Tired of your software reverbs? Or do you want to take the load of your computer with a some cool outbound gear?
Whatever you’re reason, here we’ll take a look at the 5 best hardware reverb rack mount units for the money.
There are several options to choose from, we but whittled it down to a cool 5 of the most recommended and top rated on the market…
The kinds that you can feel safe taking home to your studio.
Quick answer: Lexicon PCM96 is the top choice, but it comes at a hefty price. Those who’re looking for something more budget friendly should take a look at the Lexicon MX200 and Behringer Virtualizer 3D FX2000.
The rest of this guide will go into more details on these and other hardware reverb rack mount unites.
Let’s take a closer look 🙂
Table of Contents
- What is a Hardware Reverb?
- Hardware versus Software Reverb
- Choosing a Hardware Reverb
- The Best Hardware Reverb Units
- Final Thoughts
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Rack mount Reverb Overview
What is a Hardware Reverb?
The term “reverb” refers to the sonic effect produced by sound waves reflected off the surfaces of a physical space.
Most every space has some sort of reverberant quality, and the effect may even be present outdoors.
However, each indoor space has its own unique reverb signature, which may or may not appropriate to the intended musical or audio application. In a recording studio scenario, reverb is usually simulated via artificial means.
The earliest types of artificial reverb units were hardware devices that utilized springs or metal plates to create the desired reverberating effect. Although these early devices were not especially accurate at mimicking or approximating “natural” reverb, the aesthetically pleasing tonal qualities they imparted made them popular among artists and producers then, and even to this day.
Later hardware reverbs utilized digital signal processing (DSP) instead of spring or plate mechanisms. This made it possible to approximate natural reverb more accurately, and also to produce complex–and even unusual–types of reverb effects.
Even with the advent of high-quality reverb plug-ins, like the spring reverb variants, many hardware units continue to be favored for their sound quality, immediacy, and ease of use.
Hardware versus Software Reverb
Most hardware reverb units utilize algorithms that approximate reverb as it occurs in different physical spaces. A variety of different reverb types such as ‘room’, and ‘hall’ are usually available, along with plate and spring reverb approximations.
Most reverb plug-ins are algorithm-based as well, with many approximating the sound, and even physical appearance of hardware reverb units. Other reverb plug-ins employ convolution processing, which simulates reverb via recordings of actual physical spaces called impulse responses. Convolution reverbs are generally considered to be more realistic approximations of reverb as it occurs in a real-world space. You can read more about convolution reverb and the algorithmic components of from this Tutsplus article.
The past several years has seen the release of many reverb plugins that compare favorably to even the most revered hardware units. Some have even introduced new features and functionalities that would be costly or impossible to implement in hardware designs. Some of the more advanced software reverbs have raised the bar for accuracy and authenticity, while some make it possible to create reverb sounds that do not even exist in nature.
Nevertheless, many artists and producers continue to favor hardware reverbs due to their more aesthetically-pleasant tonal qualities, even if they aren’t quite as accurate as their software counterparts.
Choosing a Hardware Reverb
When choosing a hardware reverb for studio recording and mixing, many producers prioritize high quality and natural sound above all else.
For recording voice or acoustic instruments, it is usually preferable to have the reverb approximate a real-world acoustic environment as closely as possible. This often translates into a smooth and lush reverb that closely captures the listening environment of a real physical space.
But accuracy and authenticity aren’t always preferred or even desired, particularly for more creative applications.
Many older reverb units have a sonic signature that is often described as ‘grainy,’ with little in common with the smoothness of a high-quality reverb. Nevertheless, the less-than-perfect sonic characteristics of these devices may provide a unique texture to the recording, making them better suited to specific production styles.
When choosing hardware reverb units, you should therefore consider not only their sound quality and features, but also your desired effect and intended application.
The Best Hardware Reverb Units
This Lexicon MX200 is considered something of a standard as far as studio reverbs go. It’s credited for a rich, smooth, and complex sound and intuitive front panel interface, as well as being a versatile reverb unit that’s just as useful in the studio as on stage. Add to that the DAW integration, the dual processor design, and a host of delay and modulation algorithms (all with the famous “Lexicon sound”), and the MX200 may be a worthy addition to your studio effects toolbox.
