From small and subtle rooms to lush, larger-than-life halls, reverb provides an entire world of space for audio engineers to enjoy. You’ll likely find reverb in just about any musical recording, meaning having a good grasp on it is crucial. Reverb has come a long way since the early days of true chamber rooms and physical plates.
Nowadays, audio engineers have access to thousands of plug-ins with more reverbs than they can swallow. The main question is,
How do these reverbs differ from one another and how do I know which one to choose for my project?
Continue reading to learn everything about the different types of reverb!
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|Type of Reverb||Characteristic Sound||Recommended Plugin|
|Plate Reverb||Plate reverb is incredibly unique, as it came from a large, physical metal sheet hanging inside of a box. Plate reverbs, unlike rooms, aren’t made to mimic the acoustic of the real world. In fact, the plate reverb was the very first artificial reverb out there.||Arturia Rev Plate 140|
|Spring Reverb||There is nothing quite like the sound of a spring reverb. This is a type of reverb that isn’t made to emulate a space, but rather a mechanical device. Similar to a plate reverb, a spring reverb makes use of transducers, which produce the initial sound and drive it through the device. In this case, that device is a spring.||Arturia Spring 636|
|Room Reverb||Room reverb is the most basic type of reverb. Think of the room you’re in right now. It’s a space with walls, right? Of course, the room you’re in is probably very different than the room I am in writing this right now in terms of shape and size, even though we categorize them in the same way.||Valhalla Room|
|Hall Reverb||As opposed to rooms, which are designed for living, sleeping, and entertaining without the preciousness of sound in mind, halls are designed with the goal of taking sound and expanding sounds into something long, lush, and majestic.||TC Electronics DVR 250|
|Chamber Reverb||Chambers are a wonderful middle ground between rooms and halls. Before the time of digital recording units lived a humble audio engineer with a small studio who dreamed of putting his or her music in a large, reverberant space.||UAD Capitol Chambers|
|Ambience Reverb||Ambience is quite unique, as it has a very short decay time, typically 0.5 seconds or lower. Ambience reverbs often use early reflections, creating a very faithful recreation of the emulated space. The main goal with an ambience reverb is to create an effect that is as dry as possible while adding a slight bit of space and color to the sound.||iZotope R2|
|Non-linear Reverb||Non-linear reverb is the king of the digital world. In a similar manner to ambiance reverbs, non-linear reverbs are difficult to categorize. However, they are very different in terms of character. Echoes in a non-linear reverb might continue to swell, ending on a large crescendo.||Eventide Blackhole|
Background - What Is Reverb?
Differentiating one type of reverb from the next requires that you have an understanding of what reverb is. Reverb, which is a short way to say “reverberation,” is a reflection or myriad of reflections off of a single surface. The number of reflections varies quite highly, anywhere from a single reflection to thousands of reflections.
These reflections will bounce back and reach your ears at different times with different timbres. A smaller space will deliver reflections that bounce back quickly, creating a short and snappy reverb, while a larger space will have longer reflections, creating rich and layered reverb sounds.
Music producers approach reverb from two different directions. First, they try to make sure that when they record something - say a voice or acoustic guitar - the microphone only picks up pleasant sounding reverb. Just imagine trying to record a singer in an echoey basement - all of that reverb "slap" and lack of clarity will become part of the recording, and incredibly difficult to remove.
Conversely, imagine recording a choir at Carnegie Hall. The reverberations of the room would already be amazing as recorded.
But who has access to Carnegie Hall for hours of recording? And what if you preferred the sound of a small, intimate room?
Well, reverb plugins allow you to imitate countless real and fantastical spaces. To make them work optimally, it's recommended that you making your recordings as "dry" as possible - aka, try to record in spaces with limited natural reverb. Then you can add exactly what you need later on.
Overview of the Different Types of Reverb
In its most basic forms, reverb falls into seven different categories. Some of these reverb types that we will go over are naturally occurring, meaning they take place in a physical space. Some, on the other hand, come from man-made devices.
