Unless you’ve been comatose since 2009, when glimpses of ValhallaDSP were first seen on the DSP horizon, it is very probable that you’ve been aware of Valhalla Plug-ins. It approaches outright comedic lunacy to even contemplate comparing an independently-crafted $50 (USD) reverb plug-in with those costing upwards of FIVE times more.
Nevertheless, this true-stereo, cross-platform, algorithmic reverb plug-in deserves nothing less.
The resultant reverberation quality heard on audio tracks having been processed with ValhallaRoom is nothing less that breath-taking. And don’t you know, the reverberation decay can be as long as 100
s e c o n d s . . . . . L O N G & O N & O N.
With an ever-growing community of ardent admirers, upholding and lauding the incredulous dominating prowess of ValhallaDSP plug-ins, the founder’s name is referred to with great respect and appreciation. Readers, please make welcome, Mr. Sean Costello; the sole developer and founder of ValhallaDSP.
Some have dismissed Mr. Costello’s choice of ATARI-like, 2D GUI design, over the currently common trend towards vintage-looking, photo-realistic plug-in interfaces. For those whom have spent any time demoing or actually working with Valhalla reverb plug-ins, GUI design arguments become diminutive, at best.
Again, sound quality.
By his own admission, Sean Costello approaches reverb algorithms from a psychoacoustics perspective. He says, and I quote:
”The most elegant math in the world doesn’t matter to me if it doesn’t sound good. Replicating physical reality is not nearly as important to me as creating the impression of sounds that are bigger and better than the physical world. My work is grounded in a deep appreciation and analysis of the analog and digital techniques of the past, and extending these foundations into new directions of awesome.”
Quite frankly, it is this reviewer’s opinion that Mr. Costello has achieved and maintains his manifesto, perhaps even exceeding it.
If cost were not being weighed into the equation, I would feel confident and justified in comparing ValhallaRoom against most nearly any other “Room/Hall” reverb plug-in. The lush, rich, deep sense of space that this brilliant DSP gem is capable of reproducing is startling.
Obviously, Mr. Costello is not only an exceptionally-skilled programmer, but he can certainly be considered an eloquent wordsmith as well. He introduces visitors to the product’s web page with grammatical poise and class.
“ValhallaRoom has been designed from the ground up to produce a wide range of natural reverberation sounds. Sounds range from tight ambiences and rooms, through traditional hall and plate sounds, all the way up to vast modulated spaces. The algorithm designs have been influenced by some of the “classic” room simulation boxes, as well as state of the art modern theory.”
I concur, Mr. Costello.
It is this reviewer’s findings that while “Vroom” should not be considered a ‘clone’ of any famous product – software or hardware. Notwithstanding, ValhallaRoom certainly does exhibit the same kinds of qualities that the time-honoured greats are known for.
I refrain from naming the famous devices and software(s) to which I’m alluding, but ‘dear reader’, if you're seeking a reverb plug-in that reproduces “that” famous modulated reverb sound; you need look no further. If your ‘other’ reverb plug-ins rely on an iLok, and said iLok bungles up, or gets misplaced/stolen, all is not lost. As long as you have access to your Vroom plug-in, the show can “still go on”, and the project will still sound GREAT!
Installation & Setup:
Purchase online at valhalladsp.com for only $50 (USD).
Wait for a brief period of time (no more than 24 hours, typically).
Install tiny application not much bigger than 2 MB.
Put Vroom on a channel.
Browse for XML license file.
Hold on to computer chair and brace yourself for incredible reverb quality.
Visuals and Interface:
Not unlike the ingenuity observed in Voxengo’s practice of creating a unique interface “style”, ValhallaDSP plug-ins have a definite and immediately identifiable charm about them. The color themes differ from product to product, but the design-style is consistent throughout the evolving ValhallDSP product range.
Yeah, yeah . . . I know, many of us have gotten accustomed to shiny, photo-realistic GUIs that require Photoshop 3D gymnastics to create. ValhallaDSP has chosen a divergent Modus Operandi. The comfortable, default interface dimensions sit restfully within your DAW’s workspace at 730px wide by 500px high.
