Spacelab Interstellar reverb plug-in review

Spacelab’s Interstellar reverb plug-in is like the movie: a grand scale on a scientific foundation. The quality of the reverb you can create with it is the best I have come across and it allows you to position up to 256 (!) sound objects in spaces ranging from one 1x1x1 up to 50x50x50 metres. Spacelab Interstellar 1.1 supports anything from mono to Dolby Atmos and beyond.

Fiedler Audio, the company behind Spacelab Ignition and Interstellar, was founded in 2013 and based its plug-in on scientific research. Much of Spacelab’s appeal is related to the interface and the Fraunhofer-based 3D-reverb technology. Spacelab combines reverb, 3D-panning, and spatialisation in one plug-in.

There are two versions of the plug-in: Ignition (at the time of writing: €149 – normally €279) offers to place 24 sound objects (tracks) in space, whereas Interstellar (€599) places up to 256 objects and snapshot capabilities to remember complex setups.

I received the Interstellar version to try out. Both plug-ins have satellite plug-ins — Spacelab Beam — to make the objects-in-space placement possible. These blocks don’t send a signal to your output but to the Interstellar plug-in. In Logic Pro X the Beam plug-in does send a -200dB signal to keep the app from disabling the track it’s on.

Furthermore, you get to download an MPEG-H output plug-in for exporting audio with the MPEG-H standard. I couldn’t test it because to use it with Logic, you must install it on a version prior to 10.7 until Fiedler Audio has released an update.

Using Spacelab Interstellar

With Spacelab you can do three things. You can recreate sound originating from a location in space much as it does in the physical world, create reverberation to your own taste, or combine the two.

The first use case is done in Source mode and allows you to move a listener (dummy head) and sound sources (tracks) as objects. You can move objects independent of or attached to the listener. The latter mode is interesting when you create soundscapes for AR/VR.

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I tested Spacelab on my mid-2017 27in iMac with 21 tracks loaded in Logic Pro X and never got a system overload. That’s something I regularly bump into when using NUGEN Audio Paragon or Exponential Audio (iZotope) PhoenixReverb.

Used as a straightforward reverb plug-in, Spacelab offers a large number of parameters that allow you to obtain the exact sound you’re after. They include settings per frequency band as well as room characteristics and more. In this mode, Spacelab reminded me the most of PhoenixVerb. However, Spacelab offers more granular control over the interaction of the reverb with the signal.

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In the 3D object/listener environment, Spacelab goes far beyond the capabilities of any reverb plug-in that I know. It starts with the sources panel where you control the placement of sound objects using a 3D rendition of a room with the listener inside. Every object can be moved around independently here, as can the listener.

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In both Source (spatial) and Reverb (classic) mode, the plug-in offers direct access to at least two algorithms for calculating reverb. The first one is presented in the interface as four buttons, one for each room complexity. A cathedral, for example, sits in algorithm 3. A second algorithm calculates reflection patterns, of which you can directly select one out of 12, again using buttons. These patterns are not directly tied to any type of space and you set them to taste. This approach allows you to input more of your personal taste in reverb effects than, for example, Paragon which stays closer to its sampling of existing spaces.

You can further tune the reverb effects using a 9-band equaliser, a 9-band spectral reverb time equaliser, a per-output-channel spatial equaliser, an automation routing subsystem, and a speaker layout system that caters for individually tuning 32 speakers in the Binaural full-sphere output setting. The maximum number of speakers you can tune is 64.

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With that many objects and settings, you might prepare yourself for a lot of tedious, time consuming work as you need to add a Beam plug-in to every track that you want to act as a source in Spacelab. That has been catered for, though.

You can set up objects in a unified panel where you can quickly fill in the settings — that leaves you with only having to add the Beam plug-in to each track that is going to be used as a source.

The most important setting for each source is whether you want to put the object in room or listener mode. In the latter, an object is tied to the listener’s position, i.e. when you move the listener around, the objects will travel with the dummy head.

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Because 256 objects look tiny, even in a plug-in that can be freely resized, the devs allow you to choose a colour per object. Here’s the one element that in my opinion hasn’t been thought out well enough: the colour bar lacks differentiation in brightness levels, meaning that even with my 24 tracks, I needed to select closely resembling tints which makes objects not stand out for easy identification.

The verdict

You might be wondering why you would want to have Spacelab in your tool chest when there are many alternatives that sound good. The answer depends on what you expect from a reverb plug-in.

If all you want is something that adds echo to your signal without distortion, then even Logic’s Space Designer will be overkill. If you need to make it sound like the recording room was of a specific type, then Spacelab’s plug-in is the best you can get, improving on alternatives like Paragon or PhoenixReverb but not earthshakingly so.

However, if you want or need to put sound sources in an exact spot, like for binaural recordings, Dolby Atmos and other high-end, cinematic, game-based, and surround sound output, there is currently no alternative that comes close to what you can achieve with the quality and efficiency Spacelab delivers.

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