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This installment of Foundations of Audio explains one of the most essential ingredients in audio mixing, reverb—the time it takes for sound to bounce, echo, and decay during a live performance or recording. Reverb gives a natural richness to your recordings, which is possible to reproduce. Producer and audio engineer Alex U. Case covers the acoustic, mechanical, and digital means for creating reverb, and charts the parameters (room size, density, etc.) you'll need to know to take advantage of the original recording space and enhance it in post. He then shows how to simulate reverb digitally with effects, adding timbre, texture, and contrast, and improve the sound of your mixes with a sense of space and depth.
These techniques can be practiced with the free Get in the Mix sessions, currently available for Pro Tools and Logic Pro.
When using any type of effect like reverb, there are two ways to add the effect on to the track. You can insert a plug-in or outboard unit on each and every track that needs it, or you can setup an Effects Loop that makes that reverb accessible by any and all tracks in your project. When using reverb, the preferred choice is almost always the Effects Loop, for three reasons. One, similar reverb effects are often used on multiple tracks, that is you'll often want to put several tracks in a mix into the same sounding space.
This can help glue your mix together making it more cohesive. Second, reverb effects can eat up a lot of computer processing resources, so utilizing one reverb effect for multiple tracks instead of dedicating one to each track is much less taxing on your computer. Third, effects loops help with workflow efficiency when mixing, you can be more creative and more productive when you have several reverb choices ready at your fingertips. Now let's setup a reverb effects loop on a vocal track, so you can see how this works.
The vocal track is routed to the main Outputs this is called the Dry or Unaffected Signal. There's no reverb on this track. Here's what the dry vocal sounds like. (music playing) Then we create a Send on the vocal track. This Send taps into the vocal track makes a copy of it and routes the copy with adjustable level to another track.
In this case, the signal is routed to an AUX input that has a reverb effect on it. This is often called the Effects Return, because it returns the output of the reverb back into the mix in parallel with the original dry track. The effected signal is said to be wet. Here's what the completely wet track sounds like it's the source track totally awash in reverb. (music playing) With the unprocessed track on one fader and the reverb return on another, we can mix the dry and wet signals together to taste.
Turn up the return to add more effect to the mix, turn it down for less. (music playing) reverb affects devices and plug-ins almost always give you control over the amount of dry signal and the amount of wet signal at their output. Using either a single Wet/Dry Mix control or two individual faders, one controlling the dry level, the other the wet level.
The Wet/Dry Mix describes the relative level of effects, versus unprocessed sound where 100% means it's all reverb with no dry signal. While 0% means it's all dry source signal with no reverb at all. The standard practice is to set the internal Wet/Dry Mix parameter to 100% wet, when using reverb on an AUX input in an effects loop. That is the signal will be 100% wet when it comes out of the reverb processor, that's what we heard in the previous audio example on the wet track.
Keeping the dry and wet signals separate makes the mixing easier. At the dry fader you control the clarity of the track in the mix. With the wet fader you independently control the amount of reverb added to the mix. With this effects loop setup, we can use an effect Send to add the same reverb to any and all tracks in our mix. For example, maybe the snare drum would sound great with the same reverb that's on the vocal track just create a Send on the snare track, route it to the same reverb Return, adjust the Send level of the snare track, and you're good to go.
It's an elegant setup, but one that can take some time to get your head around. In fact, if you're just learning about this topic, and you like to see detailed instructions on how to setup an effects loop in your particular DAW, check out the Essential Training Course for your DAW in the lynda library. Here's an example in Pro Tools where I've got three reverb return tracks. One with a whole reverb, one with a plate reverb, and one with a convolution reverb. All tracks have Sends setup so that I can route any of the dry signals to any of the reverb effects, simply by turning up the Send level.
Here's that same setup in Logic Pro. Setting these reverb effects loop up before you start a mix, means that the most important moments of your mix session, those moments when you need to solve a tricky problem or create a whole new sound, those moments can happen without distraction. The DAW will let you hook up a reverb anyway you want using a Send/Return Effects Loop or an Insert. So I just want to emphasize that while an Insert is quick and easy and seems fine at first, it's really not the right way to add reverb effects.
Using an Insert instead of an effects loop, robs you of the chance to share a reverb among multiple tracks, which in turn slows you down when you really get into your mix and perhaps most importantly, it wastes precious computing power that will limit you elsewhere in your mix. The Send/Return Effects Loop is the smarter way to go. You and I, making multitrack recordings have so many choices and so much control over reverb, we can take our mix to any space in the world. We have the creative freedom to use acoustic, mechanical, or digital reverbs.
We get to view it as an added instrument, we can compose it into the recording, there're mainly opportunities and few limits. For instance, the drums could live in a medium room, while the vocal could sound as if it's in an empty oil tanker. We don't make one reverb decision, we make many dozens of reverb decisions, all for a single tune. To make sense of it, we need to break the vague concept of reverb into some knowable, measurable qualities. Throughout the next chapter, we'll dig into the essential properties and parameters of reverb that we can manipulate in order to tailor reverb to our production.
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