Mixing with Reverb is easy to get wrong… used incorrectly it’s one of the fastest ways to destroy your mix.
Adding reverb without knowing what you’re doing can make a sonic mess of your song.
This article is for you if you’ve ever wondered:
1. What is reverb exactly?
2. Why do you need reverb in your mix?
3. How to mix with reverb to improve your track, so you know what you’re doing and don’t trash you mix…
In this article you’ll learn:
- What reverb is
- How reverb works in the real world and in your Digital Audio Workstation
- Why you need reverb in your mix
- How to set reverb plugins so it makes your mix sound great
In the video below you can get these answers and watch me set up and use reverb in a mix so you’ll understand how to use it in your own mixes.
Below the video lesson is a summary of how reverb works, bonus ideas and links to other songwriting resources to improve your song mixing skills!
What is Reverb?
Reverb is short for reverberation. When you listen to sounds in the real world, there are subtle echoes. Sound waves move in all directions, they bounce off hard surfaces taking longer to hit your ears then the main sound you hear. You normally don’t notice these echoes but unconsciously you use the delays to understand the size of the room or space you’re in. It’s a very simple version of how a dolphin or bat uses echolocation to understand its surroundings. Humans aren’t usually aware of sound reverberations unless it’s either really obvious or they aren’t there at all.
How Reverb Works
The reverberations that accompany every sound we hear help us make sense of our surroundings. It’s a simplified version of the echolocation used by dolphins or bats to map out their surroundings. We aren’t normally conscious of the echoes that accompany every sound in our environment unless they are very pronounced or missing.
Sound travels in every direction from a sound source, the direct sound is loudest and the sound echoes that bounce off hard surfaces are quieter because some of the sound is absorbed by the reflecting surface. The delay in the echoes allow us to estimate the size of the listening environment. There are multiple echoes as the sound continues to bounce around the space until it dies out (decays).
Sound travels at 375 yards (340 metres) per second, about 1 foot/millisecond (ms), or 1 metre every 3 milliseconds (3ocm/ms). Keep these measurements in mind, they will help you understand the size of the space we’re simulating with a reverb plugin later on.
For example, if you were singing, a 12ms delay would be the time it takes for a sound to travel from you, bounce off a surface 6 feet (2m) away and return to your ears. A 1 second reverb tail simulates an echo from a sound next to you traveling 500 feet (150m) and back again.
Remember: sound travels about:
1 foot every millisecond, or 1 metre every 3 milliseconds
Why You Need Reverb in Your Song Tracks
Reverb is confusing at first because you’ve been told you need to record your vocal and instrumental tracks in a controlled recording environment where there aren’t any echoes. So why add them later, right?
You need a controlled recording environment because in a small space the echoes, also called early reflections are so fast, less than 10 milliseconds, that they clutter up the sound you’re recording. They make it sound bad when you listen back to the track recorded.
Once you have a clean recording that you’ve edited, EQed and compressed, you add reverb back to make your song sound like it was recorded in a real space. So it sounds “real” instead of shoved into a little box inside your computer.
The History of Audio Reverb
(in 5 paragraphs)
In the early days of recording, back before computers and DAWs, when recording engineers recorded onto tape… mixing engineers would put loudspeakers into large rooms or halls and record the natural echoes and add them to the mix.
With modern computers and digital audio workstations we can use plugins, software apps to simulate the echoes that you’d hear in a concert hall or a room. These are called Hall Reverb and Room reverb for obvious reasons.
Not everyone could afford to build or rent a concert hall so some brilliant minds came up with some alternatives. One solution was to use speakers in a small very reflective room, this is called chamber reverb. Another solution was to run an audio signal through a piece of metal and record it. One idea was using a metal plate, this is how plate reverb was invented. Another solution was using a metal spring instead of metal plate, creating spring reverb. This made it possible to add a reverb to a portable guitar amp.
