Space. The final frontier. Is it? So, what is space as it relates to music? Space is that last audible cue that gives listeners a sense of location. Near, far, big room, small room, no room, etc. It consciously or unconsciously informs the listener where a performance, sound effect, or any other point of audio is placed. It can set the mood, enhance the narrative, create tension, anchor the moment, and provide thousands of other uses to support the music. But where does it come from?

Early recordings only had one option: placement of the performers in close or far proximity to the microphone – which picked up more or less of the acoustics during the performance. In later years, it became technically possible in the studio to send out a recorded sound to a plate (such as the EMT 140), a speaker in a room, or an echo chamber. However, not every studio or recording environment can accommodate the space to have a chamber or plate available as needed. In these circumstances, we turn to the next evolution: hardware processing. There were many attempts to create hardware that emulated space, which were not very good at re-creating a known space. However, those limitations also provided an opportunity to recreate not just known and predictable spaces, but unknown and physically impossible spaces! So cool for creative people – but still capped to physical hardware limitations. Enter DSP (digital signal processor) technology. First available as hardware units like the EMT 250/251. Then later available in units like the Lexicon 480L, the QUANTEC Yardstick, the Bricasti M7 [Tape Op #69], and many more.

Plug-ins came next, which used the computation resources in a DAW’s host computer to process the many calculations needed to control time, decay, reflections, and even more parameters. For this, there are two main types of reverb: algorithmic reverb and convolution. Algorithmic reverb is excellent for easily manipulating the parameters, starting from a blank slate, around the reflections that create the sense of space. Convolution reverb uses an impulse response of a real environment – essentially a recorded fingerprint – to recreate a known hall, theater, or even devices. Convolution reverbs are usually less adjustable, as they start with a recorded sound to give data to the reverb, which then applies to the sound feeding into it. Wouldn’t it be great to have essentially the best of both worlds?

Enter Paragon from Nugen. The Paragon convolution reverb plug-in is an immersive reverb that is extremely powerful – immersive in that the limitation of reverbs up to this point in our audio history have generally been mono, stereo, 5.1, or 7.1. But this reverb has actual impulse responses in its included library that handle up to 7.1.2 audio. This takes the reverb to a new plane by adding the “height” available for immersive formats like Dolby Atmos, Sony 360 Reality Audio, MPEG-H, and Auro-3D – fantastic! Until this release, the only way to get the sense of three-dimensional space in a recording was to either record the environment with microphones that actually captures the space live in 3D, or use a combination of stereo or multi-channel reverbs to try and re-create it. That works and is a space – but it’s not the same as the space. Reflections all interact with each other as waves that bounce around the room. They can cause frequency cancelations or build-up, for example. Multiple reverbs used together do not provide the same type of interaction. They may be interesting but not necessarily precise to the room being re-created.

So, let’s dig into Paragon. Setting up a plug-in instance is simple. I am a longtime Steinberg Nuendo [Tape Op #133] user, so for me, all I do is select the tracks I want to use and “Add FX to selected tracks.” The next step is to select the bus size of the effect. Nuendo allows for a huge amount of bus width capabilities, from mono through 22.2, with all kinds of variations and standards included. However, the Paragon is limited to 7.1.2 (LOL... limited). Any immersive format can be covered by a true 7.1.2 or less reverb. The GUI’s main page is very user-friendly in its layout and controls. The first decision is at the top: What type of space are you looking for? For me, presets are bittersweet in that I don’t generally agree with them, but they are a great place to start. One of the advantages of a convolution reverb is that you don’t need too many presets in your library as a jumping-off point. Paragon includes a perfect size library of non-static impulse responses that can be tweaked to well beyond what impulse responses have been capable of in the past. The other settings on the main page are controls for high-pass and low-pass filtering, then pre-delay and decay time. By the way – I love, love, love having the option to use the track tempo to set decay time! On the righthand side is the control set for crosstalk. This is an excellent feature Nugen has implemented. One can control all of the crosstalk globally, choose to omit or keep the Center feeding the crosstalk, or allow crosstalk from other speakers in the Center channel – same with the LFE (sub-frequency channel). This adds great flexibility in keeping the reverb from becoming too dense or unfocused. For example, classical music may need the reverb across the front LCR (left-center-right). However, a pop song may need clarity in the middle, where the lead vocals would be. I can’t really imagine a scenario where I would want the crosstalk in and out of the LFE, but it’s available if the creativity strikes the need. Size and Brightness are next, which are self-explanatory. I will add that I like the slider controls for the Pre-Delay, Decay, Size, and Brightness. They are easy enough to grab and long enough to make precise adjustments. Values can be input directly as well. The next cool control is Mic Distance; this adjusts the relationship of early reflections to later reflections. Essentially, changing the proximity of the source signal to feel closer in or further away. There are also modulation controls (Depth, Mix, and Rate) for unique or creative sounds. And lastly: Mix and Trim controls. I really like how all of the main controls I would want to reach for are in a clear and accessible user interface. I can briefly look at the page and glean most of the information I need to dial in what I am looking for.

