By John Krogh
|Convolution reverb can sample famous acoustic
environments and put your sound in them, and Altiverb was one of the first.
IF YOU COMPOSE MUSIC FOR MEDIA, YOU ALMOST CERTAINLY USE DIFFERENT SAMPLE LIBRARIES, MIXING
instruments recorded in various studios and locations, all with the goal of a cohesive mix in which all your tracks
sound as if they were recorded in the same place. It’s no easy feat, and requires that you be equal parts musician
and technician, which is especially challenging when deadlines loom. One of the critical pieces of software we rely
on to create a realistic space—whether a virtual Hollywood scoring stage, world-class recording studio, or famous
concert hall—is a convolution reverb loaded with expertly sampled acoustic spaces. That’s exactly what these three
plug-ins offer, each with their own unique strengths.
Now at Version 7, Altiverb (AV) from Audio
Ease is a mature platform that offers a staggering
variety of sampled acoustic spaces.
AV’s library of impulse responses (IRs) weighs
in at 3.7GB, and you can add your own IRs, including
those from third-party developers (for
example, I’m a big fan of Samplicity’s Lexicon
960 in AV). AV comes in two flavors: Regular
and XL. Regular is a native stereo version, and
XL adds support for Pro Tools TDM and 5.1
surround input. Audio Ease is known for continually
capturing new IRs and making them
available for free. These run the gamut from
studios and cathedrals to claustrophobic spaces,
vehicles, funky vintage gear, and more.
Quantum Leap Spaces (QLS) from East-
West is a relative newcomer but has already
gained popularity among musicians for its
collection of larger spaces—particularly its
halls, cathedrals, and scoring stages. QLS
features 42 IRs and weighs in at a relatively
svelte 750MB, proving that quality over quantity
is a winning formula. While you can’t add
your own IRs to QLS, what’s included is of
extremely high quality. The IRs in QLS were
recorded using a combination of high-end
preamps and microphones known for their
color and character. As a result, the IRs have
an obvious musical vibe that works well with a
variety of instrumental source material.
|Concert halls and churches are only the beginning of Altiverb’s seemingly bottomless well of virtual spaces.
A bit out of the norm, QLS is designed to
be used as an insert effect rather than on an
aux send, although you can do either. In fact,
all of the presets are carefully programmed
with dry and wet levels, and there’s no single
wet/dry control. Conventional wisdom says
that applying reverb via inserts would quickly
eat up CPU resources, but QLS is surprisingly
CPU-efficient, and a more modern workflow is
to sub-group instrument families on dedicated
aux channels, each with their own reverb. I
suspect that is what EastWest had in mind
when developing QLS.
Vienna Symphonic Library’s Vienna Suite
(Suite) is a collection of ten plug-ins, including
utilitarian dynamics and EQ and two reverbs:
Convolution and Hybrid. The latter uses IRs
for early reflections, and algorithms (synthetic
“regular” reverb) for the tails. Convolution includes
35 IRs and Hybrid has another 46, with a
total footprint of 49MB. Both let you add your
own IRs, and VSL offers add-on IRs from Numerical
Sound and Inspired Acoustics. Similar to
QLS, Suite features a smaller set of IRs primarily
tailored for cinematic work, with a decent selection
of halls, scoring stages, plates, and rooms.
Both plug-ins feature useful tone-shaping controls—
especially Hybrid, with separate tone,
time, and mix parameters for the early reflections
and tails. That makes a wide range of sound
possible beyond purely “natural” rooms.
|Convolution is one of the two reverb plug-ins in Vienna’s Suite collection.
All reverbs in this roundup support 32- and
64-bit processing, require a dongle for licensing,
and come in the major Mac and Windows
plug-in formats. Suite, however, provides three
software licenses, letting you run it on a main
host machine plus two other computers. That’s
a big advantage, especially if you have a multicomputer
studio with host software such as
Vienna Ensemble Pro (reviewed Apr. ’12) or
All the reverbs feature true stereo operation,
which requires more CPU horsepower than monoto-
stereo. Th e result is a more realistic sense of
the sound being in the actual space.
IR Sample Content
AV’s library of sampled spaces is massive by
comparison to any other convolution reverb,
and it goes well beyond large halls and cathedrals
to include world-class recording
studios, plate reverbs, digital effects, and a
large number of post-production-oriented
IRs taken from offices, trains, planes, and
other public areas. For me, AV is a one-stop
shop where I can find just about everything.