Ah, but it doesn’t stop there, brethren. ValhallaRoom can oh-so-easily be resized to any measurement dimensions. Grab the lower right corner of the plug-in GUI with your mouse, and drag-resize to your heart’s content. Not only does the interface itself change, but the knobs and sliders resize in perfect, direct proportion as well. Now that, my friends, is a very kool feature. Try doing this with one of the fancy-schmancy photo-realistic jobbies. “Not resizable, George??”
ValhallaDSP GUI’s are nice n’ light on system resources too. Windows GDI isn’t going to throw a ‘hissy fit’ and demand that you have the latest nVidia or ATI 3D acceleration card installed on your system. The intuitive, easy-to-use workflow is an absolute joy to work with. Trust me – it’s very pleasing for the eye to ‘look’ at photo-realistic graphics, but ease-of-use and HUGE sound quality pays off very well in a real-world application. Besides, here's one reviewer that greatly appreciates the uniqueness and simplicity of ValhallaDSP's 2D GUI designs.
The ‘gentile’ shade of grey used for the background, is nicely spiffed up with rich, red and tangerine-colored accents. It’s all very easy on the eyes. Text and labels are legible and clearly read in attractive, anti-aliased ‘sans serif’ typeface. Each of the ‘knobs’ and sliders feature silky-response to mouse movements and offer some very kool right-click options. The user can choose to use “velocity sensitive” mouse movements as well as one of three variations of rotary motion. (circular dragging, left-right dragging and up-down dragging).
There are two primary control areas. To the left the user can configure the degree of mix/dry signal ratio, PREDELAY, DECAY, HIGH CUT, and DEPTH. On the right side, the user is greeted by two, luxuriously-sized tabs for both the EARLY and LATE reflections manipulation.
ValhallaRoom does not include a separate user’s manual, in PDF (or other) format. Instead, ValhallaDSP have conveniently incorporated product documentation in what they refer to as “Self Documentation”. This time-saving help/manual method works especially well for this type of GUI design. As the mouse cursor is hovered over any GUI element, the item ‘dims’ ever-so-slightly. A clear, easily-understood description is displayed along the bottom of the GUI. Nice Feature. :)
The ample presets menu is cosily situated below the ‘EARLY’ and ‘LATE’ panel. The immensities of included factory-presets are much more than mere “starting points”. These presets are finely-tuned and immediately gratifying.
Valhalla’s interface is both attractive (in an ATARI-console kind of way) and functional. There is not one feature or GUI component that looks disjointed or “patched in”. The workflow design is intuitive and becomes familiar almost immediately.
The one GUI-related niggle that I have with VRoom, is the sorely lacking convenience of resetting a control to its default value. A convenient “double-click” to return an altered parameter to its default would be very welcome in a future release.
As I listen to the overwhelming reverberation quality that Vroom produces, I find myself being swept away into a macrocosm of magnanimous virtual space. The quality of Vroom’s 11 algorithmic ambience is so intoxicating that one doesn’t want to remove oneself from its cavernous sphere of sonic decadence.
“Ok . . . .” you say, “But is it any good?”
How often have you read clichéd' catch-phrases blithely tossed about like "wraps itself around the sound source" and “it becomes part of the sound”? As much as these industry-hyped descriptives tend to be overused, they are entirely appropriate and applicable in this case. This reverb opens up your sound. It doesn't smother the source with a blanket of discordant, metallic ringing or unwieldy ‘mud’. The vast, sumptuous stereo-width inherent in ValhallaRoom is tremendous.
Reverb Decay: Unlike the jagged decay of some other reverb plug-ins occupying the same general price category, Vroom’s reverb tails are lush, silky, and smooth. Even if a user has the ‘patience’ to wait for 30, 40, or up to 100 seconds until the reverb tail finally eases to completion, no harsh, abrupt cut-offs will be heard.
Bright or Dark – Big or Small: Here’s a common scenario: Certain reverb plug-ins become an engineer’s choice for only specific reverberation purposes. The engineer will religiously use “So-and-so” reverb for large, dark spaces; the same engineer swears by “such-and-such” plug-in for bright, medium-sized rooms. You know what I mean, right? Some of us even take on an “elitist” mentality, thinking that we ‘must’ have a hard drive cluttered with a bevy of expensive, speciality software(s) to achieve professional results. There is merit to this mindset; but only to an extent.
