Before we dive in, it’s important to clarify what I talk about when referring to spatial effects as this can be interpreted as 2 very different methods of enhancing your mix, but are equally as useful as each other to project width, depth, and density into your overall mix. In this case, I’m referring to the big 2 - Reverb and Delay. After this, hopefully, you’ll have a larger awareness of how to apply both of these, why, and most importantly, in a creative and intuitive way!
Reverb simply explained is the accumulation of reflections within a certain space to create a space, atmosphere or room. This method for creating space has been around for decades and is a staple of so many iconic guitar tones, drum sounds, and in the studio, it can be a saving grace for a mix. Let's look at some examples - without reverb, drum mixes would be much more difficult as the majority of your overall sound comes from your overheads and room mics - without reverb, it would be hard to recreate a drum room if you were sent a poor room recording to mix into a track. Another example is lead guitars or Clean guitars; try and envision a guitarist like Slash or Steve Vai sounding as good as they do without reverb. It just wouldn’t sound right dry and without the silkiness of overtones flowing from reverb!
These are just a couple of examples of where reverb is incredibly useful to separate each instrument from each other, almost as if you were putting each part in its own space. Visualizing it in this manner will help you understand the different types of reverb as well, the most commonly used is detailed below, along with some common uses:
- Plate - Snare Drum’s sound great with a short plate and most reverbs including this type will have presets that are ready to set up and leave. Lead guitars are typically known for this as well, due to the swell and smoothness of the reverb type, it marries extremely well with pretty much any guitar amp and distorted tones.
- Room/Hall - Drum Rooms are typically created out of these as you can replicate the absorption of an acoustically treated room, along with the distance you’d set the mics from the source (a great thing to keep in mind if the recording doesn't come out as you hoped and you need a way to save the drum sound!). Acoustic guitars sound great with this as a reverb send in the mix as well as you can do the same as described above but with the added advantage of pre-delay to separate the percussive picks strokes that can be smoothed out, along with giving the impression that both guitarists were recorded simultaneously.
The Lexicon 480 digital revverb has planted itself as one of the greats after years of achieiving some of the best room and hall sounds imaginable.
- Chamber - Great for vocals, Pianos, and acoustic instruments alike, usually with a smooth top end and a natural-sounding long tail to the reverb. Chamber is a longer decay, is longer than that of a typical room, and has a much denser sound. Keep this in mind with the low end of your instruments to stop it bellowing and causing muddiness in your mix.
- Spring - A staple to the early 60’s and 70’s sound, common among sounds such as The Beach Boys for example and other surf sounds. Spring reverb is a literal spring inside a unit used to create a vibration and emulate reverberation. Typically, spring reverb has been used on guitars to create a unique and exciting ‘slapback’ style reverb with a short tail and decay.
Inside the Mogotone Spring Reverb tanks typically found among Fender amps, you can clearly see the literal spring used to replicate the reverb.
- And finally, Shimmer - A lush chamber style reverb, but with an added twist of an octave either above or below replicated from the input signal to mimic overtones and harmonics that swell creating an incredible reverb sound. Not common in earlier music, it's a much more modern sound and can separate your music from the rest bringing a new level of ambiance and atmosphere - try it on clean guitars and lead hi gain guitars and find a new level to your sound with shimmer reverb.
Delay is similar to reverb in that it relies on a replication of the original sound, but whereas reverb using the reflections the blend into one large space, or an area - Delay relies on ‘echoing’ the original sound, replicating a ‘distance’ to the instrument. Depending on the makeup of the design of the delay, it depends on the timbre or sound of the echo following the initial sound. We’ve detailed below some common practice forms of delay units that are best served for newcomers of delay, and experienced users alike that are reading this for a refreshing look at the uses and difference in delays.
- Digital - Digital delay units are known for creating pristine, clear-cut repeats of your original signal, commonplace among guitar tones, mainly clean guitars to preserve the chime of an amp. Unlike their analog counterparts, digital delay pedals can capture the sound of a signal and repeat it precisely, without the repeats or ‘trails’ gradually deteriorating over time other than by the feedback control of the unit to determine the level of repeats from the delay unit.
- Analog - Analog delay pedals invariably rely on a bucket-brigade device (BBD) chip that sends the analog signal through a run of capacitors, one step per clock cycle. The repeats usually get a bit warmer and darker and a bit more broken up with repeat, which gives it, it’s particular sound. Due to the makeup of BBD chips, analog delays tend to impart shorter maximum delay times as opposed to their digital counterparts. With the warmth and harmonic distortion that comes from Analog delays, you can achieve some incredible, warm, lush sounding echo’s that marry well with almost any reverb. A commonly well-known one is the Memory Man Delay (pictured below) that's been recreated time and time again in a software format, allowing you to achieve the save incredible sounds that have graced timeless classic tracks.
- Tape - Tape Delay came from a signal that would be sent to a second separate tape recorder (from the one originally being used for the performance) that was set to monitor off of the repro head. The slight delay that occurred from latency from the cables and signal chain between the tape machine when the signal was presented and when it finally came off the repro head provided a delayed signal back to the main recording. Due to the nature of magnetic tape, mastering engineers and recording engineers use it still to this day for the warmth and subtle distortion it manifests within a recording, and within delay as well - some typical studio tools include the Echoplex and Space Echo RE-201, usually now found in the form of software and still faithful to the original design. Great on pretty much all sources, try Tape Delay if all else fails!
The Roland Space Echo RE-201 is still highly sought after.
- Lo-Fi - An all too often overlooked form of delay, usually built off the schematic of an analog delay, the Lo-Fi delay isn’t too common but it's an incredible and versatile style that allows your repeats of the echo to push through a mix prominently. The term Lo-Fi describes Low Fidelity of lesser quality, but don’t let this fool you - the idea is to have a distorted, unique style of delay that is unlike its counterparts and is extremely musical. Try this on vocals, and guitars of all types, I’m sure you’ll find it among your favorites to reach for just like myself!
EQ is paramount in creating a decent space and separating your instruments in the mix to make one, expansive atmosphere, that breaks the boundaries of the ‘norm’ of modern music. Compression is a great, and ingenuitive way to duck reverb and create space for the initial sound to push through, and once it’s ended, the reverb then grows back into the mix, allowing the tail to expand and deliver a smooth decay blending in your mix. Try these techniques, and experiment with your next mix - trial and error is the main way to find your favorite sounds and spaces, and once you have something, pursue it to bring your mix to life in a new exciting way using reverb and Delay.