15 Reverb tips

Learn to produce great music with right reverbnation in your mix. Add depth to your music production or learn how to achieve great effects inspired by greates music producers. Rather than trying to make everything in the mix in the same acoustic environment, why not use a couple of really diverse reverbs to add some strange depth to your tunes? A really dry, upfront vocal works nicely alongside a really ‘drowned’ string section or a small bright room setting on the drums.

Automate

Try automating return levels if you have a digital mixer so that the reverb comes and goes in different sections of the song. By tweaking the aux send levels, manually, during the mix you can add splashes of reverb on the fly to add interest to snares or vocal parts.

Take your time

Spend some time choosing or trying out different ‘verbs. Different songs lend themselves towards different types and sounds. Don’t just settle with what sounds good in solo…

Send that EQ

Remember you can always EQ the send. Most large consoles offer you a choice of high and low EQ on the aux sends. On small desks, route the instrument/voice to another channel via a group or aux send, float this from the mix and send this to the reverb effect. Now you can add EQ to the send and even automate it as it’s now on a fader. This is commonly used for those delays and reverbs that you want to move easily during the mix, such as wetter vocal in the chorus.

Old tricks

Reverse reverb is an old trick, where you can hear a vocal before a singer comes in, or a snare before it plays, easily using tape as you simply turn the tape over and record it backwards. You can do it using a computer, but you will have to move the audio to the right place after recording it.

Use combinations

A combination of reverbs on things can be good. A short setting for the snap sound with a longer bright plate can turn a biscuit-sounding snare into a more live sound.

Old school plate

In the old days it used to be called delay to plate. You sent the signal to a loop of tape then sent that to the reverb. The speed of the tape would adjust the delay as the time it took to get from the record head to the playback head. This gives, say, a voice a dry sound before the reverb comes in, giving a more upfront sound while keeping the wetness, which would usually take it to the back of a hall somewhere! Some people still use the tape method today for that old school sound.

Simple drum one

Early reflections on drums can also give more of a tail or decay.

Experiment

A nice gated verb on guitars to old spring verbs on snares or even the mighty space echo can sound unique when balanced in the mix. That will give you more distance and room for placing things in a mix, while adding that extra sparkle to the sound.

More reverse

Reverse your sample, add reverb, then reverse your sample complete with reverb back around the right way again. This way, the reverb trail leads up into the sample, instead of trailing away from it.

And again!

For a different angle on the same reversed reverb theme, have the reverb trail panned left on a separate track, then the original sample centre-stage (ie. mono), followed by a regular reverb trail on another track panned right. The result is a reverb that leads up into the sample and trails away afterwards, while panning across the stage, left to right.

Reverb over your mix

Pick out key instruments or sounds and highlight them with reverb while using reverb sparingly, if not at all, on the remaining mix. You may have to adjust reverb send levels as the track progresses so you’re not left with the track sounding dry where the reverbed sounds are no longer playing.

Reverb and bass

Usually, bass and reverb don’t mix too well, unless you’re specifically after a warehouse sound. Unfortunately, this effect results in a loss of definition among the bass regions. Run your reverb returns into a couple of spare channels in your mixer and back off the bass EQ, or add a high-pass plug-in EQ.

Go mono!

Don’t forget using mono reverbs at times as well. These won’t conflict with your rich stereo reverbs.

Pre delay

This determines time taken for the initial reflections to return back from room walls. Use this delay calculator to get a pre delay value matched to your tempo. A common technique is to set the predelay to eighth-notes and add the reverb to a straight quarter note kick drum pattern to create an off-beat bouncy feel.

Reverb in the mix

How you use reverbs in your mix to some extent will depend on the musical style, your mixing philosophy and your outboard and DSP resources. Commonly, where resources are relatively limited, perhaps two different reverbs might be used – one mainly with the drum kit in mind and the other for the vocal. If realism is a factor then you might use only one since all . members of a band would generally perform in the same acoustic space. In practice, if you have the processing power, a variety of reverb choices can work well on different areas of your mix.

Drums and percussion

Generally drums and percussion are close miced these days so you will need to add reverb of some kind. The simplest approach is to pick a single reverb and use it on the whole kit in differing amounts. This works best if you use a short reverb setting and leave the kick dry or almost dry. If you have recorded room mics the quality of the sound you’re getting back from these may affect your choice of reverb setting. If you are applying different reverbs to the separate parts of the kit the Mowing guidelines may help. To avoid creating a mushy low end, do not add any obvious reverb to a kick drum. Use a short ambient setting if it is necessary to add anything at all. Snare drums generally benefit from more reverb. Plate settings can be good as they’re bright and don’t produce such distinct early reflections as real spaces. Reverb times for snares can be anything from less than a second to more than 3 seconds but it makes sense to avoid using a long decay time unless the music contains enough space for it to be heard. Generally speaking, the faster or denser the music the shorter the reverb tine should be. This will avoid cluttering the mix. Short bright plates or tiled room ambiences can give breathe life into a dull snare or if you’re looking for a bigger sound try a hall patch and adjust the pre-delay to give a slap back feel. Toms tend to have a long natural sustain so they don’t necessarily benefit from much reverb but a short ambience setting can give them that elusive sense of place. A little ambience is also good for high hats just to give a sense of three dimensional space and lo add some extra high frequency detail. Percussion generally sounds best with just a short ambience-type setting as these are quite dense and tend to reinforce and fatten the sound.