Many industry-approved experts, such as Nashville’s Graham Cochrane (RecordingRevolution.com) and Joe Gilder (HomeStudioCorner.com) encourage beginning and intermediate engineers to acquire a few GOOD plug-ins, and learn how to proficiently use just those few. Personally, I err on the conservative side of things myself. As such, ValhallaRoom fits into this latter category perfectly.
VRoom is as perfectly suited to reproducing deep, cavernous dark spaces, as it is to bright, wide, halls. There’s ‘just enough’ noise in some of its algorithms to bring us a quality that very closely approaches that of coveted, revered, studio-hardware greats of yesteryear. * Pssst, some would even say the Vroom stands abreast of said studio greats.
An instrument or voice can easily be ‘placed’ in a busy mix with great precision. That placement will be truly discernable to the listener. When an engineer develops an intimate knowledge and familiarity of VRoom, superior, ‘hyper-real’ ambience effects will be effortless to recreate. Those results will be immensely satisfying.
Stereo Imaging & Depth:
A common failing often observed in less expensive reverb plug-ins, is a lack of perceived depth. Inexpensive reverb may sound as though it's 'swallowing' the sound source, or that it is simply 'riding on top' of it. ValhallaRoom cannot be accused of nor is guilty of either. VRoom sounds very ‘alive’ and organic – even with the swirl of bouncing modulation. Perhaps, it is ‘because’ of the lush modulation available in some the algorithms, that ValhallaRoom can tantalize our aural appetites so.
It is an amazing feat for a solitary developer to create a plugin that tricks the listener's ear into believing that the source was recorded inside of a wide, deep, ambient space. VRoom ushers the listener away from the digital domain and convinces them that they are no longer listening to a reverb plugin.
Many engineers, myself included, will often employ two or more reverb plug-ins in order to achieve truly believable results. One reverb type may be needed to create a sense of ‘real space’ or dimension. A second reverb type will be used to establish a sense of “depth”.
The finely-developed “psychoacoustics” DSP programming that powers ValhallaRoom ensures that the results described above are now within reach for home producers. Thankfully, this audio-processing excellence is modestly priced. So yes, definitely within reach.
The “EARLY” module facilitates adjustments of the relative size of an ‘initial’ space. (Remember the analogy of close-micing a piano?) A user can also define modulation settings and diffusion here. The amount of “EARLY” reflection being sent into the “LATE” reverberation is also user-adjustable in this panel.
The “LATE” tab provides the user with size, stereo-width, modulation frequency & depth, as well as sweepable crossover bands and band multipliers. If you aren't yet a reverb “Pro”; don’t worry about it. A few hours of experimentation with VRoom will fast-track you right along.
Just to spoil ourselves, let's listen to a few more clips of ValhallaRoom on simple piano tracks.
ValhallaRoom places conservative to moderate demands on both CPU and RAM, depending on the algorithim. The tightly-optimized C++ coding was written by an elite programmer who draws from many years of reverberation algorithmic DSP programming experience. Ginormous performance. Reasonably light system drain.
Most of Reviewer’s Revival’s reader base knows that I’m one of those engineers that believe in the “less is more” rule. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” “Don’t trade old gold for new silver.” “Old dogs, new tricks” . . . Ok, Ok, I’ll quit the clichés. You get my drift though, right? Once I’ve found something “GOOD” that I know works well, I really don’t relish the notion of experimenting with new ‘stuff’; especially while I’m involved in a serious recording or mixing situation.
Hah! Shame on me for my 'heel dragging and lollygagging'. When I finally ‘took the bait’ that so many of ValhallaDSP’s ardent admirers have been doling out on the audio forums, I was hooked for life. I've been impressed by many good quality audio products, crafted by independent developers. At this price point, ValhallaRoom is unequivocally THE BEST-in-CLASS product I have ever had the privilege of reviewing to this date.
Brother Charles is a freelance writer, Gospel artist and minister. Charles had been a professional touring musician during the nineties; working primarily as a lead guitarist in the Canadian country music industry. Brother Charles is also involved with music production and quality home recording.
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