EastWest Spaces 2 – Full Spectrum
Welcome to Music Nation. This week we are taking a close look at EastWest‘s latest reverb plugin, Spaces 2. Readers familiar with the company’s Play Engine virtual instruments will have a taste of how well they do reverb. This stand-alone plugin expands on this with more in-depth controls and a massive selection of presets.
Convolution technology has always been the most realistic of effects, but, due to the processing demands, usually at the cost of system resources. WIth modern PC’s this issue is a thing of the past, but with so many developers looking outside the box for new and unique ways to process effects like delay and reverb, Spaces 2 might come across as looking a little old fashioned before it is even out of the box.
Spaces 2 is a VST convolution reverb plugin featuring a total of 1020 individual impulses comprising 55 unique location recordings and 372 instrument-specific banks (including all the original Spaces 1 presets). There is an RRP of $399USD to buy it outright though it looks to be on permanent sale at $299. You can sign up for the ComposerCloud and have it included in your monthly subscription from $24.99/month.
A simple download and installation process is required and the plugin shows up in your collection ready to be inserted or set up as a BUS send. Spaces 2 requires a massive 1.7GB of disc space, which is a testament to the sample resolution. I tested Spaces 2 in Reason, Cubase, StudioOne, Samplitude, Waveform9 and Reaper with no troubles at all.
Space 2 is about as traditional as you can get with plugin design. The slick new interface is an improvement visually over the original Spaces 1, but it comes at the expense of more buttons and menu diving. There are no size scaling options, so on our widescreen video monitor Spaces 2 looks positively tiny, especially the buttons and fonts, which are difficult to read. The i/o meters have been turned vertical and the facia has a cool new dark grey paint job.
Though Spaces 2 certainly looks more contemporary, I question EastWest’s decision again to dedicate large sections of their interfaces to mostly unimportant features like photos. While it’s momentarily interesting to know what the recorded space looks like, I would have much rather the real estate dedicated to the patch browser, direct access to the filter and decay controls or just larger fonts.
The browser is rudimentary, with no option to search or to mark favourites, but you can save your own presets in a custom directory. A tag-sensitive search option would have been handy here because until you become more familiar with the presets it is largely guesswork as to what they sound like.
Comparing Spaces 2 with other similar products in some kind of shoot-out scenario is difficult as the impulse recordings are not only unique to the locations but also the equipment and recording process used on site.
It can also be unproductive to criticise reverb effects as so many variables can sway your opinion either way. Though I feel the included environmental effects are mostly very good, there is nothing overly extraordinary. You have a good selection of regular halls, churches, clubs, stages and some interesting reflective spaces. I particularly like the digital presets available and the solo vocal category is mostly excellent, but ultimately the included presets are very bread-and-butter basic.
Its great the essentials are well covered, but I was hoping for a few more left-field or bizarre to stir creativity.
Focusing in on the impulse character and quality, it is my opinion the tail-end maketh the reverb, and to this end Spaces 2 consistently sounds better than everything I tested alongside it. Initial room ambience often sounds good, but getting that smooth, glassy release tail is where the quality can be heard, and this is where Spaces 2 excels.
Using an ADSR analogy; the attack and decay sound good, but wow – that sustain and release!
Even while testing with extreme settings using high-dynamic snare hits and synth pulses, all presets displayed fabulous details in the tail. On some of the darker, church-like locations, such as the Abandoned Abbey preset, it is extremely immersive to hear the reverb echoing down deeper into the catacombs. You can almost feel the rough-hewn walls and dank, wet floors.
This wonderful tail-end characteristic of EastWest’s convolution reverbs is also present in the built-in effect included with the Play Engine range, and to a larger degree exhibits the same beautifully rich and wide sound, with the same creamy tail-end.
But the most noticeable difference with Spaces 2 is its width and clarity, mostly with the instrument-specific presets.
Digging Deeper: Instrument-specific patches.
Though it’s easy to slap a reverb effect on an instrument and call the job done, Spaces 2 requires more finesse to match the right combination of source-to-reverb effect to the instrument-specific patches.
EastWest provides a large number of these specialised convolutions, curated using impulse speaker positions set up to emulate the sound generated directly from the instrument at the correct position on stage and pointing at a realistic angle into the room.
This is a novel idea which can be used as a quick starting point when working with solo instruments, but I found it ultimately not overly effective when used like this. Rarely did I settle on the suggested instrument preset when working with solo instruments, often finding somewhat unrelated impulses worked better for the situation than I expected.
