Reverb 101

Reverb can be a useful tool for a lot of purposes. Since the core principle of reverb is to simulate the reflection, and thus replication, of a sound over time, it is often used to increase the “presence” of a sound. Apply reveb to a synth and it will sound bigger, but it will also create issues with your mix later on. Reverb can also be used creatively, to for example, gradually increase the tension of a song towards a change. But the most important purpose of reverb is to create “depth” in your sound.

In this post, I will cover what my reverb template looks like: these are three different channels with my personal tuned settings, I used to create depth in my music. I use ValhallaVintageVerb for this tutorial, but you can apply the same techniques with your stock reverb or any other reverb plugin.

The Setup

Before we get started, we need to setup a few things in our mix console.

the effects busses, and audio splitting in Studio One

Although all reverb plugins have a “mix” knob that allows you to balance the dry and wet signal, this approach is not always the best approach. Suppose you have 8 different tracks where you want to add some room acoustics or depth, that means you will need to add 8 different reverbs. In addition, especially if you are working at 96KHz sample rate or higher in your DAW, this will require some computing power.

To solve this, you need to create send effects. This allows you to add one reverb per effects channel, and send your sound to it – just as you would when controlling the “mix” or “dry/wet” knobs in your plugin. An added bonus: you will make sure that the “space” of your sound will sound the same – it sounds very weird if you use different reverbs throughout your sound. You don’t want that, unless you need a specific creative effect for one instrument.

The Basics

There are 4 important reverb parameters that shape the space of your sound:

  • the decay: how long will the reverb continue
  • the pre-delay: how long does it take before the reverb starts
  • early reverb amount: this controls the amount of reverb that is reflected directly back from a surface
  • late reverb amount: this controls the amount of reverb heard after multiple reflections (feedback)

The goal in creating space, is to balance these four parameters so that your listener has the impression that your sound moves more to the front or to the back, and in what type of room the sound is placed.

You will need at least two reverb types:

  • ambiance reverb: to control the distance of the sound
  • room reverb: to define the space around the sound

Once these are setup, you will be able to balance the sends to these two reverbs (these are used together), to give it more space or to move it to the back.

Ambiance reverb

Ambience reverb moves your sound to the back in a mix. This is a very powerful feature in the production of your music. Just as you would use panning to the left and right, an ambience reverb helps you to move the sound further away from the listener.

You do NOT want to do this for all your sounds though – carefully choose between which instruments you really want to the front, and which ones you want to push away.

my default settings for ambiance reverb in ValhallaVintageVerb

For an universal ambiance reverb, one that works well with percussion as well as instruments or vocals, I usually tend to create a short-rapid reverb like this:

  • size: arround 0.35 to 0.45s, not too long. An ambience reverb is usually stronger than a room reveb, and you dont want to muddy up your mix (ie: muddy, adding to much sound to the 200Hz / 450Hz area, which easily gets bloated)
  • predelay: I tend to use a short delay here for most cases. Not much than 8ms, especially if you want to use this for percussion as well. Unless you want a stadium effect, the sound should not be distinguished completely seperate from its source. On the other hand, no predelay will create to much of an attach on your sound, which could lead to problems later on and will easily “hide” the reverb under your sound
  • early: as much as possible, since we want the listener to believe the sound is close to wall reflections
  • late: as little as possible, to indicate it is not defined in a particular space

The distance of the sound will largely be defined by the pre-delay, however. The longer the pre-delay, the larger the space because the longer it takes for the sound to reflect back.
If you want, you could therefore create three levels of depth in your mix (if you have the room for it, pun not intended):

  • No ambiance delay: up-front
  • Ambiance delay of 7ms: middle
  • Ambiance delay of 25ms: way to the back

Extra tip: you can combine a soft ambiance reverb with a binaural pan (width) and a small slap delay to further push the sound away from the central position. It is especially useful if you want to create a mid or high sound layer for your lead or bass sound, and really create a depth-stereo effect to enhance the feel of your bass and lead without making it sound bloated or muddy.

Room reverbs

Now that we can create depth, lets create some room textures.

a universal room delay in ValhallaVintageVerb
  • size: a bit longer, arround 0.8s should do to hear the reverb well enough
  • predelay: usually, you can choose something up-to 75ms. This reverb will sound much more smoother, with a slower attach, so it should be fine delaying the start by about 40ms on average. The predelay will have a big impact on how large and “distant” the sound in the room will be perceived.
  • early: keep this low, towards 25%. You want some “glue” in this reverb, but it will be complemented by your ambience reverb, so you souldn’t need much
  • late: at least 80%

Besides this universal room delay, I usually have another one in my mix bus just for my vocals.

a very spacious and luch sounding reverb, great for vocals

The main difference with these settings are the very long predelay, and long decay time. The size and attach are also quite large, which leads to a very spacious, lush sounding reverb. Add it to a vocal, and it will really sound like your singer is standing in a huge hall. Don’t overdoor the predelay though – more than 200ms will start to sound really weard as the reverb distances itself too much from the original sound.

Cleaning up your reverb

Now that our reverbs are setup, we need to take care of some pre and post-eq settings.

Remember at the start when I mentioned a reverb will mainly replicate the original sound hundreds of times? When you feed lower frequencies to a reverb, it will do that with those frequencies as well. And because the lows (50-200Hz) is easily bloated (too full), you want to avoid that your reverb adds to that. To make matters worse, you may start adding phasing issues (sound waves cancelling each other out) if you are unlucky which will make your mix sound terrible.

So fix #1: add a frequency low-pass filter or eq shelf to cut everything below 200Hz before the reverb

Next, especially when you want to reveb percussive elements, you may also want to dampen your highs. In the normal world, very high-frequencies are not easily reflected. Adding to much energy in the 10Khz area is really unnatural and will sound extremely harsh.

Fix #2: add a high-pass filter or eq shelf to cut everything above 10KHz before the reverb by at least -6dB

That cleans up the sound that will be reflected before it goes to your reverb, without actually breaking the full sound that will be reflected.

Most reverb plugins will have additional eq filters within. If you look more closely at the examples above, almost all reverbs are cur-off around 6KHz. On-top of this, if you really want your sound clean of low frequencies, add another 100Hz low-pass or eq shelve to make sure nothing is messing with your low-end.

Do you setup your reverbs differently? Let me know in the comment section 🙂

Happy mixing!

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