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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.
The acoustic guitar is a great instrument for demonstrating the timbral effect of reverb. Listen out to David as he plays his acoustic guitar tracked without effects. (music playing) This guitar tone is beautiful as is and could be further reshaped with compression and EQ and Delay, but we'll take it two different directions here using reverb.
One production approach will make it sound fuller, deeper, warmer. It's just an acoustic guitar whose lowest frequency note is around 80 hertz. But now, let's send it to a medium room whose low-frequency Reverb Time lasts longer than its high frequency reverb times. (music playing) Notice that with the reverb on, the acoustic guitar sounds fuller and warmer, and this is achieved not with EQ, but simply by using a reverb whose frequency parameters are set so that the low-frequency reverb times last longer than the mid and high frequency reverb times.
Orchestra sound full and lush by playing in those big halls with low-frequency reverb extension. Why can't we borrow the concept for any track in our production? Another approach to take with the same acoustic guitar track would be to reach for a plate reverb with its strong dense mid-frequency character, and let that reshape the timbre of the acoustic guitar into a more present sort of sound. While an equalizer boost in the upper mids would make the acoustic guitar more present, I fear that it will be too edgy, it will have too much bite.
But sending it to a short plate reverb instead of reaching for EQ makes the acoustic guitar sound more present in a more gentle way. The clumsy mid-frequency boost of an EQ is replaced by the mid-frequency resonance of the reverb. Let's hear it. Listen to the acoustic guitar as I turn the plate reverb on and off. (music playing) So, a warm room and a present plate coax the guitar tone in different directions.
I should note that if you want the effect to just be timbral without the added sense of space that often comes along with reverb effects, the goal would be to more directly integrate the reverb with the track, making it hard for the casual listener to hear the sound of the reverb processor separate from the acoustic guitar. We connect the sound of the track to the decay of the reverb by having little to no pre-delay and by dialing in a quite short Reverb Time. That's why I set the pre-delay to 0 and shorten the Reverb Time to something close to half a second for my plate reverb.
My goal here is to make sure that the presence in the reverb tail adds to the listener's sense of presence within the acoustic guitar tone. The medium room example, on the other hand, gave the sense of space and warmth. This way of thinking, where the timbre of the reverb influences the timbre of our tracks, is a very common mix move. In this full mix of the tune Shine by the band Midatlantic, I'm using a reverb with low frequency resonance to make the tom sound fuller, and a plate reverb with mid-frequency presence to make the snare drum edgier, giving it more buzz, and a spring reverb on the electric guitars to give them a different mid-frequency flavor.
(music playing) Whenever you're motivated to reach for an equalizer, you should first consider if a reverb might be the more interesting and effective solution.
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