annihilate the early portion of an IR and a longer predelay is the ticket to achieving radical effects using the very end of the reverb tail — something cool and not possible with standard reverbs. A late delay can be anywhere from zero (off) to +200 ms, and front, rear or center delays may be set independently.
The Early group controls the character of the early portion of the IR, along with any associated early reflections, which are highlighted in the waveform as a lighter color. You have control of early length (zero to 500 ms) and size (50 to 200 percent), which expands or contracts the reflections in the early portion of the IR, giving a space a smaller and tighter or larger and roomier sound. A Lo Cut control allows you to run the early-reflections portion of the IR through a highpass filter to reduce boom and low-frequency cancellations.
Controls within the Reverb group let you dig in and cut up the frequency content of the input signal using low- and high-shelf EQ, which are applied before the convolution processing. A width parameter allows you to alter the stereo spaciousness of the reverb to suit the character of a mix. For example, reversing the IR was a fantastic way to achieve precise reverse vocal and guitar effects — special thanks to Trillium Lane for displaying reversed IR waveforms in musical bpm values for perfect tempo alignment every time. Finally, the Decay group provides control of low-, mid- and high-frequency portions of the IR.
TL Space catches me in a soft spot: I'm a die-hard sound and groove designer; therefore, I find this plug-in to be an absolute slice. The user interface is fast and furious compared with the competition, and it somehow just feels more adept at performing remix-style effects than any of the others. Pushing faders in the Early group gives you the most stunning action — you can “feel” the sonic changes as they happen. With the early portion of the IR visually highlighted, it's a snap, for instance, to zero in on and mold a sound to more suitably fit the contextual space you've created in your track. Then, combining the ample EQ and filtering of the Reverb and Decay groups allows for DJ-like band sculpting of the reverb-tail portion of the IR.
It's crucial to remember that many changes you make get infused within the IR, not simply masked or added postprocessing like in traditional reverbs. This adds an organic and malleable character to TL Space's sound. In fact, a cool feature of the reverb is that your tweaked IRs get stored directly within your Pro Tools presets and sessions for easy and worry-free session sharing. Also, TL Space automatically recognizes common IR formats with one-click loading from the browser.
In addition to supporting presets, TL Space allows you to manage a group of settings called Snapshots (as many as 10 of them) that can be switched quickly using a single automatable control. Each Snapshot can contain completely different IRs and independent control settings. The major difference is that IRs saved within a Snapshot have been preprocessed by the impulse computer and can be loaded instantly — ideal for rapid edits in fast-paced remix arrangements.
A CREATIVE SPACE
With TL Space, the emphasis is clearly on the type of surroundings you're after, not simply getting a reverb, per se. As I mentioned at the onset, several convolution 'verbs are out there, most notable Apple Space Designer (bundled free with Logic Pro 7), Audio Ease Altiverb 5, Waves IR-360 and Tascam GigaPulse (bundled free with GigaStudio 3). What instantly sets TL Space apart from the rest is that it's the only one that runs as a true TDM plug-in. The IRs are well done across the board, covering all expected and not so expected territory. The main disappointment is that TL Space is a CPU-cycle hog. Whereas I could easily run four instances of IR-360 on my host G5, I can only get a single instance of a TL Space True Long Stereo reverb on a single HD Accel card. The Native plug-in also puts a significant dent in a host CPU.
Overall, TL Space squashes any geeky stereotype you may have of convolution reverb by delivering both stunning realism and explorative artificiality. Packed with unique tricks and an interface to love, TL Space is the quintessential remixer's reverb.
TRILLIUM LANE LABS
(DIST. BY DIGIDESIGN)
TL SPACE > $995 (TDM EDITION); $495 (NATIVE EDITION)
Pros: Excellent-sounding results. Reverse IR mode. Automatable preset switching. Zero latency in TDM mode. Extremely low latency in Native mode. Massive IR library.
Cons: Uses up to eight chips in TDM mode. Limited waveform-view options.
Digidesign-approved Mac or PC; Pro Tools 6.2 or later; Pace iLok; Pro Tools|HD or Pro Tools|HD Accel (recommended) required for TDM support