Is it my imagination, or are free plug-ins getting better and better? Not so very long ago, it was rare to find one that was capable of producing any kind of really professional-sounding results. Sure, there were some nice little gadgets around for spitting out noise and distortion but, generally speaking, the kinds of plug-ins you needed to add a nice, polished sparkle to your mixes would cost you money. Usually quite a lot of money.
Well, the times certainly appear to be a-changing. Those nice people at Professional Sound Projects (www.PSPaudioware.com), probably best known for their highly-regarded MixPack bundle, have just released a new freeware VST plug-in which, in terms of sheer sound quality, could easily match certain commercial products I might mention. PSP's PianoVerb, available for both Mac and PC, is a novel variation on a conventional reverb effect. While most reverbs work by attempting to simulate the acoustic properties of different rooms and halls, PianoVerb instead models a particular kind of reverberant behaviour exhibited by tuned piano strings. Twelve 'string operators' are used, each tuned to a different interval, covering a range of between 55 and 103.8 Hz. There are controls for transposing and detuning this 'string system' as required.
In use, PianoVerb is capable of producing a wide range of effects. With the string system tuned to the higher registers, and with the Decay and Damping controls set high and low respectively, a variety of strange metallic, harp-like tones can be produced. Used as an insert effect, with the original signal mixed out altogether, PianoVerb can generate some very effective 'ambient' washes of sound. With the string system transposed down a couple of octaves, however, and with more cautious settings for the Mix and Decay knobs, PianoVerb is also capable of producing some surprisingly convincing 'normal' reverb sounds. Some of these tend more towards springs than concert halls, but with a bit of tweaking you can find artificial 'room' sounds that are really very usable in the context of a mix -- more so than some conventional reverb plug-ins I've heard.
All things considered, it's basically impossible to fault PianoVerb. It's an original idea, well implemented, and it sounds excellent. Moreover, it's available now for free download from the PSP web site. What are you waiting for? Quick, before they change their minds!
April 2002; p.61