Taking the time to set up an orchestral template, each with a unique instance of Spaces 2, and the correctly paired instrument-specific reverb effect, resulted in outstanding results which were better than I was expecting at first, providing night-and-day results over simple sending the full mix to an AUX send.
The instrument-specific presets do limit your choice for location and, of course, the stage position is set to traditional seating arrangements. The only real option is for the pulse length, usually between 2-4 seconds. I did not find this problematic, as I was not explicitly looking to reproduce the environment from a particular location. I was mostly happy with whatever EastWest have supplied.
I spent some time creating templates for various orchestral groups; smaller chamber bands, a larger symphonic group and even a prog-rock style setup with synths, drums and guitar. Though it was somewhat tedious to create these templates, all situations provided remarkable improvements on the mix image and balance when split out to individual specific instances.
This process is clearly better suited to large ensembles and orchestral groups, towards which most of the presets are targeted. Although it is a lengthy process matching the reverb to the source, the results are quite impressive. There are distinctive clarity and spatial differences in splitting the orchestra out like this rather than simply throwing a global effect on a BUS channel.
Typically, one would apply an EQ or use the built-in filter to remove much of the low-end mush present when BUS reverb processing. Though you still need to be conscious of send levels, this low-end issue is dramatically reduced using this split process, resulting in a much clearer and broader ambience. Also, to a lesser degree, sustained notes are more defined and when held, showing less tendency to ring when overlapping.
Spaces 2 also responds remarkably well to dual-reverb processing. Applying a tight, small room adds body before a second, larger, long-tailed effect. Some fun can be had using an auto-panner into two unique reverb effects as well, though more applicable to synths and SFX than vocals.
Though this is encouraging, sound design is possibly the only area Spaces 2 might disappoint. There are no LFO’s or gate filters, nothing experimental or hybrid to tempt you. No options to morph and mangle the effect with a nice collection of tailored effects which definitely would have opened up its appeal to more producers.
Unfortunately, you cannot import your own impulse response to Spaces 2. This turned out to be more problematic for me that I first thought. When mixing I usually found myself reaching for my tried and trusted IR’s, looking to Spaces 2 only for oddball effects.
Perhaps this is a conscious decision to lock users into the constant upgrade path, but I wonder whether offering impulse packs as add-ons to the Spaces player might open the platform up to more users who can pick and mix the IR’s they need for their specific line of work. Being able to import, even sub-par 3rd party IR’s, then applying synthesis effects seems like a big missed opportunity.
Watch our brief demonstration of the instrument-specific process.
This is a rather expensive sector of the market to invest in. Spaces 2’s closest rival is Altiverb, which retails at around $595 (or a whopping $995 for the full surround version), compared to which Spaces 2’s $399 RRP price tag looks like an absolute bargain.
Spaces 2’s biggest competition, really, is the free convolution reverb players included with all DAWs these days. Some, like Reaper and StudioOne, require purchasing high-quality 3rd party impulse libraries to be comparable, other such as Cubase and Samplitude come with a sizable collection out of the box.
One thing that has been clear throughout my testing, reverbs are all very conjectural. There are so many variables making a comparison between devices impossible. Spaces 2 has a detailed and more open sound, sure, but that doesn’t necessarily make it better – just different.
The upgrade price of $199 USD for what is essentially an expanded Space 1 feels a bit steep to me, mostly because the first edition contains the vast majority of what makes Spaces amazing. But for new customers, it is difficult to look past the enormous amount of content here and its stellar results.
Certainly, Spaces 2’s point of difference is the instrument-specific convolutions which are a triumph. For orchestral, film and TV producers this will provide next-level results and this feature alone makes Spaces 2 required buying. Spaces 2 will no doubt find its way into the collections of all top professionals who will appreciate the effort EastWest have out into creating these first-class convolutions. At the other end of the scale, the subtleties might be lost on casual musicians and bedroom producers.
As for as a daily go-to reverb plugin, Spaces 2 may only provide a subtle degree of refinement over the competition, or even it’s own predecessor. However, its fine details when you get to the high end of the spectrum will make or break a project. For those who can make good use of the extended features, the payoff will be truly spectacular. And to that end, Spaces 2 is in my view one of the most capable convolution reverb plugins available.
Full details on Spaces 2 and EastWest’s Composer Cloud is available on their website here www.soundsonline.com