Sunset Sound Plugin: Capturing the Iconic Hollywood Studio Sound

IK Multimedia Sunset Sound Studio Reverb

Have IK Multimedia successfully captured the essence of the renowned Hollywood studio? Growing up just eight miles away from Sunset Sound Studio, I regret never having the opportunity to visit. However, like many of you, I’ve enjoyed countless recordings produced there by legendary artists such as the Rolling Stones, the Doors, the Beach Boys, Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan. Now, IK Multimedia claims to offer a taste of that iconic studio sound with their Sunset Sound Studio Reverb (SSSR for short). Available as a VST 2/3, Audio Units, AAX plug-in, and as a module for IK’s T‑RackS software, SSSR utilizes a unique combination of modeling and convolution techniques called ‘Volumetric Response Modeling’, as claimed by IK. With low CPU usage and a moderately high RAM requirement, SSSR provides a versatile solution for achieving the famed Sunset Sound Studio sound. The GUI can be resized from 852 x 461 pixels to fit your entire screen width, offering a customizable user experience.

Spaces, Plates & Springs

SSSR goes beyond emulating Sunset Sound Studio’s live rooms. It also includes replicas of associated isolation booths, echo chambers, and the studio’s most desirable mechanical reverbs. The plug-in features two plate reverb models: Plate 1, an Echoplate from the United States, and Plate 2, the German-made EMT 140. Additionally, there is a spring reverb model, the AKG BX-20E. Each plate model offers controls for ‘phase’ and decay times. The Echoplate and the Spring have three decay settings (Low, Mid, and High), while the EMT 140 provides nine options ranging from 300ms to six seconds. The Echoplate’s High setting offers a slightly longer decay time. However, these are merely the default settings. The Decay control allows users to scale the decay time to their preference, with the 50 percent setting halving the decay time, the 25 percent setting reducing it to a quarter, and so on.

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Furthermore, SSSR provides a pre-delay setting ranging from zero to one second, high- and low-pass filters, low and high shelving EQs, a stereo width control for the reverberation signal, and separate Wet and Dry level faders that can be soloed individually.

The room models offer additional options. Studios 1 and 3 feature three damping settings that significantly alter the reverb tone. Studio 2’s Live Room offers three microphone positions. Moreover, each room, along with the plate and spring reverbs, includes a polarity-invert control, which adds an interesting change to the tone when mixed with the dry signal. Additionally, each room is accompanied by an associated chamber and isolation booth, complete with polarity inversion but lacking other controls.

By default, options are not recalled when switching between rooms or reverbs. However, for quick comparison between different configurations, the handy ABCD quick preset control can be utilized. Alternatively, users can save and recall full presets. The 58 factory presets are organized into two categories: Insert and Send, providing a solid starting point that can be modified and expanded upon to suit individual preferences.

Mechanical reverbs, echo chambers, and booths are also emulated in this plugin.

Tweaker’s Delight?

A cleverly designed Mic Selector control adds further versatility to all rooms. Choosing only the left or right microphone doesn’t simply collapse the reverberation of a stereo track into mono. Instead, the left and right tracks are independently processed by the selected mic, resulting in a seamless stereo reverb image based on the complex reflections of the chosen room. This feature works especially well for widening vocals or mono instrument tracks. Selecting the left or right mic with a mono input track (or activating the Mono button below the Input fader) produces a mono reverb signal, with each mic offering a unique tone. This variation comes in handy for adding more depth and character to the mix.

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A major design objective of SSSR was to ensure impressive results quickly and easily. To that end, IK has streamlined options in the right places. With over 160 parameters to explore (not including the width control, pre-delay, or decay time), users have plenty of control when desired. However, unlike IK’s Amplitube, SSSR does not include movable mics. This refreshing approach eliminates the need for extensive mic positioning adjustments, as the pre-set locations already deliver excellent results.

The clean layout and visually appealing graphics are further enhanced by a 360-degree image for each room, which can be rotated using your mouse to provide an immersive understanding of the studio layout. Additionally, each room includes an info icon that offers historical background on the room, adding an interesting touch that can intrigue and impress clients without detracting from the user experience.

Both damping options and polarity inversion controls contribute to the distinctive tonal characteristics of these reverbs.

Sound Judgement

As visually appealing as SSSR’s GUI is, it’s the sound that truly matters — and it delivers! All the rooms and reverbs are exceptional, offering unique characteristics that set them apart from one another. Comparing SSSR to several of my favorite convolution and algorithmic reverbs, I consistently found SSSR to be superior, particularly for vocals, guitar, and drums. As intended, it provides a realistic representation of recording within an exceptional, real space.

To satisfy my own nerdy curiosity, I not only listened to the results but also analyzed the overall frequency response and decay at different frequencies for each room. It was fascinating to observe what gives these rooms their distinctive character, with pronounced peaks and dips in the frequency response and notable variations in decay times across frequencies. Mixing within these spaces may not be ideal, but they undeniably sound fantastic!

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One minor issue I encountered was occasional overloading/clipping in my audio chain when feeding SSSR with a loud signal. It surprised me, as the peaks of the input signal itself were several dB below full scale, and the SSSR input fader was set at 0dB. Despite this, the output signal level was high enough to cause clipping further down the chain. Fortunately, this can be rectified by simply lowering the SSSR input fader or adjusting the signal feeding into it. Staying mindful of the meters and gain staging will prevent any issues.

Ideally, this reverb is best applied to dry sources. If a source track already contains a baked-in room sound, the results may be less convincing. However, I discovered that some mixes with moderate amounts of existing reverb could still benefit from SSSR, with the Sunset room adding a pleasant touch to certain commercial recordings that already possess their own room vibe.

In conclusion, SSSR is visually appealing, sonically impressive, user-friendly, and resource-efficient. While it may not be the most budget-friendly reverb on the market, it still offers excellent value for the quality it delivers. And let’s face it, it’s a far more affordable and convenient option than renting the actual Sunset Sound Studio for a day! Without hesitation, I wholeheartedly recommend IK Multimedia’s Sunset Sound Studio Reverb.

Watch our NAMM 2020 video to witness and hear the plugin in action.