6.5 Reverb 101

Reverb is one of the main effects we have at our disposal in production.

We encounter reverb every single day. A reverberation, or reverb, is created when a sound or signal is reflected, causing numerous reflections to build up and then decay as the sound is absorbed by the surfaces of objects in the space.

These surfaces could be the couch in your living room or the seats in your car etc. All of these surfaces absorb reflections in a different way therefore creating a different reverberation in each space encountered.

This is why a bathroom sounds completely different to a cathedral.
In a bathroom, the common surfaces used in this area: tiles, bath and glass, do not absorb reflections well, which results in sounds that tend to bounce around. On the other hand, a cathedral tends to sound open and lush because they generally have a big space where reflections tend to dissipate as they hit the surfaces of other walls.

We are so used to hearing the reverberation from sound, that if we remove it completely, it often sounds undesirable. For instance, we are used to hearing an orchestra in a giant room, but if we removed the reverb completely, we would be left with the dry tone of the instruments.

Another good example is when recording a violin. It is vital to make sure you record the sound of the room, not just the violin. Everytime I put a microphone up close to the violin and listen, it just doesn’t sound right. This is because we never usually hear violin in this isolated, ‘roomless’ context.

There are exceptions of course. Often you see a vocalist recording in an isolation booth because we want to be able to control how much reverb or ambience we are getting into the microphone. This is because, once reverb is in a recording, it’s almost impossible to remove.

There are many different types of reverb, but I will touch on five for now.

Hall reverbs replicate the sound of a concert hall. Generally, concert halls are large in size therefore they have very long decays. Hall reverbs are fantastic for things like strings or horns. They can also be great on vocals too.
A possible downside is that sometimes they can get quite muddy, so be wary of using too many hall reverbs in a production.

This one is quite self explanatory. It’s the sound of the ambience we hear in different environments everyday. Bathrooms, bedrooms, a small church are all examples of room reverbs. This type of reverb is fantastic for adding a sense of ‘space’ to an element. If you add a touch of room reverb to an electric guitar, all of sudden the sound of that guitar becomes larger and has a beautiful sense of space.

A plate reverb is a totally artificial type of reverb. The plate reverb became famous during the 60’s with bands like The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
A plate reverb is made up of two large pieces of metal that can be brought together or pushed away from each other mechanically. A speaker down one end amplifies the source material and a microphone at the other end picks up the source material with the added sound of the two plates.
This kind of reverb is amazing on almost anything, but especially on vocals and snare drums.

Chamber reverbs are beautiful and often have a similar sense of space to halls. A chamber is specifically built in a studio for the purpose of a microphone sending source material into the room and other microphones recording the result. The Beatles records had plenty of chamber reverbs through their tracks and are still loved as much today! Try chamber reverb on drums and acoustic guitar.

I’m sure we have all heard the sound of a guitar amplifier being picked up whilst being on and you hear that ‘boing’ sound. This is because inside the amp there is often a spring reverb. All that it consists of is a series of springs that add to the quality of the reverb. It has a rattling sound and has become synonymous with the ‘surf guitar sound’.

One of the best things you can try with your productions is to make sure you are using different reverbs throughout. Try a hall on one thing and a chamber on another, spring on something else and a plate on a different element. They will each add something different and together can create a beautiful space for your song.
Remember however, that reverb is like hot sauce. Only use a little, because it is easy to overdo: Unless you love hot sauce!

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