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Reverb: Everything You Need To Know

What is Reverb

Many times I hear people saying they don’t like reverb on their tracks, or how they get a low-end mess after adding some reverb to the drums, or even how annoying those “s” sounds on their vocal track when they add reverb. Sometimes I hear mixes that are so wet that they make me think about those heavy metal hairy bands from the 80s. So, today, I’m gonna talk a little bit about Reverb (reverberation), and all you need to know about it. Let’s check it out!

So, what is Reverb?

Reverb is a physical phenomenon that occurs when a given sound reflects a surface and that reflection goes back to the listener’s ears, getting mixed in the way with the original sound a few milliseconds later. This gives the listener a sense of space.

Reverb types.

There are various types of reverbs, so-called algorithms in your typical reverb plugin or hardware reverb unit. Before the digital era, studios used to have mic’d rooms or halls or chambers where the engineer would feed the audio and capture just the reflections. This is still an awesome option if you can afford that, but, as most of us can’t, some cheaper alternatives appeared back then: plates and spring reverbs. Spring reverbs, are still very common to find in guitar amps, and they are very warm. This consist actually of a spring (or two or three) that are excited by a feed of the audio and then captured by a contact mic. This are really cheap, as you can find reverb tanks on eBay for 15 or 20 USD.

Plates are a bigger and somehow more versatile alternative that uses exactly the same principle as springs, but, with bigger metal plates instead of springs. When they first came out in the late 70s, they were not that cheap, but today, if you are good with crafts and know a little bit about electronics, you can google instructions and blueprints for making a plate reverb which will cost you less than 300 USD. Most reverb plugins and hardware units cover all of this reverb types, and some even have algorithms for bigger spaces such as churches or cathedrals.

Pre-delay?

A very common practice during analog days was to apply some delay before the reverb. This practice is called pre-delay, and somehow makes the reverb more noticeable and more musical. I recommend you to use the same formula that you use for calculating tempo delay (60.000/BPM time= quarter note), but, try not to use values larger than 40 ms due to Hass effect. You should apply at least some pre-delay to your tracks, especially for those rhythmic tracks like snare or guitar, as it will be easier to make them “breath”.

Lets make an example: let’s say your track is 128 BPM, and you want to apply some reverb to your backbeat snare, so, we know, some pre-delay is good, but, pre-delays larger than 40 ms won’t be a good idea, so 60.00/128= 468,75/2= 234,37/2= 117,2/2= 58,6/2= 29,3. So, 29,3 ms is our pre-delay value, which translated to musical values is a 64th. Anyway, in this example, you might wanna set your pre-delay at 29 or 29.5 ms to give some extra movement to the track.

So, which type is good for what?

Typically, spring reverbs are great for guitars and keyboards, they are warm and short; Plates are great for snares, toms, vocals, and guitars, they are also warm, but have longer times than springs; Rooms and chambers have short times, and depending on the material, can be dark or bright, they are great for drum kits, vocals, guitars, percussion, and keyboards; Halls are especially good for string instruments, acoustic guitars, pianos, brass and all sort of orchestral instruments, they usually sound brighter than rooms and in some genders can sound great on vocals and drum kits.

One nice trick is to combine various types of reverbs with different lengths in different amounts, let’s say for your drums, you might wanna send the whole kit to a room verb, your snare and toms to a plate and again, the whole kit to a hall with about 3.5 seconds long. Try it in small amounts!

Insert or Aux Send?

In most cases, the best is to use reverb as an aux send, just because, original signal pass unaltered through the channel, and an amount is fed to the reverb, and then dry and wet signals can be mixed. This, somehow, mimics the acoustic process, where, the dry signal arrives to our ears with some wet signal mixed in. Somehow, in some cases, such as for SFX, or some special effects, you might wanna insert a reverb on your track. Needless to say that in most cases, less is more, so, probably, you might wanna lower your aux channel fader.

Shape your Reverb

Ok, so, you’ve sent your drum buss to a reverb only to find out that your low end turns up to be a mess and your high end makes your ears hurt, so, what to do? On the aux channel, insert an EQ before the reverb, there’s a specific curve for drums called abbey road curve that works great: HPF everything below 500 Hz, LPF everything above 5 kHz and a gentle 2 or 3 dB notch around 2.5 kHz.

Ok, but how about those annoying “s” on the vocal track? Well, first of all, you should also insert an EQ before the reverb to filter the lows and highs (500 Hz and 10 kHz is a good starting point), but, also, before the EQ, you should insert a De-Esser.

Another good measure for shaping reverbs is to use a compressor after the reverb for some tightening, and also, it is a good idea to insert an EQ after compressor to compensate some frequencies.

This means, that you should definitely try this chain on your aux for vocals:

  • De-Esser
  • EQ for filtering
  • Reverb
  • Compressor for tightening
  • EQ for compensation

Make ‘em breathe!

Reverb will definitely make things like snare “breath”. You should set the reverb’s length so that its tail dies just before next hit. This will for sure work on other rhythmic tracks such as piano parts or rhythm guitars or even hi-hats (try it with moderation!)

For lushier-ambient reverbs, you should really try to combine reverbs with delays!

Buy Reverb Plugins Here

Remember, Reverbs are your friends!

You might also like to check our list of 10 Best Free Reverb Plugins

More to read: How to really use an Equalizer

About the author

Rafael Hofstadter is a recording and mixing engineer and sound designer with 10+ years experience in playing and programming synths, recording, mixing and producing pop/rock/folk albums. He also runs piggysounds.com.
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