Reverb is one of the most important effects when it comes to vocals. There’s something quite magical about the way in which you can alter the sound of a vocal using reverb. Back in the old days, reverb was created using a separate room or chamber, which made the sound ‘wet.’ The wet sound was then blended back into the mix.
Later on, people began developing digital hardware units and plugins to emulate old forms of reverb and push the boundaries of what was possible. With so many different vocal reverb plugins out there, finding the perfect one for your needs can seem quite overwhelming.
Luckily, we’ve done the hard research and broken down some of our favorite reverb plugins so that you can spend less time sifting the Internet and more time developing that pro vocal sound.
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Why Is Reverb In Singing?
There are plenty of reasons that one might decide to use reverb on vocals. For starters, reverb can help fill out the sound of a vocal, adding more harmonics and space to the dry and natural sound. With reverb, you can put your vocals in a setting of your choice. For example, you might decide to go with a room reverb if you’re working on an organic folk or jazz mix. On the other hand, you might choose to use a chamber or hall for something more ethereal.
Reverb can also help push vocals back in a mix, which can be great if you’re recording background vocals that need to sit behind the main vocal or a large group of choral-style vocals.
Singers love using reverb as it makes singers sound larger than life. In many ways, reverb can cover up certain flaws in the human voice, which is why many singers feel very vulnerable the first time they sing in a studio setting where the sound is dry, and they can hear all of the nuances of their voice they might not be used to hearing.
What Does Reverb Do To Vocals?
As we said before, reverb can fill out the sound of any vocals you put through it. With the right reverb, you can get more sustain and a fuller tone overall. If you record your vocals in a dry vocal booth, having a slight bit of reverb can create a more natural sound reminiscent of singing in a room. The beauty of using reverb in post production instead of recording your vocals in a reverberant space is that you have more control over the tone of your vocals during the production and mixing phase. Plus, you can avoid the build up of harsh resonant frequencies that you may find in poor quality rooms.
You can also use reverb to create a cohesive space. Let’s say you record your vocals in a separate space than the rest of your instruments in your mix. You can use reverb to place all of your instruments in the same “room.”
It is also worth noting that reverb pushes sounds back in a mix. Push your vocals into a deep enough reverb, and the words will begin to overlap or wash out. This might be great if it’s the kind of effect that you are going for.
This technique is a must for placing backing vocals in a position that doesn't compete with the lead. It also can help blend harmonies together.
Best Types of Reverb for Vocals: Plate + Room/Chamber
When it comes to dialing in the best reverb sound, it is worth considering multiple reverb plugins to get the best results. Using multiple reverbs gives you different flavors to work with, allowing you to craft a dense and full sound, which you can then sculpt to your liking.
We highly recommend setting up two different types of reverb, including a plate and a room/chamber. Using effects sends, send your vocal track to both.
What Plate Reverb Do to Vocals
Plates have a bright and shimmering sound that can help your vocals pop out of the mix while giving them space. Plates work for just about any kind of music, from pop to jazz to EDM. Plates also have a slight edge to them as well, which brings vocals forward outside of the bed of instruments.
What Room and Chamber Reverbs Do to Vocals
Rooms and chambers are great for creating anything from a short and intimate ambiance to lush and dense space. With a room or chamber reverb, you can push your vocals further back in the mix or create a sense of space around them while retaining a natural sound.
If you send your vocals and other instruments to the same room reverb, it can also create an organic sense of cohesion among the instruments. In genres like rock, jazz, folk, and pop, this can be a great tool for gluing your mix together. In contrast with EDM and Hip Hop, you may actually want to avoid this, with the goal of creating a unique space for the vocals to inhabit.
Example Reverb Settings on Vocals
To give you an example of some reverb settings on vocals, let’s say that you are mixing pop vocals. Typically, you’ll want pop vocals to sit upfront, meaning the reverb should be fairly subtle. Start by flipping through presets on your plate and room reverbs until you find one that works well within your mix. Once you find the right preset, lower the volume until it is just barely audible enough to hear. In essence, you want to feel these reverbs more than hear them.
The idea is that you don’t totally notice them while they are there, but once they’re gone, you feel like something is missing.
Vocal Reverb Pre-Delay Settings
The most important thing is to use pre-delay with any reverb on your vocals. Pre-delay allows your vocals to cut through before the reverb starts, meaning there is a delay on the attack of the reverb. The typical rule of thumb is:
“The longer the reverb, the longer the pre-delay.”
There are calculators out there that you can use to time your pre-delay, as well as the tail of the reverb, to the tempo of your song. Doing so can be very helpful for helping your reverb breathe in time with your track. We usually start at 15 MS and increase it from there.
