Baby Audio Crystalline Review
Baby Audio releases Crystalline, a modern reverb plugin for Windows and macOS. Learn more in our Baby Audio Crystalline review.
I often hear people say we can never have too many reverb plugins, and it seems Baby Audio would agree. The developer behind plugins like I Heart NY, Super VHS, and Comeback Kid is back with a brand new reverb plugin, Crystalline.
Baby Audio Crystalline: A creative take on modern reverb
Crystalline is a modern algorithmic reverb that aims to give the user complete control.
I used the word creative in the header because, at a glance, some features look like they came straight from a music-makers reverb wish-list. In that sense, it’s clever because it offers the right tools to let you create whatever you want, rather than push you towards a particular sound.
None of that matters if it doesn’t perform well, but I’m cautiously optimistic/excited at first sight.
The GUI has a clean, modern style with no menu-diving other than presets. Saving and loading user presets is easy, with buttons on either side of the preset menu. The (factory/contributor) preset list is massive if you want to be pushed toward a particular sound.
The GUI is fully resizable and offers light and dark color modes. I find the dark mode a little more difficult to see everything, but that’s just me.
There are a few handy buttons on the same row as color selection and the preset menu: Help, Eco Mode, Make Default, and Load Default.
Eco Mode goes easier on the CPU by locking a couple of features. The Baby Audio logos on this row act as bypass switches.
There are six sections of the GUI: Reflections, Depth, Clean-Up, Shape, Output, and Start/End timing.
The GUI is straightforward to understand and navigate; everything (just about) is right in front of you, so it’s a good start.
Breaking Down Each Section
Now, on to the stuff that matters; what each section does and its impact on the sound.
Here you’ll find Size, Sparkle, and Width.
Size is pretty self-explanatory and has five levels, from Tiny to Spacey.
Sparkle enhances the high frequencies in the reverb reflection, or on Sparkle-heavy presets, you can pull it back. With sounds that cut through, like a snare, a little Sparkle can make it crisper/sharper without becoming overly aggressive. On vocals, it’s a bit of that airiness that people often want. It’s not a game-changing feature, more of a finesse feature, but it works well.
Width lets you go from mono to ultra-wide, and it can dramatically change the plugin’s effect. It’s great for making sure the sound sits right where you want it.
Here we have Resolution, Modulation, and Shimmer.
There are three stages of Resolution that represent the algorithm’s complexity and its hit on the CPU.
Modulation makes the reverb a little more interesting by creating pitch variations within the algorithm. Again, the need or effectiveness of this feature depends on the source, but I really like it on synths/organs with a smaller Size (Tiny or Small) and ultra-wide stereo image. With an organ, it creates a fat, psychedelic-rock sound without getting too wishy-washy or muddy (or any other super-technical term that fits).
Shimmer allows you to highlight the high frequencies further by letting them decay slower. You can select 2/4/8kHz and decay times 2X, 4X, or 6X. Those decay times are multiples of your overall End time.
Resolution and Shimmer are locked when Eco Mode is active.
I like this section because it helps deal with overly muddy areas without severely changing the reverb character.
Damping is a fairly broad way to clean up any problematic low and high-frequency content.
Sides is a bit more surgical and a feature I think many users will be delighted to see. With a full range of 20Hz to 20kHz, you can set a point below which the sides won’t react to the reverb. Essentially, anything below that point will be mono, and it’s fantastic if you want to keep an aggressive lead sound under control.
Gate – Phil Collins – Job Done.
The Shape section lets you develop the character of the reverb much further.
Tone creates a darker or brighter character, and it can be very impactful with an overstated reverb tail.
Smoothing applies a custom EQ curve that targets resonant/sharp problem areas. It softens any unwanted harshness, and it’s the best example of Crystalline’s incredibly visual controls; round is smooth, points aren’t so smooth.
Transients let you emphasize the Attack or Sustain of the signal. I loved this feature because I accidentally stumbled onto something I’ll keep. While changing sources and maxing out settings, you know, the digital version of let’s see if I can break it, I had Crystalline on a bass ostinato.
It was the kind of thing you’d hear throughout a generic chase scene. With Transients cranked on Attack, the impact of target notes where the bass digs in was so percussive that it removed the need for underlying percussion. It sounded great, tension hits were perfect, and the throwaway/filler notes were still intact to maintain rhythm.
Maybe, since Transients is geared towards controlling percussive material, the results might seem obvious. But, I didn’t expect it to be so transforming, and I love that.
When setting pre-delay and decay times, you can do so in milliseconds or BPM-synced. I feel like this feature is one that many of us want to see on more reverbs, so well done, Baby Audio.
Following on from the cleanness of BPM-synced pre-delay and decay, we have a Ducker. It keeps the reverb signal from overwhelming the dry signal in noticeable (pumping) or less noticeable (Gentle Ducker) ways by ducking it in and out.
The Dry/Wet slider has a lock, another handy feature while jumping through presets.
In the middle are Reverse and Freeze buttons that venture into sound design more. Especially the Freeze, which captures a snapshot of the reverb, and with the right settings, can create a powerful swell under the source sound.
I recently spent time with a few Baby Audio products, mostly TAIP, and I like how they put things together. Some developers focus only on the results and not on the process, sometimes making plugins with massive potential unbearable to use. Baby Audio seems to approach development from a very musical perspective, leading to intuitive plugins with uncomplicated GUIs; I’m all for that.
Crystalline isn’t an emulation or typical reverb; it’s modern with few limitations. Some might consider it to be Baby Audio thinking outside the box, but for me, it just seems like they listen and pay attention. The features don’t make me think; wow, I’ve never seen that before; they make me think, why don’t we see that more? So, again, well done, Baby Audio.
The kicker is that the lack of limitations might be the downfall of some. It can sound subtle or wildly unnatural, and that’s great, but it’s easy to get carried away and drift towards the wild side.
It’s not so much a criticism as it states that I can’t leave something alone when I should. If I needed the most basic reverb, I probably wouldn’t load Crystalline to avoid the temptation of going power-mad with controls I wish many other reverbs had.
However, my over-tweaking nature aside, Crystalline can be most things you need it to be and many things you don’t expect; it’s pretty awesome.
More info: Crystalline ($49)