Sponsored by Relab

Roughly ten years ago, the plug-in world was stormed by a team of Danish coders who aimed to achieve what many considered to be impossible: accurately emulate the Lexicon 480L, the holy grail of hardware reverbs. Relab, founded in 2006 after the release of a handful of reverb plugins for the Scope platform, was the audacious developer behind the project, which first started as an emulation of a single mode from the 480L: the ‘Random Hall’, one of the most beloved reverb algorithms of all times and one that played a big part in establishing the world renowned “Lexicon sound”. The RHall plug-in immediately grabbed the attention of the Gearspace.com community, and one can easily find many discussion threads about it on our forums.

The classic digital reverb

Introduced in 1986, the 480L and its iconic white fader laden remote control, the LARC (Lexicon Alphanumeric Remote Control) can be spotted in virtually all the top studios - because it was the best-sounding reverb unit of its time, being used on countless hit recordings through the 1980s right up to the present day. To this day it remains one of the most iconic reverb units ever made - if not the most iconic. The original 480L was famous for its presets: it featured 21 banks with 10 presets each, which encompassed many algorithms, from all sorts of reverbs to effects such as dynamics, delay and pitch-shifting, making it a true powerhouse for mixing. It could also be expanded by adding cartridges, which furthered the options for engineers to work with more presets and effects algorithms, something that was a huge deal back in those days of early digital technology with computing capabilities that were severely limited. It was not all roses though: programming the 480L was difficult, which helps to explain the appeal of its presets, and most engineers would resort to making only a handful of adjustments to the core settings such as decay time, filters, pre-delay or room size. Besides its exquisite algorithms, another factor that made the 480L sound unique were its 18-bit converters, which at the time were revered for its dynamic range and clarity, it was one of the few effects units that would not raise the noise floor of a signal in the nascent digital domain. Furthermore, two 480L units could be cascaded for even more processing power, and they could also be retrofitted with AES/EBU connectors to support multi-channel/ 5.1 surround sound, something which it pioneered for effects units.

The Lexicon 480L “mainframe” rack and its iconic remote control

As great as the 480L was and still is, it’s not all sunshine and lollipops - let’s talk about the price you’ll pay if you want one of these famous units in your rack: as with most iconic recording studio gear, the original Lexicon hardware nowadays goes for at least a few thousand bucks. As shown by Reverb’s price guide, as of the date of this article, a 480L in good working condition hovers around the four thousand (USD) range, but hey, that’s not all - these units have almost 40 years of service behind them so are bound to come with some maintenance costs, which seems all but inevitable - and parts are increasingly hard to find, as are service technicians who are qualified to repair them. It’s that textbook case where having a plug-in with all the inbuilt convenience of software can surpass the hurdles associated with the hardware - that is, if the sound is right!

The Relab LX480 Complete Plug-In

The Relab LX480 Series

As mentioned earlier, Relab first introduced their take on the 480L in 2010 as a “lite” version appropriately called the LX480 RHall, with the name hinting at the popular reverb algorithm they chose to emulate. It was a breakthrough in software development: it was the very first 480L plug-in, and prior to that, those looking to have that classic reverb sound in their productions were limited to using static-sounding impulse responses, which more often than not lead to sonically underwhelming results and are extremely limited in their parameter adjustment. The LX480 RHall changed the game entirely, and a couple of years later Relab finished the daunting task of emulating Lexicon’s behemoth down to the last bit with LX480 Complete, which featured all the algorithms present in the original hardware piece and also accurately emulated the famous 18-bit converters from the hardware unit. Relab also seized the opportunity to add a few extras, such as more sound shaping options and support for 88.2/96 kHz sample rates, something not present in the original unit’s digital I/O.

The LX480 Essentials streamlined interface

LX480 Essentials

On one hand, recreating the 480L gives the current crop of engineers something they could only dream of, but on the other hand, a 1:1 emulation also shows its weakness, and most importantly, it highlights the downsides of a programming interface that hasn’t aged that well. At the end of the day, a big portion of the user base will simply pick a preset and just adjust the basics of the reverb - just like in the late 1980s. Enter the LX480 Essentials, which strips down the feature set down to the essentials and significantly lowers the price, but it does so without making any compromises in quality: it has the same exact sound as its big brother, the LX480 Complete.

The LX480 Essentials features four reverb modes - Plate, Hall, Ambience and Room - all directly ported from some of the most popular algorithms present in the hardware and LX480 Complete. Names were shortened to fit the interface without adding clutter: according to Relab “Plate” is the Fat Plate algorithm, “Hall” is Medium Hall, Room is “Large Wood Room” and Ambience is “Small Ambience”. ‘Plate’ brings a metallic and bright sounding reverb from the past which is perfect for vocals. ‘Hall’ is derived from the legendary ‘Random Hall’ algorithm, and it’s as universal as it gets when it comes to reverbs. ‘Room’ is a more intimate and neutral space, and would be a fine starting point for many post-production applications. ‘Ambience’ is the classic “drum room” sound - a great way to add depth to direct or close mic’d sounds.

Instead of multiple pages for different parameters (which more often than not were left untouched by many engineers) Relab trims it down to five crucial settings: Reverb (decay) Time, Low (cut) Filter, High (cut) Filter, Pre-Delay and Dry/Wet balance. These are the parameters most users will want to tweak when adjusting the reverb, and intentionally limiting it to just those adjustments inevitably leads to a quicker workflow, so it’s a matter of simply launching the plug-in, making a few tweaks, and it’s ready to go. With the outputs, which as mentioned earlier are a fundamental part of the 480L sound, Relab opted to use the “AUX” output from the hardware/LX480 Complete due to its unique sound, coloured by the D/A converters of the 480L. According to Relab’s user survey, this is the most used output on the LX480 Complete, and for lack of better word it’s the one with the most “mojo” thanks to its (welcome!) “vintage” noise profile.

Lastly, LX480 Essentials comes with a convenient A/B switch for quickly comparing two presets or settings, and it is also packed with over a hundred presets, encompassing the four algorithms with a wide array of reverb styles and properly organized for great ease of use. The preset menu also includes signature presets from engineers Joe Carrell and Richard Furch. Relab also ported a handful of presets from the original 480L which are appropriately labelled so they can be quickly spotted. Having that legendary sound has never been so effortless!

Complete or Essentials?

Relab provides two excellent, yet very distinct paths towards vintage reverb glory. The LX480 Complete is the definitive native plug-in version of the 480L - in its entirety - as it is pretty much a 1:1 recreation of the hardware that packs all algorithms and parameters, making it a must-try for those who are into deep-diving their reverb tweaking and really want to recreate the whole experience - minus the mainframe and controller (and the latter could be easily improvised with a MIDI device on certain DAWs).

The LX480 Essentials is another approach entirely: on one hand it is a lot more restricted in terms of available sound options and settings, but on the other hand it is much easier to dial in. Last but not least, there’s the price to take into account. Currently, the Complete version goes for $349, whilst Essentials is attractively priced at $99. That’s a substantial difference.

Ultimately the choice may come down to your budget, but it may also be informed by how much of a reverb fan you are and how far down the rabbit hole you are willing to go.