Canadian Musician - January / February - Page 23

ROAD TEST Exponential Audio Stratus & Symphony Reverb Plug-ins By Ryan McCambridge Y ou may not have heard of Exponential Audio, and in telling you, I may be breaking some sort of Masonic audiophile code. Their plug- ins are like a secret handshake amongst au- dio professionals. Those who know, know. If you’re feeling out of the loop, rest assured that you at least indirectly know Michael Carnes, who is the lifeblood of Exponential Audio, through his nearly 25-year career at Lexicon developing some of the most iconic digital reverbs out there. Carnes started Exponential Audio in 2012 and has since become a leader in reverb plug-in development. PhoenixVerb and R2, along with their surround counterparts, have become indispensable tools to many mixers, especially those in post-production. But with advancements in immersive formats and new ground being covered with their NIMBUS and R4 stereo reverbs, Exponential Audio has now re- leased Stratus and Symphony, very likely the most sophisticated surround reverbs available. The Basics Both Stratus and Symphony will run as 64-bit AAX, AU, VST, or VST3 plug-ins and though they are natively surround reverbs supporting mono though to 7.1 channel formats, they have 3D versions as well, which handle immersive formats like Atmos and Auro-3D. Choices are very limited for reverbs that work in 3D formats; in fact, I’m not sure of any other plug-in reverb that was designed at its inception to be an “immersive” reverb. Even still, each of the reverbs’ channels are de-correlated, so changing the channel format of an instance of Stratus or Symphony won’t colour the sound, which is helpful when delivering in multiple formats. In Use As with Exponential Audio’s previous generation of surround reverbs, Stratus and Symphony are dif- ferentiated by their algorithms and, loosely, their purpose. Stratus’ ancestry is derived from NIMBUS and PhoenixVerb, focusing on naturalness and rec- reating spaces accurately. Symphony, on the other hand, follows the R4 and R2 lineage, which are lush and capable of rich modulation and chorusing. While testing Symphony and Stratus side by side, the distinctions between the two were obvious and I could see unique applications for both. Carnes cites Symphony for use with music and score and Stratus for foley and dialogue, but he’s also quick to note that mixers have found success in the opposite. As with all aspects of mixing, the content dictates which tools are best used, but broadly speaking, I would say that Symphony would shine in moments where there is enough space for the reverb itself to be its own element in the mix. Stratus, on the other hand, would be better for subtlety, where you’re not necessarily trying to draw a listener’s attention W W W. C A N A D I A N M U S I C I A N . CO M STRATUS SYMPHONY 3D to the reverb. This of course doesn’t mean that the inverse can’t be achieved; however, Symphony is definitely a “bigger” reverb, which I could see being too substantial and effected for some situations. Symphony also differentiates itself with its gating abilities and a “Freeze” function that can infinitely sustain the reverb tail for interesting effects. Stratus and Symphony are capable of an incred- ible amount of tailoring. This means that the energy of the reverb can be focused based on your mixing needs and elements of the reverb can be manipu- lated with a surprising amount of specificity. This includes granular control over both the early reflec- tions, which are twice as dense as PhoenixVerbSur- round and R2Surround, as well as the reverb tail. This level of detail in the early reflections helps with realism through directional accuracy and overall perspective within the reverb. This is really where the evolution of digital reverberation lies. 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