Tech Tip:Studio Tech Tip - Reverb

by Dennis Kambury


Probably one of the first effects known to man, reverb and its distant cousin echo have long added their magic to the sounds we make. Who hasn't enjoyed their vocal prowess in the shower, or shouted "hello" to themselves across a rock or high-rise canyon? For thousands of years, acousticians have sought to enhance our audio endeavors with structures that enhance our music, from the coliseums of ancient Rome to the most modern concert hall, these effects have been natural partners with man and music. But let's face it—not even Bill Gates has room in his house for a coliseum or the Grand Canyon!


As recorded music made its entrance, a new way had to be found to get that ambience we'd grown to love. Initially, large rooms were built that had the desired reverberant qualities. Engineers would plop a speaker at one end of the room and a mic at the other, playing the sound through the speaker and feeding the output back to the recording console. When a change in the character of the sound was desired, the engineer would move the speaker and/or the mic and try again. For echo, nothing beat the tape machine. By feeding the output of one machine into the input of another and monitoring the playback, echo was created. By feeding some of the echo signal back into the first deck, the echo would be regenerated.


The advent of digital technology has profoundly affected our relationship with reverb and echo, allowing us to recreate traditional reverb, or build imaginary spaces that will never exist in the real world! The latest developments—modeling reverbs—sample real acoustic spaces and use the results to re-create anything from the inside of a Yugo to the Taj Mahal! No longer tied to large spaces or cheesy toilet reverb tanks, digital technology has allowed the hobbyist and project studio owner to add a professional sheen to the mix previously unavailable at any price. In fact, with a healthy enough budget, the project studio owner can use the exact same reverb as a multi-million-dollar recording complex!


The question is, how do you get the best results from your gear? Here are a few tips to help you on your quest to audio nirvana:


1) RTFM (Read That Fine Manual)! Most reverb processors are very programmable. They've generally got a lot of presets, but if you spend the time to learn the ins and outs of your gear, you'll really be able to make it sing in harmony with your music.


2) Avoid too much reverb. You can muddy up a mix easily with too much 'verb. It's better to have too little than too much. If you want a really "wet" sound, but you find the result has entered the mud zone, try increasing the pre-delay (the first echoes that return from a surface, before the diffuse reverberation sound builds up). This will allow the original sound to be clear, but still gives you the wetness you desire.


3) Time your echo to the music. By adjusting the delay time of the echo, you can enhance the pulse of the song. Start with one beat per quarter-note, and speed up or slow down to taste!


4) Use the distance cues inherent in reverb and echo to place your instruments forward or backward in the mix. An extreme example would be a piano mixed low with lots of reverb and echo, combined with a loud, breathy vocal part that is completely dry. It'll sound like the piano is in another room (or possibly another planet, depending on your reverb setting) and the vocalist is right in your ear.


5) There is no right or wrong in audio. Learn this rule well—it's really the only one that counts!


Which reverb/echo is right for you? There's no one answer—you may want hardware or software; painless presets or deep programmability. It will require a bit of research on your part. Given that, I've got a few recommendations that will help you narrow your choices down to a select few. Keep in mind, opinions about reverb are like opinions about guitars—completely subjective!


Dominating the hardware reverb list are units by Lexicon and TC Electronic. These are both fine examples of digital reverb, with useful differences. Here at Musician's Friend, the top ends of these lines are represented by the PCM91 (Lexicon) and the M3000 (TC Electronic). Both 'verbs find homes in some of the world's finest professional studios, as well as some of the world's funkiest project studios. Either one will do your studio proud! Both Lexicon and TC Electronic have several multi-effects units that include their signature reverb sounds plus a host of other effects.


In the mid-priced zone, check out the Yamaha REV500 or REV100. Yamaha was the first company out of the gate with affordable digital reverb—the SPX90—and they continue their legacy of fine gear at affordable prices.


For a slightly different take on reverb, take a look at the Accutronics Accuverb, a high-quality six-spring reverb. That's right—pure, natural, metal springs, just like your guitar amp!


For the budget-minded, you can't go wrong with the Digitech S100. It's a multi-effects processor, including reverb and delay, and weighs in at well under $200.00!


Wondering about software reverbs? We'll cover that in a future installment of Reverb Tech Tips, so stay tuned! In the meantime, dig into your current reverb, and learn it inside and out. You'll never regret it!