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Producer Presets Unpacked — Pure Plate Reverb

Producer Presets Unpacked — Pure Plate Reverb

How the Pros Create and Use Presets

In this installment of Presets Unpacked, we dig into engineer/mixer Peter Mokran’s “Vocal” preset for the UAD Pure Plate Reverb. With a distinguished track record in R&B, including hits for Christina Aguilera, Janet Jackson, and more – Mokran is a vocal production ace who’s equally at home in rock and Latin music, with stellar remixes for The Flaming Lips and two Latin Grammys to his name for his punchy, vocal-forward mixing on Camila’s 2010 smash, Mientes.

We sat down with the Chicago native, with the UAD Pure Plate Reverb on-screen, to explore his savvy choices for decay, pre-delay, EQ, and more, and why the warmth and character of authentic plate reverb is unlike any other vocal effect.

Plug-In: Pure Plate Reverb
Preset: “Vocal”
Created By: Peter Mokran
Peter Mokran’s “Vocal” preset settings for the UAD Pure Plate plug‑in.

What makes the UAD Pure Plate Reverb a great choice?

It sounds great, and it has everything that you need in a plate reverb. Remember that an actual plate reverb doesn’t have a lot of parameters. Some may have a low cut, but there’s no pre-delay or EQ, it’s just the reverb time you can control, so the Pure Plate actually has way more bells and whistles than the device it’s emulating.

On your “Vocal” preset, explain how the “Wet Solo” and “Mix” controls interact?

The Wet Solo button basically overrides the Mix control, and gives you 100% wet, which is how you’ll want to run it if you’re using it on an aux send, which is always how I use it.

I don’t recommend using any reverb on an insert, but the idea there is that if you were to insert it, you’d switch the Wet Solo to off, and you’d then tweak the Mix control on the plug-in to your liking. But really, you’re going to get the best result having it on its own aux return and working the aux fader.

I notice that you’ve got the plug-in’s Pre Delay control at 87ms; you’re basically keeping a little distance between the vocal and the reverb coming back, so the vocal still sounds present and clear?

Yeah, and that’s why you’ll notice on most of my Pure Plate presets I tend to always use some Pre Delay, so instead of clouding the sound, it adds warmth.

See, the difference between no Pre Delay and the right amount of Pre Delay is the difference between “muddy” and “warm.” That 87ms is just a suggestion, however: I’ll often start exploring around 70ms, and end up turning the Pre Delay all the way up. Between 80ms and 180ms is where I usually like it. The idea is that even in a fairly dense mix, you can really hear the reverb because it’s more behind the main sound, and doesn’t wash that sound out.

Also, by using Pure Plate’s Pre Delay control, you don’t need huge decay times — like six seconds — to get that long tail. You can keep the decay time to, say, 2.5 seconds, and increase the Pre Delay to get that big space.

"The right amount of Pre Delay is the difference between 'muddy' and 'warm.'"
– Peter Mokran

The Pure Plate plug-in has a Low Cut selector, and a Bass and Treble knob. How do you use them here?

Here’s one way to look at the Bass and Treble controls. Say the reverb time is around 2.5 seconds. If you turn down the Treble control a fair amount, the apparent reverb time on the higher frequencies is reduced to around, say, one second, or approaching zero if you turn it all the way down.

Obviously this is dependent on the song or singer you’re working with — but there’s a low-frequency aspect to most vocals, because of proximity effect, or if the singer is too close to the mic. That tends to blow up the reverb. You don’t want that reverb muddiness in your mix.

Sometimes I’ll increase that Low Cut to the maximum of 180Hz and bring the Treble up even more. That’s one thing I really like about Pure Plate: you’ve just got Bass, Treble, and Low Cut, so you can quickly dial the EQ in just right.

