Reverb adds space and depth to any recorded instrument and you would be hard-pressed to find a modern music production without it.
Reverb is a commonly-used effect by audio engineers and can be heard in most recordings throughout time. In today’s day and age, there are a plethora of plugins and effect processors which replicate different acoustic spaces and even man-made devices used to create reverb, allowing the bedroom producer or musician to add the effect to their music with ease.
In this list, we will define the uses of each reverb and how they can affect a mix.
Vocals and reverb
Vocals are a crucial element within a track as they deliver the artist’s message through the lyrics which are sung, and based on the tone of voice can invoke emotion or a feeling that engages the listener.
Normally, as an engineer you want the vocals to cut through the mix and stand out against the other instruments. Reverb can be used to elevate the impact and try to further tap into the listener’s emotional response to the track. Let’s now look into how vocals can be affected with each reverb type.
Replicating the sound of a big concert hall, hall reverbs involve a highly thick sound, with a very long-drawn-out decay sometimes lasting several seconds in length. They are good for adding space to strings and vocals, so they are popular for use within orchestral arrangements, adding a nice ‘wash’ effect to the instruments.
The smooth decay effect within hall reverbs can also be useful for mixing engineers to ‘glue’ certain tracks together, helping a mix sound cohesive. This needs to be treated with attention to detail, as too many instrumental layers with this reverb, on occasion, can result in the mix sounding ‘muddy’ or ‘blurred’, so picking the correct context in your music for this reverb type is key.
What does a vocal hall reverb sound like?
As the name suggests, room reverbs are based on smaller acoustic spaces than hall reverbs. Replicating the ambiance of a normal room with flat surfaces and parallel walls, they are known to have ‘imperfections’ such as fluttering echoes, rings, and resonance. However, this can be used to a producer or engineer’s advantage as it can create a sense of liveliness that wasn’t there before. This reverb delivers the perfect level of depth and colour to a mix for any instrument, whether it be vocals, guitar, drums, pianos etc.
Smaller room reverbs sometimes add a tinge of space to a mix while still retaining an intimate, close-up feel that can bring a mix to life.
What does a vocal room reverb sound like?
In the past, studio owners built reverb chambers by placing a speaker and a microphone inside a small room with reflective surfaces and oblong angles, for example, a bathroom or stairwell.
Chamber reverbs are similar to room reverbs as they deliver a lush, ambient sound but retain higher levels of clarity. Engineers can use these effectively to add an extra boost of energy to a track as they sound great on all types of instruments including vocals, drums, and strings, and have been used on various recordings from The Beatles to Led Zeppelin.
What does a vocal chamber reverb sound like?
Being one of the first artificial reverbs, plate reverb does not mimic a real-world acoustic space. They are produced using a magnetic driver that initiates vibrations within a large sheet of metal, this creates an effect of higher frequencies living at the front of the reverb tail while lower frequencies tail out later causing a shimmering sound. Plate reverb has a unique, bright tone that helps boost the presence of any sound, adding a subtle ‘pop’ to a mix which if added correctly, can sound amazing with vocals and on snare drums.
What does a vocal plate reverb sound like?
Similar in style to a chamber or room verb, but feature a much longer decay. The reverb is passed through a noise gate which cuts off the effect well before it would naturally fade out, causing an abrupt stop to the effect which can sound unnatural but punchy and bright at the same time. The effect was popularised in the 1980s and created punchy snare drum sounds and made tom drums pop through the speakers, popular with artists such as Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. In recent years, the effect has seen a resurgence with synthwave artists such as Gunship and The Midnight using them within their music.
Gated reverb has proved to be a useful tool for audio engineers, and is very popular for producers and musicians creating music, coming in the forms of plugins and pedals. While in the studio, producers will often use sidechain compression which will help add another element of movement to a project they are working on. Sidechaining is a very helpful tool as it can bring together different tracks in the mix, acting as a noise gate and helping regulate the dynamic range. It is a process that allows producers to control the volume of instruments in a mix, for example, drums against the vocals, helping them remain in the dynamic range that is set so as not to overpower the other instruments used.
What does a vocal gated reverb sound like?
Cathedral reverbs replicate the massive open and reflective space typically inside cathedrals. It can be seen as an extended version of a hall reverb, with some decays lasting up to 10 seconds in length. While working in the studio, a mix engineer should be wary of when to correctly use cathedral reverbs, as they can be overbearing in that they smear and blurr sounds with their slow build-up of reflections and resonance.
They are not very suitable for songs with fast tempo, more useful for melodic and rhythmic sections. Similar types include cave and stadium style reverbs which will produce a similar effect but with more slapback delay.
What does a vocal cathedral reverb sound like?
Similar in design to a plate reverb, but rather than using sheets of metal they use multiple springs connected to a transducer and a pickup. They are very common in guitar amplifiers due to their compact size, although can be found in studios too, however, are becoming rarer as time goes on. Spring reverbs add a nice amount of resonance to a guitarist’s performance, giving a level of depth and mood to what they are playing.
They can also add a vintage element to any studio track with their shorter metallic decay. However, they have been known to have issues with mechanical springs breaking, therefore becoming less used in recording.
What does a vocal spring reverb sound like?
Download our ready-made vocal mix presets.
Our vocal chain presets package can help you with some of the plugin steps covered in this article. By downloading our vocal chain, you can instantly import specific preset settings into your DAW project and get that polished vocal mix we would use on your track through our mixing and mastering service.
Understanding each reverb type
It is important we understand the differences between each reverb type as they all have their own unique characteristics and that when used correctly, can really enhance and bring life into a mix.
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