Another of AV’s strengths is that many spaces
are sampled from multiple perspectives,
so you can choose from a more up-front or
While QLS doesn’t offer nearly that number
of IRs, what’s included is top-notch, and gives
composers plenty of variety in terms of halls
and scoring stages. QLS also offers multiple
perspectives for many of its sampled spaces—
EastWest even went so far as to sample separate
perspectives of their generically named
“So. Cal Orchestra Hall” for each instrument
family in the orchestra. Even more impressive
is that the IRs were apparently created
with different musical applications in mind.
For example, there are presets for “pop brass,”
“rock drums/guitar,” “piano hall,” “strings hall,”
“taiko hall,” and more.
|Hybrid uses sampling for early reflections and algorithms for reverb tails, combining the best of convolution (realism) and traditional reverb (tweakability).
A nod goes to all of the plug-ins for the
way in which presets are organized. AV has
a full-featured browser that lets you search
for presets by application and type (e.g.,
music creation versus post-production) and
even offers a “Similar” function that finds
IRs that are similar-sounding to the current
preset. In practice that works remarkably
well and helps narrow the audition and search
process. QLS presents its IR collection in several
ways, allowing you to search by room type
(Hall, Stage, etc.) or by application (Orchestral
Brass, Vocal Ambient, etc.). Similarly, presets
in Hybrid are organized by room type, and all
presets include helpful suggestions for diff erent
applications, such as “Class hall with pronounced
mids” and “Signature stage with a
distinct reflection and buildup; very good
It has to be said: Quantum Leap Spaces sounds
gorgeous. Sources seem to blend more naturally
with the sampled spaces and, not surprisingly
given EastWest’s pedigree, there’s a defi nite
Hollywood soundtrack character to many of the
presets that I didn’t find with the other reverbs.
While it wouldn’t be my choice for indie productions
or to add just a hint of room to otherwise
bone-dry overdubs, QLS is definitely at the top
of my list when I’m going for an expensive, polished,
Ease of Use
QLS sports a very simplified user interface with
controls for wet and dry levels, basic tonal shaping,
and pre-delay, so there’s not much you can
do beyond “load and go.” That’s good news for
technophobes, but frustrating if you prefer deeper
programmability. Speaking of which . . .
Altiverb and Suite let you craft, control, and
shape many aspects of the sound, which, as an
admitted tweakhead, I prefer. Mixing as I go is
part of my creative process, and I like to dial in
exactly the sound I’m after. Very often I find
myself adjusting the reverb and source sounds
as I write in order to mask problems with a
particular instrument, blend sounds from different
libraries into the same space, or move
an instrument within the mix. In this regard,
AV and Suite give me the kind of control I’m
Bang for Buck
|EastWest Quantum Leap Spaces has the simplest, most musician-friendly interface—and exceedingly musical sound quality.
Considering that Vienna Suite includes a set
of useful and usable EQ and dynamics plugins—
plus two reverbs with a small-yet-naturalsounding
set of IRs and three software licenses
so you can deploy the effects across several
computers—Suite clearly gives you the most
stuff for the money. None of it is filler—everything
in Suite can hold its own next to some of
the bigger, more well known plug-in developers.
I wouldn’t characterize Suite’s EQs and dynamics
as vibey or colorful, but for clean and neutral
results, they’re very capable.
If your music requires convolution reverb at
all, it’s hard to go wrong with any of the three
reverbs we’ve covered here. Maybe you like to
shape and tweak your sounds, in which case
you might like more parameter control. On the
other hand, maybe having too many knobs gives
you option anxiety. Regardless of where you’re
at on the muso-techno continuum, each of the
reverbs featured here is worthy of serious consideration
and would be an asset to your musicmaking
PROS Large, diverse IR collection. Highly programmable.
Can load user IRs. New IRs
constantly added for free. Browser makes
file management and auditioning intuitive.
CONS IR collection is so big that finding what
you’re after in the heat of writing can be
a challenge. Some tonal shaping required
to get good sound.
Price (list | street) $595 | $529
QUANTUM LEAP SPACES
PROS Oozes vibe and sounds gorgeous. Has
IRs from the same hall where EW Symphonic
Orchestra was sampled. Easy to
find great sounds with no fiddling.
CONS Limited programmability. Can’t add
your own IRs. Mostly large-sounding
spaces; not as many smaller rooms.
Price (list | street) $299 (no difference)
Vienna Symphonic Library
PROS Best of both worlds: IRs for early reflections
and algorithmic tails with modulation.
Can load user IRs. Good selection
of spaces. Useful EQ and dynamics. One
purchase buys three licenses.
CONS Limited selection of IRs compared to
other two reverbs. No spatial positioning
Price (list | street) $570 | $540