But to dig deeper, there is an impulse response page for further intense tweaking, plus an I/O page to adjust the setting of each individual channel. Additional settings that provide control over individual global parameters are located on the main page. This can get very detailed and specific for each channel. One thing I would like to see on this setting page in the future would be the ability to link any channel setting together. This could be very useful for isolating forward sounds with one type of feel between those from behind with a different feel in a “grouped” manner.

The IR page offers some unique features. The user first sees the model on which the space was generated. Right below that is a window that displays the frequency response of the impulse and (very usefully) the decay time of the frequencies. This is an excellent addition that helps the user create space while not blanketing important sounds that need to be front and center. Alternately, the display information aids in adjusting the decay time for some frequencies for a specific effect. The graph can be further manipulated by adding up to five “EQ-style” nodes of varying width, adjustable Q, or shelving. There is a selector right below this graph that allows for applying the EQ and decay settings of each (or all of) the channels in the reverb – very cool! Last, but not least, is the Complexity control – this is huge! It is an adjustment of the complexity of the re-synthesis of the impulse response. This can affect the performance of the DAW and is a handy feature to have in a large project – or perhaps more sonically important, it can help with crowded mixes that may not call for a dense style of reverb (and vice versa). For example, one might prefer a really lush but not overly rich reverb on a classical recording with only a few mics, or a sparse but open reverb on an already dense source or mix.

That is about it for the controls. Wait – one more thing to mention is the section for test sounds (both music and foley). This can be a beneficial feature that allows the user to employ certain “known” sounds to help dial in initial adjustments. I think it is fantastic that they considered the broad uses of this reverb for not only music purposes, but also for foley and sound design.

But how does it sound? I’ll quote Tony the Tiger here: “Greeeeaaat!” There are many really good reverbs available, and some are even multi-channel, to a point. Plus, if stereo work is the majority of what you work on, I suggest you check out Paragon ST; the same fantastic engine in a stereo only format. However, when working in immersive audio, having groups of stereo reverbs set to audition and recreate a three-dimensional space doesn’t quite get there with ST. Don’t get me wrong; there are times that I only want a stereo reverb in an immersive mix for a particular sound. Other times, I want to use a quad reverb for a side or back wall or ceiling. ST excels as a set space in which the mix, or elements, can occur. When using a few plug-in instances of ST (with different Mic Distance settings for each), a realistic layering of sounds can provide varying degrees of distance and space (within a mix) that can create a powerful experience for the listener. The re-synthesis of impulse responses are artifact-free and feel very natural. The ability to change EQ or delay times (with respect to frequencies) offers incredible functionality and sounds natural when it should be yet unique when it needs to. Resolute, clear, full – that’s how I would describe the sound of Paragon.

Space can indeed be the final frontier. It is that set of cues that anchor the listener in an environment and give them context while providing depth and proximity – cues as to the more important sounds and the supporting ones. This can be subtle or dramatic, depending on intent. If you have ever been in an anechoic chamber, it is not a pleasant space to spend any long period of time in, much less to enjoy a sonic experience. Space is important. And the right space is essential. Nugen has created an excellent immersive reverb that I go to consistently – very well done!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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