Tip: if your reverb doesn't include a pre-delay setting, you can try placing a transparent sample delay plugin in front of it in the signal chain and dial in your pre-delay using the delay unit.
Vocal Reverb Tail Settings
When it comes to setting the tail of your reverb, a lot will depend on the tempo of your song, as well as the density of the vocal. If there are a lot of words delivered quickly, like in hip hop, you should probably use shorter tails so that tail doesn't interfere with the next word.
In contrast, if your mixing a ballad with long, drawn-out notes, you can get away with much longer tails that bleed into the following words. Here's our review of the best reverb plugins in general, which includes many of the same plugins.
Best Vocal Reverb Plugin Overview
When it comes to using reverb on vocals, you definitely want the best vocal reverb plugin you can afford. Reverb is a complex process to model, and low-quality reverbs can detract from the clarity, intimacy, and energy of a vocal. To help you out we've put together a list of our favorite vocal reverb VSTs.
Best Plate Reverb for Vocals - Arturia Rev Plate 140
If you’re looking for the silky smooth of a plate reverb, we highly recommend checking out the Arturia Rev Plate 140. It has all of the wonderful characteristics of vintage plate reverb and tons of tone-shaping options for you to dial in the perfect sound. The decay has a bright and resonant tone to it, perfect for helping your vocals to sit at the front of the mix.
There are three plate models to pick from within the Arturia Rev Plate 140 plugin, each of which has a unique sonic character and harmonic profile. Open them up and let your vocals rip or dampen them to create a soft and intimate space.
On the front of the reverb chain sits a vacuum-tube preamp, which accentuates the harmonic content and allows you to dial in a bit of dirt if you choose. With the mix controls, you can make your reverb mono or spread it out far and wide, finding the perfect balance for any given track.
As you might expect, you get a couple of modern features on the Rev Plate 140, including the pre-delay and pre-filter, which lets you create space for your vocals to breathe while your reverb sits in the background. There is even a three-band EQ to help shape the reverb, as well as a chorus effect to add a rich width for more luscious tones.
Best Room Reverb For Vocals - Izotope R2
Izotope is one of the top plugin manufacturers in the game today, crafting high-end, new-age plugins for a variety of applications.
Izotope R2 is the best choice for those who want a natural reverb algorithm that can create organic rooms. The beauty of R2 is that it comes with a clean and easy-to-use digital interface, one thing Izotope is renowned for. There are over 1,200 presets to flip through too, giving you no shortage of places to start. Beyond that, you get five additional early reflection patterns, a unique plate reverb algorithm, pre-delay, reverb delay, and adjustable tempo settings.
We like to describe the Izotope R2 sound as “lush.” Not only do the reverb sounds in this plugin provide vocals with both intimacy or width, but they can also provide incredibly colorful spatial effects for those who want to experiment more.
If you’re just getting started in the world of mixing, you’ll enjoy how easy Izotope R2 is to use. The parameter controls are very intuitive, allowing you to dial in the right tone quicker than ever.
Best Chamber Reverb for Vocals - UAD Capitol Chambers
Capitol Studios is probably one of the most recognizable studios on Earth. One of the things that made these studios so legendary back in the day was the echo chambers below the ground level. From Beck to Muse to Ray Charles to Frank Sinatra, so many artists have recorded here and used these unparalleled chambers to add ambiance to their mixes.
With years of research and development alongside Capitol Studios, UAD brought these iconic chambers into plugin form. Now, you can get this unmistakably dense and rich reverberation in the box. The plugin contains many unique parameters for you to choose from as well, including a wide array of microphones that you can use to alter the overall tonal characteristics.
As you probably expected, there are tons of presets to choose from, including those from some of the most legendary engineers in the industry, such as Al Schmitt, Frank Filipetti, and Darrell Thorp.
On the interface of the plugin, you'll find a three-band EQ with a high-pass filter, pre-delay controls, decay controls, a width knob, and a mix knob, giving you far more control than you would have originally gotten with the real chambers. The only downside to the UAD plugins is that the require a UAD Audio Interface to operate.
Additional Vocal Reverb Tips & Tricks
To help you get the most out of your vocal reverb, we provided some of our favorite vocal reverb tips & tricks so that you can make your vocals shine! If you've got any tips we've left out, please share them in the comments!
“Abbey Road” EQ Filter Pre-Reverb
If you’re working with vocals in a dense mix, the Abbey Road technique can help carve out space and get rid of any unnecessary frequency content. The Abbey Road reverb technique puts an EQ before the reverb plugin to filter out the lows and highs, creating a bandpass for the wet reverb sound. We recommend you start by filtering your EQ up to 400Hz with a high-pass filter and down to 6kHz with a low-pass filter.
In doing so, you’ll get rid of lows that could make your mix muddy, get rid of highs that could clash with the top end of your vocals, and maintain the mids that create the dense and rich harmonics that we love so much about reverb.
