How do I use reverb on vocals?


How to use reverb on vocals (singing microphone)

Adding reverb to vocals can be a great way to create depth and texture in your mix.

In this article, we’ll discuss how to use reverb on vocals and what steps should be taken when setting up the signal chain for processing. We’ll also explore some of the different types of reverb effects available and how they can be used to enhance your production.

What does reverb do to vocals?

Reverb, short for reverberation, is an audio effect used to create a sense of space and depth in a recording or a sound.

When applied to vocals, reverb can add a sense of ambiance and make the vocals sound like they were recorded in a particular acoustic environment, such as a room, a hall, or even a cathedral or stadium!

Here’s how reverb affects vocals:

  1. Enhanced Spatial Presence: Reverb gives the vocals a sense of space and distance, making them sound more three-dimensional and less dry or flat. This effect can create the illusion that the vocals were recorded in a larger, more open environment.
  2. Depth and Immersion: Reverb can immerse the listener in the song by making the vocals blend with the background instrumentation. This effect adds a natural and pleasing sense of depth to the overall sound.
  3. Emotional Impact: The right amount and type of reverb can add emotion and mood to the vocals. For example, a lush and long reverb might suit a romantic ballad, while a short and tight reverb can be more appropriate for an energetic rock song.
  4. Masking Imperfections: Reverb can also be used to hide minor imperfections in the vocal recording, such as breaths or slight pitch variations. By blending these imperfections into the reverb tail, they become less noticeable to the listener.

It’s important to use reverb judiciously, as excessive reverb can make the vocals sound distant, muddy, or hard to understand.

Should I put reverb directly on a vocal track?

In order to achieve the best results when applying reverb to vocals, it is recommended that you record a ‘dry’ vocal track with no effects applied. This will ensure that the vocal performance is as tight as possible before any processing takes place.

After recording, create an auxiliary (aux) track or buss and create a send from your individual vocal tracks to the reverb aux buss.

Using an aux send allows you to adjust the amount of reverb being applied separately for each vocal track, keeping the overall mix balanced and allowing you to better control how wet or dry your vocals sound in relation to other elements in the mix.

The most common way to add reverb to vocals is by using a hardware or software plugin in your DAW (digital audio workstation).

These plugins allow you to adjust parameters such as decay time, pre-delay, diffusion, and size to shape the sound of your reverb effect. When setting up your signal chain for processing vocals with reverb, make sure that your compressor comes before your reverb so that any compression settings are applied first.

What type of vocal reverb should I use?

As a general rule, a plate vocal reverb works well on voice tracks. This type of reverb has a very smooth and warm tone to it, with a natural decay that works well with most styles of music.

Other types of vocal reverb may work if you want to experiment with something different!

There are a variety of different reverb types available, such as hall reverb, plate reverb, chamber reverbs, and convolution reverbs that can all have unique sonic characteristics.

Consider what type of space you want your vocals to inhabit – should they sound like they were recorded in a cathedral or in a small room? Experiment with different types of reverb until you find one that suits the song.

How much reverb should I use on vocals?

The amount of reverb used on vocals will depend largely on the specific style and genre of the song. Generally, it is recommended to use only as much reverb as necessary to achieve the desired effect.

Overuse of reverb can make the vocal sound distant and muddy, making it difficult to understand the lyrics or to hear other elements in the mix clearly.

When applying reverb to vocals, start with a small amount and gradually increase until you achieve your desired sound.

Here are some general guidelines to help you get started:

  1. Keep it Natural: Start with a subtle amount of reverb to maintain the natural quality of the vocals. You don’t want the lead vocal or background vocals to sound overly processed.
  2. Consider the Genre: Slower songs and ambient styles of music might benefit from more reverb, while faster and louder genres of music such as pop or rock may require less reverb.
  3. Vocal Intelligibility: The most important aspect is to maintain the clarity and intelligibility of the vocals. If the reverb starts to obscure the lyrics or make the vocals sound distant, you’ve likely gone too far.
  4. Adjust to the Mix: Pay attention to how the vocals sit in the overall mix. The reverb should help the vocals blend nicely with the other instruments, but not overpower them.
  5. Use Automation: Consider using automation to adjust the reverb levels at different parts of the song. For example, you might increase the reverb subtly during a chorus or more energetic section of the song or decrease it for more intimate verses.
  6. Pre-Delay and Decay Time: Pay attention to the pre-delay and decay time settings of the reverb. A shorter pre-delay can help keep the vocals more upfront, while a longer decay time creates a more ambient and spacious feel.
  7. Solo Listening vs. Mix Context: When tweaking the reverb, listen to the vocals both in isolation and within the mix. What might sound good on its own may not work as well when combined with the other instruments.
  8. Reference Tracks: Listen to songs in a similar genre to get an idea of how reverb is used on vocals in professional recordings. Take note of the reverb’s subtlety or prominence in those tracks.