The plugins in your DAW simulate natural or mechanical reverb. A signal was playing in a natural environment like a hall or a room, recorded with the natural reverb then run through a computer to create an algorithm, a computer program, that can take any signal and add similar reverb.
Now we have: hall reverb , room, chamber, plate and spring reverb available to insert into any song with software plugin. There are even artificial reverbs, like an Inverse reverb that gradually gets louder instead of softer.
Hall Reverb simulating a concert hall
Room Reverb sounding like a large room
Chamber Reverb simulating a small reflective chamber used to reproduce a larger space
Plate Reverb copying the effect of a metal plate reverb
Spring Reverb simulating a mechanical spring reverb like one in an older guitar amp
Ambient Reverb (Artificial Reverb), a reverb that isn’t found in nature. There are different types. One example is the Inverse Reverb in the Breverb plugin that gets louder instead of softer and decaying naturally.
Reverb Plugin Parameters
Check the manual for your reverb plugin! Some parameters have different names or behave slightly differently. You can also find mixing starting points in well written documentation.
Flip through the reverb presets and listen to how they affect the mix and watch how the parameters change.
Choose a preset you like and tweak the parameters to listen to the effect.
When you find settings you like, save it as your own preset so you can find it again!
Time sets how long the reverb lasts from the first sound to its end (sometimes called the reverb tail).
Size is the size of the simulated hall or room.
Pre-Delay the time before the first reverb echoes start, measured in milliseconds. A low number makes the sound source appear to be close to the listener, a higher number seems farther away.
Diffusion affects the density of the echoes, higher numbers increase the complexity of the echoes in the reverb tail.
Decay is how the reverb dies away or dissipates. A short reverb decay only has early reflections, a longer decay has more late reflections
Shape and Spread work together, low will give you a loud start with a rapid decay, high does the opposite.
High (or EQ) adjusts the EQ on the reverb, typically it is a low pass filter that cuts out high frequencies above the cutoff frequency. This simulates distance because when a sound is far away, you hear less high frequencies. I find it easier to set up a graphic EQ after the reverb plugin to fine tune the sound of the reverb.
There’s More to the Breverb Plugin…
I demonstrated the ProChannel version of Breverb in the video. There’s a more complicated version of Breverb you can load into the FX Bin… I didn’t want you to suffer a reverb overload with your first taste of reverb!
Mixing With Your Reverb Plugin
I save reverb for the end of the mixing process. This lets me mix with EQ and compression with clear sounds before I complicate the mix with reverberations.
I prefer to keep reverb simple to make mixing faster, easier to change and to avoid creating conflicting reverbs that confuse the sound and listeners.
Reverb Mixing Workflow
Start by imagining what you want your reverb to simulate. Are you creating a small club, a large stadium, a special effect?
- Create a new stereo bus, name it Reverb
- Create a send from each track to the new Reverb bus
- Adjust the send on each track to the Reverb bus to set how much signal is sent to the bus (the relative loudness of the reverb for each track)… in the demo I set all sends to -7dB but you can set them differently if you know what you want to achieve.
- Insert your reverb plugin of choice and set it 100% Wet (only reverb goes through this bus, adding any of the dry signal sends just make those sounds louder)
- Optional: add an EQ plugin after the reverb to sculpt the reverb tail (instead of doing it within the reverb plugin)
- Choose a reverb type that fits your goal (Hall, Room, etc.) then try out some presets.
- Find a type of reverb or a preset that’s close to what you want to hear then adjust it so it sounds better.
- I set the reverb by listening only to the reverb and not the original signal (mute all buses except the Master and Reverb). It helps me hear the effect of each parameter change more easily.
- When you’re happy, turn the original mix back on and gradually add reverb until you just start to notice it.
- Turn the Reverb bus off and on (mute/unmute) to check that it’s actually improving your mix and it’s not too loud.
With experience you can try multiple reverb plugins to achieve the sound you want on your tracks.