Reverb (short for reverberation) is not just an effect that we find on our soundboards or in DAW’s. It is all around us, all the time. The reflective properties of different surfaces around us make natural reverb a part of our daily lives. Sometimes it can be hard to perceive, and we don’t discover it until we get into a room with a lot of hard surfaces (like a bathroom) or a large room like a cathedral where the sounds we are making are more noticeable.
The reverb we hear is defined by the decaying reflections of a sound. For example, when you clap in a large empty room, you can hear how long the reflections bounce around the room and how they eventually decay. This is how we determine how much natural reverb can be found within a space.
You may be wondering why this information is useful to us and how we can use it to our advantage. As we sing or play into a microphone, it picks up the direct sound and amplifies it which takes away the goodness of the reflections around the room that we enjoy as we listen to the music. We use reverb to give some of those reflections back to our mix.
Here are a few common types of reverb that you might encounter.
Hall – Emulates the long reflections found in large rooms with a lot of surfaces. These have long reflections.
Chamber – This gives a long sounding reverb but within a more controlled environment. In early chamber reverb recordings (for example, The Beatles at Abbey Road Studios), a speaker is used to pump the recorded sound into a highly reflective chamber and then a microphone in that room picks up that sound and sends it back to the mixing desk.
Room – Room reverb was created in a similar fashion to chamber reverb but emulates a more normal-sized room. This type of reverb is versatile and gives a more natural sound to the track.
Plate – This emulates a man-made space rather than a real-world room. It picks up the reverberations off a steel plate and works well for vocals and snare drum.
Spring – Spring reverbs work similarly to plate reverbs by picking up the sounds of a spring coil rather than the plate or rooms. This is a very bright type of reverb.
Adding reverb to your live, streamed, or recorded mix can provide a commonality of sound that makes it feel like everyone is within the same space. It has been described as the glue that helps instruments to stick together in a good way. Recorded and streamed services can have a flat sound so the use of reverb is an important tool to create the sound that you would expect from a live room.
One important note about reverb is that you don’t want to overdo it! A general rule when adding reverb to a track is that it should be added slowly (ideally through an aux send or track, depending on where you are working) until you notice it and then dial it back down until it is almost gone. This is a general rule that will help you make sure that you don’t oversaturate your mix and lose the definition in some of the sounds.
The use of reverb can bring out the best qualities in a sound that is coming into your soundboard or DAW, as long as it is used with discretion and care.