Reverb is essential for several reasons in music production. In any project where sound is involved, there is a good chance you will need to deal with it. It’s one of the core effects, and you generally can’t finish a mix without using it. Reverb has several uses - both creative and technical.
This guide provides a deep dive into reverb - what it is, how it works, the different types, and how to master using it in your own productions. By the end of this guide, you will have a solid understanding of reverb, and have a deeper level of knowledge on how to use it.
When a sound is created in space, the sound waves bounce (reflect) off surrounding surfaces like walls, floors, and ceilings. This reflected energy extends the decay of a sound and is called reverberation. Any listener (or microphone) in the environment will hear each subsequent reflection until the energy decays to silence. This gives an impression of sounds lasting longer, and also is a key component of human spatial awareness. Imagine a sound being produced in an infinite empty space. You would only hear the pure original sound, as there are no surfaces from the waves to reflect from. (Despite hearing spaceship lasers in many sci-fi movies…) However, in reality, most sounds occur in spaces with reflective surfaces.
Reverb occurs naturally in spaces, yet this effect has also been harnessed by audio engineers for more convenient use in production scenarios. This ranges from physical rooms and chambers to hardware effects, and digital tools in recent years. We explain the types in further detail below.
Reverb is a key tool in audio production. It can be used for a variety of creative and technical tasks. One of reverb’s main purposes is to create a sense of space and ambiance, giving sounds the feeling of being recorded in a particular environment. Another core function of reverb is to extend the decay time of sounds and to modify their width and depth.
Particularly in digital-heavy music, where all the sounds originate from inside the computer, and nothing is recorded acoustically, sounds are dry (reverb-less). So reverb is used to give sounds the impression of existing in a real space. Often the same reverb effect is used for multiple channels in a mix to blend sounds together and make them sound like they are all happening in the same space for cohesion.
This spatialization is key to achieving a natural, realistic-sounding mix. Without using reverb correctly, mixes can sound thin, fake, and incohesive. Reverb helps to tie sounds together, and gives listeners the impression that they are hearing a real acoustic space. Reverb is also an incredibly important creative tool when mixing music.
When mixing any kind of recording, reverb can be used to add character, ambiance, and a ‘live’ feeling to tracks. Reverb can quickly make a dead recording sound more interesting and lively. When producing audio for visual media, like films, TV shows, and video games, reverb is at least equally important. Pairing the right type of reverb with the visual scene is vital in preserving immersion and ensuring the sound matches the sights.
If you are new to audio production , you might be confused by some of the common terms - which are often used to name controls in reverb effects units. This section will give you a better understanding of these terms.
This is a measurement of the amount of time between the initial occurrence of raw sound, and the time it takes to hear the beginning of the reverb (early reflections). Modifying the pre-delay helps to provide some temporal separation between the reverb and the original sound.
This gives you the ability to provide more definition and distinction for your reverb, and also change the perception of how large the reverberant space is. For example, larger rooms have a longer pre-delay, as it takes more time for those first reflections to bounce back to the listener.
These are the first bounces of reflected sound. These create the initial reverb reflection and are separate from the longer decay which is caused by the subsequent reflections.
This refers to the length of time it takes for the reflected energy to decay (reduce) to nothing. In natural spaces, this is largely defined by the size of a room and the materials used by reflective surfaces.
Harder surfaces (like concrete, metal, and bricks) create a longer decay, as more energy is reflected directly from the surface. Softer surfaces (wood, fabric) create shorter decays, as more energy is absorbed by the material and less is reflected, which kills the bouncing sound waves quicker.
Reverb comes in several types, each with a unique sound and creative purpose. Understanding, and mastering the tones of each type is a key step in becoming a skilled audio producer or mix engineer. Every type of reverb has a unique sound that is more suited to certain situations.
Natural / acoustic (recording)
The original form comes from real acoustic spaces. This served as the inspiration for subsequent reverb types. This type of reverb relies on the reflections created in real acoustic spaces. Obviously, every space has a unique reverb sound based on size, shape, and materials.
Types of acoustic reverb and room sizes:
Room reverbs have a relatively short, bright decay with loud early reflections. It ultimately depends on the materials.
In production scenarios, this type of reverb is often used to add a small amount of ambiance to sounds to give them more realism and space. Alternatively, they are used across a mix to make a range of instruments sound like they are played in the same space.
Chambers are long, dark reverbs which are commonly used to create a rich extension and space for a sound. These are often used in classical situations but are used across many genres. They have a relatively dense sound.
Many large studios have custom echo chambers, which are concrete rooms where audio is played back through speakers and then re-recorded with a microphone to capture the added decay.
A hall, or concert hall reverb, is large, long, and often bright. These are based on the sound of reverbs created in large performance spaces like concert halls and opera houses. These have a much more spacious sound than a chamber or room.
This type speaks for itself. Cathedrals are naturally very reverberant spaces, due to their huge spaces and high ceilings. Often they are built with specific design specs to maximize their acoustic properties.
Cathedral reverbs are a great way to expand a sound and add more space and a rich decay, although they are often too large and distinct for many situations.
These are short, snappy, and often bright types of reverb used to give a subtle impression of space. They have a very short decay which barely extends the length of a sound. These are generally used to give an overly dry sound the feeling that it was actually recorded in an acoustic space.
