Reverb in productions is probably for most composers the
first ‘go to’ plug in and after effect, yet just as reverb
can add a great professional quality and depth to your music, and can
just as quickly ruin the production and make it sound ‘over produced’
and unprofessional. Reverb can often make or break a song, too much fills
it with too much space and you can’t hear what it’s all about
and too little just kills the emotion of it. So you have to take particular
care in your appliance of reverb, and also be open to a lot of experimentation.
In this article, we are going to look at some great tips for when using
reverb and also take a look at some great reverb plug ins.
What is reverb?
Reverb, short for reverberation is the persistence of sound in a particular
space after the original sound is removed. Unlike a delay, the original
sound is not replicated, rather it is created when the sound is echoed
in a confined space and the reflections are absorbed by the walls and
air. In real terms, this is defined by the sounds being produced bouncing
of nearby objects and refracting to cause the reverb. This is why in plug
ins, there are many factory settings that allow the recreation of certain
situations and places such as a church, or a cave or a small room. So
in effect, a reverb used in productions is essentially a room simulator.
What this does when added in a skilful way is enhance your production
and give a more real sound to your music. There are quite a few different
types of reverb. You can call them reverb modes, or room types. Some of
the more common types include; Room, Hall, Chamber, Spring, Plate, and
Convolution. In our age, we have access to digital reverb simulators which
can simulate, quite realistically, all of these programmed room or reverb
modes. Compositions that sound flat and one dimensional can often be lifted
and given more depth just by the use of reverb. We are now going to look
into differing types of reverb and how you can use these to enhance your
Adding reverb: Tips and Tricks
Adding reverb properly takes a delicate touch and caution must be used
not to get too carried away when using it.
Know your instruments: Reverb when applied to certain instruments can
have a great effect, however when applied to others, can ruin the sound.
Some instruments sound better with little or no reverb. For instance,
I always think it best to use a short room ambience to dry electric signals
such as synths and guitars. This to an effect can simulate the effect
or recording a room. 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.
What kind of track: Obviously the overall kind of track you are going
for will indeed play a part in what kind of reverb you are going to use.
Ambient music is a popular format for composers of production music. Often
in this type of production, composers like to make the piece of music
sound ‘bigger’ and more ethereal. Using a large reverb with
a long tail can be a very effective way of creating this effect. It can
be particularly effective when used on the drums in a way similar to that
of Sigur Ros. This leads onto another point about getting the balance
and level right. An often asked question when referring to reverb is ‘how
much?’ A simple answer to this would be to turn it up till you hear
it and then turn it down again. This method however, only works if the
decay time is right in the first place. If for instance the decay time
is too short in the first place, then simply turning it up won’t
help. The length of the reverb and its amount needs to be balanced against
each other and needs to vary for each element of the mix. A nice simple
way around this is to run 2 reverbs over separate buses both with varying
decays. You can then adjust the amount you want to add for each one.
Reverse: Continuing on the electronic music theme, a classic technique
used with reverb is the reverse reverb technique. This is employed particularly
regularly in trance music, often in vocals where it sounds like the main
vocal is ‘coming in’ when beginning a phrase. Trance music
and vocals is not the only use for reverse reverb and it can work equally
well on pads or a string section. To create the reverse reverb effect,
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. If you want to get
really creative with your reverse reverb, follow these instructions: Have
the reverb trail panned left on a separate track, then the original sample
centre-stage (i.e. 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.
Less is sometimes more: Don’t use any reverb. Sometimes in a mix,
there may be no need for reverb. If for instance you are recording instruments
live and already have a great room with great acoustics then it may not
be necessary to add reverb to that element of the track. Simply add a
couple of extra mics to the recording and try to capture the natural reverb.
Similarly, some things just sound better dry. Vocals are a good example
of an element of the mix that can often work better with a delay rather
than a reverb.
In summary, it’s important to recognize the power
of reverb and its ability to make or break a mix. Next time you are mixing
a track or adding an effect, maybe don’t just go for the factory
preset on your favourite plug in and spend some time trying different
things and experimenting with the amount, attack and decay time and types
of reverb. You may just surprise yourself. We are now going to look at
a couple of the leading software reverb plug ins.
Lexicon PCM Native Reverb
Lexicon hardware units take pride of place in many pro studios, and over
the company's 39-year history it's become the gold standard in digital
The PCM Bundle utilises the algorithms and presets from the Lexicon PCM96
hardware reverb. Buying one of these units will set you back over $2000,
so thinking logically, the PCM Bundle o¬ffers better value for money
at around half that. The reverb plug in comes as part of a bundle of plug
The PCM Bundle plug-ins are easy to get a handle on, taking a direct
and professional approach to the controls, with functionality being the
From times gone by, plug in reverbs used to be very poor conversions from
their hardware counterparts, however recently vast improvements have been
made and the PCM bundles and no exception to this rule. In fact, they
are a superb conversion and fully justify their price tag. Admittedly
this is right at the high end of plug ins, however what you are paying
for with the PCM Bundle is the fact that it's unarguably the 'real thing'
rather than merely an attempt at a Lexicon-style reverb - it goes without
saying, then, that it sounds incredible.
Logic Space Designer
Space designer is a high end reverb now shipping with Apples Logic sequencer
software. Personally this is my plug in of choice and it has excellent
presets available to get you started and begin tweaking from.
The principle behind the convolution process - the key to achieving the
most realistic reverbs - is that an impulse response is captured by recording
the total reflections that occur after an initial signal spike in a given
acoustic space, be it cathedral or cave. This recording can then be merged
with your song's audio files, so effectively the audio sounds like it
was actually recorded within the selected space.
Space Designer comes with 1000 professional-quality impulse responses
(IRs), covering all manner of indoor and outdoor spaces (everything from
bathrooms and large halls to pine forests), as well as hundreds of responses
from legendary hardware reverb and delay units that would otherwise cost
thousands of pounds.
Criticisms are that the plug in can only be used with Logic and that it
can be a drain of CPU resources. However in my experience this is a small
sacrifice to make for such an excellent plug in.
Whatever plug in you choose, be sure to experiment all the time and don’t
just settle for the first preset you come across. You may just surprise