One of the biggest debates in music production is whether you should compress reverb. And the most common answer is "there's no rules in music."
But that's not very helpful.
So in this article, I'm going to tell you - yes, you can compress reverb! But it has a very specific sound. So you should be sure to do so intentionally!
Should You Compress Reverb?
In the context of mixing, reverb is generally used as a send effect. It's purpose is mostly to give a bit more space and air to the mix, as well as to push sounds forward or back in the mix.
Note: if you want to learn all about how to master the use of reverb, I highly recommend the book "The 3 Space Reverb Framework" by Nathan Nyquist (affiliate link).
What this means is that most of the instruments you'll be sending to a reverb have already been compressed, so further compression isn't really needed.
Because the dynamics of the instruments will already be controlled. That means the reverb can just do its thing and create a more natural vibe for the track.
That's generally the sound most producers are looking for, most of the time.
When Should you Compress Reverb?
Most of the time, reverb should be uncompressed. However, there are 3 situations where reaching for a compressor to help with your reverb is a great idea.
These choices are also based on where the compressor is located in relation to the reverb.
By the way, if you're looking to upgrade the sound of your reverbs, here are my favorite reverb plugins.
Should you Put a Compressor Before the Reverb?
Compression before the reverb will result in a smooth, controlled sound, but will leave the reverb tone itself unprocessed and natural.
As noted earlier, this step can often be skipped if you're using reverb as a send effect, because most of the instruments will likely already have compression on them before they reach the compressor. In that case, it would be redundant 95% of the time to add another compressor right before the reverb. In fact, that additional compressor could really squeeze the life out of the sound, creating a deadened reverb.
But if no compression has been applied to the instruments before reverb, feel free to add a few dBs of compression with a fast attack time and a medium release to control the transients. That way the reverb won't sound purely like echoes of the loudest bits.
Of course, sometimes with a spring reverb, that is exactly the sound you're going for. So please don't compress a spring reverb if you're going for a surf-rock vibe.
Should You Place a Compressor After Reverb?
A compressor placed after the reverb will result in a change of the tone of the reverb itself. Essentially, a reverb will make the loudest parts of the reverb quieter and the quietest parts relatively louder. This will bring out a lot of the detail in the reverb, which can create a really cool and atmospheric effect.
But it is not a "natural" sound.
If you're looking for a specific vibe, you can try experimenting with reverb before the compressor. But if you're making a traditional rock/hip-hop/pop/folk/jazz/acoustic song, it's not worth your time experimenting with.
Unless you're using...
Sidechain Compression on Reverb
Sidechain compression on reverb is an essential technique for clean clear mixes, especially on vocals. Essentially, you place the compressor on reverb send, but sidechain it to the vocals. That way, when the vocals sing loudly, the compressor on the reverb turns down the reverb volume. Then the reverb doesn't muddy the vocals.
And when the vocals are fading out, the volume comes up, creating a pleasant reverb tail.
When you're sidechaining a reverb, you should experiment placing the compressor before and after the reverb. Both can sound good, since the effect itself is a little unnatural, but extremely pleasant.
There is a good argument for placing the compressor last since it will give you more control over the dynamics, and also because it mainly the tails that the compressor will make audible.
Best Reverb Compression Settings
About 98% of the time, I’ll place a compressor before my reverb, as I like to control the sound of the instrument going into the reverb. The only time I’ll ever add compression after my reverb is if I want to make the tail sound larger. You can do this by setting the ratio a bit higher, anywhere from 6:1 to 8:1, with a slow release.
This allows the tail of your reverb to fill up the space with added sustain. It’s one of my favorite tricks for sparse mixes that need a bit more atmosphere.
Learn more about Mixing with Compression
This is only one part of mixing with compression! Luckily, I've put together a bunch more articles to help you master this crucial mixing skill!
- How to Use a Compressor: Learn to Mix with Compression Quickly!
- Sidechain Compression Explained for Beginners & Key Settings
- 3 Tips for Using a Sidechain Compressor to Add Punch & Clarity
- Multi-band Compression Tutorial for Great Vocals, Drums & More!
- How to Use Mid-Side Compression for Amazing Recordings!
- How to Use Parallel Compression for Powerfully Punchy Mixes
- Should You Compress Reverb? The Real Answer Finally Revealed.
- The 5 Types of Compressors (And Exactly When To Use Each)
- 10 Vocal Compression Mixing Tips (Including Best Settings)
- 9 Powerful Drum Compression Techniques for Punchy Pro Mixes
- Loud, Punchy Kick Drums with these Compression Settings
- How to Compress Snare - Use *These* Settings Punchy Snares
- Exactly How to Compress Bass for Tight Low End Thump!
- How Compress Acoustic Guitar Perfectly, Every time
- How to Compress Synthesizers: Best Compressor Settings for Synths
- How to Compress Organ: 4 Steps to a Great Mix!
- How to Compress Percussion: Compression Settings for Everything
- How to Compress Strings: 8 Magic Settings You Need to Know
From a Frustrated Producer in a Ragtag Bedroom Studio to Major Placements on TV Earning $1,000s!
My name is Evan, and I've been making music since around 3rd grade. I'm from San Diego, California, but I've lived in Washington, DC for the last 20 years.
While I still have a full-time day job, I have created systems that have allowed me to produce dozens of songs a year in my spare time.
My songs have been on Netflix, TV shows like the 90 Day Fiance, an award-winning indie film, and NPR’s “All Thing Considered.” They've also been streamed millions of times.
In addition to being a music producer, I am passionate about teaching people how they can make professional-sounding music and earn money licensing it, all in their spare time.
Thousands of musicians, like yourself, have trusted me to guide their musical journey. My YouTube videos have been watched nearly a million times. And my story has been in Forbes, Side Hustle Nation, and the Side Hustle School.