Reverb Foundry HD Cart by Diogo C
Product: HD Cart
Developer: Reverb Foundry
Formats: AAX, AU and VST for Mac (10.7+) or Windows (7+)
DRM: iLok with two concurrent activations
Demo: Fully functional for 14 days
Price: $199 (USD/MSRP)
The scope: Reverb Foundry is the latest enterprise from reverb plug-in wizard Matthew Hill, known for his work under the LiquidSonics moniker, which recently made quite an impact with the Fusion-IR technology debuted on Reverberate 2 and also with their reproduction of the Bricasti M7 reverb on the Seventh Heaven Professional plug-in. This time a different route is taken and HD Cart differentiates itself from the LiquidSonics reverbs by relying on pure code instead of impulse responses - right now both names converge on the idea of bringing coveted hardware reverbs to plug-in form but HD Cart has nothing to do with convolution and it’s an algorithmic reverb at heart. Most importantly, instead of the Briscati now we have a rare and very special version of the revered Lexicon 480L - one equipped with the elusive “HD” cartridge, also known as “surround” or “HD Cart”.
According to the user manual, here’s what the HD Cart is all about: "One of the expansion cartridges for this unit contained the only algorithm to ever fully take advantage of its considerable dual-board processing capabilities. This amazing program was capable of being used in quadraphonic, 5.0 surround or high-density stereo reverb modes. The surround mode takes a stereo input and produces four-channel quadraphonic output (5.0 is also supported in this plug-in via a recommended routing patch). The HD mode mixes the quad outputs down to a two-channel stereo reverb, resulting in denser, richer audio unlike any other reverb processor."
The HD Cart plug-in follows to some extent the original controls present on the 480L hardware, so the terminology should be mostly familiar to users of other Lexicon reverbs. Controls are agrupated under five pages with five controls for each respective page. A "master" front page brings the most used controls such as tail/reflection levels and their respective roll-off frequency, while the four other pages (character, low control, advanced, reflections) provides deeper tweaks to specific portions of the reverb. A novel feature introduced by the HD Cart is the Recirculation parameter, which according to Reverb Foundry is a "an enhancement of the original algorithm provides a new reverb topology never heard before, even for users of the original expansion cartridge. Originally comprising two distinct reverbs combined at a late stage, it can be modified by interconnecting them at key points within the algorithm resulting in a more spacious higher quality reverb". In practical terms it means a very dense sound that really stands out, so if you like subtle reverbs you might want to this off, which is also advisable if you’re aiming for authenticity when compared to the original hardware. Besides this feature everything else is aimed towards offering the user an experience that is as authentic as possible, and the 40 presets present on this plug-in offers a great chunk of the coveted "Lexicon sound" that is heard on so many great albums. Load a preset, tweak them accordingly and great results will inevitably come.
Sound quality: I won’t dare to compare it to the hardware since I have no experience with the original unit, which I believe will be the case with most people out there since it’s 480s aren’t exact abundant these days, let alone a full working one with the HD Cart, so I’ll approach this from the perspective of someone who owns hundreds of plug-ins and who has tried basically every VST/AU/AAX reverberator under the sun. With that out of the way, this plug-in is definitely among the best reverbs I’ve ever tried, it sounds really good and delivers what I like to call the "Lexicon character", which to my ears is a certain grainy sound that I hear across the Lexicon PCM/LXP plug-in lines and also on the Relab or UAD emulations. HD Cart belongs in that group with a rich sound that will be very useful for certain applications - I take it more as a specialized tool than as a workhorse for most occasions, but that’s what I think about reverbs in general as I’m yet to find one that "conquers them all" and at this point I’m starting to doubt if such unit even exists. Which leads us to gear hoarding, which has become quite a problematic aspect of modern DAW-based production since it’s easy to drown in this vast ocean of options, and reverb is one area where I’m particularly prone to hoarding and guilty of owning many. Like a wise Gearslut once said, "I need a new reverb like I need a hole in my head", but it’s hard to resist when offerings as good as the HD Cart are on the table and at this point my heads looks more and more like a Swiss cheese.
Ease of use: HD Cart is easy to use for the most part, the interface is clean, the layout of controls is well organized and easy to read for the most part. Fonts could be a bit bigger but it’s not small to the point where it comes hard to read, it’s okay at a resolution of 1080p and only problematic if you go above that. The controls are mostly easy to understand, and as said before if you’re acquainted with Lexicon reverbs it will be an easy ride since most parameters resembles their units and will likely be familiar to users of the 480L, PCM and LXP reverbs. If that’s not the case then it should take some time and the learning curve will probably be a bit steeper than other reverbs since the terminology is a bit specific and it will take some time to get a hold of what each controls does. If further clarification is required the user guide is there to provide it, with 11 pages containing clear explanations of all the parameters, which definitely helps a lot. On the other hand, when it comes to reverbs the most common approach is to use presets at least as starting points for a sound, and while this plug-in brings a good number of them (40 to be exact) I think there could be more presets and most importantly, they could be a bit more application-oriented, with parent/child categories for each type of reverb or usage situation and so forth. Nevertheless, the included presets are a good showcase the HD Cart’s capabilities and should be enough to point users towards the desired results. However, the most problematic aspect in the ease of use department is the lack of assignable controllers, which is a hallmark feature of the 480L with its iconic remote controller and it’s surprisingly missing on this plug-in. Since the interface is rather slim on the vertical axis there could easily be an extra row below the current controllers to house four or five assignable encoders or knobs. This would add a lot to the ease of use since it would provide quick access to a certain setting while also avoiding the extra clicks spent on page browsing, enabling a much faster workflow. To be honest, I think that in 2017 we should have macro-controls to enable all sorts of morphings and modulations but I’d be happy with a few simple assignable controllers. Lastly, it’s also important to note that this is a very nicely coded plug-in with a modest CPU load, which is always a great thing.
A very slick and good looking interface, although I miss some assignable controllers for a faster workflow
Features: Little to complain here, and other than the aforementioned assignable controllers and a more comprehensive preset selection there’s nothing else I miss on HD Cart. I wouldn’t mind a resizable interface, input/output level trims and other bells & whistles, but as it stands it’s a solid feature set that fulfills its purpose. I appreciate the fact that Input/Output meters were included, it’s something overlooked on some reverb plug-ins but that I think should be mandatory. There’s also a good preset browser that allows users to store their own presets and options to initialize the plug-in with certain settings, which is a very nice touch. Lastly, I’d like to see a button to open the user guide from the plug-in, something I wish became a standard and present on every plug-in.
Bang for buck: Determining the value of a plug-in is a wildly subjective and often fruitless exercise since there are a few key variables that will drastically change according to each person, their taste, expectations and requirements. With that in mind, I think the asking price is very reasonable for a tool of this quality and given Matthew’s flawless track record with LiquidSonics there’s no reason to believe that this plug-in will be abandoned without updates, and that’s something that counts a lot in my book as I like my plug-ins to be as future-proof as they can be. Ultimately it comes down to whether or not HD Cart delivers the sounds you want or need, but at least to the ears of this reviewer it’s one of the best sounding Lexicon-based reverbs plug-ins right now, which is quite an achievement since there’s some pretty stiff competition out there. A very solid effort by Reverb Foundry, and I’m truly looking forward to their future developments.
- Rich sounding
- Mostly easy to use
- Clean interface
- Hardly any, but a low-budget version a la LiquidSonics Seventh Heaven would be nice to see
- Assignable controllers
- More presets
- Resizable interface