NORTH CANTON, Ohio. In a March 2014 CDN article titled “Reverb Wars,” I had the great pleasure of doing a side-by-side comparison of Altiverb and the new Eastwest “Spaces” convolution reverb. The new Spaces product held up remarkably well against the great granddaddy of software convolution reverbs, and in certain cases (such as the now famous “Hamburg Cathedral” preset) struck me as more musical. Now in 2019, without a major Altiverb update in sight, we arrive at the second iteration of Spaces. The new Eastwest Spaces II promises a significant update to the company’s highly vaunted original product. At the same time it retains the beloved presets that have now become part of so many production templates. (See note below.)*
What a Convolution Reverb is
For those unfamiliar with the details of the subject, it might be useful to briefly review what convolution reverb is and how it differs from traditional reverb plugins.
Traditional reverb uses a hardware or software based algorithm to estimate the reverberant responses – literally, the room echo and acoustic atmosphere – of spaces. In other words, it does the math to measure a response of a room, or to define “in the box” reverb options, such as digital reverbs and plate reverbs.
By contrast, convolution reverb measures a room’s response and maps it in order to effectively capture the sound of a space. To create a convolution reverb, one must have microphones rolling while sending an “impulse” through a room in order to excite its acoustic properties. The impulses have traditionally included transient sounds such handclaps, balloon pops, or gun blanks.
And now, Sine Wave Sweep
In a more recent development, some testers are playing a “sine wave sweep” that moves from the bottom to the top of human hearing to excite the space. They then analyze the resulting recording with software, next transforming it into an “impulse.” They can then employ this to create a realistic acoustic appropriation in the digital realm.
Today, tools such as Apple’s Impulse Response utility are becoming standard, as well as the basic impulse response plugins appearing in numerous digital audio workstations (DAWs). Thus, it is no surprise that entire communities are springing up and trading impulses online.
Better and better results
While it is relatively easy to capture a nice sounding impulse, it is no surprise that a trained and experienced audio engineer can generate comparatively richer and almost magical results. At times, such impulse projects become quite advanced. Examples include the amazing “Icons of Sound” project at Stanford University, where the acoustical impulse of the legendary Hagia Sophia was created. Here, within this boutique and curated approach to quality impulses, is where Spaces II makes its entrance.
Spaces II: Elevating quality and standards
The objective of Spaces II – produced once again by the highly experienced duo of Doug Rogers and Nick Phoenix – was not just to capture impulses. The team wished to accomplish this by employing a variety of high quality gear and audio engineering considerations. Their philosophical approach primarily concerned capturing the performance of the space as one might try to optimally record a live performance, with the coloring characteristics of the gear being taken into the equation. The results, as exemplified by Spaces II, are predictably warm, musical, and often stunning.
The Spaces II presets have been recorded using a brand new convolution engine. As the end result, the package offers a selection of over 1,000 reverb presets in 24 bit True Stereo. These include your favorites from Spaces I.
The “True Stereo” interface permits a hyper-realistic result while striving to maintain the lowest CPU load possible. In addition, most of the available impulses come in an 8 channel format. This allows something that no other reverb offers for the price: true surround capability.
Opening the plugin
As soon as you open the plugin, you can easily see that Spaces II has grown up into its new slick and aesthetically pleasing presentation, keeping pace with the ever-increasing high standards at Eastwest. Even better, the plugin retains the “get results quickly” interface of its predecessor, while donning a far more pleasing appearance. It reminds users, somewhat, of the Altiverb product.
Aside from offering a useful first glance at the type of space (including size and materials), one can appreciate the more beautiful interface of Spaces II in and of itself. When a professional endeavors to creating an aesthetic response, it’s a joy to have tools that aesthetically please the eye as well as the ear.
As one samples convolution reverb from a listener’s perspective, one has the choice of both front and rear mics, as well as a large assortment of section and instrument-specific reverb. The engineering team created the latter by placing the sound source – known as “firing” – at the position of the instrument as it would appear on stage. So, whether dealing with a dry orchestral recording or a MIDI mock-up, one can have several instances of Spaces II open on aux channels to receive individual instruments or sections. This, in turn, leads to a much more realistic use of space. A total of six location-specific presets allow this option.
We first tested Spaces II in a purely MIDI scenario, using both Eastwest and non-Eastwest virtual instruments. Spaces II performed as robustly as one could expect, given both its strong predecessor product and the nature of Eastwest’s general business activities, whose primary focus is on virtual instruments. The section-specific IRs gave particularly welcome and musical results with our hybrid multi-product string section.
We also tested Spaces II as part of a chamber recording including a soprano voice, bass voice, baroque violin and cello. For this track, we created two aux channels, one with our favorite “Hamburg Cathedral” setting, and another with the Notre Dame reverb for our more ethereal sections.
We cannot display the end results here, as they are about to be submitted as part of a new commercially released album. But at this point, we can say that the results met with highly enthusiastic approval from the piece’s original audio recording engineer. We will keep these results for this forthcoming release.
In addition, at this point, we can enthusiastically endorse the authenticity of Eastwest’s own walkthrough video, which appears below.
So how does Spaces II stack up to the biggest competition, namely, Altiverb? The comparison here may be akin to comparing a Windows and a Mac computer, with Altiverb being the PC. Like the Windows architecture, Altiverb has more options and is more customizable.
The Spaces II – Mac analogy is similarly apt. Spaces II offers a closed architecture with strict quality control. Thus, you can’t import your own IRs. But instead, you get a highly polished machine with curated impulses whose consistently pristine results you probably couldn’t afford to imitate anyhow.
At its $299.00 MSRP, Eastwest Spaces II is a steal compared to its competitors. Its cost is a small price to pay for what may become your favorite reverb. For those who already subscribe to Eastwest’s composer cloud (also the best deal for virtual instruments on the market), the product is already waiting for you to discover.
Spaces II requires 1.7GB of space and iLok.
*NOTE: These templates include the one used to produce tracks on my own 2017 Naxos release, “Blood, Forgotten,” available on Amazon and Spotify, which received praise in no less than Gramophone Magazine.
– Headline image: Spaces II splash screen. Via Eastwest web site.