Engineers use reverb all the time to create space and dimension around their tracks. The combination of a good reverb and delay can really help immerse your listener in a song.
While these tools are powerful, far too many mixers and engineers just jump through presets and assume that as long as their tempo is synced to the session, it’s good enough.
Instead of fumbling through your reverb plugins, make sure you understand these five types of reverb before you touch your next time-based effect.
I like starting with spring reverbs because they’re the ones most musicians are already familiar with. If you haven’t ever touched a DAW or piece of outboard gear with reverb built-in, chances are you’ve still seen or used an amplifier with a reverb circuit built in. Most of the time, this onboard reverb is going to be a spring reverb.
Spring reverbs, just as their title implies, sound springy. They have very unique frequency variances that cause the filtering applied by the reverb to changes as the reverb decays. You end up with a morphing, wobbly reverb tone that you just don’t get with other types of reverb.
In the hardware world, spring reverbs are quite literally controlled by springs. In a DAW, most reverb plugins will model the characteristics and non-linearity of hardware. They’re most commonly used on electric guitars with the occasional use on vocals or airier instrument.
Plate reverbs are very similar to spring reverbs. They operate just like the spring reverb in the sense that all of the reverberations in a plate reverb come from how your signal interacts with a large “plate” of metal. Plate reverbs can be massive devices that send your audio from one end of the plate to the other with additional controls like dampeners to change the tone.
Realistically, not many studios carry real plate reverbs anymore. They’re bulky, expensive to maintain & hard to keep isolated. Instead, plugins with plate settings have become the standard.
Almost no early reflections and long, smooth tails are the best two ways to characterize plate reverbs. For this reason, they’re a mainstay on drums like snares and the occasional vocal throw for when you really want something to ring out.
Unlike the first two reverbs, which were based on hardware units, the rest of our list is made up of reverbs based on physical spaces. A room verb is… well exactly like it sounds.
It’s a reverb that’s traditionally small sounding in nature – usually less than a second of decay. Rooms can have different dimensions, but generally they’re much smaller than other spaces that we’re applying to instruments.
A room reverb usually has a lot of early reflections to imply a small space with parallel walls and lively tone. Engineers tend to reach for room reverbs when they’re trying to make something song intimate, as if the instrument is sitting right there next to you. They’re especially useful on acoustic instruments and vocals.
If you’re looking to step things up from your small room reverbs, halls are an excellent choice. Hall reverbs are particularly useful when you’re trying to get a sound similar to a large music hall or theater in the box.
Hall reverbs can range in length from 1 to 3 seconds, usually with lots of early reflections as if the sound were bouncing off of chairs, balconies, etc. They tend to also get a bit darker as they develop, which is common for most reverbs that are modeled on live spaces (after all, high-end frequencies naturally decay faster than lower ones).
Hall reverbs are great on nearly any track that your want to place in a large live room. They’re a first choice for orchestral instrument and there are several convolution reverbs out there with halls modeled after historic halls from across the world for true, real-world modeling.
If hall reverbs are bigger than rooms, then chambers are the smaller variant. These spaces are modeled on tight, highly reflective spaces like the chambers large studios used to use to create live reverbs in their spaces.
Sounds passed through a chamber reverb will usually become slightly odd sounding, usually with a lot of short, dense echoes all occurring at the same time. These chamber settings can provide an excellent dynamic to your mix, creating something that’s both natural and unnatural at the same time. The unevenness of the reverb creates a very distinct characteristic unmatched by other types of reverbs.
Lots of engineers find success using chamber reverbs on featured instruments to bring them forward in a mix. A guitar solo with a chamber reverb behind it can be combined with a tape delay to create a truly out-of-this-world sound.
Knowing Where & When To Use Them
Knowing the main types of reverb and what they’re modeled on is only half the battle – you’ve got to know the right situations to use them in too. Engineers that can easily introduce time-based effects like reverbs and delays into their sessions have the upper hand over their competition.
By the time you get to the mix, knowing how to use these tools is essential. If you’d like to learn more about how you should be using these tools in your mixes, check out the JST VIP section of our site. There, we’ve got all kinds of resources and materials for everything from tracking to mixing to mastering.