The main thing to note is that the characteristics of these reverbs are vastly different. As you begin using them more in your mixes, you will begin to see how they differ from one another and what their best uses are.
If you're looking for a new reverb, here is our review of the best reverb plugins.
What is Room Reverb?
Room reverb is the most basic type of reverb. Think of the room you’re in right now. It’s a space with walls, right? Of course, the room you’re in is probably very different than the room I am in writing this right now in terms of shape and size, even though we categorize them in the same way.
Think of your living room. It is probably relatively small and is surrounded by drywall and wood. The beauty of most rooms is that they aren’t designed for sound. Many rooms have flat and reflective boundaries, causing standing waves, modal interference, resonances, rings, and echoes. In short, rooms have distinct characteristics thanks to their imperfections.
An acoustic guitar might sound great in your living room while a drum set might sound incredible in the garage. And just about everything will sound awful in a brick basement.
Rooms are made to impart liveliness and color on a source signal, though they also provide a sense of intimacy that you won’t get from other reverbs. This sense of intimacy makes it feel as if the musician is playing right in front of you. Rooms can be used in many different applications, though where they really tend to excel is in natural or organic genres of music. Think folk or jazz.
When using room reverbs, try to use them in moderation. They can bring a beautiful characteristic to an otherwise dry sound. You can also use them to make different sound sources sound as if they were all played together in the same space, perfect for those who often record instruments or vocals in different rooms, or work with samples. Sending a touch of each instrument to a room reverb can add a lovely bit of glue to your mix, when done in moderation.
What is Plate Reverb?
Plate reverb is incredibly unique, as it came from a large, physical metal sheet hanging inside of a box. Plate reverbs, unlike rooms, aren’t made to mimic the acoustic of the real world. In fact, the plate reverb was the very first artificial reverb out there. The original one used a magnetic driver that would create vibrations across the large sheet of metal. Think of it in the same way that a speaker coil moves.
This large metal plate, which was typically anywhere from 6-7’ long and 3-4’ wide, would vibrate with the given signal, giving you a warm, dense, and somewhat metallic reverb. The speed of sound on metal is much faster than the speed of sound traveling through the air, giving you more echo density and much smoother tails. Lower tones take longer to build up on metal as well, giving you the effect of high-end frequencies at the front of the reverb.
Not only does a plate look shiny, it also sounds shiny.
When you talk about plate reverb, you can’t go without mentioning the EMT140, which is one of the most celebrated units of all time. Originally developed in the 1960s for Abbey Road Studios, plate reverb can be heard on the records on some of your favorite bands from that era, including The Beatles and Pink Floyd.
In the 1980s, companies began making digital recreations of plate reverbs. Guitarists would often have digital plate reverb units in their rigs. Nowadays, you can find hundreds of plate reverb emulations throughout the plug-in world. Plates often sound great on vocals and snare drums, though you can pretty much use them anywhere if you want a track to stand out and have some space around it.
In particular, Arturia has recently released an incredible emulation of the EMT 140. It's a must have for mixers. It brings everything you put on it to life!
What is Spring Reverb?
There is nothing quite like the sound of a spring reverb. This is a type of reverb that isn’t made to emulate a space, but rather a mechanical device. Similar to a plate reverb, a spring reverb makes use of transducers, which produce the initial sound and drive it through the device. In this case, that device is a spring.
Spring reverbs probably have the most recognizable characteristics of all. The way that the filter changes throughout the decay or the resonances they create on the body of the reverb provides users with an unparalleled sound. The RT60 times are variable and controlled by the construction material, the spring tension, and onboard dampers. More often than not, you’ll find spring reverb built into a guitar amplifier.
One classic spring reverb is the one found in the original Fender Twin Reverb guitar amplifiers. Many engineers have had the units removed to use for production and mixing. Of course, you can build a spring reverb from pretty much any type of spring. Have some springs on your garage door? You can build a spring reverb from it!
