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How to Use Reverb the Right Way – Part 3

Bobby Owsinski • Audio TechJanuary 2022 • January 19, 2022

Last month I looked at the most important reverb parameters: decay and pre-delay, and how to set them up. Now I’m going to give you the secret to setting up your reverb so it always works in a track.

If you’re like most musicians, reverb can be a mysterious thing. It works great on a track every now and then, providing depth and sheen and the sound you’ve always looked for, but you find that most of the time it’s too washy sounding where you can’t find the right balance. It’s either too heavy, or there’s not enough.

I’m going to show you a secret that doesn’t get talked about much, but can make your reverb fit perfectly every time.

Let’s Shape the Tone
Engineers have been EQing the reverb for a very long time, but it’s how you do it that makes all the difference. The first thing to do is to place an EQ on the insert of the reverb channel, but before the reverb plugin (I’ll explain in a minute). Then we’re going to roll off some of the high frequencies (you can use a low-pass filter) and some of the low frequencies (you can use a high-pass filter).

Why? The low frequencies of a reverb are not useful at all as they make for a muddy mix. Take some of that out and all of a sudden, your reverb, and your mix, seems to fit together like a glove.

Likewise, the high frequencies call attention to the reverb and not the mix element that you put it on. Sometimes you want that, but usually you just want the reverb to seamlessly meld into the mix while adding space and sheen.

Now the reason why the EQ is placed before the reverb plugin is that it activates the plugin’s algorithm in a totally different way that if it’s placed after it. There’s no harm in placing the EQ after the reverb in the signal path, but you’ll notice that it’s a bit more difficult to make it fit into the mix because the frequency shaping is done in a different way.

Also, many reverb plugins now come with a built-in equalizer, but again, they usually are placed after the algorithm creates the reverb. You get a lot more flexibility from using your own EQ plugin, and that will be important, as you’ll see in a moment.

Abbey Road Shows the Way
I was reading the excellent Recording The Beatles book that chronicles all the great gear the band used at EMI’s Abbey Road Studios when I came across an interesting setup that was almost buried in the minutia of studio facts.

Abbey Road used two dedicated hardware filter sets on their reverbs placed on the reverb sends to their plate reverbs (remember this was the 1960s). One was set to roll off at 500Hz on the low end, and the other at 10kHz on the high end.

I began to use these settings on my EQ’ed reverb and I found that work really well (of course they would – they’re from Abbey Road). I called this the “Abbey Road Reverb Trick” in some of my courses and books until someone from the studio contacted me and told me they don’t do it like that anymore (he didn’t say what they do now, unfortunately), so I stopped using the name.

The name doesn’t matter; the settings are magic. Try it!

Going Another Step
The fact of the matter is that these two frequencies aren’t written in stone, especially the high frequencies.

Try setting the low-pass filter down to 8kHz, or 5kHz, or even 2kHz. You’ll hear that the reverb darkens considerably, but that might even work better in the track as it glues everything together more.

On the low end, 500Hz is about as high as you’ll want to go, but you can go down to 200Hz if you need to fill out the sound more if there are fewer mix elements to deal with.

And The Best Secret
Now here’s where the dedicated EQ that you placed in front of the reverb comes in. Yes, you’ve already rolled off the low end and the high end and I’m sure you’ve heard the difference.

If you really want to make sure that the reverb stays out of the way of a vocal or lead instrument, attenuate 3dB or so at 2kHz. Now you’ve carved out the reverb so it always fits with the track.

You’re going to thank me the next time you’re mixing and you use these reverb secrets. Suddenly you’ll get the sound you’ve always struggled to get. You’ll have depth and you’ll have a professional sheen that you didn’t have before.

Pro mixers know this secret but never give it up. Now you know it too (but don’t tell anyone!)

Producer/engineer Bobby Owsinski is one of the best-selling authors in the music industry. His latest, The Music Mixing Workbook, provides exercises to help you learn how to mix on any DAW. Visit Bobby’s website at bobbyowsinski.com.

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