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Liquidsonics Cinematic Rooms

Liquidsonics Cinematic Rooms

We bask in the reflective glory of a rather special algorithmic reverb generator.

Popular wisdom has it that algorithmic and convolution reverbs are polar opposites. The one is endlessly flexible, but compromised in authenticity; the other can be spookily realistic but is essentially preset-based, with limited potential for editing.

That might have been true a decade ago, but since then, the boundaries have become well and truly blurred. Impulse responses have been appropriated to bolster the realism of algorithmic plug‑ins, while convolution technology has become ever more mutable in the hands of some clever designers.

One of the clever designers at the forefront of this process has been Matthew Hill of Liquidsonics. His first product, Reverberate, introduced novel modulation possibilities into convolution, and he's since developed his own Fusion-IR technology to offer much of the editing flexibility we take for granted in algorithmic reverb. Highlights along the way have included Seventh Heaven, a semi-official recreation of the celebrated Bricasti M7 hardware unit, and Lustrous Plates, an open-ended and versatile plate reverb simulation.

With Liquidsonics' latest product, the process has almost reached its logical conclusion, because Cinematic Rooms is very much an algorithmic reverb, albeit one that still incorporates some convolution elements. It also represents a serious attempt to address the needs of users working in surround, and if your system is capable, multichannel formats up to 7.1.6 are supported. (Pro Tools, for example, only supports channel formats up to 7.1.2, so a workaround is required for 7.1.4 and 7.1.6.)

Cinematic Rooms is available for Mac and Windows operating systems, in VST, AU and AAX Native formats. Both the basic and the more expensive Professional edition support all the relevant surround configurations, but the latter provides more presets and, as we'll see, more options for tailoring your reverbs within a surround mix. An iLok account is required for authorisation. Being mostly algorithmic, Cinematic Rooms also doesn't have an enormous IR library, so needs only 200MB drive space.

Known Unknowns

Much about Cinematic Rooms' interface will be familiar to anyone who's ever used a reasonably sophisticated algorithmic reverb. As is often the case, early reflections are controlled separately from the reverb tail, and many of the controls in both cases are standard. So, for example, the early reflections section includes controls for the Reflectivity of the virtual space, along with the Diffusion of the reflections that are generated and the spacing between them (Size), while the reverb tail parameters include overall Reverb Time and Pre-delay. High-frequency roll-off and modulation within both early reflections and reverb tail are also controllable in the normal way, and there's an entirely conventional EQ section.

At the same time, though, you'll also notice a few more unusual parameters. The early reflections section is notable for a control labelled Proximity, offering a variety of settings starting with Adjacent at one end to Far and then Reverse at the other. This idea is to offer more realistic and nuanced control over the apparent position of the source within the virtual space than is obtainable with just a pre-delay control, and the results fully justify the means. The reverb tail section, meanwhile, includes a parameter named Bloom, which shapes the build-up or onset of the reverb.

Plane Simple

One of the things that makes Cinematic Rooms unique is a set of parameters available only in the Professional version, where both early reflections and reverb tail feature an X-Feed section. The controls found here determine the way in which reverb from a source in one channel propagates through the others. The available parameters are Level, Delay and Roll-off; the function of each is self-explanatory, but their purpose might not be. The point is to be able to specify the extent to which reverb 'belongs to' a source and reflects that source's position in the sound stage. The value of this feature is arguably most important in post-production, especially in surround sound. Imagine, for example, a film scene where something is moving towards the viewer along a tunnel: the reverb from the tunnel would be very pronounced, but also limited to the side from which the source is approaching. At the other end of the spectrum, completely decoupling the reverb propagation from the source position could also be an effective tool in scenes where an actor is struggling to locate the origin of a sound.

This brings us to the other main distinction between the basic and Professional versions of Cinematic Rooms, which is a concept Liquidsonics call 'reverb planes'. As I've already mentioned, the basic version supports all feasible surround formats, but with the limitation that all settings apply to all channels equally. There are plenty of circumstances where that would be more than adequate, and anyone using Cinematic Rooms solely as a stereo reverb will probably get by fine without the Professional version. But if you're mixing for surround configurations such as Dolby Atmos that offer precise localisation in all three dimensions, there are also circumstances where you want things to behave in different ways in different planes.

Reverb planes in action: the dials at the top right of the screen indicate that three parameters in the front plane have been delinked from the Master settings, two in the Rear plane and two in the Centre plane, which is currently being edited.Reverb planes in action: the dials at the top right of the screen indicate that three parameters in the front plane have been delinked from the Master settings, two in the Rear plane and two in the Centre plane, which is currently being edited.

Consider, for instance, how sound might behave in a long, thin hall with no roof. Apart from a few early reflections from the floor, there would be no reverberation in the vertical plane, while the left-right ambience might have a significantly different character from the front-back reflections. And in Cinematic Rooms Professional, this sort of effect can be recreated. All parameters default to global control, but they operate within individual stereo 'planes': left-right, rear left-right and so on. Any parameter for any plane can be de-linked from the global setting and varied: so, in the example above, the horizontal planes might have similar settings for things like Reflectivity and Proximity, but varied reverb times and balances between early reflections and reverb tail, while the vertical planes might be configured very differently. The individual planes are represented by discs that appear at the top right of the user inferface, each displaying a number representing the number of controls that are unlinked within that plane.

There are a few other features that are available only in Cinematic Rooms Professional. Perhaps the most significant is that Professional users get more than 300 presets to the 80 or so in the basic version, but there are also a number of extra controls. The tail algorithm features a built-in delay line and an intriguing control labelled Undulation; the action of this parameter is somewhat obscure, but quite noticeable in long tails, where it can create a subtle animation and movement that's very different from conventional LFO-derived modulation.

