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Top 10 Reverb Tips and Tricks

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

With reverb, you can make or break a space

Imagine listening to a recording and half a minute into a song you notice something wrong. You can’t quite put your finger on it; you just can’t feel the instruments, you feel attacked by the singer’s in-your-face voice and everything is just too…..dry. It’s like listening to music in a vacuum. There’s no space.

Although listening to a reverb-free record is nearly impossible, (unless it was recorded entirely in an anechoic chamber), you can still have a really dry record if you don’t put any reverb on anything.

Reverb can be perceived as a glue that holds everything together, yet retains enough space to maintain a perceived distance between each element. It makes a three dimensional picture of the soundscape you just recorded, causing you to feel that you can hear the room accompanied by the instrument.

Different modes of reverb

There are quite a few different types of reverb. You can call them reverb modes, or room types. Some of the more common types include; Room, Hall, Chamber, Spring, Plate, and Convolution. In our age, we have access to digital reverb simulators which can simulate, quite realistically, all of these programmed room or reverb modes. Let’s take a look.

  • Room reverb – These types simulate the sound of having recorded something in a room. Whether the parameters are for a big room or a drum room, they usually simulate smaller spaces than their Hall/Chamber counterparts.
  • Hall reverb – Rich, warm and big are the first adjectives that come to mind when thinking about Hall reverb. These types simulate halls, whether they be medium halls, concert halls, or whatever lush parameter name the hall has.
  • Plate reverb – Plate reverb is a personal favorite of mine for vocals. Live, I propably use it too much, but I just think it does wonder to the vocals, without taking it too far or drowning it in reverb. Plate reverb is basically sound being sent to a metal plate which vibrates back and forth. These vibrations are picked up and transformed into an audio signal. Plate reverbs are very bright but clean, so they suit vocals especially.
  • Spring reverb – I was once asked what reverb was when I was fooling around with my guitar. I cranked up the reverb on my small practice amp and then kicked it. “That boing you heard?” “Yeah?” “That’s reverb”. Although true is some form, that boing wasn’t all reverb, it was spring reverb. The reverb found on guitar amps so most usually used for guitar.
  • Chamber reverb – In the old days, studios had so called echo chambers. In these chambers they had speakers that they routed the audio signal that they wanted to put reverb on. The signal, be it guitar, voice or whatever was produced through the speakers into the chamber and picked up by a microphone that was positioned to capture the reverb in said chambers.
  • Convolution reverb – This is the type of reverb that allows digital emulation of real three-dimensional spaces. If you’re familiar with the famous reverb plugin Altiverb, then you have heard convolution reverb. In order to capture a room’s reverb characteristics, an “impulse” sound is played in a real space, such as an opera house or a cathedral, then recorded into a computer. The impulse sound allows the computer to simulate that space just from the impulse sound. This is possibly the best kind of digital reverb around

So now you know a little bit about the reverb modes you most commonly work with. Below I have brainstormed a few fun tips you can use whenever you like to spice things up.


Acoustics Part I: an Introduction to Resonance

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Galileo GalileiGalileo discovered the principles of resonance when experimenting with pendulums

Way back in the old days of the 17th century, a man named Galileo Galilei was fiddling around with a pendulum and discovered that if he gave the weight at the end of the string a tiny push at the right time, it would keep swaying back and forth with minimal energy exertion. He discovered that potential and kinetic energy can be set into motion with just a tiny bit of effort. This phenomenon is what became known as resonance. As it turns out, it’s not just pendulums that resonance is affecting. It’s everything. You could say that everything resonates. This affects us musicians and producers in many ways. For example, your room may have too many resonances in the wrong places, which will mess up audio recordings unless you dampen the sound vibrations with sound paneling or bass traps. But since this an intro, I’m sort of getting ahead of myself, and I will cover the practical side of resonance in Part 2.

Nikola Tesla was the archetype of a mad scientist. He invented alternating current, radio broadcasting, and of course, the tesla coil. He is also the subject of many conspiracy theories.

Several centuries later, another guy named Nikola Tesla had heard of this resonance principal, and dedicated his life to discovering how it could be used. Tesla confirmed that everything resonates when he discovered that a pocket-sized mechanical oscillator can cause buildings to crumble and bridges to tremor through the principles of resonance. All that was needed was a pocket-sized piston-driven oscillator sending tuned vibrations into the steel foundations of a building. The power of resonance lies in its ability to multiply force; Just a little bit input energy results in a lot of output energy.

“Although Tesla was not the first to discover resonance he was obsessed with it and created some of the most incredible demonstrations of it ever seen. He studied both mechanical and electrical versions. In the process he created an artificial earthquake, numerous artificial lightning storms, knocked an entire power plant off line in Colorado, and nearly caused the steel frame of a sky scraper under construction in Manhattan to collapse. Tesla realized that the principles of resonance could be used to transmit and receive radio messages well before Marconi.” link


Quick Home Studio Monitor Tests

Sunday, July 20th, 2008


Recording studio imageI keep a collection of audio samples designed to help check my monitor setup. Test tones, essentially, that I use after I’ve moved my speakers or desk, to ensure the speakers still behave as they should.

I’ve included 4 of the samples below, and I hope you find them useful – and possibly enlightening. Each tests a facet of the two most common monitoring problems in home studios: Uneven bass response, and poor stereo imaging.

Sine wave sweep

Contents: A sine wave sweeping from 40Hz to 300Hz.
Use this to test for: Bass response, sympathetic vibrations.

Unless you’re outdoors, or listening on headphones, you’ll notice the volume rising and falling as the audio plays. That’s normal, although the level doesn’t actually change. (Open the MP3 in your DAW to confirm this.) Rather, you’re exposing the acoustic response of your room.

Use this test as a rough gauge of how extreme the acoustic issues are in your space. (You can flatten the response somewhat, but acoustic treatment is a topic unto itself. For some more information, check the quick backgrounder on home studio acoustics.)

Additionally, the sweep can expose low-frequency dependent rattles, buzzes, or other sympathetic vibrations happening in the area around you. With this test, I once discovered the casing on an overhead light shook at exactly 140Hz, after puzzling with a mix for 15 minutes, unable to isolate the odd rattling sound.