Specs and useful features
- 16 legendary Lexicon reverbs
- Lexicon quality delays and modulation effects
- dbx dynamics
- Dual-processor design
- 4 routing configurations
- 99 factory programs, 99 user programs
- USB “Hardware Plug-In” feature
- VST and Audio Units plug-in software
Among the most welcome features of the MX200 is the option to design custom effects chains and to save them for later use. Many users also appreciate the dual-engine design, which adds even more versatility to the unit. Although some users have reported automation issues with Logic, the MX200 is generally a stable, reliable, and all-around good-sounding effects unit for the price.
The Lexicon MX200 offers superb bang-for-the-buck in a reasonably priced package. With VST integration, dual-engine design, and varied delay and modulation capabilities, this is a great all-rounder that imparts that classic Lexicon reverb mojo to any studio recording.
Behringer Virtualizer 3D FX2000
Behringer’s Virtualizer 3D FX2000 is a great all-around unit that punches well above its weight, with quality reverb algorithms and a wide range of delay, modulation, and even dynamics algorithms. A full complement of audio and MIDI connectivity options is provide here, making this unit hang easily with the rest of your equipment, whether on stage or in the studio.
You can even set up effects chains in serial or parallel configurations, making it a versatile effects unit that you will continue to find use for even after you upgrade to a higher-priced reverb.
Specs and useful features
- Wave-adaptive algorithms for natural reverb and delay
- Real Sound Modeling (RSM) stereo and 3D effects
- 71 new algorithms
- Modulation, dynamic, psychoacoustic and EQ algorithms
- Authentic amp simulation, distortion and special effects
- 11 effect combinations with serial/parallel configuration options
- User impressions
Users of the Virtualizer 3D typically mention its solid build and excellent sound. The common consensus seems to be that this is a surprisingly good unit, considering that Behringer devices are commonly viewed as poorly-built, with less-than-optimal sound quality.
Although some have observed that the effects tend to be somewhat upfront and “in your face,” most users generally agree that the Virtualizer 3D is a versatile and great sounding unit that offers superb bang-for-the-buck.
The Behringer Virtualizer 3D FX2000 is a great choice for home recording enthusiasts, project studio owners, and even mid-level pros that need an inexpensive all-around effects unit. Although the reverb probably won’t win any awards for lushness or authenticity, it is the best hardware reverb, bang-for-buck.
Another Lex verb in the line-up, this Lexicon PCM96 is a combination stereo reverb and multi-effects processor that packs a comprehensive selection of new and classic Lexicon reverbs with delays and modulation effects in a single rackmount package.
More than a rehash of revered Lexicon reverb units (famous for that “Lexicon sound”), this iteration offers a handful of new reverb flavors along with a host of modern features that make it ideally suited for integration into a modern recording studio. Even with its expanded features and capabilities however, the PCM96 stays true to the company’s ethos of delivering unmistakably recognizable Lexicon-quality reverbs.
Specs and useful features
- Two channels XLR analog I/O
- Two channels XLR digital AES/EBU I/O
- Four channels streaming via FireWire
- Automation and control via Ethernet or Firewire
- Can function as an RTAS, VST and Audio Units software plug-in
Many users laud the PCM96’s combination of cutting-edge features while still staying true to the classic Lexicon reverb sound.
That being said, some users still prefer older Lexicon hardware units, claiming the PCM96 is “too smooth” and has “less character”. There have also been some complaints with regard to slow boot up speeds. Nevertheless, this model is generally considered to be a significant step forward in reverb design, due to its DAW integration, 96kHz support, and full range of connectivity options.
The Lexicon PCM96 is well equipped to handle most every imaginable need for a studio reverb. Although somewhat pricey compared to other reverb units, its modern features and the (arguably) close approximation of the classic Lexicon sound make it a powerful and flexible tool for studio recording and live applications.
