Reverb means a lot of different things to many different people, especially in pedal form. Are you trying to recreate an actual, physical space? Create a giant, washy, ambient landscape? Trying to simulate the end of the universe? All of these things are now possible and relatively easy to obtain without mortgaging your home (in most cases). The last ten years have particularly been a revolution in the pedal industry as to form factor, features, expansiveness, and versatility. We here at American Songwriter have looked at all the models available and here are our picks for the top ten reverb pedals for working musicians:
1. Alexander Space Force
The Sky Fi, Sky 5000, and Space Race from Alexander have long been favorites with everyone from church musicians to Black Metal bands due to their blooming, rich and expressive algorithms. Each is exceptional for ambient pads as well as dreamy soundscapes. The folks at Alexander took it one big step further with the Space Force, incorporating it into their Leap Series by adding an OLED display for easy tweaking of parameters and FXCore DSP for 8 times the processing power. It’s also the first reverb in their line in true stereo. This is a huge deal in the current pedal environment for guitar players who are stepping more and more into the wet-dry-wet platform and those synth players who have always asked for more stereo devices. Best of all, it sounds great enough to use as a physical send from your DAW for mixing. I found it extremely simple and easy to program 7 presets even with the small screen and every reverb in the Space Force was very real, organic-sounding, and sat well in a mix.
2. Strymon Blue Sky V2
It’s nearly impossible not to put Strymon near the top of almost any pedal survey. This year with the re-introduction of their smaller-format Blue Sky reverb in a newly revamped V2 model they have another winner. Smartly doing away with some secondary functions that can be fussy for some musicians and putting more on the face of the pedal they’ve made a great thing better. They still have the same plate, room, and spring reverb models but have put the modulation functions on their own switch and added the shimmer effect as its own knob. They’ve also increased the behaviors of the shimmer effect. Further, they’ve done away with the high and low damp and made them high and low EQ instead and added a premium analog JFET input stage to the Blue Sky V2. Strymon has added stereo input (switchable) and output, full MIDI implementation, and USB capability for updates. You can still use the secondary functions if you wish (such as tremolo with the spring reverb) and your favorite switch programming but this is a welcome improvement and well worth the upgrade.
3. Poly Effects Digit
No conversation into the outer limits of pedal development can be had without including the Poly Digit. Yes, it’s a reverb, but wait, there’s more. It’s essentially a modular effects unit in a box. The reverb algorithms are fantastic and you can also load physical impulse responses of just about any space you can find (or create) in up to six seconds I believe. Further, you can chain, just like in a modular environment, virtual cables between effects, to any of the three footswitches, to side chains, and just about anything your imagination can conjure. While this platform might be extremely fussy for some players (and it is) it boasts incredible sound, flexibility, and many, many other effects besides reverb that can create a virtual pedal board in essence. If this is too much to wrap your head around there are many, many presets preloaded (including some by this author) to get you started. Definitely for the more adventurous out there.
4. Zoom MS-70CDR
A little fella with a small price point that nonetheless packs some serious punch in this category. It’s a stereo pedal with quite a cult following. Zoom set out to copy many of your favorite reverb pedals (at least as of the original release date of the MS-70CDR) and captured them all pretty well. The one caveat is that they need a good bit of tweaking from my experience to get you closer. However, since Zoom has a free app (as does ToneLib which is actually more useful than the Zoom app) that allows you to tweak to your heart’s delight, this is easily achievable, you can back up your presets, and you can chain up to six effects in each preset patch, including delays, EQ’s, modulations and more. Will it replace your $400 old trusty big-name reverb? Perhaps not but it can get you very close and more for ¼ the price.
5. Red Panda Labs Context
If we were only discussing sound and features with no regard for price, the Context would easily be at number 4 in this list. That said, if you care about sound, stereo, deep features, and smart builds then you need to seriously look at the Red Panda Labs Context. It offered stereo somewhat earlier than other pedals in this roundup (via TRS split cables) and the sound of its reverbs is unparalleled. I’m particularly fond of the hall and cathedral settings which are among the best in the category. Further, it employed a reverse reverb patch when others had forgotten the Shoegaze craze until its recent revival. It’s fantastic and the best reverse reverb I’ve played. The grains mode is to die for and is more organic than any other granular reverb I’ve played in recent memory. There’s an option to employ some secondary functions and those parameters are extremely useful, and it also has one preset stored to an easily accessible switch on the face of the pedal. You can also assign parameters to an external expression control and they have a web app for further tweaking.
