Say what you want about what’s real or what’s authentic. The beauty of digital sometimes is that it lets us do things that would otherwise be impossible – or at least far out of our reach.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly can’t my hands on an EMT 140 plate reverb. Practical, though, it ain’t: sure, you can covet “analog” gear, but this thing is a physical plate reverberation that’s the size of a car. You know “room” reverbs? This is a reverb that’s the size of a room. It weight 600 pounds. (Not figuratively. I mean it literally weighs over 270 kilos.) Flash back in time to 1957 Germany, and this monster was actually the convenient, compact size – presumably much as our grandchildren will someday laugh that we don’t snort the latest iPhone up our noses.
First, let’s look at the historical model:
Wall to Wall recordings has a stunning look at the original, explaining how it works:
Dan Dietrich (Andrew Bird,Neko Case), Head Engineer at Wall to Wall Recording in Chicago walks us through how the EMT 140 plate reverb works and operated. Topics covered aux sends,how the reverb time is adjusted and the amplification of the signal back to the control room. We get an inside look at one the all-time classic studio effects in existence.
This being the Internet, of course there’s a dedicated site showing the history of the EMTs alongside tips on tuning, cleaning, and even shipping these beasts:
Dan Alexander Audio: EMT Information
Elizabeth McClanahan, who is Assistant Mixer at Heard City, has written a great overview history of the device, and its two best-known emulations – Universal Audio and Audio Ease – for Designing Sound.
EMT 140 Plate Reverb
Elizabeth is one of a number of people who knows far more about mixing than I do – see also Universal’s glowing reviews from the likes of mastering legend Emily Lazar and Grammy winners Paul Blakemore, engineer, and Buddy Miller, artist/producer.
Now, you can learn from the techniques of people like that and apply it to your work. But I enjoy that the sheer convenience of something like the UA and Audio Ease rendition of the EMT in software open it up to creative use and abuse. You don’t need to be accomplished enough to afford studio time and a great mastering engineer. You might just start messing with this thing on places where it shouldn’t go, or on parts that were generated by machines and software. You can, in short, be someone like me (or, maybe you). And I think that’s beautiful: it opens up a signal chain into ehis classic from a source that would never have met it before.
I use the EMT 140 on the Universal Audio platform – the Apollo Twin on the go and live and the rack-mount Apollo in the studio (with Benjamin Weiss/Nerk). And it is insanely addictive. I could whip up some demos, but basically listen to almost anything I’ve done lately and odds are you might here it – certainly on our Nerk/Kirn record for Snork Enterprises, which just hit vinyl.
That is to say, speaking as someone living in experimental electronic and techno contexts, this isn’t just limited to bands.
I’ve used the Universal Audio rendition. It’s a reason to carry an Apollo Twin with you, frankly, not simply because it gives you the sound of the EMT, but because it does so in such a way that’s flexible and allows lots of different creative sound capabilities.
There are three EMT plates modeled, each from The Plant Studios. The reason is simple: there are variations from hardware to hardware, by design and after aging.
You get a model of the mechanical decay controls on the original, though, which sounds different from other reverbs. High pass filters let you shape the results, with enough parameters that you aren’t just spreading the same sound on each time.
Reverb time is key. As short as half a second, you can use the EMT to create subtle thickening effects or timbral changes – it can be as much about color as reverb. And you can do that in mono, as well. That can be nice in an electronic context on everything from synths to drums.
You’ll spend a lot time shuffling the three plate models (A, B, and C), adjusting reverb time, and trying wet/dry – useful having wet solo to hear what the unit is actually doing.
It’s also worth playing with the features UA has added. There’s a handy internal EQ. Predelay, width, balance, and modulation have in some sense nothing to do with the EMT, but these parameters are hugely useful and something to which we’re accustomed now. That turns the EMT model in the UA into both a good model of the sound of the original, and an effect instrument you can use like a modern tool – an otherwise-impossible hybrid. To be fair, so, too, is a good impulse response convolution model of the plate, but the particular configuration here is really well balanced for the sound. It’s hard to go wrong.
And yes, the whole thing is endorsed by EMT Studiotechnik GmbH. Getting a stamp of approval in Germany is no small matter, so respect.
Now, this isn’t really news, this software – it came out in 2010. But that’s the funny thing about software tools. You find some simply outlast others. And while the EMT software is “vintage” 2010, it’s also benefited from improved console software and more flexible tracking on the newer Apollos.
The original demo film covers the software neatly:
DV247 is a good starter tutorial:
But the best tips are in this video from UA themselves, published in March (also proving there’s more to say about this thing a few years on). Now, I can say very confidently that you can take these same techniques and apply them to very different source material and genres:
I’m curious: who out there is also using the UAD model? Or another model of this plate (like the Audio Ease)? Impressions?
On which source material?
And anyone who’s played with the original? Of course, another upside of these digital models is, far from making you lose your interest in the original, it might just trigger your curiosity.
If you have a compatible UA system, though, right now the EMT 140 is on sale (just by coincidence as I wrote this up, as I’d entirely forgotten):