Sound Bites: EMT Plate Reverb


I don’t care what anybody or their Gearslutz mother says, to my ears there is nothing, and I do mean nothing, to compare with the rich natural sound of an EMT 140 plate reverb. I grant you, these are not the smallest box of frogs in the universe, but if you have the space (and who needs a bedroom after all?) this is one mean dude that will put a smile on the face of your clients, if not your sour-faced mum.

I’ve paraphrased some blurb from the Universal website (excellent reading as usual) but to add my few pennies’ worth, would say that these plates have come from the original owner, one of the most prestigious studios in Europe, where they were kept from new in a dry, air-conditioned plate room. We’ll service and can offer a choice of tube or (my preferred) solid state plate amps. They sound quite amazing and cost more than a house when new. Decades have been spent trying to emulate the sound digitally without success.

Plates in this condition are as rare as rocking horse teeth. Dreaaaaaaammmmmy.

EMT Plate reverb

From the Universal website…

German company EMT (Elektromesstecknik) made a huge breakthrough in 1957 with the release of the EMT 140 Reverberation Unit—the first plate reverb. EMT was birthed from the Broadcast Technical institute in Nuremburg and the Institute for Broadcast Engineering in Hamburg. EMT in its day was by far the most popular developer and manufacturer of artificial reverb solutions for the recording industry. From the first pre-packaged artificial plate reverb system, to the early (and arguably best sounding) EMT 250 digital reverb, EMT was the forerunner of the field.

What’s a Plate?

And what are the defining sonic elements of a plate? I got to find out with my own ears during a visit to The Plant Studios in Sausalito, where they have multiple plate reverb units, including the ubiquitous EMT 140. It does not necessarily sound like a room, yet it has room-like qualities. The sound is dense, with heavy diffusion; wonderful, warm, open, and natural. Plates are still widely used in many studios—the only drawback is the enormous size and weight of the devices. An EMT 140 plate reverb weighs 600 pounds. Still, it’s an easier alternative to the design and space concerns of a dedicated chamber, and I believe that was the idea, particularly in 1957.

Interior of the EMT 140 Plate Reverb

The plate reverb is made up of a large (2x3m), thin piece of sheet metal suspended from a steel frame by spring tensioners at each corner. An electrical transducer mounted to the centre of the suspended plate induces plate movement, which creates the effect. One or two (mono or stereo) pickups are mounted to the plate as well, for the reverb return. A damping plate controlled by a servo motor, allowed adjustment of the reverb time. All of these simple elements were built into a heavy wooden enclosure.

Typically the engineer sets his decay with the damper control, and runs the reverb return through additional EQ at the board for greater tone shaping capabilities.

The 140s are generally the favourite plate of the audio community, but many fans of the plates were not crazy about the original electronics, and a lot of the units were later retrofitted with updated electronic components. In 1961, EMT hit another first by adding a stereo return–by the seventies, the EMT plates were manufactured as solid-state. Further improvements were made to the technology, and EMT made many other plate systems and models, but the 140 is still considered the de-facto system for the best in plate reverb.

EMT Plate Reverbs in stock:

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