Sidechain Dry Vocals to Reverb to Duck Reverb
If you’re looking to get the best of both worlds, meaning a dry, in-your-face vocal, as well as a long, harmonically dense reverb, you might consider sidechaining your vocals to your reverb. Once you’ve sent your vocals to your reverb of choice, put a compressor after the reverb plugin on your send. Send your vocal to the compressor and enable the sidechain so that every time your vocal plays, the sidechain clamps down on the reverb.
The beauty of this technique is that you can use long or dense reverbs without washing your vocal out.
Reverb and Delay on Vocals
If you want a long and lush reverb, try using a delay into a reverb. Most people crank up their decay times if they want long and lush reverbs. While it can work in some instances, it often ends up sounding quite sterile in most mixes. By sending your vocal into a delay before sending it into your reverb, the reverb affects the delay repeats instead, giving you a reverb tail that trails on for much longer and dissipates very organically over time.
Adjusting the Pre-Delay on Vocal Reverb
As we've already discussed, pre-delay is one of the most important parameters on a reverb plugin. Without it, it’s very easy to wash out the sound of your vocals. Pre-delay often works in milliseconds. When you dial in your pre-delay, you can dial it in anywhere from 1 ms to 2 or more seconds. Those milliseconds or seconds account for the time it takes for your reverb to initiate.
Let’s say you want a grandiose hall reverb on your vocal, though when you send your dry vocal into the reverb, you realize it feels washed out and unintelligible. Instead of trying to find another reverb, add some pre-delay. Slowly dial it back until you find that it’s creating just enough space for your vocals to sit up front, though not too much space where there is a noticeable delay between your vocals and the reverb (unless that is the effect you are going for, of course).
Tips for Controlling Echo Reverb on Your Vocals
Controlling the echo in your reverb or gating/ducking the tail is a great way to get a deep yet rhythmic reverb sound. The sound of gated reverb became popular in the 1980s thanks to Phil Collins, and it’s been heard in countless songs ever since. In modern electronic music, you’ll hear this technique a lot.
The sound that you probably recognize is that massive reverb on the tail end of a snare, which seems to cut off suddenly. To do this, you can place a gate plugin after your reverb. Set the threshold of the gate so that the reverb suddenly cuts off just before the next drum beat. But this technique can also work great on vocals.
For example, in an EDM track you could experiment by having a medium vocal reverb sidechained to the kickdrum. Every time the kick hits, the reverb tail will pump a bit, adding a gooey rhythmic flow to the track.
Should You Use Compression Before Vocal Reverb?
Putting compression before your reverb can help give you more control over your reverb while increasing the sustain. Sending an extremely dynamic vocal through a reverb can be a bit messy. Just as your vocal gets quieter and louder, so will your reverb. If you want your vocal to retain a dynamic sound, though you want your reverb to sound more even in volume across the entirety of your track, you might consider adding compression.
Heavy compression before reverb can help increase the overall sustain, perfect for crafting a larger-than-life sound. You might even experiment with putting your compression after your reverb to even out the decay or tail.
Frequently Asked Vocal Reverb Questions
We've offered most of our favorite vocal reverb tips and recommended some of our favorite vocal reverbs. But we're only human. If you've got any questions, or tips of your own, please share them in the comments below!
And if you're looking to improve your entire vocal signal chain, here is a round up of the best vocal VST plugins.
Reverb Vs. Delay
People often think of reverb and delay as the same thing, though they are actually quite distinct effects. Reverb, or reverberation, is an effect that blends multiple sound reflections into a single signal. You can get reverb from the sound of your room, the sound of a gymnasium, or the sound of a church. The thing to note is that the reflections create a single, indiscrete sound that bounces back at you.
Delay, on the other hand, is one or more distinct reflections. If you clap your hands in a canyon, you’ll likely hear the clap a few times before it turns into a washy mess. These few distinct repeats are delays. Delay can be very useful for creating space around vocals without pushing them back in the mix or washing them out.
Reverb Vs. Echo
Echo is pretty much the same thing as delay, though we often think of echoes in real-life situations, whereas we think of delay in digital situations. An echo is a single reflection off of a distant surface. In real life, an echo can only be heard if the distance between the source of the sound (a vocal, in this case) and the reflective surface is more than 50 feet.
Reverberation is a superposition of these echoes. Essentially, echoes will pile on top of one another, arriving at the ear at different times. In doing so, these reflecting waves become very difficult for humans to comprehend.
Different Types of Reverb
As you've seen in this article, there are different types of reverb out there, and each one has a different sound and effect on the vocals. After you've mastered the basic vocal reverb tips laid out here, you should check out this article on the 7 types of reverb and when to use them.
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