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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.
As we know from our earlier discussion about the frequency-dependent parameters in most reverb processors, reverb doesn't treat all frequencies the same. reverb devices have a frequency response that's not typically flat, and the frequency response varies by design from plug-in to plug-in and preset to preset. Shown here is a reverb where the low frequencies get a bit of a boost, they last a little bit longer while the high frequencies roll-off. This is typical of reverbs that are influenced by actual spaces.
The extra low-frequency resonance is known to be flattering for romantic orchestral music in large concert halls. The high-frequency reverberation decays more quickly, influenced by the real world property of air absorption in concert halls, and so many digital reverbs wanting to emulate the sound of the great halls do a good job of reproducing these spectral features and reverb. But a Spring reverb, a reverb built on the mechanical system using metal springs, not surprisingly has a very different frequency response.
Shown here is the frequency behavior of a Spring reverb as decays over time. It's no longer the lows that last the longest. Your mileage will of course vary. No two spring sound alike. And a Plate reverb offers opportunities for an unusual frequency response as well. While orchestral halls are carefully designed, we know our reverb chambers are often found spaces like stairwells, garages, basements, and bathrooms.
As a result, chambers almost always possess strong spectral coloration. When reverbs with a non-flat frequency response are dropped into our mix, the frequency content of the reverb merges with the frequency content of the recorded track. And our sense of the tone and timbre of a track is now based on the timbre of the track plus the timbre of the reverb. Our listener's sense of how warm or how bright the track is their enjoyment of any specific mid range details on any recorded instrument is based on many factors.
There's the timbre of the instrument itself, of course, and the tone is further modified by our choice of microphone and where we place it, plus any equalizers that are being used, and this is important: the spectral qualities of any reverb we add to the track. Think of reverb as a further modifier of timbre beyond instrument selection, microphone selection, and equalizer settings. And while it's logical for us as recording engineers to think of reaching for an equalizer to change the timbre of an instrument, it's often the case that reverb is the more powerful way to change timber.
An equalizer is a relatively clumsy way to boost and cut different frequency ranges. If you want a brighter acoustic guitar, of course you can use an equalizer to boost the highs. But while an equalizer takes high-frequency information within the track and boosts in level, a reverb with extra high-frequency emphasis will take whatever high frequency is in your track and let it last longer. An equalizer adjusts the level in a given frequency range to make it easier or harder to hear, while a reverb structures or shrinks it in time, sustaining a little longer to make it easier to hear, or letting it decay more quickly to deemphasize it.
When the high frequencies on the guitar track are made to last longer by way of a bright reverb, the instrument sounds brighter. Using reverb to reshape the timbre of your tracks in your production is one of the most important advanced uses of reverb. Let's hear how it works in the next movie.
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