UVI Sparkverb – The Wow Factor
Welcome to another VST plugin review, this time on the very interesting little guy called SparkVerb. This is a VST, AudioUnit and AAX compatible plugin that comes in 32 & 64bit, Windows and Mac.
After a very painless download and installation process, the software opens pops up in your list of plugins available as you would expect – I use Reaper which has a handy dandy feature that shows you the most recently added plugins, making it easy to find if you have a lot to choose from.
Initial impressions were good. There is a large, bright interface, all the controls are nicely laid out and respond well to the touch, and an option to double the size of the GUI, why don’t more developers do that? Overall it’s pretty easy to work out the basics just by playing around with a few presets. Size, shape, mix, roll-off, width…all those basic controls work as you would expect. But interestingly, I found most of the time I was actually tweaking the centre I/O spectral metering screen. Once you work out you can interact with that a whole new world of possibilities opens up before you. Definitely an Aha moment
The centre spectral screen shows you three bands which activate when you run your mouse over them – low, mid and high respectively. You can pretty much click and drag within a band to change the effect parameters – and yes, it colour coded to make sense – Red for warm, yellow/green for middle, blue for cold. I’m not sure if that was how the devs intended the colours to be interpreted, but that’s how it works in my head. If you want the sound to be colder, crank up the blue stuff, warmer, and boost the red. The display reflects the energy levels more than precise calculations. Easy. Brilliant.
After fiddling for a while with the pretty colours I delved deeper into the other settings to see what I could get this baby to do. Immediately it was obvious you didn’t even need to worry about most of the dials in the centre section – Lo decay, Decay and Hi Decay, as they are all controlled by the above-mentioned colour I/O meter section. There are a pair of roll-off filters (hi pass and low pass) which change the game a bit and are worth playing with, but overall this area can be just glanced over and ignored. The Size and Shape dials to the left of the screen are a flexible way of defining the room shape – I defiantly prefer this variable method as opposed to the hard and fast choices some reverbs give you for room, plate, hall etc.
The modulation and diffusion sections are interesting to play with, but very subtle in all but the most extreme settings. The mode button injects either a vintage vibe, default dark or bright modern tones into the room sound, though again it’s very subtle.
The Freeze button is interesting. If you’ve ever played with an Eventide Space reverb, you’ll know the infinite sound this button can produce. When you click it the unit holds that section of reverb endlessly, lots of fun. With automation, you could come up with some excellent creative effects using this button.
These are laid out very well into groups that will make sense to anyone. Hall, plates, vocal, drums, FX etc. Though not hundreds to choose from, each has very interesting settings giving you loads of new sonic ideas. Each of the dials in SparkVerb has a clever lock option, so if you find the perfect setting in a particular area of the device, you can lock it down and continue searching through presets while keeping those dials locked in place. There is a randomiser button that looks like a pair of dice that gives you wildly different settings every time you click it. Next to that is the mutate button that subtly changes each of the dials up or down slightly. Very cool options.
Finally, there is the Preset Voyager. A kind of star map of presets arranged is order of relationship with each other. You can click a ‘star’ and drag your mouse between it and another star location, which will morph the effect giving you a new combination. While this was interesting for a few minutes, to me it was too hit-and-miss to be used as anything other than a gimmicky time waster. I can see some interesting possibility here perhaps if you were to automate the movement, but other than that I’ll stay with the excellent main spectral screen.
While SparkVerb does your typical plate and hall reverbs, its real party trick is emulating natural spaces. This tends to make me think it’s better suited to maybe movie post-production or game design, but after using it extensively on test recordings I found it adds such incredible depth and spacial width to anything it touches, the possibilities for its usage are pretty much endless.
You will be disappointed if all you’re after is a simple track reverb, as you’re using about 10% of what SparkVerb is capable of. Certainly a production designer or film sound designer will find this plugin indispensable, I fear the upper-echelon abilities of SparkVerb might be lost on your average Joe musician.
The high-end is stellar, there is no other word for it. Simply breathtaking at times when used on the right instrument. Layered synths, pads, anything with a complex nature SparkVerbs high-end shimmer gives a whole new breath of life, yet is always totally smooth. For stringed instruments, the warm end is where you want to be – lush and full. The sense of depth you get is incredible.
Used subtly this effect is very transparent for a reverb, you get a hint of air and a touch of scale that doesn’t overpower the music. You can hardly tell it’s on when used like that, not at least until you disable the plugin to a/b do you sit back and go wow, that’s wicked! Of course, you can push it into the silly territory by cranking everything up, but even then it never really bites your head off.
Using SparkVerb is a piece of cake, but it does lend itself towards creative experimentation more then dialling in specific sounds. The Preset Voyager to me missed the mark, however, I think its intent was to further this playfulness approach to finding new and interesting sounds, and from that angle yes it works. SparkVerb screenshots may look all business, but you soon learn in reality is just a big playground filled with plenty of brightly painted toys to play on.
We are working on a full video review of UVI’s vintage synth line right now, there will be some real-world examples of using SparkVerb so stay tuned for that soon.
I love this reverb. Will it totally replace my current crop of regular plugins, nope – but it’s another excellent and indispensable addition to the ranks. UVI are well known for its amazing synth emulation instruments that have SparkVerb included in stripped-down form, and in that environment, it makes perfect sense – synths and electronic noises sound incredible. SparkVerb will be your go-to guy when you need something fresh, or you have time to follow the rabbit down the hole and see where it leads you – but at $199 USD, it’s an expensive trip for the average home studio – having said that, you’ll pay a lot more to get anything else close to SparkVerbs quality.
Even though I maintain this is better suited to sound designers than songwriters, having SparkVerb in your arsenal maybe provide the right ingredient you’re missing to add that missing magic to your production.
Head over to UVI and grab the demo, www.uvi.net