Unlike plate reverb and tape echo, where the EMT 140 and Roland Space Echo respectively are widely considered to be the definitive examples of their kind, spring reverb has always been a more complex category with a range of different options appealing to producers with different priorities. As a result, this is the only hardware entry on our list where we’re taking a totally non-committal approach and refusing to pick a specific model. The truth is, most spring reverbs are useful in some way, whether it’s a cleaner, more hi-fi model for treating vocals or, at the opposite end of the scale, a dirt-cheap effect for adding gritty character to individual drum hits.
Spring reverbs work in a very similar way to plates: a transducer excites one or more metal springs which reverberate in sympathy with the incoming audio signal. The vibrations are captured at the other end of the springs by a pickup, converting the mechanical action back into an electrical signal.
As a result of their relatively simplistic design, spring reverbs typically sound exactly as their name might suggest: metallic, twangy and, er… springy, for want of a better word. Higher quality models such as the AKG BX series and Bandive Great British Spring offer a slightly slicker, less lo-fi sound.
Springs have historically been one of the cheapest construction techniques employed to create reverb effects, and hence you’ll find spring reverbs in a lot of guitar amps and budget effects units. Don’t write off the cheaper units. Dub pioneer King Tubby used the Fisher SpaceXpander, a valve-based unit originally designed for use in cars. The Beastie Boys used the Pioneer SR-202W, a unit designed for home hi-fi applications.
spring reverbs typically sound exactly as their name might suggest
Spring reverbs work well for most sound sources but each model will take a different approach to get the optimal results. Springs don’t tend to be particularly versatile; you’re almost forced to work with the sound of your chosen model and decide what type of instrument or track it works well on. Luckily, for those of us looking for a more versatile alternative, there are some decent software options. We like Softube’s reasonably priced Spring Reverb plugin. It’s a great starting point to see if you’re into the sound of springs.