A new Soundtoys plug‑in is always an event, and SuperPlate is their first release in over five years. Just how super is it?
Way back in 2017, Soundtoys introduced a plug‑in called Little Plate. Like the other ‘little’ plug‑ins in their range, it was initially free, and intended mainly to whet the appetite for a forthcoming full‑fat version. However, Soundtoys have taken their time to get the latter right — and during that time, Little Plate has become a hugely popular plug‑in in its own right.
The ‘full fat’ version was finally announced at this year’s NAMM Show, and on the face of it, SuperPlate looks like a fairly natural extension of Little Plate, with the main additions being a selection of different plate emulations and a much‑needed pre‑delay option. Don’t be fooled, though: there’s a lot more to SuperPlate than meets the eye.
SuperPlate is sold separately and as part of the Soundtoys 5.4 bundle. It’s available in all the major native formats, and is authorised using the iLok system. Unlike Little Plate, SuperPlate can also be used as a module within Soundtoys’ EffectRack plug‑in chainer. This means that if, for example, you want to use their classic EchoBoy delay plug‑in to emulate a tape delay feeding into SuperPlate, you can save the entire chain as a single, transferrable plug‑in preset.
Little Plate was inspired by the classic EMT 140, and numerous examples of the original were tested during its making, but the aim was never to make a ‘warts and all’ recreation. Rather, Soundtoys tried to capture the essential character of a particularly good example, and implement it so that it was usable beyond its usual range of decay times. In SuperPlate, they’ve extended the same approach to four more historic plate reverb models. The EMT 240 was a later design that used stretched gold foil in place of the 140’s steel plate, allowing it to be made much more compact, and giving it a noticeably different sound. Two more models are based around locally popular American plates from the 1970s and ’80s, while the fifth is based on the rare Swedish Stocktronics RX4000. All five models offer the same expanded range of decay times, from half a second to infinity (RT60 at 500Hz), and the new pre‑delay is variable up to 250ms for special effects.
In order to create reverberation, a physical plate needs to be stimulated, and this is done by amplifying the source signal to feed a driver coupled to the plate. In the early EMT reverbs, the amplifier was a valve design, while later models used a solid‑state amp. Each has a characteristic sound, especially when overdriven. (Unusually, nearly all engineers seem to agree that the solid‑state version is better, perhaps partly because it’s less noisy.) Soundtoys have modelled them both, as well as offering a clean alternative. Feeding a hotter level into the plug‑in or boosting the input gain control gradually increases the amount of compression and colour coming from the modelled amplifier circuitry, if enabled.
The reverb always has that complex, dense ‘plate‑y’ quality, even when you’re pushing the decay times way outside of the capabilities of a real plate.
Like most of Soundtoys’ grown‑up plug‑ins, SuperPlate has a Tweak button that opens a pane of extra controls. These include an additional two‑band equaliser, which is hard‑wired at the output of the plug‑in. Although it’s displayed on the same graph, the high‑pass filter inherited from Little Plate is on the input side; here, it is joined by an extremely useful low‑pass filter, and both can be switched between 6, 12 and 24 dB/octave slopes. The Tweak pane also allows you to alter the rate of the modulation and adjust the stereo width (see 'Super Stereo' box, later), but the most intriguing element is something Soundtoys call Auto‑Decay.
Most of us are probably familiar with the concept of ducking, whereby a compressor is placed after the reverb and triggered from the dry signal feeding the reverb. If you get the settings right, this can allow the reverb to be pushed down in level while, say, a vocal line is being sung, before rising up at the end of each phrase. Ducking can help to maintain intelligibility and keep the vocal at the front of the mix, whilst also making it sound lush and rich.
Auto‑Decay is an alternative way of achieving a similar goal, by modulating the duration of the reverb instead of its amplitude. You set a Threshold and a Target decay time; when the input signal exceeds the threshold, the reverb decay time is turned down from its main setting to the Target value. Once the signal falls below the threshold again, decay time reverts to the normal value, at a rate determined by the Recovery dial.
