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Analog Spring Reverb: How it works (anasounds.com)
71 points by PascLeRasc 56 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 49 comments

Boutique guitar stompboxes are an interesting market: there's a lot of cork sniffing sane nose thumbing generally, even though two designs may be electrically exact.

That being said I really do like their design. The spring reverb in my guitar amp sounds great but does not have tone control and get overly bright with a single coil guitar.

> there's a lot of cork sniffing sane nose thumbing generally, even though two designs may be electrically exact.

You nailed it. An old friend of mine wanted to get me to start a boutique stompbox business with him since I was a bit more technically inclined (ie, I could read a schematic and solder).

I just couldn't do it. It's too much. I love messing around with that stuff, but I could not be bothered to wade through all the cruft and politics of that. I just like music.

BTW, you should be able to cut the highs well enough with your guitar tone knob or EQ on the amp. You can get something like: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZIU0RMV_II8 (Fender Stratocaster -> Fender Showman w/ spring reverb. I was saddened to find out just now that he passed away this spring)

Check out the build quality of Bartel Amps. Mark Bartel has been hand making every part of the amps he designed for over 20 years. He is an EE who makes product decisions based on science - not marketing


Oh that's just great. So an MSRP of ~ $6375 CAD. They're beautifully done—guess it goes on the bucket list. Here I thought the wiring job on my AC30 was the nicest I'd seen in a long time (http://www.voxshowroom.com/uk/amp/ac30hw2_2010.html - also w/ tremolo and spring reverb tank)

I am friend of Mark Bartel and helped him a little with the "wire trees" that he custom molds. I made many suggestions along the lines: "Why don't you just..."

He constitutionally can't - he is the definition of uncompromising. I don't play guitar, but I want to buy one of his amps because of how it is made. Take a look at this:


And every one is exactly the same because he writes and then follows explicit directions for making every connection.

He must have an extraordinary amount of patience!

Doesn't even look like he has any dealers up here—but I was able to find a Premier Guitar demo video from last year's NAMM:


Didn't realize he was from Tone King previously.

That is a work of art. The cable post and how everything is layed out and tightened down looks fantastic.

I haven't opened my Orange Tremlord. I expect it to look nice, but not nice like this. The Orange Tremlord has a very nice reverb with a real reverb tank. And is imho a very nice amp:


I agree the amps are art. Compare the Bartel amp to this


- cool, but they don’t work

Really depends which little corner of the pedal market you’re talking about. In the digital realm I would disagree, there are a lot of really interesting designs from the past 5 years or so. Some of them hide complex dsp algos behind a couple of simple knobs, and some of them have full menus or fit an entire modular synth crammed into a pedal format. There’s also some really cool stuff happening with open source algorithms, for instance the popular clouds modular synth module is fully open source to tweak and port to new formats. There are other pedals that can run different formats of open source dsp algorithms.

Even in the crossover analog/digital world (chase bliss being one of the biggest examples) there’s some cool and fairly new stuff happening, like fully analog circuits that are completely controllable over midi or other lfo type control signals.

In the fully analog realm, yeah, there is a bit of what you could call cork sniffing, dressing up the same circuits that have been used for the past 30 years in a boutique package and selling it for twice as much.

The challenge behind some of that cork sniffing is the differing behavior of "identical" circuits is often trivially measurable and audible.

Many of the "revered" circuits perform very differently due to component variations (e.g hFE or Vgs), and also have substantial drift in performance with temperature. So even different units from same manufacturer will sound different.

It's interesting because on one hand, the corksniffing can be really silly, but on the other hand, differences in "identical circuits" are often plainly audible.

Senses are a funny thing, including hearing. When playing, I can easily hear subtleties like whether the Jazz III pick I'm using is made of Ultex or nylon. But I can listen to recordings I made, and not even be sure which guitar I played. (I've been playing for 35 years and recorded many albums.)

So these subtleties and details are real, they're audible (in certain circumstances), and the mockers generally don't know what they're talking about. But they're also easy to overfocus on.

> but on the other hand, differences in "identical circuits" are often plainly audible.

I wonder how much of that is component tolerances. If you have two identical circuits with +-1% in resistors and +-5% in caps, how different would these sound with the components in each circuit at opposite ends of the tolerance range?

> there's a lot of cork sniffing sane nose thumbing generally, even though two designs may be electrically exact.

Which is why Behringer is good enough for most people.

Friends don't let friends buy behringer gear.

Reasons to avoid

- poor build quality

- lawsuit-happy (suing forum posters, forums)

- flagrant low-quality ripoffs of other brands gear

- buys up good brands and makes them cheap

Friends do let friends buy Behringer gear, because friends don't act like gatekeeping elitist pricks to their friends.

On person’s gatekeeping is another persons helping to avoid a rookie mistake.

Plenty of non-rookies are using Behringer gear these days, and plenty of Behringer gear has been built just fine; I have a Behringer mixer from the late 90s that is still in use and 100% functional, and I've got a new XR18 digital mixer that can't be beat for bang-for-buck.

