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What is Reverb?

What is reverb?

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 lets 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 recreate 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 to find the unit that best suites your personal needs.

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