That’s also something you want to execute while listening to your whole mix, not in Solo, so you can hear how it’s all interacting. That combination of using Pre Delay and exploiting the simple EQ options to roll off low end and low mids allows me to enjoy the warmth of a plate reverb while also dialing out the muddiness that can come with it. So, don’t be shy about using those EQ controls. Turn those suckers up or down until you get the sound you want. They’re good, simple tools.

"Don’t be shy about using Pure Plate’s EQ. Turn those suckers up or down until you get the sound you want. They’re good, simple tools."
– Peter Mokran

You have the Balance control in the center, which is typical for a lead vocal, but talk about instances where you might want to pan the reverb.

Yeah, the beauty of the Pure Plate, as opposed to a real plate reverb, is that you can run thirty instances of it if you want, so you can use it in so many different ways. With a real plate, you’re kind of compromised. You may want the plate to be left/right stereo for the vocal, but you might want to pan it for the guitars. I’ll generally do that kind of panning with the actual aux return channels in my DAW rather than use the Pure Plate’s Balance control, and I’ll just push it a little bit to one side. I do that all the time. Generally I don’t do that on the main lead vocal, but 75% of the time I’ll do it on guitars — if I have a guitar on the left, I’ll lean the reverb a little to the right.

It’s worth noting that plate reverb is one of the few reverb types that really works well that way. It has so much character, and it really retains it even in a small space. Emulations of many digital reverbs may sound amazing in full-blown stereo, but don’t work as well when you pan them to one side. Plate reverbs have a warmth and character that lives well in its own space in the mix, and that will complement the sound of whatever source you’re effecting.

Also keep in mind that, because doing stereo with a plate also means you’re doubling the potential for muddiness, panning it can free up a lot more space in your mix. And remember, generally, unless you’re doing a slower ballad, just a little plate reverb goes a long way, and that pre-delay control will help it sit in the mix just right.

"When using a plate reverb on synth or guitars, you may need to cut some low mids from the reverb, because they tend to accumulate in a mix and add mud," says Peter Mokran.

Why set the reverb/decay time to 2.7s, in particular?

It’s where I like to start, and it works well with the amount of Pre Delay I’m using. You can go a lot lower and increase the Pre Delay — that’s also a cool sound. If you’re looking for more of a ballad-type wash, you can decrease the pre-delay and increase the reverb time. It’s hard to get a bad sound. Also, that 2.5s setting is sort of the classic plate sound, at least the way I hear it.

Remember, most real plate reverbs in studios are hidden away somewhere. At Avatar/Power Station they’re in the basement. Some studios have them in a loft above the studio; they’re never in the control room, and there’s rarely a remote control adjustment. So you’re stuck with whatever the reverb time is of that unit, unless you can persuade the unfortunate assistant engineer to go climb into some dingy basement and adjust it for you on the mechanical wheel! But generally, around 2.5 seconds is the reverb time you’re going to get on a mechanical plate. And that’s the classic plate decay time for a vocal.

What other UAD plug-ins might you pair with the UAD Pure Plate?

One thing I like to do is to send a slapback or short delay to the Pure Plate aux return. I have a separate aux return for the delay, I adjust that to taste, and then do an aux send from the delay return to the plate’s aux channel.

So I often use the the EP-34 Tape Echo for a slapback, with its Bass control rolled back, because the plate has plenty of low end already.

For a pop mix, I like the UAD Precision Delay Mod, with a little bit of modulation on the repeats, in stereo left/right, and you can pick your delay interval of choice, say, an eighth note on the left, and a dotted eighth on the right. Or depending on the tempo, maybe a dotted eighth on the left and a quarter note on the right. And both of those returns feed the Pure Plate.

In that case, you’d probably use a little bit less Pure Plate than you would otherwise. You’re basically exciting the delay, and making it sound more expensive! It also helps lengthen the ending of a vocal phrase. The modulation of the delay has an interesting sound when it hits the reverb, too, and makes the wobbliness of the modulation more audible at a low level.

— James Rotondi