Want to help rookies? Steer them away from the $500 tube-screamer or dual-blues-breaker clones that you need to be on a waiting list for 2 years before you can even buy one! :)

I've always been happy with Behringer products. I especially love my Deepmind 12- no mistakes were made buying any of their stuff

The analog synthesizer scene is probably even worse, cork sniffing wise. Only outranked by the HIFI vinyl scene.

Your comment sounds a little thin and airy.

Yeah, but has more warmth and oomph.

Wouldn’t it be more useful to describe a spring reverb as ”electro-acoustic” or ”electro-mechanical”, rather than “analog”? I think “analog” is best reserved as contrast with “digital”.

Yes, it would. There are some good digital emulations of spring reverbs, but they don't make an apocalyptic SPPPPRRROOOOOOOOOOOIIIIINNNNGGGGGGGG!!!!! sound when you slap their sides.

Actually ;P , Dave Smith already does this with the spring reverb on all the DSI flagship synths. There's an accelerometer on the side of the synth you can slap/punch and it responds with that SPROROIIOIING. Here's a video of him showing it on the prophet-6, the OB-6 can do it too.


I guess it'd be easy to emulate as well, by including some accelerometers...

Cool idea!

Interestingly, analog reverbs and some other kinds of time-delay effects (echo, flanger, chorus) were made using so-called bucket-brigade devices which are indeed analog in the amplitude domain, but not in the time domain, where they are very much digital...

True. One caveat though. Before someone rushes to purchase bagfuls of these chips on Aliexpress/Ebay/Amazon etc, it should be noted that the sellers are perfectly aware of those chips popularity among guitar effects builders, therefore they're among the most faked items over there. If you're extremely lucky you get the real thing, which doesn't happen often, or if you're moderately lucky you get a smaller version or a rebadged clone (resulting in shorter delays or louder noise, or both). If you're totally out of luck you get common cheap random chips relabeled as BBD delay chips. This happens very often with pricey chips when shopping online on those platforms.

However, the BBD sound can be almost easily emulated in digital. On the "wet" return line of a digital delay put a N dB low Q high pass filter before say 200 Hz, a N dB low Q low pass filter above 6-8 KHz, add some gentle clipping and some noise, compress overall wet dynamics and feed the return back to the delay input. Then adjust delays, feedback and filters amount to make it sound like a real one. The trick is simulating the progressive way in which the sound when going through a BBD device will lose in fidelity while getting more distorted and noisy, so we filter and add those artifacts inside the feedback path.

Fun fact about the origin of flanger, it was originally made with tape machines and got the name because you'd do it by running two tape machines side by side, and press your finger against the metal "flanges" of one to make it slow down relative to the other.


> The finished music track is recorded simultaneously to two matching tape machines, then replayed with both decks in sync. The playback-head output from the two recorders is mixed to a third recorder. The engineer slows down one recorder by lightly pressing a finger on the flange (rim) of one of the playout reels. The "drainpipe" or subtle "swoosh" 'flange flango' effect "sweeps" in one direction, and the playback of that recorder remains slightly behind the other when the finger is removed. By pressing a finger on the flange of the other deck, the effect sweeps back in the other direction as the decks progress towards being in sync.

The story goes John Lennon coined the name. Ken Townsend at Abbey Road had worked out a way to mimic vocal double tracking without actually recording the singer twice using this technique. They called it Artificial Double Tracking, or ADT. But Lennon would just call it "Ken's Flanger" and the term stuck.

I think it would be more correct to say they are discrete in the time domain rather than digital. This is just semantic nitpicking though since digital usually implies discrete time. I never heard about continuous time digital electronics, it might be interesting to think about though it feels like an oxymoron.

Would it be continuous time if not clocked, e.g. switches or 555 timer feeding into logic gates, and levels just switch when they switch. Of course no logic transitions are actually instant...

The clock is what defines the sampling rate of the delay, so a 555 is just a simpler version of what they already use. The true audio is always moving continuously. When the BBD receives a clock signal, it samples the incoming audio, and to reconstruct that audio as accurately as possible you have to play it back at that same rate it was sampled in. Very similar to how digital (PCM) audio works, except using charged capacitors instead of bits in a digital memory.

If you don't clock it at all, you'll just be sending out the constant voltage equal to whatever your first capacitor has charged, which results in no audible sound. You can adjust your clock speed and have it play back at speeds slower or faster than the incoming rate, with the pitch changing too, just like slowing a record or tape machine.

The output isn't really discrete though, only the internals, and even then like you say, even logic transitions aren't actually instant (but at a rate so much faster than audio we ignore it). The BBDs use filters on both the input and output that remove the very high-end of the audio range (a lowpass filter).

