Back in the days when spring reverbs were all that the project studio owner could afford, nobody had a good word to say about them. Even the Great British Spring (GBS) was noisy and 'twanged' mercilessly when fed percussive material. In fact, as soon as affordable digital reverbs hit the market, we all dumped our spring reverbs with much rejoicing. Nevertheless, Touched By Sound seem to think the spring has enough redeeming features to be worth saving, and their VSR3 is essentially a rack equivalent of the GBS with somewhat improved electronics.
The VSR3 is a mono‑in, stereo‑out reverb and at its heart is an Accutronics spring tray that takes up the entire length of the case. It appears that the spring unit has been modified for stereo use, as a pair of thin cables enters the unit through the centre of the phono connector which is normally used as an output. Like the GBS, the electronic section is very simple, providing only gain to drive the spring and further gain stages to amplify the output from the spring and mix it with the dry signal. There's no EQ, limiting or any other fancy processing and, as with all springs, the decay time is set by the physical characteristics of the spring — in this case around four seconds. Power comes from an external adaptor, which I dislike, and the audio connections are by means of unbalanced jacks. Front‑panel controls are limited to Input Level (there's no metering), Mix and Effect On/Off, though there's also a rear‑panel bypass jack for use with a footswitch. The VSR3 could really do with an input level meter, or at least a clip LED.
Springs do sound very different to digital reverbs, even those digital reverbs that claim to emulate springs. The main reason is that springs don't produce any clearly defined early reflections. Spring reverb tends to be modulated at a rate proportional to the time a sound wave takes to travel along the spring, hence the distinctive 'boingy' sound of this type of device. In the case of the VSR3, the degree of 'boinginess' isn't unduly offensive unless you use it on drums with a high wet/dry mix ratio. Springs were never great on drums.
Used on vocals, the sound isn't unlike that of a plate reverb, but with a less 'sparkly' top end. Guitar players will find it delivers that familiar amp‑with‑spring‑reverb sound to perfection. In fact it works well on any non‑percussive material, and has a much denser and warmer sound than most digital reverbs. The stereo effect is created by using two different springs to generate essentially similar but non‑correlated signals at the left and right ouputs — the result is nicely spacious. There's a certain amount of background noise if the reverb level is turned up too high, but at realistic settings, it is quiet. The VSR3 is an uncomplicated take on a low‑tech reverb that just might provide the sonic alternative you need. Paul White