However, if you’re not the DIY kind of producer, there are plenty of great spring reverb emulations on the market now, each of which nicely captures the clean and bright sound of physical springs. If you’re going for a vintage guitar sound, there is no better reverb for the job. You can even throw a spring reverb on your vocals, snares, or any other instrument that you want to give some psychedelic “boing” to.
If you have a real spring tank in your possession, try kicking it to get a unique thunderclap sound!
And if you're working in the digital realm and looking for a spring reverb plugin full of character, check out the Spring 636! I find that throwing a plugin like the Spring 636 on a track with the wet/dry knob all the way up and incredible way to create inspiring new tones when I'm struggling with my mix.
What is Hall Reverb?
As opposed to rooms, which are designed for living, sleeping, and entertaining without the preciousness of sound in mind, halls are designed with the goal of taking sound and expanding sounds into something long, lush, and majestic.
Hall reverbs come from concert halls, which are designed to make music more enjoyable. The way in which people build halls minimizes quirks or unwanted characteristics, such as echoes, rings, resonances, and room modes. Some halls are made to sound as even as they possibly can throughout, while others are designed to amplify lower frequencies in order to give orchestras a larger-than-life sound.
Look at many famous music halls from around the world and you’ll notice they are bow-shaped. This unique bow shape helps propagate the sound.
For whatever reason, every time I think of hall reverb, I think of Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On.” The vocals on that track sound lush and expensive. There’s a certain kind of class that a hall reverb imparts on a piece of music. You probably wouldn’t expect to hear a big hall reverb on a natural folk or jazz record. Rather, an orchestral recording, vocal ballad, or solo piano would be the perfect place for hall reverb to sit.
Because hall reverbs are much larger than their room counterparts, they have incredibly long decay times, many of which last for several seconds. If you want to add space to legato strings or floating pads, a hall reverb can help thicken up the sound. It is best to be careful with hall reverbs, as their long, heavily-layered tails can muddy up a mix if overused.
We usually recommend giving a single instrument in a mix a hall reverb, such as a vocal, a solo violin (or small ensemble of violins), or a snare, to separate it from the rest of the mix. Anything more will frequently result in a washed out mix.
What is Chamber Reverb?
Chambers are a wonderful middle ground between rooms and halls. Before the time of digital recording units, there lived a humble audio engineer with a small studio who dreamed of putting his or her music in a large, reverberant space. Of course, this humble audio engineer couldn’t afford to buy a concert hall, let alone rent one out for every recording or mixing session.
Instead, that audio engineer decided to create a small and ultra-reflective room dedicated to giving signals some space. The signal would be sent through a speaker to this ultra-reflective space, where it would bounce back and forth, creating dense echoes and uneven timbres. A microphone would then pick up the reflections of the signal and send it back to the mixing board where an engineer could mix it in slightly with the dry signal.
This reflective space, which became known as the chamber, was the definition of “vibey” for many years.
Compared to room reverbs, chambers have less coloration build-up, which gives them a bit more transparency. Typically, chamber reverbs give you a much thicker sound thanks to the added body on the tails, while the earlier reflections of a chamber reverb are much thinner. No matter what kind of sound source you’re dealing with, you can use a chamber to add a distinct texture.
You can hear chambers all over classic R&B or rock records, as well as older Beatles’ records with the chamber room below Abbey Road Studios. If you’re trying to create John Bonham-esque drums a-la “When The Levee Breaks,” a chamber reverb is a great place to start.
Universal Audio's Capital Chambers is one of the best options out there for those looking for authentic chamber sounds in the digital realm. It nails the sound of multiple chambers located a the seminal Capital Records recording studio in L.A., along with multiple options for tweaking the sound of each.
What is Ambience Reverb?
