Effects 101: Reverb explained

In this editorial series, we’ll cover different kinds of effects and some of the best practices for using them.

Today, we turn our attention towards reverb.

What is reverb?

reverb_chamber(Reverb Chamber @ Met Labs)

We hear reverb every day. Most of our surroundings reflect sound, and at any given moment we’re bombarded by these sonic reflections. 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 of walls and things, and travels back to your ears). We interpret this mixture of reflections to perceive the nature of the space 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

(EMT 140 Plate)

Most of the reverbs we’re going to be using now are digital models. Unless you own a large studio and have the space to create your own reverb chamber, we’re going to have to primarily rely on digital reverb plugins. Here’s a list of the different types of reverbs and a brief explanation of what makes each unique.

  1. Hall / chamber
    • These reverbs simulate spaces as if you’re 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 try to simulate 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 are still widely today. They’re known to work well with vocals and drums in particular.
    • One of the best digital plate reverbs out there is Universal Audio‘s EMT140, their re-make of the actual EMT140 plate.
  3. Convolution
    • A convolution reverb consist of a recorded sample, called an 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 (though doing it well is more difficult). Audio Ease‘s Altiverb does some of the best convolution reverbs of magnificent acoustic locations that are 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: Early reflections are the first group of echoes that occur when sound waves hit an object. More pronounced early reflections will place your listener in a small room, while 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 to separate the dry and wet signals 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 and 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 too metallic, try filtering it with a low pass filter at around 4-8 kHz. Similarly, using a high pass of up to 450 Hz can help clean up your reverb and remove muddiness.
  5. Mix: The mix setting on reverbs allows you to adjust the balance between the dry and wet signals. If you’re using a reverb as an insert, use the mix setting to adjust the dry / wet ratio. If you’re 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 practices

  1. To preserve 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 smother and blur your signal. For example, 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 the reverb setting or not feeding it any reverb at all.

In our next entry of Effects 101, we’ll overview delays. If you have any questions about reverb, leave them in the comments below.

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March 14, 2016

Reuben Raman Product Marketing Manager at Splice