Reverb is by far one of the most useful and interesting effects in modern production. From a mixing point of view it can be necessary to place dry recordings in an imagined space, from drum mics, lead vocals, guitars, percussion etc. From a sound design and production angle you can radically change the tonal makeup of a sound.
Sun Ra in his 1974 film Space is the Place.
I am always excited when getting a new bundle of plug-ins to check the reverbs out, from the run-of-the-mill rooms, halls and standard simulations to the more ethereal, drone-tastic ones.
In this article I want to have a quick look at some of the different types of reverb available, some of my favourites and some reverb party tricks.
Reverb is both something we add out of choice but also a natural phenomena we might actually seek to eradicate from our recordings. Believe it or not, not every room actually sounds as nice as a cathedral some sort of utopian glazier.
My home studio for example has certain frequencies that build up due to the nature of the materials the walls, floor and ceiling are made from, their distance and position from each other and probably a whole other plethora of things.
The Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. We could infer just by looking at this, qualities about its reverb. Image © Europeish.com.
Broadly speaking, this is undesirable, and most recording environments I’ve been in have sought to damped any natural reflections in the build and acoustic treatment of the room and micing techniques.
The Audio Examples
For the purpose of this article I’m going to use the same four audio examples for each type of reverb. Here they are dry with no other effects.
Clean guitar (courtesy of the very talented Martin Case)
D16 Group Drumazon (909 simulator)
Analog bass (Teisco 60f)
Fender Rhodes Mk II
One of the sexiest sounding reverb is that of a plate reverb. Plate reverbs are large metal sheets with a membrane at one end and a contact mic at the other. A signal is fed into the membrane which rattles the metal sheet and the contact mic feeds the resulting tones back into the desk.
I remember working at The Strongroom and there being several EMT 140 plate reverbs in the biscuit cupboard (of all places!) – these were hooked up to various desks across the building and at any one time you could send out to them and return the signal in Pro Tools ready to use. Of course the signal would have to be printed (as with any outboard).
Realistically, most of us will never own a real pate reverb, but the lads at Waves (amongst many others) have decent emulations of them.
The below video is by Waves, exploring the plate reverbs at Abbey Road Studios.
*EDIT* Oddly the video has been taken down. Boo hoo. Here’s a replacement video by LBA Studios:
Plate reverbs sounds fantastic on vocals and drums, clean guitar, horn sections, most anything. Of course my experience with plates has only ever been simulations but their sound quality is pretty decent.
For the below audio examples I’ve used another Waves plug-in, the Renaissance Reverb, using various presets from the Plate folder.
By far my favourite analog reverb source is spring reverb. Anyone who’s ever opened a guitar amp might have come across spring reverb when they put it down too hard or have tripped over it. You get this thundering clatter caused by the springs vibrating.
Like the plate reverb, a signal is fed into one end of a spring/some springs and then passed back out the other. It’s duller sonically than the plate, which has more of a shimmering, bright quality.
The below video is by the excellent (but sadly never updated anymore) YouTube channel PreservationSound, explaining in detail what spring reverb is and even a little introduction to using a real spring reverb with your DAW.
For the spring reverb examples I used my Doepfer A-199, which meant a bit of a setup to get it working. Inside Logic I sent out to a bus with a very short delay on it, some EQ and a limited. This went out of output 3 into a Radial ReAmper which ran into a Doepfer A-119.
The signal path for this got a little fiddly. After the A-119 it ran into the spring reverb then into a high-pass filter, ALM S.G.B and into a passive vactoral VCA with a DC offset from MATHS. Finally this ran out of the modular into a valve pre-amp and into Logic where it could be printed.
For a more in-depth look at using external hardware, please read this. Anyway, if you’re still with me, here’s the audio examples run through the spring reverb. All that changes in these examples was how much high-pass filtering was going on.