Ambience is quite unique, as it has a very short decay time, typically 0.5 seconds or lower. Ambience reverbs often use early reflections, creating a very faithful recreation of the emulated space. The main goal with an ambience reverb is to create an effect that is as dry as possible while adding a slight bit of space and color to the sound. At low volumes, many listeners won’t even notice that it is there.
Ambience, very similar to a room, can be used on an entire group of tracks to create a sense of glue, perfect for those who record various instruments in different spaces and want everything to sound like it all came from the same acoustic environment.
When we use the word “ambience,” we’re truly just referring to an ambiguous space around a source signal. This can be anything from a small closet to a vocal booth to a bedroom. I love to use ambience on signals that I want to remain fairly dry, though have a three-dimensional space around them, such as funk guitar or rap vocals.
What I like most in an ambience reverb is control over how clean it sounds. When it comes to clean, controlled short reverbs, I'd have to recommend iZotope's R2, which lets you easily control key reverb parameters, include tail length thanks to built-in ducking.
What is Non-Linear Reverb?
Non-linear reverb is the king of the digital world. In a similar manner to ambienece reverbs, non-linear reverbs are difficult to categorize. However, they are very different in terms of character. When it comes to ambience reverbs and just about any other kind of reverb, you get a tail that rings out and dissipates, continuously getting quieter before it dies out completely.
The neat thing about non-linear reverb is that you can get the complete opposite effect, giving you otherworldly sounds. Echoes in a non-linear reverb might continue to swell, ending on a large crescendo. Of course, you can’t get this sort of effect in reality, which is what makes non-linear reverb so neat.
You can use non-linear reverb on drums to get a unique rhythmic feel or throw it on vocals to get a slapback that keeps the dry signal in your face while providing a sense of space. If you’re tring to get the sound of the 80s, such as a gated snare, a non-linear reverb is a perfect choice. These sound great on synths, pads, and transitional sound-design effects like whooshes.
If you're looking for a incredible, inspiring creative reverb that will let you do all sorts of fun non-linear things, you should check out Eventide's Blackhole for epic, evolving sounds.
Types of Reverb FAQ
These are some of the most common questions we receive about the different types of reverb. If you have a question that isn't answered, don't hesitate to leave it in the comments section below!
Can You Combine Reverbs?
Absolutely! In fact, many audio engineers use multiple reverbs in a single mix to create denser, more characterful mixes. For example, you might consider using a different reverb for the lead vocal in your mix vs. the rest of the instruments to give it its own space. Different drums often do well with dedicated reverbs. While all drums might be sent to room reverb to give them a sense of cohesion, you might also choose to send your snare to a plate to help it stand out.
Of course, you can also send a single signal to multiple reverbs as well. For example, I was recently mixing a Spaghetti Western-style track where I needed the guitars to sound both lush and gritty. Of course, the spring reverb was a must for the guitars, though after applying it, I noticed it only gave me the grit, not the lushness. I then decided to route those same guitars to a plate reverb and voila, it was the perfect combination of reverbs.
Reverb Vs. Delay
People often confuse reverb and delay, as they are similar in terms of the way that they process sounds. However, the way in which they create space around signals is completely different. Reverb is many reflections off of many surfaces. You get reverb in daily life. You can think of the sound of a signal bouncing back to your ears off these surfaces as a single and continuous event.
Delay, on the other hand, captures a dry signal and repeats it back discretely one or more times. Typically, delays will get quieter over time. In the real world, we refer to this as an echo. The idea is that a surface is far enough away that the echo is separated from the original signal.
What Is Reverb Used For?
Reverb is used to add a sense of width, depth, and three-dimensionality to a sound. In essence, we can use reverb to give a listener cues about where the sound is taking place. With reverb, you can put a dry source signal in a hall, chamber, cathedral, or room. Not only does reverb create a sense of space, but it also creates unique harmonics, adding to the overall character of a source signal.
Though it's worth noting that the application of reverb can vary massively depending on the instrument and the genre. Here's a good look at how to use reverb on drums full of iconic examples of different drum reverb tones.
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