Where should I put reverb in the vocal signal chain?

In the vocal signal chain during the mixing process, reverb typically comes after the primary processing of the vocal recording. The general order of the vocal signal chain can be outlined as follows:

  1. De-Esser (optional): A de-esser may be applied early in the chain to tame sibilance, which is the harsh “s” and “sh” sounds that can be pronounced in some vocal recordings.
  2. EQ (Equalization): EQ is used to shape the tonal balance of the vocals, adjusting frequencies to enhance clarity and remove unwanted resonances or harshness.
  3. Compression: Compression helps even out the dynamic range of the vocal performance, reducing volume variations and ensuring a more consistent level.
  4. Additional Processing (optional): Depending on the specific needs of the vocal and the style of the music, additional processing like saturation, modulation, or distortion might be applied.
  5. Reverb: After the vocal has been processed and sits well within the mix, reverb is added to provide a sense of space and depth.
  6. Delay (optional): Delay effects can be applied after reverb to create echo and further enhance the vocal’s spatial characteristics.
  7. Final Mixing and Automation: The vocal is blended with the rest of the instruments in the mix, and automation is used to adjust various parameters, including reverb levels, at different points in the song.

It’s important to note that these steps are not set in stone, and there’s room for flexibility and experimentation based on the specific requirements of each vocal recording and the creative choices of the mixing engineer.

Which reverb is best for vocals?

The best reverb for vocals is subjective and depends on the specific characteristics of the vocal performance, the style of music, and the artistic vision of the producer or mixing engineer.

Different types of reverb can offer various sonic qualities and contribute to the overall vibe of a vocal track. Here are some common types of reverb and when they might be suitable for vocals:

  1. Hall Reverb: This type of reverb emulates the sound of large concert halls, churches, or cathedrals. It provides a rich and spacious sound with a longer decay time. Hall reverb can work well for ballads, orchestral music, and songs that aim to evoke a sense of grandeur or depth.
  2. Plate Reverb: Plate reverb simulates the sound of vibrations in a metal plate. It offers a smoother and more controlled decay compared to other types of reverb. Plate reverb can be used for a wide range of vocal styles and genres, as it adds warmth and depth without overpowering the vocals.
  3. Room Reverb: Room reverb replicates the acoustic characteristics of a smaller space, like a studio room or a small chamber. It has a shorter decay time and can provide a sense of intimacy and closeness to the vocals. Room reverb can be suitable for many vocal genres and is often used for pop, rock, and jazz recordings.
  4. Chamber Reverb: Chamber reverb models the sound of a medium-sized acoustic space, typically smaller than a hall but larger than a room. It can add a touch of character and ambiance to vocals, offering a balance between intimacy and space.
  5. Spring Reverb: Spring reverb is a vintage type of reverb that uses a spring coiled inside a metal tank. It imparts a unique and sometimes “retro” sound to vocals, often associated with classic recordings from the past.
  6. Convolution Reverb: Convolution reverb uses actual recordings of real spaces, offering a highly realistic and accurate representation of various acoustic environments. It can be suitable for achieving authentic-sounding vocals in specific environments.

When choosing the best reverb for vocals, it’s essential to listen carefully and consider how the reverb complements the vocal performance and fits within the context of the song.

Experiment with different reverb types, decay times, and pre-delay settings to find the one that enhances the vocals and aligns with your artistic vision for the music.

How wet should reverb be on vocals?

As a rough starting point, aim for a reverb level that enhances the vocals without overpowering them, usually between 15% to 30% wet. However, this is just a guideline, and the ideal reverb setting will vary for each project.

Trust your ears and make adjustments based on what sounds best for the specific vocals and the overall mix. Remember that the goal is to use reverb as a tool to enhance the emotional impact of the vocals and support the overall artistic vision of the music.

Dverb Stock plugin Protools Plate reverb settings
Dverb Stock plugin AVID Pro Tools Plate reverb settings

What does too much reverb sound like?

Overuse of reverb in a mix can lead to several undesirable sonic effects, making the audio sound unnatural, distant, and muddy. Here are some common characteristics of a mix where the reverb has gone overboard!

  1. Washy and Distant Vocals: The vocals sound overly distant as if they are coming from a large, reverberant space.
  2. Lack of Clarity and Definition: Excessive reverb can obscure the individual elements in the mix, blurring the sound and reducing the overall clarity and definition.
  3. Muddiness and Muffled Sound: The reverb tail can accumulate and build up, creating a muddy and indistinct sound.
  4. Loss of Dynamic Range: The energy levels in the song feel the same the whole way through, there is no natural ebb and flow of dynamics in quieter or louder sections.
  5. Mono Compatibility Issues: If the mix is summed to mono (e.g., when played on mono devices or platforms), the excessive reverb can lead to phase issues and cancellation, resulting in an inconsistent and weakened sound.
  6. Fatigue and Listener Disengagement: Listening to a mix with too much reverb can become fatiguing over time, as the excessive reverb can overwhelm the ears and reduce listener engagement.