You can find many other spaces that don’t fit a specific category from the above list. These other spaces are equally as useful when it comes to sound design, and can help to create interesting and unique sonic textures. Examples of these include various environments like cars, outdoors, scoring stages, and simulated spaces that don’t exist in reality.
Mechanically (analog equipment)
For more convenience in the studio, engineers created mechanical devices which are capable of producing a reverb effect. These save space and time in a studio, while also offering a unique sonic texture.
Plate reverbs use a large, thin metal plate housed in an isolated box. A sound is fed into the plate by a transducer. The sound reverberates around the plate and is picked up by additional transducers or mics.
Plates have a rich, long decay which works well on vocals and other melodic sounds.
Because plate reverbs are large and expensive, a smaller solution needed to be developed. Spring reverbs were originally created to be used inside organs. They traditionally work by the springs naturally picking up the acoustic energy from the vibrating organ/speakers. This energy bounces around the springs, which are then picked up by a transducer. This creates a unique, springy reverb decay.
These springs were modded to include input, meaning they could simply receive sounds from a plugged-in audio cable. Springs have a distinct tone that is synonymous with dub and reggae music.
With the development of digital technology, computers became more capable of simulating reverb. With the power of modern computers, essentially any reverberant space or effect can be simulated with incredible realism. This gives a massive improvement to workflow efficiency. Giving producers more power and flexibility.
There are two main types of digital reverb - algorithmic and convolution.
Convolution reverbs use an impulse response to capture and simulate a real acoustic space (or mechanical reverb). To create a response, a frequency sweep is sent out into the space or mechanism, which is then recorded back. The convolution process looks at how the frequency information is affected by the space. This essentially captures a digital recreation of a reverb, which can then be reused on any sound in a DAW.
Algorithmic reverbs use a different process. These are created entirely by algorithms alone, typically using a mix of delay lines and filtering. Algorithmic reverbs offer a greater level of flexibility compared to convolutions, as any parameter can be changed to simulate a different style of reverb. The downside of algorithmic reverbs is that they tend to sound artificial and fake sounding, compared to the reality presented by convolutions.
Reverb plugins are essential for producing audio unless you want to deal with the effort required to capture natural reverbs manually. A simple plugin can give you the power of thousands of reverberant rooms, spaces, and mechanical effects. In the old days, sound would need to be recorded or re-recorded in a real space to add the reverb effect. This digital technology makes the reverb process far easier and quicker.
Usage (sends vs. inserts)
There are two main ways to use reverb in a mix. Reverb is either inserted on a channel or used as a send/return effect. Both of these methods have advantages and disadvantages.
Inserts - These are used to color a single channel. This helps for sound design, although is more resource intensive and can result in an incohesive mix if too many different reverbs are used throughout a project.
Send/Return - This is a type of channel independent of the main tracks. Any other audio channel can be sent into this. Understanding this type of reverb method is important to create immersive, realistic, and cohesive mixes. Essentially this lets you send any number of tracks into the same simulated space, giving them all the same color and reverberant tone, and making them all sound like they originate from the same space.
Experimenting with reverb is an important path to mastery. And the masters out there will know what sets tools apart from others. Dear Reality have combined decades of experience to create a uniquely powerful reverb plugin - EXOVERB.
The EXOVERB plugin uses Dear Reality’s unique proprietary technology to simulate a well tuned spatially sounding reverb for your stereo productions. With an intuitive interface, it gives producers acces to control the depth of sounds, giving you freedom to place them as close or distant as you need.
EXOVERB offers 50 true-to-life sounding acoustic scenes with unheard three-dimensional depth and width, from small to large spaces, ambiance, plates, and more. The level of diversity is useful for many production scenarios, from homerecording music producers to professional post-production suites working on music or visual media. Anybody who uses this tool will unlock a new new level of creativity, flexibility, and depth in their mixing.
Moreover, the futuristic triangle interface will speed up your workflow and lets you easily create the perfect blend of reverb, early reflections, and dry signal. It helps you to turn a 2-dimensional or flat-sounding mix into a deeply immersive environment quicker than ever.
Each acoustic scene was developed using Dear Realities custom software and extensive experience in immersive audio. The results are true-to-life sounding reverbs with three-dimensional depth perception on all playback systems - both speakers and headphones.
Though spatial audio technologies offer new perspectives on sound and the listener’s immersion, it is often overlooked that Stereo can produce an immersive sound field with realistic depth, too - if done right. EXOVERB unlocks this capability by applying the fundamentals of Dear Reality’s well-known spatial audio technology to their first pure stereo reverb plugin.
Dear Reality are pioneering researchers and developers in the field of spatial audio, and have designed a range of spatial tools. Their expertise in spatial audio has influenced the design of the EXOVERB plugin, with a large focus on giving users the ability to precisely design simulated acoustic spaces.
EXOVERB incorporates the fundamentals of spatial hearing, enabling enhanced control of spatial distance perception. Each acoustic scene was developed by using Dear Reality’s proprietary software and extensive experience in immersive audio to create multiple synthesized IRs based on a wide range of room parameters. The results are true-to-life sounding reverbs with three-dimensional depth perception on all playback systems - both speakers and headphones.
Studying spatial audio gives producers knowledge on how to design more realistic and natural-sounding reverb - which is a keystone of any professional mixdown or production. Understanding space, and reverb, is vital. One of the best ways to play with space and reverb is our EXOVERB plugin.