Have IK managed to bottle the sound of the famous Hollywood studio?
I grew up just eight miles from Sunset Sound Studio. Sadly, I never got the chance to visit, but like many of you I've enjoyed many recordings made there over the years, by the likes of the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan. Now IK Multimedia claim to offer some of the sound of that studio in their Sunset Sound Studio Reverb (let's call it SSSR from here on). Available as a VST 2/3, Audio Units and AAX plug‑in, and as a module for IK's T‑RackS software, SSSR employs a combination of modelling and convolution techniques that IK claim is unique and which they call 'Volumetric Response Modeling'. There's a low CPU overhead but for the first instance there's a moderately high RAM requirement, though using multiple instances doesn't seem to consume much memory. The GUI can be continuously varied in size from 852 x 461 pixels to your full screen width.
SSSR includes emulations not only of all three of Sunset Sound Studio's live rooms, but also their associated isolation booths, the echo chambers, and the studio's most desirable mechanical reverbs. There are two plate reverb models, Plate 1 being an Echoplate (an American device) and Plate 2 the German-made EMT 140. There's also one spring type, an AKG BX-20E. Each plate model has controls for 'phase' and decay times. The Echoplate and the Spring have three decay settings (Low, Mid and High), while the EMT 140 has nine, ranging from 300ms to six seconds. The Echoplate's High setting provides a slightly longer decay time. But these are just the defaults, and a handy Decay control provides flexibility: it allows the decay time of any of the reverbs, including the rooms, to be scaled to taste, with the 50 percent setting cutting decay times in half, 25 percent reducing them to a quarter, and so forth.
There are also a Pre-Delay setting (zero to one second), high- and low-pass filters, low and high shelving EQs, a stereo width control (of the reverberation signal), and separate Wet and Dry level faders, each with a Solo facility.
The room models have additional options. The live rooms of Studios 1 and 3 have three damping settings, and these change the reverb tone significantly. Studio 2's Live Room has three mic positions. Every room, and the plate and spring reverbs, has a polarity-invert control, which can create a rather interesting change to the tone when the reverb is mixed with the dry signal. Each room also has an associated chamber and iso booth, with polarity inversion but no other controls.
By default, options aren't recalled if you switch the room or reverb. For instance, if using Room 2 set to mic Position 3, then you switch to Room 1 and back again to Room 2, the Room 2 mic will be reset to Position 1. But if you do want to compare two or more different configurations quickly, you can use the handy ABCD quick preset control — or, of course, save/recall full presets. The 58 factory presets are organised in two categories (Insert and Send) and you can modify and add to these as desired.
A cleverly designed Mic selector control provides even more variation for all rooms. Using just the left or right mic doesn't just collapse the reverberation of a stereo track to mono. Instead, the left and right tracks are processed separately by the chosen mic, which is pretty slick. And if the input track is mono, the Stereo mic setting will produce a stereo reverb image based on the complex reflections of the selected room — very nice for widening a vocal or mono instrument track! Using the left or right mic setting with a mono input track (or 'pressing' the Mono button below the Input fader) will yield a mono reverb signal, with each mic producing a different tone from the other. More useful variation.
All the rooms and reverbs are excellent, each offering a different character from the others.
A major design goal was making impressive results both quick and easy and, to that end, IK have simplified options in the right places. There are over 160 parameters to play with (before you engage the width control, pre-delay or decay time), so there is plenty of control if you want it. But, for instance, there are no movable mics such as you'd find in IK's Amplitube, and I found that refreshing; I didn't spend ages tweaking mic positions, and didn't find myself wanting to since the set locations sounded excellent.
Adding to the generally clean layout and fine graphics, a 360-degree image for the selected room can be rotated using your mouse, so you can see the layout. Each room also has an info icon that provides some historical background on the room — you might call this a gimmick, but I found it interesting, and it's something that might intrigue and impress some clients. Either way, it doesn't detract.
As pretty as SSSR's GUI is, the sound is what's important — and it sounds very nice indeed! All the rooms and reverbs are excellent, each offering a different character from the others. I compared SSSR with several of my favourite convolution and algorithmic reverbs, and, especially for vocals, guitar and drums, I preferred SSSR to the others almost every time. As intended, it sounds much like a recording in a very fine, real space.
To satisfy my own nerdy curiosity, I didn't just listen, but I also analysed the overall frequency response and decay at different frequencies for each room. It was fascinating to see what gives these rooms their character — just how 'live' these live rooms really are, with large peaks and dips in the frequency response, and significant variations in decay times by frequency. You wouldn't want to mix in these spaces but they do sound great!
One small issue I noticed was some overloading/clipping in my audio chain when a loud signal was fed into SSSR. It surprised me, because peaks of the input signal itself were several dB below full scale and the input fader of SSSR was at 0dB, yet the output signal level was high enough to clip further down the chain. It's no problem to correct this — you need only to lower the SSSR input fader or the signal feeding it, and avoid the temptation to push those faders up — but it's worth keeping an eye on the meters and your gain staging.
Ideally you'd apply this reverb to dry sources; if your source track already has a room sound baked in, the results may be less convincing. That said, I found that some mixes with moderate amounts of existing reverb could be usefully enhanced, and in some cases I found a touch of a Sunset room added something pleasant to some commercial recordings that already had their own room vibe.
On the whole, then, SSSR looks good, sounds great, is easy to use and doesn't munch CPU cycles. It's not the cheapest reverb out there, but it's not prohibitively expensive — and much cheaper and lower hassle than renting the real Sunset Sound Studio for a day! Recommended.
Watch our NAMM 2020 video to see and hear the plug-in in action.
- Several excellent-sounding reverbs, including spaces and mechanical types.
- Clean, logical layout makes it quick and easy to use, while offering plenty of control.
- Thoughtful preset system.
- Informative 360-degree images of each modelled room, with historical notes.
- Relatively light on CPU.
- Mic placement options may feel too limited for the born tweakers out there!
This is a very fine emulation of a very fine studio, with enough flexibility to cover pretty much any source. The interface is quick and easy to navigate, and the results are uniformly excellent.