What are the disadvantages of reverb on vocals?

The primary disadvantage of reverb is that it can mask or distort the sound of the original source, making it hard to hear individual elements in the mix. Excessive reverb can also cause muddiness and reduce clarity, leading to an indistinct sound.

Another issue is that an overabundance of reverb can create an artificial sound and lack of dynamic range in the mix, making it unengaging for the listener.

Overuse of reverb can also make it harder for a vocal performance to stand out within a mix and obscure its emotional content.

Should I use stereo or mono reverb on vocals?

Using stereo or mono reverb on vocals each has its own advantages and drawbacks. Let’s discuss the pros and cons of both approaches:

What are the pros and cons of Stereo Reverb?

Pros:

  1. Enhanced Spatial Depth: Using a reverb in stereo creates a wider and more immersive sense of space around the vocals. It can make the vocals sound larger and more expansive, contributing to a more spacious and three-dimensional mix.
  2. Wide Stereo Image: Using a reverb in stereo can help widen the stereo field of the vocals, making the vocals stand out and fill the stereo field, especially when paired with other stereo elements in the mix.
  3. Panning Possibilities: Pan the reverb’s left and right channels independently. This allows you to position the reverb in the stereo field, complementing the placement of the vocals and other instruments.
  4. Creative Potential: There are many creative possibilities due to its wider soundstage. You can create interesting and immersive effects by automating the reverb’s panning or using different reverb algorithms.

Cons:

  1. Reduced Mono Compatibility: One of the significant drawbacks of reverb in stereo is its reduced compatibility with mono playback systems. When the mix is collapsed to mono (e.g., played through a mono speaker or broadcast on a mono platform), the track may lose its intended spatial effect and sound phasey or muddled.
  2. Muddiness and Clutter: Excessive use of stereo reverb can make the mix sound cluttered, especially if there are multiple stereo elements competing for space in the stereo field. This can reduce the overall clarity and focus of the vocals.
  3. Phase Issues: If the left and right channels have significant differences in content or timing, it may lead to phase cancellation when summed to mono, resulting in a loss of impact and clarity.

What are the pros and cons of Mono Reverb?

Pros:

  1. Mono Compatibility: Mono reverb is fully compatible with mono playback systems, ensuring that the reverb effect remains consistent and intact regardless of the playback environment.
  2. Clearer Localization: Mono reverb preserves the center position of the vocals, which can help maintain a clear and focused vocal image, especially in mixes with a strong emphasis on center-channel content.
  3. Simplicity and Focus: Using mono reverb can simplify the mix and maintain a more direct focus on the vocals, which is especially beneficial for genres where vocal intelligibility is crucial.
  4. Less Phasing Issues: Since mono reverb doesn’t have different left and right channels, it avoids potential phase issues when summed to mono.

Cons:

  1. Limited Spatial Ambiance: Mono reverb lacks the spatial wideness and sense of depth that stereo reverb can provide. It may not create as immersive an effect around the vocals.
  2. Narrower Stereo Image: With mono reverb, you miss out on the opportunity to add a wider stereo separate to the vocals and surrounding elements in the mix.
  3. Less Creative Options: Mono reverb offers fewer creative possibilities compared to a reverb in stereo, as it doesn’t allow for independent panning or manipulation of the stereo field.

Stereo reverb can add depth and wideness to the vocals, but it comes with potential mono compatibility issues. On the other hand, a reverb in mono preserves clarity and is more compatible with mono playback systems, but the mix may lack some stereo space. Mixing engineers often use a combination of both approaches.

How do I get the 80s reverb sound on vocals?

Getting the iconic 80s reverb sound involves using specific reverb techniques and settings commonly found in recordings from that era. Here are some tips to achieve the classic 80s reverb vibes:

  1. Plate Reverb Emulation: The plate reverb was widely used in the 80s and became a signature sound of that decade. Look for plate emulations in modern digital audio plugins that replicate the characteristics of vintage plate reverbs.
  2. Short Decay Time: Set the decay time relatively short, typically between 0.5 to 1.5 seconds. This imparts a sense of tightness to the reverb, characteristic of many 80s productions.
  3. Pre-Delay: Add a small pre-delay (around 20-40 milliseconds) to the reverb to create separation between the dry signal and the reverb reflections. This can help maintain the clarity and intelligibility of the vocals or instruments.
  4. High-Frequency Dampening: Apply some high-frequency dampening or EQ to the reverb to soften the top end. This can give the reverb a warmer and less bright sound, which was often favored in 80s recordings.
  5. Chorus Reverb Blend: Combining reverb with chorus or modulation effects was common in the 80s. Consider using a subtle chorus effect before or after the reverb to achieve that characteristic lush and shimmering sound.
  6. Gated Reverb (Optional): Gated reverb was extensively used in the 80s for drums and vocals. It involves cutting off the reflections abruptly after a certain duration, creating a distinctive “punchy” sound. You can try using a gate or a reverb plugin with a built-in gated reverb setting for this effect.
  7. Stereo Imaging: Many 80s recordings had a wide stereo separate (image). Experiment with panning the reverb returns to create a sense of space and depth in the mix.
  8. Use Hardware Emulations: If possible, try using hardware emulations of classic reverb units or vintage outboard gear that were popular during the 80s. This can contribute to an authentic retro sound.
  9. Refer to Classic Tracks: Listen to well-known songs from the 80s to get a sense of the atmosphere used in that era. Pay attention to the reverb characteristics and how it complements the overall mix.

Remember that context is essential, and not every song from the 80s had the same reverb sound. Adapt the techniques to fit the specific requirements of your mix and the style of music you’re working on.

How do I use reverb and delay together on vocals?

Using reverb and delay together on vocals can add depth, space, and a sense of movement to the vocal sound. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to effectively use reverb and delay in combination for vocals:

  1. Start with a Dry Vocal: Begin with a dry vocal track (without any reverb or delay) as your foundation. Ensure that the vocal performance is well-recorded and processed with basic EQ and compression if necessary.
  2. Set Up Reverb Send: Create an auxiliary or “send” track for the reverb effect. Route a portion of the vocal signal to this track using a send or bus. This allows you to control the amount of reverb independently from the dry vocal track.
  3. Choose the Reverb Type: Select a reverb type that suits the song and the vocal performance. A plate reverb is a good place to start for vocals, but you can experiment with different reverb algorithms, such as hall or room, to find the vibe that complements the vocals and the overall mood of the track.
  4. Adjust Reverb Parameters: Tweak the reverb settings on the send track. Adjust the decay time to control how long the reverb lingers after the vocal stops. Use the pre-delay setting to create a slight delay before the reverb kicks in, which can help maintain the vocal’s clarity and intelligibility.
  5. Blend Reverb and Dry Vocals: Gradually raise the level of the reverb send until you achieve the desired amount of ambience and space without overwhelming the dry vocals. The idea is to enhance the vocals with the reverb while retaining their clarity and presence.
  6. Add Delay to the Vocal Track: Insert a delay effect directly on the vocal track. Choose a delay type and adjust the delay time to determine how long the delayed signal should be heard after the original vocal is sung.
  7. Adjust Delay Feedback and Mix: The feedback parameter controls the number of repeats or echoes. Adjust it to determine how many repetitions the delay creates. Be cautious not to set the feedback too high, as it can quickly clutter the mix. Also, adjust the wet/dry mix to blend the delayed signal with the dry vocal. Aim for a balance that suits the song’s style and the character of the vocals.
  8. Sync Delay Time (Optional): If the song has a consistent tempo, consider syncing the delay time to the song’s tempo grid. This ensures that the delay echoes are in time with the music.
  9. Use Panning (Optional): For a wider and more spacious sound, consider panning the reverb and delay effects slightly left and right, creating a stereo image that complements the vocal’s position in the mix.

As always, trust your ears and listen critically to how the combination of reverb and delay affects the vocals and the overall mix.

In Summary (vocal reverb in a nutshell)

Reverb is a crucial audio effect used to add depth and space to vocal recordings, creating a sense of ambiance and immersion. Reverb adds depth and space to vocals, but it must be balanced to avoid overwhelming the vocals and compromising clarity. The ideal reverb amount depends on the music style and artistic vision.

Here are 5 key takeaways from this article

1. Reverb and delay can be used together to add depth, space, and movement to a vocal signal.

2. Start with a dry vocal track and create an auxiliary or send track for the reverb effect, routing a portion of the vocal signal to this track to control the amount of reverb independently.

3. Select a reverb type that suits the song and performance; plate reverbs are generally a good choice for vocals. Adjust vocal reverb settings and parameters such as decay time and pre-delay to achieve desired ambience.

4. Optionally sync delay time to song’s tempo grid and pan both reverb and delay effects slightly left/right for a wider image.

5. Experiment with different settings until desired sound is achieved; context is essential since no two songs have same reverb sound.

Tim Wells

Hi I’m Tim Wells – an experienced session and live drummer, mixing engineer and all-around lover of music! I’ve been passionate about music from a young age and I’ve had the great privilege of creating and performing music all around the world. I've had the incredible experience of touring as a live drummer through over 10 countries, performing in festivals, clubs, street corners, churches and cafes in front of audiences anywhere between 8 and 8,000! I've also spent time in the recording studio as a session drummer, but also as a recording and mixing engineer.

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