Madrona Labs have carved out a distinctive niche with boutique virtual instruments such as Aalto and Kaivo. Offering advanced sound design techniques in a versatile yet elegant package, Aaltoverb is something of a departure, at least in terms of its apparent simplicity. Based on the lush reverb built into Madrona’s Aalto synth instrument, Aaltoverb is a performance-ready reverb that’s light on CPU, heavy on spaciousness, and highly intuitive – with surprisingly unexpected sound design potential.
Six dials control all of Aaltoverb’s parameters. Input and Output control gain staging, along with simple entry and exit metering to keep a handle on whether your levels are getting out of line, while a Mix dial determines the Dry/Wet blend. The character of the reverb is largely defined by Size, measured in meters, and Decay, measured in seconds until RT60 (when the resulting reverberated signal dips below -60 dB). Setting the Decay dial to maximum results in a true infinite reverb freeze for instant ambient effects.
With Size and Decay dials both pointed in the same direction – ie., smaller space with shorter decay, or larger space with longer decay – you’ll end up with a fairly natural sounding reverb. However, by tilting these dials in opposite directions, you can generate some unusual ambiences and powerfully resonating structures, replete with spring-like artifacts in between.
Long decays paired with unnaturally small size values generate wild metallic tones, while adjusting the size in real-time creates incredibly smooth pitch sweeps without any stepping artifacts. Increasing the size from zero creates cool whooshing artifacts I haven’t encountered with other reverb devices, which could be deployed for everything from rhythmic accents to extreme techno noise design.
Uniquely combining a pair of shelving filters, the Tone control, measured in Hz, shifts the spectral focus of the reverb tail, providing damping at lower settings and icily crystalline high-pass at the other end – all of which are reasonably constrained between 250 Hz and 4 kHz.
The click-free dials invite extended tweaking, ideal for performance settings where extreme effects might be appropriate, while the elegant and fully resizable GUI also makes it a joy to use in conventional DAW settings. Removing pre-delay and other advanced reverb settings makes it easy to quickly dial in customized spaces while experimenting with unruly tones that open new possibilities one might not expect from a standard reverb plug-in. For adventurous-minded sound designers, automating or modulating any of the Size, Decay, and Tone controls can result in compelling and unusual sonic results.
At only $35 USD, anyone seeking a straight-forward take on CPU-optimized reverb should seriously consider Aaltoverb, while sound designers looking for a flexible take on space control – with extreme FSU potential – should definitely give it a try. I found myself impressed with how well designed Aaltoverb is for performance control, how great it sounds with so little processor load, and just how unique a range of sounds it can produce, from uncanny resonators to vast spaces. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I wanted to actually play with a reverb more.