What Is Plate Reverb? How to Use It in Your Mix
Discover the rich sound of plate reverb and learn how to use it in your music. We’ll explore what plate reverb is, uncover its unique characteristics, and share practical tips on how to incorporate it into your mixes.
Plate reverb is an audio effect that has been a staple in music production and mixing for decades. Its lush and spacious sound has been heard on countless records, adding a rich and unique quality to vocal and instrumental tracks alike.
In this tutorial we'll explore what plate reverb is, how it works, and most importantly, how to use plate reverb in your mix. We’ll even share how it differs from other types of reverb you can use.
Follow along with this article using iZotope
What is plate reverb?
Plate reverb is a type of reverb effect that traditionally uses a large metal plate to create a spacious, bright, and distinctive sound. In modern music production, this sound has been captured by countless plug-in companies and impulse response collectors to bring this classic sound to your productions.
Let’s add some more perspective to this: If you’re new to this audio production, the terms applying to reverb can be quite confusing. Sure, words like room and chamber and hall make sense: it’s relatively easy to conjure the image of a big concert hall in your mind. Then you see terms like “plate” and wonder, what does that mean?
In its inception, a plate reverb was a mechanical device constructed for the sole purpose of achieving reverberation without the use of a large room for re-recording material. It was a space saver, able to exist in the corner of the studio without taking up much room.
Today the term “plate” refers not so much to the device, but to the iconic sound of the device: bright, splashy, and thick. I’ll go more into the sound now.
What does plate reverb sound like?
Plate reverbs tend to be bright and splashy, with a ton of character and presence. Whereas a chamber reverb might sync an element back into the mix, a plate reverb can usually help bring it forward in an ear-catching manner.
For example, here’s a vocal from a record I was working on for Pete Mancini. I’ll show it to you dry within the context of the mix.
Now here it is with a standard room on it, complements of Neoverb’s room algorithm, and then with Neoverb’s plate reverb.
Room vs. Plate Reverb
See what I mean? The vocal cuts more, reinforcing the high-midrange with a bell-like quality. There’s a metallic glint to the sound of plate reverb, and this is due in no small part to how a plate is made.
Though plate reverbs are inherently bright sounding, that’s actually a bit of a trick: plates take advantage of an innate facet of hearing—the ear’s predisposition towards detecting higher frequencies before lower ones. This makes plates quite useful for adding the appearance of brightness without actually cheating the sound towards harsh, piercing tones.
Use a plate subtly, and you can add presence without undue brightness. By way of example, here’s the level and tonality of plate reverb I ended using on the record for the audio I’ve shown thus far:
Plate Reverb on Vocal, Leveled
Compared to the first example, you can see what I’m talking about.
How does plate reverb work?
The original plate reverb was an analog piece of equipment boasting quite a clever construction.
As you can see in the picture, it’s literally a plate of metal suspended in a case, and kept in a state of tautness by springs. Engineers would attach a transducer to the plate, similar to the driver in your headphones. They’d then pump music through the transducer into the plate, which would cause the metal to vibrate.
The resulting vibrations were picked up by contact microphones also affixed to the metal plate. These microphones would be recorded onto a separate track—or a separate pair of tracks—in the console, and that would be your reverb.
The device allowed for a degree of control: depending on where you’d place the contact microphones, you could get a different sound, a longer reverb tail, and a wider image.
Plate reverbs were some of the earliest to make the jump into digital processing. Before Lexicon released their iconic 224 reverb, EMT made the 250 in 1976, a digital emulation of a plate that’s become a classic in its own right. It’s arguably the first digital reverb—and the first digital reverb was a plate.
Since then, the plate reverb has been a fixture for engineers, both of the audio and software variety. Plate reverbs show up in pop music to this day, and new plate reverbs are emulated and coded every year.
iZotope has a few plates up its sleeve. You can find algorithmic models of plates in Symphony 3Dand Stratus 3D from the iZotope Exponential Audio line. And, for a more modern take on the plate, you can check out Neoverb, which has its own plate algorithm that sounds bright and clean, boasting the ability to blend with other sorts of reverb right inside the plug-in GUI.
Plate reverb versus spring reverb
The difference between a plate reverb and a spring reverb lies in the name: a plate reverb uses a flat metal plate. A spring reverb uses a wound spring. The difference in surface area and construction yield vastly different—though equally evocative—sounds.