Vocals

The lead vocal reverb is perhaps one of the most important settings in a mix. A vocal drenched in reverb will sound awful and a completely dry one unnatural and disassociated from the music. A very wet vocal sound can reduce the intelligibility of the lyrics and long decay times can fill up space in the mix unnecessarily. Generally speaking in pop and rock mixes we want the vocal to be very “up front”. Adding a lot of reverb will create the impression of distance — the opposite of what we are looking for. Short reverb and even ambience settings can be pretty successful especially if you add a little pre-delay of between 50 and 80ms to separate the vocal and the reverb. If you are looking for a reverb tail to add a little extra sheen to the vocal try a small hall or chamber but increase the early reflections balance so that the reverb tail doesn’t dominate.

Backing vocals are often meant to sit a little behind the lead vocal so longer reverb times are not necessarily a problem here. If you want to thicken the sound a little a setting with obvious early reflections can help.

Guitars

Distorted guitars playing heavy chords don’t generally benefit from much reverb. This may depend on how they’re recorded. Sometimes, with amped guitars recorded in a live room, engineers also take a room mic recording, for ambience. However, solo and clean electric sounds and acoustics are a different matter. This very much depends on the style of music. Spring reverbs as we have seen can be used to recreate that classic ‘amp sound and large bright halls can work if you’re after that big sustaining solo guitar sound. Ambience settings are again good for acoustics – adding space and brightness without cluttering the sound with a long reverb tail. Short plates can also be good for this.

[box type=”info”] Less is more: In today’s musical climate very obvious reverb is not always required. Often what people want is a sound that has life and dimensionality without an obvious reverb tail — in effect almost a ‘reverb without the reverb’. This can apply to both band music and dance music, especially the latter where beats are often very dry and clipped. This is why ambience settings can be useful as they create the early reflections of a natural space but without the long decay times. Thus they reinforce and add solidarity to the sound without obviously smothering it. The sense of space is achieved and the sounds sit more comfortably in the mix, whilst a clean and clear sound is maintained.[/box]

 

Summary

  1. Reverb is a natural phenomenon and part of the way we habitually perceive sound.
  2. AU enclosed spaces create reverb as sound waves are multiplied by reflection, and diffraction.
  3. The frequency content of reflected sound waves is modified by the size, shape and absorptive characteristics of the room and its contents.
  4. Adding reverb is an essential part of the mixing process. It will breathe life into your mix but don’t over do it and choose appropriate settings.
  5. Early attempts to recreate reverb included echo chambers, tape delays, plate reverbs, and spring reverbs.
  6. These were superseded by the advent of digital reverbs in the 80s. Such digital reverbs are now highly sophisticated and afford the user a huge amount of control over the reverberant sound.
  7. Convolution or “sampling” reverbs are becoming an increasingly realistic prospect for users of DAWs in home and project studios. These effectively place the dry sound into a “real” space through the application of Impulse Responses recorded in those “real” spaces. They have fewer controllable parameters than conventional digital reverbs but sound highly convincing.
  8. As a general rule of thumb, with reverb, less is often more. If you’re worried about making your mix too wet choose presets with short decays and/or add just a small amount.

Cover photo by Saigo Caltroine

Reverbnation in the real world

reverb effect

Reverb, of one type or another, is probably the most widely used effect in modern mixing. In today’s recording environments music is usually made from a combination of artificially produced sounds and close-miced recordings. The recordings may have been made at different times and in different places. This approach gives us control over practically all aspects of our mix but if we want it to have any kind of coherence we will need to use some reverb to help to recombine the sounds and bind them into a performance with the impression of an ambient space. Using the correct reverb can make the disparate multi- tracked parts sound whole again as well as bringing colour and three-dimensionality to the sound. Conversely, using too much reverb or the wrong reverb can cause the mix to sound cluttered, messy and distant.

When we make a noise in an enclosed space the sound radiates outwards. It hits obstacles such as walls, tables and chairs and one of the following will occur.

  • Reflection: If sound encounters a hard surface it will generally reflect back into the room.
  • Absorption: Softer surfaces will tend to absorb sound although precisely how much absorption occurs and which frequencies are affected depends largely on the nature of the materials.
  • Diffraction: Sound will bend round or be shadowed by objects. This will spread the sound out in many new directions.

Generally there will be a distinct initial reflection after which further reflections build up quickly as the sound gets rebounded around the room and becomes more diffuse. The time between the sound and its initial reflection depends on the size of the room. On a reverb unit it is usually known as pre-delay. The complex mass of repeats and echoes that follow the initial reflection are what we recognise as reverb. Each line on the diagram below represents the amplitude of a reflection of a discrete sound. There are a number of early reflections followed by a more dense mass of intermingling later reflections. These diminish in amplitude over time.

reverb in the real world

The exact point when reverb ends, is difficult to define, so a measurement known as RT60 is used. This is the time it takes for the reverb to decay by 60dBs from its original value. This is known as the reverberation time. Reverb can radically change the nature of a sound. The sound of a hand clap in a living room, a church or a bathroom, for example, would all be very different. Reverb can be bright or dull, have a long or short decay time, it can be dense or sparse, it may or may not have a distinct early reflection.

These characteristics, and so the resultant sound, are determined by such factors as the size and shape of the enclosed space, the absorptive qualities of the materials that form the room boundaries and the quantity, size, shape and reflectivity of the objects within the room.

To illustrate the last point, if you’ve ever been to a band sound-check and then to the subsequent gig you will have noticed that the room sounds much more reverberant and generally brighter during the sound check than the gig. When the room is full of people high frequencies are much more readily damped and a large part of the reflected sound is absorbed by the mass of bodies making up the audience (assuming they have turned up!) giving a tighter sound.

Mix Delay Into Reverb

This is a great tip for mixing delay using reverb plug-in if you are looking for a different sound, depth and space in the vocal. This tip isn’t for all situations, but sometimes a mix calls for a specific aesthetic that can only be accomplished with some vocal delay run into a reverb. This combination is really cool and worth trying out.