It’s a clever and highly effective implementation. In a vocal context, Auto‑Decay can achieve much the same thing as ducking, and it’s very easy to set up, but it has novel applications too. For example, if you set a slow Recovery time on a snare sound, you can create a fantastic non‑linear reverb that blooms after the drum has been hit. It’s enough to make me wish that SuperPlate could accept an external side‑chain signal to trigger Auto‑Decay, because that could be a lot of fun, especially with otherwise‑infinite reverbs. The experimentally minded might also mourn the fact that Auto‑Decay can’t be used in reverse, to lengthen rather than shorten the decay time.
In the main, though, and infinite reverbs notwithstanding, SuperPlate isn’t primarily an experimental tool. It’s intended to be a bloody good reverb for mixing — and that’s exactly what it is. As with so many other Soundtoys plug‑ins, the genius lies in the way the designers have boiled everything down to present exactly the right balance of versatility, ease of use and sound quality. There are few enough parameters that operation becomes instinctive after half an hour or so, but there are sufficiently many that you rarely find yourself wishing for control over something that is fixed. Moving any control has clearly audible results, yet none of them has a narrow sweet spot. And the reverb always has that complex, dense ‘plate‑y’ quality, even when you’re pushing the decay times way beyond the capabilities of a real plate.
If you think mix engineers cannot live by plate reverb alone, an hour or two with SuperPlate might just change your mind.
The EMT 140 is still probably king of the hill in terms of producing a sound that works for absolutely anything, but the other plate models are very usable, and sometimes preferable especially on sources such as snare drums. The 240 has a boxier, more prosaic quality that can be just the ticket where you don’t need the full dreamy floatiness of the 140, while the Audicon has a brash and slightly ‘tiled bathroom’ tone, with a strong upper‑midrange emphasis. The Ecoplate III is warm and solid and often makes a good meat‑and‑potatoes alternative to the 140, while the Stocktronics plate is distinctively bright and splashy. And in every case, the amp modelling is a surprisingly intuitive and powerful tool for shaping the sound.
I frequently use half a dozen or more different reverbs in a mix. Sometimes I’ll even combine two or three on a single source in order to get the effect I’m looking for. And although one or two of them might be plate emulations, I’d usually lean pretty heavily on other reverb types too. When I was testing SuperPlate, I swapped it in for all the various reverbs in an existing mix in turn — and in every single case, it stayed. If you think mix engineers cannot live by plate reverb alone, an hour or two with SuperPlate might just change your mind. This is a plug‑in that lives up to its name and more.
Most hardware plate reverbs were either mono or mono‑in/stereo‑out devices, and Soundtoys’ earlier Little Plate plug‑in took the latter approach: it always summed the input to mono, even if used on a stereo aux or track, so panning your reverb sends made no difference to the end result. SuperPlate is a stereo‑in, stereo‑out plug‑in, and the Tweak panel includes both Width and Balance controls. With the Width set to its default 100 percent, SuperPlate actually seems to behave more like a dual‑mono processor, in that a hard‑panned input only generates output on one side. So, if you want to use it to add some stereo ‘spread’ to a hard‑panned source, you’ll need either to pan the reverb send differently from the source, or reduce rather than increase the Width. Or, of course, you could use a mono‑to‑stereo instance in DAWs that allow it.
A quick straw poll of the other plate reverb plug‑ins in my folder suggested that Rare Signals’ Transatlantic Plate behaves the same way as SuperPlate, whilst EMT 140 emulations from Arturia and Universal Audio are always mono‑in/stereo‑out, and Liquidsonics’ Lustrous Plates is somewhere in between.
- Sounds superb, and retains the character of a real plate whilst being much more versatile.
- Beautifully thought‑out control set makes it a pleasure to use.
- Auto‑Decay is a clever and effective alternative to ducking.
Was SuperPlate worth the wait? You bet. This is a truly excellent reverb plug‑in that sounds great on practically everything.