Review: Madrona Labs Aaltoverb

This affordable software reverb from Madrona Labs goes beyond simply adding space and has sound design potential of its own, as Noah Pred discovered.  

Madrona Labs have carved out a distinctive niche with boutique virtual instruments such as Aalto and Kaivo. Offering advanced sound design techniques in a versatile yet elegant package, Aaltoverb is something of a departure, at least in terms of its apparent simplicity. Based on the lush reverb built into Madrona’s Aalto synth instrument, Aaltoverb is a performance-ready reverb that’s light on CPU, heavy on spaciousness, and highly intuitive – with surprisingly unexpected sound design potential.

Six dials control all of Aaltoverb’s parameters. Input and Output control gain staging, along with simple entry and exit metering to keep a handle on whether your levels are getting out of line, while a Mix dial determines the Dry/Wet blend. The character of the reverb is largely defined by Size, measured in meters, and Decay, measured in seconds until RT60 (when the resulting reverberated signal dips below -60 dB). Setting the Decay dial to maximum results in a true infinite reverb freeze for instant ambient effects.

Large Or Small

With Size and Decay dials both pointed in the same direction – ie., smaller space with shorter decay, or larger space with longer decay – you’ll end up with a fairly natural sounding reverb. However, by tilting these dials in opposite directions, you can generate some unusual ambiences and powerfully resonating structures, replete with spring-like artifacts in between.

Long decays paired with unnaturally small size values generate wild metallic tones, while adjusting the size in real-time creates incredibly smooth pitch sweeps without any stepping artifacts. Increasing the size from zero creates cool whooshing artifacts I haven’t encountered with other reverb devices, which could be deployed for everything from rhythmic accents to extreme techno noise design.

Uniquely combining a pair of shelving filters, the Tone control, measured in Hz, shifts the spectral focus of the reverb tail, providing damping at lower settings and icily crystalline high-pass at the other end – all of which are reasonably constrained between 250 Hz and 4 kHz. 

Custom Spaces

The click-free dials invite extended tweaking, ideal for performance settings where extreme effects might be appropriate, while the elegant and fully resizable GUI also makes it a joy to use in conventional DAW settings. Removing pre-delay and other advanced reverb settings makes it easy to quickly dial in customized spaces while experimenting with unruly tones that open new possibilities one might not expect from a standard reverb plug-in. For adventurous-minded sound designers, automating or modulating any of the Size, Decay, and Tone controls can result in compelling and unusual sonic results. 


At only $35 USD, anyone seeking a straight-forward take on CPU-optimized reverb should seriously consider Aaltoverb, while sound designers looking for a flexible take on space control – with extreme FSU potential – should definitely give it a try. I found myself impressed with how well designed Aaltoverb is for performance control, how great it sounds with so little processor load, and just how unique a range of sounds it can produce, from uncanny resonators to vast spaces. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I wanted to actually play with a reverb more.

Price: $35 USD

Pros: Great sound, highly-playable, click-free, easy to use, extremely affordable.

Cons: VST3 and AU formats only, no internal preset system.


Learn more about reverb and mixing:

Noah Pred is a Canadian record producer, sound designer, technologist, DJ, and Ableton Certified Trainer living in Berlin, Germany. Releasing dozens of records and touring extensively since the '90s, he currently teaches a wide variety of techniques for stage and studio at the BIMM Institute. For more information, please visit: http://... Read More


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