Effects 101: Reverb Explained

In the next couple of weeks, we will cover different kinds of effects and some of the best practices for using them. Today, we turn our attention to reverb.

What is Reverb?

(Reverb Chamber @ Met Labs)

We hear reverb everyday. Most of our surroundings reflect sound and we are bombarded by these sonic reflections at any given moment. If we stand in an empty hall and clap, we hear a mixture of direct sound (sound that travels straight to your ears) and reflected sound (sound that radiates, bounces off walls and things, and travels back to your ears). We perceive these mixture of reflections as a perceived space of the environment that we are in. Thus, we mostly use reverb in our productions to simulate spaces, although there are plenty of other creative uses for it.

Types of Digital Reverbs

Most of the reverbs we are going to be using now are digital models. Unless, you own a large studio and have space to create your own reverb chamber, most of us work using digital reverb plug ins. Here’s a list of the different types of a reverbs and a brief explanation of what they are.
(EMT 140 Plate)

  1. Hall / Chamber
    • Both hall and chamber reverbs simulate spaces as if you are in a hall or chamber.
    • A hall usually has a longer reverb time of around 1.8 seconds or more while a chamber is considered a smaller space with a shorter reverb time.
    • There are plenty of famous concert halls out there such as the Berlin Symphony Hall and Boston Symphony Hall and many digital reverb units do remake these spaces.
  2. Plate 
    • A plate reverb is a man-made device that vibrates a sheet of metal when a sound activates the surface.
    • Plate reverbs’ were famous in the ’60s and still are today. They are known to work well with vocals and drums.
    • Some of the best digital plate reverbs out there include Universal Audio‘s EMT140, their re-make of the actual EMT140 plate.
  3. Convolution
    • A convolution reverb consist of a recorded sample, called the Impulse Response, of an acoustic space. This Impulse Response essentially records and processes the reverberant behavior of a particular space.
    • The good news is that, anyone can create an Impulse Response of an acoustic space and load it up into a convolution reverb. But to do it well, is difficult. Audio Ease‘s Altiverb does some of the best convolution reverbs of magnificent acoustic places that is certainly worth checking out.

Digital Reverb Parameters

  1. Reverb Time: The reverb time is the total decay time of your reverb signal. The longer the time, the more you would hear the reverb in your mix. The time is usually set in seconds.
  2. Early Reflections Level: Early Reflections are the first group of echoes that occur when sound waves hit an object. A more pronounced early reflection level will seem like your listener is in a small room but a lower early reflection level will place your listener further away in your acoustic space.
  3. Pre-Delay: The pre delay is the amount of time it takes for a sound to leave its source and create its first reflection. Having a slight pre-delay allows you separate the dry signal from the reverb signal and prevents the reverb from masking the original signal. A reverb with a significant pre delay will cause the listener to feel that they are in a big space.
  4. High Frequency & Low Frequency Attenuation: Most reverbs have the ability to use some sort of a filter to attenuate high and low frequencies. If you find that your reverb sounds too bright or metallic, try filtering it with a low pass filter at around 4-8Khz. Similarly, using a high pass of up to 450hz can help clean up your reverb signal and remove muddiness.
  5. Mix: The mix setting on reverbs allows you to adjust the balance between the dry and wet signal. If you are using a reverb as an insert, use the mix setting to adjust the ratio between dry and wet. If you are using it as an aux send on a track, set the reverb mix to 100% so that you would only hear the reverb signal.

Best Reverb Practices

  1. To save on CPU resources, it would be wise to “share” a single instance of your reverb across multiple instruments. To do that, simply create an aux track and have the reverb as an insert on that track with a mix setting at 100%. This allows you to send many instruments to the same reverb instead of putting many instances of the same reverb on each individual track.
  2. Using too much reverb or having too long of a reverb time can often smoother and blur your signal. A percussive sound may sound less dynamic when washed in reverb. Use reverb sparingly and wisely. If you find your sounds disappearing in the mix or lacking definition, try changing a reverb setting or not putting it into reverb at all.

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March 14, 2016

Reuben Raman Product Marketing Manager at Splice