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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.
We've talked about the anatomy of reverb drawing a distinction between the early reflections and the reverb tail that follows. And we've worked through the essential parameters of Reverb Time, pre-delay, wet/dry mix, any frequency adjustments, plus the other less precise parameters like diffusion, density, and so on. Let's review some plug-ins and see if we can stay oriented. Have patience, the fantastic capability of plug-ins today means that some of them open to a screen with many confusing at first parameters.
We look for the essentials, then we look for the bells and whistles. Let's start with D-Verb, a stock ProTools plug-in. This is an easy-to-use plug-in that lets you tweak the essential parameters and move on. As we look around, we see nothing that addresses early reflections separate from the reverb. For this plug-in, as with many others, the early reflections are still part of the sound we just can't get at them directly. It's a little bit like using a semi-parametric EQ where the algorithm takes care of the queue parameter for us.
And we just work with the frequency select and gain. Start by choosing an algorithm and a size to get things in the ballpark. Tailor it by adjusting the other parameters. So where are the key parameters? Reverb time is presented as DECAY, PRE-DELAY is just below it, the default wet/dry MIX on this plug-in is the expected 100% wet. We have two ways to get at the frequency characteristics of this reverb, HF CUT sets the frequencies above which the Reverb Time gets shorter.
The LP FILTER equalizes the entire signal dropping a low pass filter directly into the audio path. Now let's look at True Verb, a plug-in made by waves and compatible with almost all DAWs. Programs are selected by clicking the Load button and choosing the best starting point. You then refine it as desired. This reverb has two algorithms running, one associated with the reverb tail, the other generating early reflections. We get good control over both.
Reverb Time is set using the Decay Time parameter and Pre Delay is next to it. The wet/dry MIX is controlled through these three ON/Off buttons and their associated Faders. You can control the Direct sound, the Early Reflections, and the reverb tail independently. For 100% wet mute the Direct, but we adjust the Faders for early reflections in reverb to suit our needs. The frequency control in this reverb is quite comprehensive, there is reverb Damping at both low and high frequencies where you select the frequency beyond which the Reverb Time is modified, and you dial-in the ratio desired, extending the Reverb Time with a value greater than one and damping the time with a value less than one.
It's great to have this control both low and high. EQ is also provided, the parameter called Rev Shelf is a high-frequency shelving filter applied to the input signal feeding the reverb portion of the plug-in. ER Absorb is a high-frequency shelving filter applied only to the Early Reflections. The shelving frequency for both the shelf gain settings Rev Shelf and ER Absorb is set by the High Freq parameter. Low Cut introduces a high pass filter down low for the early reflections.
So the core parameters are well-represented, this reverb also offers some more subtle ways to affect the sound. Dimension drives the pattern of Early Reflections that's supposed to track with the number of dimensions in the room. We live in 3D but this reverb can build patterns of reflections that might come from one to four dimensions, whatever that might mean. Room size and distance can be adjusted to modify the spacing and level of early reflections in reverb and the Link button lets it drive the reverb Time and Pre Delay parameters for you.
This plug-in also offers a very nice visual representation of the impulse response of the whole program, Early Reflections and reverb tail. Use this visual as a guide to understanding the logic of your parameter settings but be sure to base your final decisions on how it sounds. Logic Pro contains several stock reverb plug-ins, including Platinum Verb. Platinum Verb has a short set of presets to get you going in the pulldown menu that appears as pound default. It's often good to start here, get the sound close, and then adjust the taste.
You'll see the bottom-third of the user-interface controls the reverb, the upper-left controls Early Reflections, and the upper right controls Wet/Dry Mix. Reverb Time is on the bottom-right. Pre Delay gets a modified definition here as there is the delay before reverb here called Initial Delay, and the delay before Early Reflections called Predelay. Wet/Dry Mix is controlled through two faders which control the level of the dry direct signal and the wet reverb signal.
The relative level of early reflections versus reverb is adjusted with this balance control. Frequency Control is driven by the crossover frequency, this divides the audio at this frequency, and you can push the qualities of the lower band versus the higher band in different directions. The low ratio is the familiar parameter that determines how much longer or shorter the lower side of your reverb lasts. At a 100% the low band has the same reverb Time as the upper band. At values less than a 100% your low-frequency resonance is shortened.
It can be pushed above 100% to stretch the lows out. The Low Freq Level parameter adjusts the overall level of the low-frequency portion of your reverb. It's nice to control the level independently of the reverb Time. High Cut is a low pass filter that pulls the highs out of the reverb, additional parameters like Room Shape, Spread, Density, and Diffusion dig into the details of the early reflections and the reverb tail offering variations in tone and texture well worth exploring.
Altiverb is a high-end convolution reverb made by Audio Ease and compatible with many DAWs. You began by loading an impulse response, this is the truest representation of the system possible without further processing. If you load up a cathedral you get the sound of that cathedral. Manipulating any parameters then modifies your sound from the accurate representation of the space to something that doesn't exist. It is my bias to find the best sounding impulse response and not touch it.
But if you must, you can change the reverb Time, adjust Pre Delay, and EQ and frequency damp the sound. Feel free to do whatever you wish to get the sound you want, but recognize that you're introducing processing to the impulse response that changes it from the actual measurement to one with different properties. You are creating a work of sonic fiction which is always encouraged. Ableton Live stock reverb also possesses all the parameters we'd expect. It separates early reflections neatly from the reverb engine called the Diffusion Network.
The decay time is this plug's name for reverb Time, Pre Delay is on the left. Wet/Dry Mix is on the right with two level controls above one for the Early Reflections and the other for the reverb. When using an Aux and Effects loop set it to 100% wet and adjust the levels of the reflections in the reverb called diffusion to taste. Frequency controls exist for both the Early Reflections and the reverb. The input processing has an adjustable low-cut and high-cut filter that EQs the signal coming in.
The diffusion network has adjustable high and low shelving EQs that pull those frequencies out of the reverb shortening the reverb Time beyond the frequency set. The usual culprits of size, density, shape, and scale are rather unique to this plug-in and can be explored for interesting results. Finally, let's have a quick look at reasons RV7000 reverb plug-in. Begin by loading in the desired preset, and there are lots to choose from built on several different algorithms.
Once loaded, we find the familiar set of parameters, reverb Time appears as Decay, Pre Delay is as expected. Wet/Dry Mix is done with the familiar single knob control which we generally set to 100% wet. The EQ section lets you add a low-frequency shelf plus one parametric band to further sculp the tone. The EQ process is the output of the entire reverb. Bass multipliers described as damping are available on some but not all programs.
Some programs also offer independent control of early reflections versus the reverb tail as we've seen before on other plugs. Other parameters are found depending on the algorithm you are running. So expect to explore the other parameters like diffusion, size, and similar through careful listening. The RV7000 also has a built-in gate module, the default appropriately is that the gate is off. But it's ready and waiting just a click away if you want to dial up some gated reverb without the fuss of adding more plug-ins.
Now all reverbs sound the same and not all reverbs have the same parameters. While core parameters offer expected results, plan to dig into the unique and advanced features of the reverbs available to you with a little help from the manual and a lot of critical listening.
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