Before the days of digital, the delays, choruses, flangers, vocoders and many more, there was only one effect – the only way to achieve artificial reverb was to build a reverb chamber – a tiles room with a speaker at one end and a microphone at the other. A copy of the signal would be sent from the desk to the speaker and its reverberation in the room would be captured by the microphone.
Though the result was realistic and unique to each room, it wasn’t really cost-effective as it would require dedicating an isolated room for the sake of adding some reverb to the track. Moreover, it was quite difficult to predict the reverb length and any other parameter. One would have to build the room, try it out, then dampen or liven it up as necessary. And if another producer came in and required a different kind of sound, the room would physically had to be changed to suit the needs. Though the results that were achieved still echo in timeless tracks that many of us grew up on, needless to say it required a lot of work.
Enter Dr. Walter Kuhl and a German company called Elektromesstechnik – or EMT in short. In 1957 they introduced a revolutionary device called simply EMT model 140 – a large but thin metal sheet suspended using springs and caused to vibrate by a transducer mounted in the middle of the sheet; the vibrations were picked up by a pickup (one in earlier models and two for stereo effect in later models) and converted into sound. The length of the reverb was controlled by dampers which could also be moved via a remote control.
Though very heavy and space-consuming, the EMT 140 became instantly popular and offered a very rich sound that we now can easily dial up on any effects unit by simply choosing a plate algorithm. But believe me when I tell you that nothing I’ve heard so far can replace the true fullness and richness of the plate sound.
About 15 years on, EMT introduced a more compact version called Model 240 which offered a similarly rich sound via the same technology but on a smaller scale. The small size (though still weighs 67kg) allowed the unit to be placed in smaller machine rooms and not necessarily shared between studios within a multi-room studio complex.
Many of these units have survived and are constantly used in studios around the world. Maintaining and servicing them is however an art of its own. Both the 140 and the 240 feature very complicated amplifiers that make most techs hide under their desks. Our brilliant tech Dave Way has been doing them for years (against his will!) and though he knows them inside out I still see a very unhappy look on his face when one of these comes in for a service, and sadly due to age they all require some careful attention to one degree or another. Nevertheless, he always does a brilliant job and they leave us in a fully working condition. You may say that his plate is full…
Have you got a plate story you can share with us?