In normal, everyday life, you almost never “hear” reverb, unless you’re in a parking garage or a stairwell. But it’s everywhere, and it affects everything you hear on a subconscious level. Even outdoors, the sound is not the same as a close miked instrument.
Here is an experiment to try. Put on a pair of headphones and listen to the radio. Now, keeping the headphones on and playing, tune a another radio with actual speakers to the same station and turn it on. Turn it off, and then on again. Listen
I’m broke, no questions on gear. But as far as effects, reverb is killing me. If you listen to this Dokken song http://search.playlist.com/tracks/don%20dokken you hear so many re- verbs, I believe. At this point its hard to tell what is delay, what is verb on individual instruments or what is reverb on the whole mix. Seems like I’m having a hell of a time getting all the instruments to sound like they are in the same “space”.
Listen to the difference in sound quality when the speakers are on vs. When it’s just headphones. If you’re paying attention to it, it’s obvious, but it is extremely hard to describe or to put your finger on. I could say it sounds bigger or richer or more natural, but these are clumsy descriptions.
Reverb should not jump out of the speakers as sounding “reverberated.” Even massive, lush, 80′s reverb doesn’t have the splashy, murky, tinny “effect” sound, most of the time. Reverb should be subliminal. Sometimes this is simply matter of turning the reverb down just below the level where you can actually “hear” it (but if you mute it, it still makes a huge difference). But just as often, it is a matter of “tuning” the settings to get a sound that blends in and complements with the dry sound, rather than overwhelming it.
I would encourage anyone interested in audio to listen closely to the Dusty Springfield song “Son of a Preacher Man.” You’ve probably heard this track a mil- lion times, but might never have noticed that the only instrument panned center is the vocal (maybe the horns, too, I haven’t listened to it in a while). All the drums are hard right, all the backing vocals are hard-panned, and so on. Everything is either hard left, hard right, or center, like a lot of early stereo re- cordings (believe it or not, the original stereo consoles did not have pan knobs, only switches that went L-C-R).
It’s a great mix, featuring a fantastic performance and really good instrumentation and engineering. One really interesting effect that they achieved is that the guitar is panned to one side, but it’s reverb is panned to the other. And the reverb is gor- geous, and perfectly-sculpted.
If you listen to the recording closely, The guitar’s reverb is nearly as loud as the guitar, but has an extremely muted, “soft” quality that doesn’t smear or dilute the guitar at all, it just reinforces it and makes it bigger and richer. In fact the guitar still sounds quite punchy and articulate and “dry.” The highs and lows to the re- verb are rolled off, so that just the “note” portion of the sound resonates. The de- cay is “timed” to the tempo of the song, and to the feel of the guitar. This was not achieved with presets.
You really need to dig into the settings of reverb to understand it. A bigger pre- delay makes a bigger-sounding reverb without smearing the effect. Low-and High-frequency damping make the reverb less conspicuous. Decay times that are “tuned” to the tempo of the song (by ear, not by calculator) fill out the sound without sounding like an “effect.” In fact, real musicians in real acoustical space do this instinctively, and adjust what they play and the tempo to suit the real res- onance of the space that they are in. People play differently in a bathroom than they do in a cathedral, and they “compensate” for the sound of the space they’re in by playing “harder” or “softer.”
Setting reverb parameters Reverb effects in the real world are subliminal.
Predelay conveys a sense of how close to the instrument we are. If we’re sitting right next to the instrument in a big venue, we will hear the direct sound immedi- ately, and the reveberated sound a little later (long predelay). This gives us a lot of instrument articulation and sense of immediacy. If we’re sitting in the back of a long, narrow cathedral, we might be hearing the early reverb from up front right along with the direct sound (short predelay). This might give a bigger, more “washed-out” or faraway sound.
Decay time tells us something about the size and nature of the space we are in, and also gives information about the volume of the instrument. Very soft sounds decay quickly, but very loud, dynamic sounds can also appear to decay quickly, because the direct sound tapers off quicker.
High-and Low-frequency damping tell us something about the kind of room we’re in. An empty cathedral will sound very “splashy” and also muddy with low- frequency resonance. But a cathedral full of people will have a lot more highs and extreme lows absorbed. A living room or soft-furnished nightclub will sound even more muted, regardless of the actual decay time.
“Size” and “Density” controls give us some degree of control over the ratio of “early reflections” or distinct echoes, compared with more“washed out” reverber- ant sound. In an empty cathedral with lots of stone pillars and hard wooden pews, we are likely to hear a lot of broadly mixed-up, diffuse reverberation (high- er density). On the flipside, in a small cinderblock room full of people, a lot of the reverb we hear is likely to be from direct refections off the nearby walls and ceil- ing (lower density). Again, this exists independent of the decay time or predelay.
For instance, somebody sitting onstage in a basement party with a lot of people might hear a long predelay, very little density, lots of high damping and medium low damping, and a long decay. Someone sitting in the back of a plush nightclub might hear almost zero predelay, lots of low-and high-damping, short decays, and medium density. Somebody sitting in the middle of a massive arena concert might hear medium-long predelay, very low density, and very short decays (because of the surrounding crowd absorbing all the weaker sounds).
This last example leads to possibility of using distinct delays (or echoes) in place of or in addition to more diffuse reverberation. It’s harder to find a better example than the stadium rock staple of Gary Glitter’s “Rock and Roll Part 2” (which is a bizzare phenomenon unto itself in a whole lot of ways).
In all cases, the above illustrations are not “rules” or “recipes”, they’re things that have to be tuned by ear. The biggest mistake that beginners make is to flip through presets and stick with whatever one sounds least offensive, or most masking of a mediocre sound or performance.