3 Times To Use Delay Instead Of Reverb In Your Mixes

Have you ever found yourself faced with the need to add depth to something in your mix and you weren’t quite sure how to go about it? There are tons of different techniques for accomplishing this, but none more popular than reverb and delay.

The pair gets used multiple times throughout most mixes, often paired together for even more three-dimensional control.

Even though they’re commonplace in most studios, there are still questions swirling about over the right time and place to use them. A few things are certain – one is that they’re not completely interchangeable. Where a delay might sound perfectly fine as a substitute for a reverb, when and how it gets used has a massive impact on its effectiveness. 

Today, I want to take a look at three of the most common situations you’ll be faced with where a delay is 100% the right choice over a reverb. 

Adding Size To Guitars 

One of the biggest and most obvious use cases for delays comes with guitars – especially if the part is a lead playing single notes or melodies (rather than rhythm parts). While rhythm guitars can also make use of delays, the results are more pronounced with leads.

Some guitarists have already made delays a huge part of their sound – just look at The Edge. What could be considered relatively straightforward writing is made massive by the use of delays. Single notes echo out as if they’re being played in a huge space without sounding muddy. Even for those with a drastically different tone, delays add a sense of grandeur that lead guitars fit perfectly within.

Lead Vocals

Just like lead guitars, lead vocals can benefit from short, fast delays to create a new energy and space around them. A fast vocal in particular can be difficult to use reverbs on because of the loss of intelligibility. Things start to get really muddy fast with lover reverb tails, but delays don’t suffer that same fate.

Mixing a vocal delay subtly under a lead vocal can be a great way to anchor it to the rest of the mix. These delays become more of a texture for the voice – giving it complexity and character when mixed at a lower level.

Better yet – try automating your vocal delays. By raising the level of your vocal delay or using your bypass switch to enable it only for the end of lines, you can create a classic delay throw that makes your vocal sound larger than life – just like the guitar leads.

Washed & Dried 

While replacing reverbs with delays can make things sound bigger, that’s really not the only use case. One of the biggest benefits of making the switch comes when you’re doing it to clean up a washed out mix.

You know the mixes I’m talking about: so drenched in reverb you can’t really pick out a single clear instrument in the entire song.

There are plenty of ways to end up in this situation, usually by using too much reverb on a few tracks or sometimes just by using too many different reverbs in a single mix. The nice part of swapping some of those reverbs for delays is that it cleans up the washed out effect without really affecting the depth and space you were trying to create with those reverbs in the first place.

Don’t get me wrong – some genres really benefit from the washed out style. I just want you to end up there intentionally, not as a result of poor mixing practices!

Making The Adjustment 

As you test the waters switching from reverb to delay, you’ll quickly see that not all time-based effects are created equally. More importantly, stock plugins aren’t always going to cover your bases. You can get some great sounds from stock reverbs and delays, but for the best compatibility, you’ll want to start thinking outside of the box a bit.

For reverbs, this means looking at tools like convolution reverbs that give you impulse response-based models of real-world spaces. For delays, this means using analog-modeled plugins based on tape delays and other forms of natural delays.

Check out some of the options available and when you find one that really resonates with you – add it to your workflow!

Your Signal Chain 

In order to maximize the results of your reverbs and delays, you’ll always want to consider where they fit into your signal chain. Most professionals choose to use separate aux tracks for their time-based effects to gain more flexibility than simply loading them onto a track offers. 

To really understand these kinds of approaches, make sure you download a copy of Virtual Signal Chain Secrets – our eBook that covers everything from gain staging to compression and beyond! 

Get your copy here.