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The world's best algorithmic reverbs such as our own a Aether
, a B2
, and Breeze 2
have quite masterfully perfected the art of diffuse field late reflections for some time now. Our tails have been silky smooth since 2009 and have only gotten better with each generation of our products. Our ray-tracing-based Early Reflections Engine in a Aether
, and more abstract approach to Early Reflections in a B2
and Breeze likewise do a good job of creating strong spatial impression complimenting the envelopment offered by our tails. In short we create very convincing spatial impression and sense of envelopment with somewhat abstract yet infinitely variable spatial models.
For solo instruments this is a very convincing illusion. For use in multi-track sessions there is historically something of a complication. In the hardware days of yesteryears, the hardware devices where so expensive that most studios had only one or two that were shared by all instruments via using them on send buses. More recently in DAWs the same practice was typically continued do to limited CPU power a few years ago, and the relatively high CPU usage of full extreme algorithms such as a Aether
and a B2
. Many engineers also advocated using shared reverbs on sends to do the convenience of being able to change the reverb settings globally as well, which is admittedly convenient we agree.
Sharing Ain't Always Caring
A Little Too Close For Comfort...
Using a shared reverb instance or two may be a reasonably acceptable compromise for diffuse late reflections, but it is a quite incorrect from the physical perspective for Early Reflections as it is the physical equivalent of having all source sounds occupying exactly the same position within the virtual acoustic space. Even if a Aether
or a B2
supplies an immaculately sublime spatial model, if we send 20 instruments into the model and have them all coming from exactly the same point in space within this model, the result will still be less than perfect. In the real world the 20 performers would be occupying different locations within the shared space. We can of course apply gain panning to the tracks pre-send, but as explained above this is somewhat artificial and does not really properly position them within the space. It does nothing to change the time delay lengths that happen in the real world depending relative source, listener and boundary positions.
We could instead use separate Early Reflections engines directly on each individual tracks and reserve a few instances on sends to supply shared diffuse late reflections. This works relatively well, and we have advocated it back as far as 2009 with a Aether
. One complication here is that sending early reflections into tails usually results in some degree of coloration of the tail, which may or may not be an issue. Secondly there is no easy way to correctly control left-right positioning. If you insert a Aether
on a track, and then pan the track in the DAW, the entire track will be shifted including it's reflections and this is not physically accurate. Furthermore you are still relying only on gain panning which is not the most physically accurate. Finally, you have no easy way to independently control the delay between the direct sound and early reflections and the tail for each instrument, which is a critical perceptual cue for depth and distance positioning.
Moving Forward (And Back)
Beginning with Breeze 2.0
in early 2018, we solved several of these issues by creating a reverb that is so efficient that you can easily load 100 (or 1000 or even more) different instances directly on each track. Each new instance will automatically produce a variation of itself so that instruments will feel part of the same space, but occupying different locations within that space. Early Reflections patterns and even the diffuse tail for each instance will be different as would happen in the real world. An infinite variety of more drastic mutations of each preset are a click away as well, and allow you to find a magic sweet spot for each instrument. This is already a great step forward.
Everything In Its Right Place...
The next step is to offer purposeful control. Breeze 2.0
allowed you to create multiple instruments that all occupy a different location within a unified space, but it did not allow you be specific about where they are within this space. If you are trying to recreate an orchestral stage for scoring work for example you will have to utilize some other tools together with Breeze 2
to achieve this. Most likely this would have previously involved the track panner, but once again this is generally post insert, and now you are panning your direct sound, your early reflections and your tail. To be blunt, shaking your tail is one thing, but panning it is something else entirely! It is physically incorrect and will not sound authentic and is still only using gain panning.
Even more importantly, to achieve authentic front to back distance positioning other psychoacoustic cues should change between instrument instance such as the wet/dry balance as well as the pre-delay amount. These can be set by ear or via using precise calculations for those knowledgeable and diligent enough to do so, but the process is tedious. Furthermore, the direct sound itself should also change some depending on its position following very sophisticated processes.
This is what Precedence achieves for you. Precedence precedes all of your other spatial tools. Precedence comes first in your spatial processing chain. Precedence will impeccably position your source sound laterally left-to-right controlling its azimuth angle using techniques that will work perfectly with all reverbs that follow it without creating unwanted side effects. Precedence will also pre-condition the direct sound to give it an instant sense of audio source width and spatial impression, similar to what early reflections are typically used for and will do so in a variable manner that embeds distance cues into the direct sound itself.
Link To Another Dimension...
Precedence can then be followed by a Precedence-aware reverb such as Breeze 2.1
, which can be set to manually link some of its internal settings to Precedence simply by setting Breeze 2.1
's Mix parameter to the same value as Precedence's Distance parameter. Breeze's Mix, Pre-Delay and other internal aspects will now sync to Precedence's Distance parameter to create the correct Initial Time Gap and Direct to Reflected Energy Ratio, which are both essential to the psychoacoustic perception of distance. This takes the guesswork out of setting an appropriate Pre-Delay value for each instrument, which is a very important topic in orchestral stage positioning yet remains largely misunderstood and difficult to correctly set up using standard tools.
Using Precedence directly on track inserts together with shared reverbs such as a Aether
or a B2
on sends will also still be a dramatic improvement over standard methods if you prefer not to manage many instances of reverb directly on track inserts. When used this way Precedence will still correctly laterally position each instrument, add some distance cues, and also add some modulation that will have the effect of slightly randomizing the Early Reflections independently for each instrument that is send to a shared reverb on a send. This alone is a huge step in the right direction and can work very well for small ensembles.