Thursday, May 9, 2013

Review: PSP SpringBox

Product: SpringBox spring reverb emulator
Developer: PSP Audioware
Formats: Windows (VST, AAX, and RTAS), Mac (VST, AAX, RTAS, AU) - both 64-bit compatible
Price: $69
Demo: available on the product page 

PSP Audioware has long had a reputation for excellent, vintage-sounding plug-ins, and so far they show no sign of slowing down.  Today we're going to take a look at their latest release, a spring reverb plug-in called PSP SpringBox.

Back in the days before digital reverbs and high-end plug-ins, reverberation was still an important part of production, it was just produced in a more primitive way.  Back in those days, reverb was generally produced by amplifying an object that is vibrating from the music signal sent to it.  One method used a large, flat metal plate as the resonating body.  These were known as plate reverbs, and you undoubtedly have run into plate reverb presets on your favorite reverb plug in.  The sound of plate reverbs is generally quite smooth, and it became a favorite to use on vocals and percussion in particular.  The other main reverb of this type was the spring reverb.  In this case, instead of an amplified plate, a reverberating spring is used.  This results in a very distinctive "sproingy" reverb that has metallic and liquid qualities at the same time.  Spring reverbs were very popular in early electronic music as well as the Jamaican dub and Surf Rock movements.  Later on bands like Joy Division and Portishead would make spring reverbs an identifiable part of their sound.

PSP SpringBox, then, is an emulation of a spring reverb in plug-in form with a variety of features to aid you in sculpting the tone and timbre of the reverb.

Installation of PSP SpringBox is a two part process.  First, you run the plug-in installer, and once you've done that, you run the separate authorizer and you're good to go.  Helpfully, PSP also include de-installers.

Currently, there doesn't appear to be documentation for PSP SpringBox, but it's not an overly-complex plug-in, so it shouldn't be difficult for all but the noobiest of noobs to figure out.  I expect documentation is in process. [CORRECTION: Documentation is indeed included, it just wasn't where I expected it to be.  Full documentation is obtainable by pressing the '?' button on the interface.  I apologize for this oversight.]

PSP SpringBox has a nicely-rendered interface that replicates the look of a two-rack unit with a brushed aluminum faceplate, and nice, shiny, black knobs (pause as all the people in Britain giggle).

Each instance of PSP SpringBox is actually made up of two different settings, an "A" and a "B" setting.  Only one may be active at a time, but it allows you to automate or switch between settings quickly in a live performance (for instance, if you wanted to switch between a short and long setting for accents in the mix).  Each of these features controls for the High Pass Filter. Presence, Damping, Time, and level Trim.  All of these settings do pretty much what you would expect from the name and give you a variety of options for shaping the tone of the reverb.

To the right of these two settings,  is a selector that allows you to use different amounts of virtual springs to create the reverb.  You can choose between two, three, four, and six spring configurations.  Low values tend to be sparser, more metallic, and "sproingier", while higher values sound more liquid and diffuse.

Below this, you'll find a bypass switch that allows you to turn the effect on and off - again, quite helpful for automation and live performance.

On the rightmost portion of the interface, you'll find global Wet and Dry levels, Diffusion (allowing rough sounding reverbs all the way to smoother ones), Spread (which allows widening of the stereo image), and Pan/Balance (which places the reverb to a specific place in the stereo image).

As you would expect from a high quality plug-in, CPU usage isn't negligible, but nor is it horrific.  Two quality modes (Low CPU and Brilliant) are available if CPU use becomes a concern.  On my 2.66 Quadcore MacPro, Low CPU mode ate up about an 1/8th of my processor load.  In Brilliant Mode, that went up to about a quarter.  Since this is the type of effect that is shared among many tracks via sends, this shouldn't cause problems for most people.

If you've used PSP's plug-ins before, it probably won't surprise you to know this sounds fantastic.  The various tone-scupting parameters are helpful in providing a surprisingly wide range of sounds.  Super lo-fi retro effects sound authentic and vintage, higher diffusion and spring count settings can provide smoother sounds that still ooze character, and even decent room and ambience sounds can be dialed in without much trouble.

A spring reverb is one of those things that I think everyone should have in their sonic toolbox.  Even if it's not the most cutting edge, surround-sound, convolution reverb, spring reverbs just offer so much character and near-instant retro credibility to a sound. It's not right for everything, but man, when it's right, it's really right.   Whether you're looking to dub out your drum kit, add some splashy surfrock shimmer to your guitar solo, or give your vocal track an authentic vintage vibe, you can dial it in to PSP SpringBox.  At $69. I think PSP SpringBox is well worth checking out if you're looking to add a spring reverb to your arsenal.  I can't wait to see what PSP does next!  [10/10]

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