I have been eyeing the Pantheon reverb plug-in that came with my Lexicon soundcard forever now, wanting to test it and write a review. I just installed it and the task of writing a review seems daunting. This is a reverb with many options, various presets, and more controls than I expected. I am sure that whatever I write below will turn out incomplete, but here it goes:
Installation went though fine with only minor glitches. The CD that came with my Lexicon had five items: 1) WDM driver; 2) ASIO driver; 3) Cubase LE; 4) Pantheon Reverb Plug-in; and 5) Help Files. I had already installed the drivers before. I could not get the Pantheon reverb without installing the drivers again, but that was understandable. Then I could not install the reverb without installing Cubase LE as I got: "Could not find VST path in registry". I used CoolEdit Pro 2.0 and VST plug-ins there are not an option. That was understandable as well. I selected all five items and the installation went through.
Not that anyone cares, but Cubase is a strangely designed application. It works and it has everything one can possibly want; well, almost everything. I have used Cubase before, but for the first time I could not find a way to switch the playback from the SigmaTel Audio soundcard in my laptop to the Lexicon. I switched the default output device in the Windows sound control panel and re-started Cubase to be able to play through the Lexicon. I wanted to get a good sound out to make sure that I can listen to and evaluate the Pantheon reverb properly.
To be sure, I am writing about Lexicon’s Pantheon Reverb v1.1 and so what I say here may be a little dated. The interface is nice. The first thing that I found interesting is the large number of controls. There is everything a reverb needs and probably more. This is a good and a bad thing. On one hand a reverb with too many controls is difficult to "control" and one has to rely on the presets for a good sound. On the other hand, it is nice to have access to everything.
Another thing I found strange was the use of "knobs". Some like those. They make the interface "cool", but since I have designed software before I can say that knobs have no place in an interface. They are imprecise and difficult to use and the point of an interface is to make the job of the user easy. Luckily, whoever designed the Pantheon interface was smart enough to design knobs that can be turned with the arrow keys. Not very well though, as sometimes you have to press the arrow keys a couple of times before the knob turns (check out the large Reverb Type knob in the left part of the dialog). What was really strange though was the mix of sliders and knobs. Sliders work. All knobs should be sliders (or spinners). I do not know why some controls in the Pantheon interface were made into sliders and others into knobs.
The controls are not very well organized by the way, as I would have separated the Mix and Level from the rest of the sliders, would have combined the Spread, Delay, Room Size, and RT60, and would have split out the Diffusion from the Bass Boost and the Bass Frequency. Once you get used to the layout though, it should make no difference.
Having been presented with such a multitude of controls I decided to look for documentation. The documentation was not a part in the installation and was not a part of the CD. I could not even find it on www.lexiconpro.com, which was disappointing, but I did finally find a PDF file on www.zzounds.com. The documentation is good – it has explanations for every control. I wish it had more of the sort: "if you want your reverb to sound like … then set this parameter around …", but the documentation does provide some examples of what proper natural settings should be, which is nice. The only minor complaint that I can put here is that some of the explanations that are provided will be difficult for beginners to understand.
As I said, the presets are important, especially when you have a lot of controls and you have to start somewhere. There are about 35 presets, which is nice. I went through a few of them and they made sense. There are also six reverb types, but the 35 presets actually fit in one of the six types (this means that some controls are duplicated, but that is another story). The presets are the usual. Some of them sound good and some sound strange, but this is all a matter of taste. It is nice to have options.
You should be careful when judging the presets, as they all ship with the mix set at 100% wet, no dry signal. The documentation explains that this is done to avoid "severe comb filtering" (I would have called it a "phaser" to make it easier to understand) when the dry signal comes out of effects with differences in delay. I am not sure why the dry signal will come out with a delay. Even an equalizer (or a reverb/delay/chorus with a low cut-off for the bass) can be designed to compensate for any phase shift, but it is nice that the designers of Pantheon cared (and it is nice that the documentation explained all this).
One problem with the Pantheon presets is that once you choose one of it and modify the settings the settings are saved. Take the Vocal Slap, for example, and drop the room size from 76m as it was originally, to 40m. Switch to some other preset and then come back to the Vocal Slap. The 40m will be saved. You can restart Cubase and it will still be there. I think that custom modifications to the presets should be saved for the track of course, but the preset should be the preset. At least one can get back to the preset by adding the Pantheon to some other track. (The rest of the Cubase effects actually work similarly. Is this the convention?)
A lot of controls take care of basically everything that one may need. Given that you can read through the documentation to see which one does what, I will not try to explain all controls here. There are standard controls to take care of the reverb length and other usual characteristics, such as Room Size, and RT60, and to some extent Delay, Regeneration, and Spread. Then there is Diffusion to take care of irregularities. Mix and Level take care of the mix and output level. Damping takes care of some coloration. The really "nice-to-have" ones are Echo (left-right irregularities), Bass Boost and Bass Frequency (reverberation of lower frequencies), and Pre-delay (for the pre-delay, of course).
I have one minor complaint: I would like better coloration controls – maybe a parametric equalizer. Given that the wet mix can be sent to an equalizer though, this is not very important, unless you are stuck in some application that does not handle "sends" very well, in which case you will have to produce a physical copy of the wet signal.
I have a second minor complaint: I want a low pass cutoff. Maybe one can get that through the Bass Boost and Bass Frequency. I wonder what setting the Bass Boost to 0.0x does (it does not sound like it does anything).
There are some controls that are duplicated. The reverb type control really should not be there. There are some controls that I am still struggling to interpret. I would have thought that the Delay, the Spread, and the RT60 (reverb time) would take care of the room size, but I guess not. (You can actually see that the Room Size affects the RT60, which is nice). Having all these parameters is nice as it allows one to create very unnatural reverbs (e.g., long early reflections but short tail). The problem then is that, if you do not know exactly what to do, an unnatural reverb is what you would usually get (what I usually got, until I started dropping the spread and the mix and increasing the RT60 and the dampening). This is definitely not a reverb for beginners.
After muddling through presets and controls I have to say: you can find settings which produce a very nice reverb. This is especially true if you run through the Room, Plate, and some of the Ambience reverbs. I have seen reviews that mention that the Pantheon reverb tends to be a bit "metallic" and that is certainly true. It was difficult for me to find a warm reverb without the metallic shimmer – you can try some of the Chamber presets such as Soft Chamber. A shimmer is usual for a lot of digital reverbs especially ones that control coloration.
At this point I wish I could say more. My original goal was to dig through, find, and describe the settings of this reverb that I would try on a regular basis. But, as I said, this is a daunting task, so it will be done later. About the only thing I can say is: If you want to get a good reverb quickly you can try some of the Plate reverbs (e.g., Small Room; obviously drop the Mix and experiment with the Room Size and RT60 combination). A good warm reverb is Soft Chamber reverb (drop the mix, room size, and RT60 to make it useful). To some extent you can get the warmness of the Soft Chamber in any other reverb by setting the Bass Boost, Bass Frequency, and Dampening similarly, with the only issue that you will not be able to make it exactly the same, the problem being the knobs. I wish the designers allowed me to just type the numbers that I want in.
All in all
All in all, the Pantheon is a nice thing to have. It is difficult to control, but that is what you get for flexibility: a lot of controls. It is definitely not a reverb for a beginner through, so make sure you know what you are doing though, before attempting to muddle through all controls and presets.