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Picking the Right Reverb for the Job

18 FEB 2014
Career Path : Music Industry

Reverb plays an essential role in music production, whether laying down a pop vocal track or recording an entire classical symphony orchestra. However, too much or the wrong reverb can quickly either make a track sound amateur, or completely ruin a recording. Choosing a reverb once was simple, as only a few options were available to recording engineers. However, advances in recording technology expanded the market substantially resulting in a wide range of reverb plug-ins from the traditional to the bizarre. The right plug-in to use depends on the goals of your project.

Analog

Analog reverb plug-ins copy the sound and action of the early days of recording. The most common analog tools are spring and plate reverb. Spring plug-in mimic the sound of spring reverb which is produced by fitting a transducer to the end of a spring, though doing so can cause percussive sounds to be twangy. Plate plug-ins mimic the vibrations of a thin metal plate placed in a sound proof box. Both analog forms are appropriate when trying to match the sound of vintage recordings, such as classic tracks from the 1960’s and 1970’s.

Digital 

Digital reverb plug-ins hit the recording scene in the late 1970’s. Digital plug-ins strive to recreate the natural reverb created in different performance spaces by utilizing a multi-tap digital delay line. With digital plug-ins you can better control both delay times and amplitude, which provides the ability to create different patterns and spacing for a more pleasing and realistic sound. With so many companies producing digital reverb products, each plug-in has its own unique sound. While some may sound exactly like the room or space they advertise, others may not sound realistic at all. However, just because it doesn’t sound realistic, doesn’t mean it won’t sound flattering to your track. As such, determining which one is best for your recording requires sampling the products directly, using the plug-in names and descriptions as guidelines. For example, a drum room digital reverb for a drum kit or a cathedral digital plug-in for a large chorus.

Convolution

In the early days of audio recording it was simply a dream to have the computing power to truly sample an actual recording space and translate the results into a reverb plug-in. However, with today’s technology this process is a reality in the form of convolution reverb. Convolution reverb uses sine waves to measure the reverb character of a room, or an impulse response.

This impulse response is then run through a computer and processed to create a more realistic reverb than digital can provide. Because convolution reverb can mimic most any recording space from sound studios to outdoor forests, the right plug-in to use depends on what you’re recording and your own personal preferences.

Almost as important as choosing the right reverb is knowing how much to add to a track. The general rule of thumb is to raise the reverb until you notice it, and then back it off just a small amount. Learning how to hear and adjust reverb is a skill achieved with time and experience. Pursue a recording degree or take audio engineering courses to better understand the technology and develop your ear to get the most out of your plug-in tools and recordings.

Visit Trebas Institute for more information on audio engineering courses.