The early reflections' Diffusion is augmented in the Professional version by an additional Width parameter, and the Proximity control is joined by a setting labelled Pattern. This adds further versatility to the options for spacing the reflections, including an interesting Nonlin U setting. In conjunction with the various delay and Proximity settings, Nonlin U permits the creation of reverbs that behave in a 'nonlinear' fashion, with reversed or flattened dynamic envelopes, yet still sound plausibly natural. I'm not sure I've ever come across another reverb that can pull off this particular trick!

I would never normally think to use a nonlinear reverb on a lead vocal unless as a special effect, but there are several here that work beautifully.

In Use

The concept of reverb planes is a deep one and hugely powerful, but I think it's fair to say that it will be of most interest to those working in high channel-count surround formats such as Atmos or higher-order Ambisonics. That probably doesn't include most people who are recording and mixing music, so does that mean this plug‑in isn't relevant for music users? Absolutely not. Cinematic Rooms is a hugely powerful and great-sounding algorithmic reverb for any sort of mixing, music included. Sound quality is straight out of the top drawer, and what's really noticeable in use is the attention that's been paid to getting the early reflections right.

Early reflections are the most important auditory cues as to the size and shape of a real space, and Cinematic Rooms lets you dive unusually deeply into their simulation without introducing millions of parameters. One upshot of this is that the plug‑in especially shines at producing ambiences and other short reverbs. Where lesser plug‑ins start to 'bark' or become unnatural and metallic-sounding, Cinematic Rooms just adds ever more delicate air or richness to the source. If you like reverbs of the "subtle enhancement that no-one will notice it until it's bypassed" variety, you'll be spoiled for choice here.

That's not to say that Cinematic Rooms can't do more obvious reverb too, of course. With a maximum reverb time of 45 seconds, plus the ability to do infinite reverbs if you want, it has no problem recreating both plausible concert spaces and epic Valhalla-like halls. The Professional edition includes a large number of realistic post-production-oriented rooms and other interiors, along with lots more impressionistic smallish spaces for music production. The Chambers category is a particularly rich source of inspiration for music mixes, and I'm sure very few real reverb chambers ever sounded half as sweet as presets like 'Helios Chamber'. Even settings that really ought not to work, and almost certainly wouldn't in other plug‑ins, deliver results that are not only pleasant but useful. I would never normally think to use a nonlinear reverb on a lead vocal unless as a special effect, but there are several here that work beautifully. And as well as offering levels of surround controllability rarely encountered, Cinematic Rooms also sounds great in mono, which is an important quality in music mixing.

The only conceivable downside is that its absolute refusal ever to sound bad might not always be exactly what you want in a reverb. Trashy, gritty, grainy, metallic, ringing and obviously artificial reverbs all have their place on occasion, and I never managed to push Cinematic Rooms into producing anything that could be described in those terms. Settings that ought to sound all wrong just, well, don't! If lo-fi is your thing, buy something else; but if you want to experience a reverb that can make any setting at all sound hi-fi, Cinematic Rooms will deliver every time.

Alternatives

For stereo use, high-quality algorithmic reverb plug‑ins are available from the likes of Lexicon, Relab, FabFilter, Sonnox and many more developers. Surround reverbs are less common; I'm not aware of any rivals that have all the same features as Cinematic Rooms but Flux's IRCAM Verb v3 probably comes the closest. Exponential Audio's reverbs are also surround-capable and rightly popular in post-production circles.

Decorrelation Coding

Perhaps the simplest way to create a sense of space around a signal would be to send it to two very short delay lines with slightly different delay times, and pan those hard left and right. If that's all you did, it would probably be reasonably effective — until someone listened to it in mono. Because the left and right channels in such a delay are identical apart from a few milliseconds' time difference, collapsing them together will cause them to interfere with each other and introduce unpleasant comb filtering.

This is an extreme example of 'correlation', where two signals have ongoing similarities that bring about audible consequences when they're combined. There are various things that can be done to reduce the level of correlation between two related signals; in the example above, the use of slightly different pitch-shift settings on either side is a well-known trick.

In a well-designed reverb plug‑in, every channel's output should be fully decorrelated from that of every other channel and from the source itself — whilst, of course, retaining enough of the source's sonic character to be recognisable as reverberation from that source. This is true of Cinematic Rooms and it's one of the reasons why it still sounds very good even when auditioned in mono. But what no reverb can do is eliminate correlation between the source signals that are being fed to it. In other words, if you took those two delay lines and sent both of them to the same reverb plug‑in, the resulting reverb would inevitably sound comb filtered regardless of the quality of the plug‑in.

Cinematic Rooms Professional introduces a novel way around this. If you want to apply the same reverb setting to two or more sources in your mix that are correlated, you can set up multiple instances of the plug‑in and choose different 'decorrelation coding' patterns for each. In the example above, you could apply the same hall or chamber preset to each of the delay lines, and as long as you used different decorrelation coding settings and had Cinematic Rooms 100-percent wet, you'd hear no comb filtering.

In truth, I struggled to find a real-world application for this feature — ultimately, if your source tracks don't combine unproblematically in mono then you have bigger problems than correlated reverb! — but it's a thoughtful provision.

Pros

  • Sounds great.
  • Unusually detailed control over early reflections.
  • The concept of 'reverb planes' will be an asset to anyone working in surround, especially in post-production.

Cons

  • If you want trashy reverbs, you won't find them here.

Summary

Cinematic Rooms is a very high-class algorithmic surround reverb, and although some of its features are designed with post-production users in mind, it works extremely well in music mixing and in stereo too.

information

Professional version $399; standard version $199.

www.liquidsonics.com

Professional version $399; standard version $199.

www.liquidsonics.com

Published September 2020