TC Electronic VSS3 Stereo Source Reverb by Diogo C
Developer: TC Electronic
Formats: AAX/AU/VST 32/64-bit plug-in for Windows 7+ and Mac 10.9+
Price: $199 (US Dollars, MSRP - Upgrades available for $99 from TDM and Powercore)
Demo: Fully functional for 14 days
DRM: iLok (USB dongle not required)
The scope: The VSS3 reverb plug-in was a staple of the Powercore/System 6000 platforms and arguably TC Electronic’s most successful plug-in to date, and despite its format restrictions it managed to gather quite a devoted following that constantly mentioned it as one of the best digital reverbs to date. Now it finally arrives on native platforms, for the amusement of all DAW-aficionados who can now enjoy this reverb on their computers without having to buy all the extra hardware. The VSS3 is a polymorphic reverb powered by a powerful engine that can deliver nearly any type of reverb out there, but it manages to do so without resorting to ultra-complex menus and overly complicated parameters. It’s prime focus is on realism and detail, there’s no attempt to recreate the vibe of classic reverb units and instead of that the VSS3 sets its target on delivering excellent reverbs that will fit on any production, but it can also successfully create all the classic reverb types, like plates, chambers, rooms and halls. This plug-in offers four pages of parameters, intuitively labeled as “main”, “reverb”, “early”, “mod”, with the usual settings one expects from a reverb - check out the attached screenshots for all controls available on the four pages and all reverb types offered. As with most reverb units, a preset is usually our starting point and there are plenty of them to cover basically any situation, so choose the desired reverb type or acoustic space then proceed to tweaking its details. Overall the VSS3 is a solid plug-in but one that enters a highly competitive market, so let’s see how it scores.
Sound quality: If clean reverbs that sounds highly detailed with excellent definition is what you enjoy them there’s a very high chance that you’ll love the VSS3. It’s arguably one the best in that category along with the recent offerings from Exponential Audio and easily one of the best algorithmic reverb plug-ins out there. It can do basically any type of reverb in very satisfactory fashion, from plates to rooms, chambers and halls, all with great quality. I was particularly a fan of the room and halls, which can sound natural and convincing enough to tackle any job, including post-production for games, movies and sound design. The VSS3 is primarily a pristine, totally clean digital reverb, so if you want to add some character try adding a saturation or distortion plugin after it in the signal chain, it goes really well when used in tandem with plug-ins like Soundtoys Decapitator or the D16 Decimort for lo-fi/lower-bit vintage sounds. Adding some time-based modulators like chorus or delays after the VSS3 is worth trying if you want a more lush and vibey character. Nevertheless, the “foundations” provided by the VSS3 are very solid, which is the most important thing after all, it sounds great on its own with plenty of great reverb types to choose from and it’s safe to say that it’s at least as good as other reverb plug-ins out there. On a final note, I’d like to add that I did not had the pleasure to use the DSP-powered versions of the VSS3, so I can’t really say that the native version sounds identical to its former incarnations. The chatter on Gearslutz seems to indicate that if it’s not totally the same sound then it’s close enough for the differences to be negligible.
Ease of use: A relatively easy to use plug-in once you memorize the four parameter pages and one that enables a good workflow when you take advantage of the “fader assign” function, which makes life easier by quickly assigning the desired parameters to six slots located on the bottom of the front page, greatly minimizing the need for page-surfing. This function is called “faders” because it mirrors the System 6000 controller, but even without having the real physical faders this feature is quite a time saver. We don’t have the hardware controller for the native version, so we’ll have to contend with the interface, which is not really great looking or appealing but most importantly it’s easy to read and use - important to note that it’s fully resizable, which definitely helps since there are so many screen sizes and resolutions out there. In terms of the learning curve I’d say that VSS3 sits in the middle, as it’s not overly cryptic or convoluted with controls but it’s also not a walk in the park or dumbed-down reverb with only a handful of condensed parameters. In that regard, the presets also plays a big role in the ease of use of the VSS3 (and reverbs in general) and TC Electronic has done a great job here by providing a vast preset library that keeps getting bigger all the time, as they’re constantly adding more and more presets - check out the attachments for the current preset list. In terms of resource consumption the VSS3 does well, it’s nicely optimized so running many instances is absolutely possible on most recent computers - I’m currently using a 5-year old Intel i7 processor on my DAW computer, one VSS3 instance takes less than five percent of my particular CPU on a sample rate of 48kHz and it’s also modest with latency (407 samples/48 kHz), which is never a bad thing. Last but not least, there’s a very good tooltip system that offers great explanations on each parameter simply by hovering your mouse over them, which definitely helps to understand what’s happening under the hood.
Features: As stated above, VSS3 is not flooded with tons of controls but its feature set is also not overly simplistic, so there’s a good balance between tweak-ability and accessibility, with enough parameters to enable a large variety of reverb types but without overwhelming the user. I appreciate the fact that TC Electronic addressed the preset menu on a recent update, using presets is widely adopted practice on reverbs than on other devices so having a good system to deal with them is paramount. I also appreciate the input/output meters, which are helpful to get keep levels in check, and the “assign to fader” feature is something I’d honestly like to have on most of my plug-ins. Nevertheless, in the best Gearslutz fashion, I have to beg for a feature and that would be a “character” tab, with sample rate/bit reduction, saturation, stereo delay and a some more filters to enable some further reverb sounds. I’d love to have such features, but I’m totally happy with its current state regardless.
Bang for buck: Not exactly cheap at $199 (US Dollars, MSRP) but not prohibitively expensive given how good and versatile it is. It’s important to note that the plug-in went through significant changes over the past few years, there are many excellent plug-ins within this same price bracket and even some very good ones going for less money, so it’s a wise move to carefully evaluate your current plug-in folder/overall necessities before jumping in and let your taste and pocket decide. Fortunately TC Electronic offers a two-week demo, which should be more than enough to find out if the VSS3 is what you’re looking for.
Recommended for: Mainly mixing engineers on both the music and post-production fronts, but I can see producers being well served here since the VSS3 is a great sounding reverb that can achieve the desired results quickly without being daunting to use. Sound designers will also enjoy its great depth and realism and I know that some mastering engineers are also fond of a little reverb depending on the work in hand, so they might want to check out this one due to the super clean and greatly malleable character.
- Arguably one of the best algorithmic reverb plug-ins when it comes to clean and realistic
- Excellent sounding, versatile and highly capable reverb
- Smooth on system resources
- Tons of great presets and a constant effort from TC to add even more presets
- Relatively easy to use, with a handy tooltip help system
- Not exactly affordable
- Sometimes we need reverbs that aren’t as clean or realistic