6. Source Audio Ventris Dual Reverb
Source Audio is at the forefront of combining pedal technology with an expansive and deep app experience. It’s like donuts to Homer Simpson; is there nothing it can’t do? A veritable smorgasbord of reverb and parameters. Some may be intimidated by apps and that’s understandable which is why Source Audio really took it to the next level via easy-to-read categories, simple but elegant graphics, and an easy-to-connect community of users and presets with their Neuro app. It couldn’t be simpler to try new presets from other users, tweak them to your taste, and then save them to your device and computer. Or start from scratch yourself and tweak to your heart’s delight. It’s really brilliant. All the reverbs sound fantastic regardless of style. Their spring reverb is the absolute best I’ve ever heard and they have secondary functions too like tremolo if you like. If something isn’t perfect for you, change it in the app. Easily the most user-friendly platform. By far.
7. Chase Bliss CXM 1978
Of all the reverbs on this list, the CXM is not only the most massive in physical size but also in scope. A partnership between Chase Bliss and Meris, it seeks to recreate the Lexicon rack units of old, specifically the 224, and make the features more manageable in pedal form. It succeeds, primarily because of the amount of effort by CBA and Meris to remain faithful to the original while improving the technology and smartly taking it forward. It offers hifi, standard (original 224), and lofi modes, low, medium, and high tank sizes, low, medium, and high diffusion (how it attenuates the high frequencies in the reverb), and room, plate, or hall reverb algorithms. All of the reverb sounds are absolutely gorgeous and very three-dimensional, perhaps more so than just about any reverb on the market. You can create realistic rooms or massive soundscapes and 10 presets are available on the pedal face and more via MIDI. Some may be put off by the slider faders but I can attest they are super solid and made of metal and are recallable on presets. It would take an awful blow to damage them. The sound on this unit is a ten out of ten but it is fairly large, a bit heavier than most pedals, offers simply three algorithms, and is quite expensive. In fact, the most expensive on this list but well worth it for what you get.
8. Eventide Blackhole
The Blackhole algorithm has long been one of my faves in the Eventide H9 and I was very excited to see it get its own separate pedal issue. If you’re looking for huge, otherworldly landscapes then look no further than the Blackhole. In fact, I often think of it as the best second reverb pedal on your board because even if you own at least one, it won’t sound like this. There are a few secondary functions but not many and they are easy to reach via the front panel knobs by holding one of the switches. There are five presets, which is handy. You can also freeze/hold your reverb sound for easy drones via the right foot switch. Just brilliant. So why get a Blackhole rather than an H9? Well, the idea is that the H9 can do many things, why not get both? It certainly makes my H9 more valuable.
9. TC Electronics Hall of Fame V2
How can any list of reverb pedals not include the TC Hall of Fame? It can get easily taken for granted but it’s one of the most useful and versatile reverb pedals on the market and the V2 with Mash technology makes it even better. This is another pedal that to truly explore everything it has to offer you need to dig deep into the app but wonders exist in that deep. I have created some of the most interesting and varied reverb combinations including different modulation options, compression for dynamic reverb, and vast soundscapes which I could then save to my computer for future recall. The new Mash technology is terrific too because it gives you essentially a secondary expression pedal function that you can choose and map in the app. For instance, if you’d like longer tails at a certain juncture in your set, you press and hold down the Mash switch, and voila! Or whatever parameter you’d like to map there, ie: more modulation, more mix, whatever. Still classic and still vital with an endless array of reverbs to choose from.
10. Discomfort Designs Passage Through the Hollow Earth
Perhaps a sleeper here, except for maybe some deep pedal junkies, the Hollow Earth is by a very small builder in Arizona, USA. I’ve included it here because the more I use it the more I appreciate how cool it really is. Not quite a spring, bigger than a room (maybe a smart combo of both), it really sits extremely well in a mix no matter what setting or how much mix I dial in with it. Dare I say, it’s very natural and complementary to your tone. It never overwhelms my signal and screams “COOL REVERB” but at the same time, it is a cool reverb and doesn’t sound exactly like any other reverb I own. Sort of a hybrid if you will. It handles delay and other effects extraordinarily well and the “havoc” switch for extreme, distorted feedback is among the most musical I’ve tried. It is mono though, so unlike most modern reverbs on this list you lose that option and there are no fancy presets or multiple algos, but at around $125, I think it’s a steal.