TC Electronic M-One XL
TC Electronic has a pretty good track record with this all-in-one TC Electronic M-One XL unit that combines studio-quality reverb with a host of delay and modulation capabilities. It was designed for clarity and accuracy, so you’ll find that the reverbs of the M-One XL can be customized to a precise degree, with a wide spatial imaging range that is totally independent of the decay time. The result is a wide selection of rich and natural sounding reverbs, all of which can find its way into a variety of recording situations.
Specs and useful features
- Improved spatial perspectives produce a wide range of reverbs
- Simulates real room and vintage reverbs as well as chorused and detuned reverbs
- 200 factory presets, 100 user presets
- Settings range from short and snappy “live” reverbs to cavernous 3-second reverbs
- TC Electronic-quality flanger, gate, expander, de-esser, tremolo and phaser algorithms
The M-One XL has been compared favorably with classic Lexicon reverbs, and even higher-priced units with many more features and capabilities. In addition to its great sound, the M-One XL also won users over with a intuitive interface and the modification and customization options.
In recording scenarios, the unit handles vocal, synth, saxophone, and guitar tracks equally well, with a clear and present sound that always manages to cut through the mix without overpowering it.
About the only criticism we could find about the M-One XL is periodic freezing, which has been attributed to failing power supplies. In most cases, this is an easy fix requiring only the replacement of a few capacitors.
The M-One XL is a great all-around reverb that works well for a variety of sound sources. Its reasonable price makes it suitable for home recording setups and project studios, and even mid-range recording facilities.
Eventide Reverb 2016
The Eventide Reverb 2016 is a recreation of the company’s own legendary reverb unit, the SP2016, which was originally manufactured in the 1980s. The classic stereo room, room reverb and high density plate algorithms are included here in all their quality and detail, and even the user parameters remain virtually unchanged from the earlier model.
But the Eventide Reverb 2016 is more than just a rethread. Also part of the package is a host of new enhancement and features that make this reverb ideally suited to the needs of the 21st century recording artist or producer. With 24-bit DSP, 24-bit analog audio I/O, digital I/O, and a highly intuitive user interface, the Reverb 2016 is every bit a modern studio essential.
Specs and useful features
- Stereo room, room reverb and high density plate settings
- 99 user presets
- 24-bit DSP
- 24-bit analog audio I/O, digital I/O and MIDI interface
- Dedicated controls for each parameter
- Intuitive controls and display
- Optimized for studio and live use
Many of the buyer reviews of the Reverb 2016 attest to its lush and musical quality. The unit has also been favorably compared to its predecessor, the SP2016. Some users feel that the Reverb 2016 is better suited to creative musical applications than to film or TV production. Concerns have also been raised with regard to the instability of certain algorithms and the wider-than-standard physical dimensions of the unit, which makes it impossible to fit into some racks. Nevertheless, the general consensus is that the Eventide Reverb 2016 is a versatile must have.
The Reverb 2016 continues on admirably from where the classic SP2016 left off. Although it has a sonic quality that could best be described as “complex” and “lifelike”, it somehow manages to always fit seamlessly into a mix. The one knob-per-function interface is an especially nice touch, which combined with the detailed display makes parameter changes easy and straightforward.
The clear winner of this roundup is the Lexicon PCM96.
In addition to carrying on the formidable Lexicon heritage proudly, its modern features and sheer sound quality places it way ahead of the competition.
While some users may nitpick about the differences in sound between this and the legendary Lexicon reverb units, there is no denying that it is a great-sounding and impressive unit, even with the somewhat high price tag.
For those looking for equally-capable and similarly great-sounding hardware reverbs, the Eventide Reverb 2016 and the TC Electronic M-One XL are worthy of serious consideration. While not as immediately impressive as the PCM96, they are versatile enough for most recording applications, and will certainly address your needs for high-quality reverb.
Don’t discount the Lexicon MX200 and the Behringer Virtualizer 3D FX2000 either. Even though these two units come close to falling into the budget category, they are surprisingly useful and versatile units that offer excellent bang-for-the-buck.
If you already have a great reverb and are looking for something relatively cheap-and-cheerful for character sounds or more general applications, these two will more than suffice.