These filters will be made to match or be lower than the current clock rate [0]. One before going into the BBD removes any frequencies too high to be stored accurately (an anti-aliasing filter), and then one after the BBD removes any high frequencies which were created by the near-instant shapes of the capacitors discharging (a reconstruction filter). These means your output audio is "continuous", but also has zero frequency content above your filter cutoff (okay there's a teeny amount of information, nothing in reality is perfect).

To create the delay effect you take a long line of them (usually 512-4096) and the length of your delay is equal to the number of "buckets" times your clock rate. If you had a near infinite amount of buckets and ran them so fast there was no loss in fidelity from the sampling rate, you'd basically have a tape delay. The fun thing about BBDs though is that they don't always pass on their charge to the next bucket perfectly. So longer delay lines mean introducing more errors accumulating as your audio passes through the delay line. A near-infinite BBD would turn into audio mush. Though you can still get a very high number of buckets and a very high clock rate for near digital fidelity, but at that point it's getting more expensive than just using a digital effect, and you're ditching the unique charm of a nice effect.

Here are some more detailed explanations of a bbd [1] [2] The posts by Richard Crowley in [2] are particularly cool to the HN audience I'd hope.

> Curiously enough, BBD were a pre-cursor to EEPROM, DRAM, and FLASH RAM. Microscopic capacitors are used to store the data. In the case of DRAM, the capacitors aren't terribly good, and they must be "reminded" (refreshed) on a regular basis (many times per second). Very similar to BBD.

[0] okay technically 1/2 the clock rate because of nyquist-shannon, I just mean it will be linked to the sampling rate.

[2] https://www.electrosmash.com/mn3007-bucket-brigade-devices

[3] https://www.gearslutz.com/board/geekslutz-forum/897599-how-d...

It is a useful differentiation.

There are a lot of digital effects out there. They digitize the input signal, do some calculations and again convert to analog for the output. A lot of reverb units are like that. Some amplifiers have digital reverb builtin.

Also good to call out the better digital reverb units do this:

1) Split analog signal

2) Pass through one side to output (probably with a signal boost)

3) Take the other side & digitize

4) Apply effect to digital signal

5) Convert output digital signal to analgo

6) Mix into the output of step 2

I find this to be a very audible difference.

But what changes in a digital spring reverb is not that you switch some analog circuitry for digital. Either you simply attach a DAC to the input and an ADC to the output, but that doesn’t really mean that you get rid of analog circuitry. Or more likely, you’re replacing mechanical parts for a software model that achieves a similar sound. What’s interesting in that is not that you go from analog to digital, but from real mechanical equipment to a software simulation.

Any time 'analog' is used with reference to boutique guitar FX it's because they want to try and convince you to pay more money than other equivalents. Same goes for 'hand-made' etc etc. In a crowded market where 90% of the companies are making more or less the same pedals with the same circuits you need to try and stand out in some way.

Is there such a thing as a fully analog reverb that's not electro-acoustic? Bucket-brigade devices are sometimes called "analog", and they were occasionally used for reverb (more commonly for the simpler delay effects they were better suited to), but they're discrete in the time domain so arguably they're partly digital. Maybe you could do reverb with a tape delay with really tiny heads, but I don't know of any such product.

Here you go:


Elk Echo Machine v3 (EM-3) from 1970

Echo isn't the same as reverb. Reverb is a simulation of acoustic spaces small enough that you don't hear distinct echoes. You need multiple short delays to simulate the time taken for sound to travel between surfaces of the room, and feedback between them to simulate the reflections. AFAIK all tape delays are too slow to produce reverb sounds.

Recording studios have had access to tunnels to create echos.


I originally responded pretty much in the same vein as everyone else responding here (inaccurately mentioning the Space Echo).

If the only "digital" part of the circuit is the clock then couldn't you replace that with a quartz oscillator that you can wire an analog modulator for in order to get the switch timing for the capacitors banking the sound? Am I oversimplifying this?

If I'm at all correct than I would also say I don't know of any product that does so since it sort of sounds like it would be going full analog for the sake of going full analog and wouldn't affect the tone AFAIU but sounds like there's no technical reason it couldn't be done.

"Maybe you could do reverb with a tape delay with really tiny heads, but I don't know of any such product."

Lots of heads and carefully tuned feedback (possibly also across different heads adding phase changes) could help in that direction. It would sound interesting, though the resulting contraption would also be big, clunky and expensive.

... or really fast tape with normal heads.

For purposes of guitarists, BBDs are "analog". Some creative pedal makers have taken good advantage of that tie to a clock, and use it to alter fidelity. (I'm not a fan of the BBD sound myself; it gets too dark and wooly too quickly for my taste.)

It's both: the two categories are basically orthogonal. A record player is another electro-mechanical analogue audio device. Although, granted, an electro-mechanical digital effect would certainly be quite impractical. ;D At least if you demand actual audio recording and reproduction rather than a piano-roll system.

And for really big deep FX, use a slinky! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXItDwgf6hM

Not exactly portable, but definitely worth the build.

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