When it comes to what they have in common, they both have a sort of metallic sound, and they’re both based on hardware units.
The similarities don’t end there: plates and springs actually use a similar principle in generating reverb. Both units pump sound from a driver into a piece of metal, and both units use contact microphones to pick up the resulting reverated vibrations.
By way of reference, here’s our plate reverb on that vocal again, solo’d this time for clarity. Then, listen to a spring reverb from Native Instruments’ GUITAR RIG.
Spring vs. Plate Reverb
You can hear that the spring reverb is brighter, has a warble to it, and almost feels like a bunch of discrete echoes tied together. The plate reverb, on the other hand, is smoother, reinforcing the presence rather than overloading the brightness.
Both have their place, they’re just quite different from each other.
When to use plate reverb
You heard a very obvious example of a plate on a vocal, but it doesn’t always need to be so obvious. For instance, here’s another tune from Pete, where I used plate reverbs not on the main vocal, but on a swimming stack of background vocals.
Plate Reverb on Background Vocals
The plate creates a swimming, dramatic picture; that’s one way to use them on vocals.
In ballads or tunes with slow tempos, plates can evoke a similar dramatic flare on the snare drum. I recently used a plate to this effect on a tune for Micah E. Wood, called “Never Knew Your Life.”
Plate Reverb on Snare
You can hear how it creates a stab of dramatic tension with every hit.
Those are the two instruments I most often use with plate reverb, but there are other scenarios in which plates are your friends.
1. Add a perceived sense of brightness
We’ve talked about how plate reverb can add a perceived sense of brightness to vocals already, but plate reverb also work similar wonders when used on guitars. EQ a guitar in the presence of a high-mid register and it might sound nasty. Give it some subtle plate reverb, and it feels more like a lift.
Observe the Byrds-like guitars in this track.
Verse with Guitars
Say we wanted to get more brightness out of them. We could EQ the guitars, but that would quickly get shrill.
Not great! Instead, let’s use a plate reverb from Neoverb with the following settings.
Here is what the guitar with plate reverb sounds like in the mix.
Guitar with Plate Reverb in Mix
Now the guitars have more of a lift to them, though their balance hasn’t really changed all that much.
2. Evoke a particular genre
Plate reverbs have associations to particular genres and time periods, specifically mid 20th century vibes. For instance most of your favorite Christmas classics employ plates on the vocals, and sometimes on the sleigh bells.
Here, I’ve picked a Christmas song at random, and sure enough, there’s the metallic tell-tale wash of the plate:
Plate reverbs also have ties to classic country music. By way of example, here’s Patsy Cline singing "Crazy."
There’s that familiar washy sound again! So if you want to evoke certain mid century sounds, the plate can be a useful shortcut.
3. Get a synthetic reverb that doesn’t feel fake
Because the plate is not a real world space, it has a larger-than-life synthetic feeling. Yet, because the plate has been used for decades, it doesn’t feel overtly faked—it’s become accepted by our ears.
I could, if I wanted to, use some sort of artificial shimmery reverb on that song I’ve been showcasing thus far:
Now that is a beautiful, ethereal reverb. And it’s completely wrong for the track.
Shimmery Reverb in Song
It’s too fake for what’s going on here. It would’ve been rejected by the client immediately. Still, we want a sort of synthetic dreaminess—something evocative of Los Angeles at sunset. A realistic room reverb isn’t going to cut it.
Ambient Reverb in Song
That doesn’t give us the sparkle we need. This is where a plate shines, giving us an established dreaminess just left of center.
Plate Reverb in Song
4. Create a big picture reverb with multiple facets
Because of its dreamy, yet understated qualities, the plate reverb can be meshed with other textures to create your own personalized sound. Nowhere is it more easy to do this than within the interface of Neoverb.
In the center of the plug-in a three-way blend pad, and we can sculpt a reverb built out of halls, plates, and room reflections to give us something more suited to the material:
Neoverb Blend: Room, Hall, and Plate
That reverb has some room reflections, some hall characteristics, and a heaping dose of plate. The result is something more bespoke and more three-dimensional than some of our previous offerings.
Thus concludes our foray into the wonderful world of plate reverbs. At the end of the day know this: engineers use plate reverbs because they work. They simply work. They are marvelous, evocative tools. After reading this article, hopefully you’ll come away to use them in your own productions. If you want to read more on reverb, check out this blog on digital reverb and this guide on reverb.