There’s Never Too Much Reverb

The sound of the recording environment in which a production is realized becomes part of the ultimate sound of the finished release. And different styles of music and production philosophies have different “norms” in this regard. It never ceases to amaze me when a classical artist records a project in an acoustically dead studio that is better suited to pop/rock and other genres of music. Classical music needs the “air” that a large hall contributes to the overall sound.

Multichannel recordings made in acoustically dead studios require the addition of artificial reverberation. My friend Cookie Marenco at Blue Coast Music has a very nice studio where she captures tracks on analog tape and then mixes to DSD. Since the room doesn’t have its own “live ambience”, she routes the tracks from her console to a DSP digital reverberation unit. Nothing wrong with that, engineers have been using artificial reverberation for decades. Cookie’s working with vintage equipment and techniques in preparing here CD-R and DSD downloads.

Reverberation is not only used to recreate acoustic environments. On the final day of the recent International 2014 CES Show, I managed to get to the Tower Suites in the Venetian Hotel and found my way to Allen Sides’ room. He was demoing his new $48,000 speakers using a traditional CD transport. Allen is a world-class engineer and studio owner. His client list is full of “A” list celebrities. He participated in the music creators panel in the HRA room on Tuesday of CES week.

I stood in the back of his demo room while he played a couple of well-known tracks. One in particular, by new age trumpeter Chris Botti, was drowning in reverberation. Now I recognize that this is part of the style in new age music (think Enya’s vocals) but it bears no relationship with acoustic reality. Even Chris Botti’s live concerts smother reverberation on his trumpet to the point that viewers experience a disconnect between the visuals and audio.

There are important aesthetic choices made by artists, engineers and producers with regards to the “reality” of the ambiance used in a particular recording. Do we want the sound of the original space? Or would we prefer a hyped artificial “room” that completely destroys any sense reality. Or perhaps reverb units are simply new tools that can be used to invent interesting sounds that we don’t experience in the acoustic world.

Do you remember Phil Collins’ use of reverse gated reverb? Of course, reverberation doesn’t happen in reverse in real life but with clever engineering, it is possible to invent new sounds that work in a production. These techniques are not restricted to digital processors. I can remember turning a 2-inch multitrack analog tape over to create effects that when finally mixed reversed time. This is all part of producing a record as opposed to merely capturing a live performance.

Room sound at the head end of the production chain is absolutely part of the process. Whether the playback room should be taken into consideration by mixing and mastering engineers is another topic all together.

PS A great day on back bowls of Vail, Colorado yesterday in 15″ of fluffy powder…I’m having a great time.

5 thoughts on “There’s Never Too Much Reverb

  • I’m totally on board with your comments about the importance of room acoustics, but I have a query. I purchased your latest HD sampler to finally take the plunge and catch what you have been spraying. It was an excellent opportunity to hear a multitude of artist from different genres, playing in different environments, back to back. On what I believe is a stage you use frequently, at least with most of the artists on this sampler, there where unique differences in the way certain instruments and vocals were captured and mixed. Acoustic instrumentation, whether it was guitar, piano, strings with occasional vocal accompaniment were as close to the real thing I’ve ever heard. Incredibly well done and rooms acoustics played a part in its realness. What plagued me though, were the larger ensembles on the exact same stage, typically introducing amplified instruments, that created such varied results to the mix. It was perplexing. Even with the same room, the same mic placement techniques and the same mic manufacturer, the room acoustical properties seemed to no longer take a part in the production. I could be more specific with the artists I noticed this phenomenon, but ultimately it seemed that when amplified guitars and bass were present (in the same room), the dynamics of the performance seemed to flatten. Vocals seemed to lose there openness and percussion/drums in some cases, seem to lose there punch. Interestingly enough, the acoustic instruments in those performances sounded great. Sorry for the ramble, but my point relates to the one thing that I think conflicts with your mantra of placing everyone in the same room and catching its acoustic essence. It would seem to me that amplified instruments in the same room as a plethora of mics would create a lot of bleed over and ultimately make for a difficult mix. This was not necessarily the case on electric performances that were recorded in different venues on the disc. My query is, does it seem in some cases to be advantageous to isolate certain instruments to gain ideal room acoustics on some recordings?

    • I treat electric or amplified instruments that same way as acoustic instruments. The output of Albert Lee’s Fender Twin Reverb is the “soundboard” of his guitar playing. I place the amp at his position and place a stereo pair of microphones in front of the speakers.

  • Warren

    I remember the early Beatles albums being re-mixed in the USA, as the English ( and everywhere else ) original mixes were deemed to be too dry. I have both releases and I certainly don’t think they needed to be “hyped”.
    I suppose we must remember that the use of reverb in the days of Buddy Holly etc. was used to give the impression that the band was bigger than a four piece.
    In this day and age, “surround” music is my passion and I confess that I don’t like it too dry. Stereo is a two dimensional wall hanging by comparison and when multi-channel is in full flight, you can hear “into” the track. When reverb is used intelligently, it can create a width and height Stereophiles can only dream about. It cracks me up to hear of the latest and best interconnects giving a wider soundstage and the $30,000 turntables which, to my mind, would better enable you to hear that roll-off at both ends of the spectrum.
    I recommend everyone to have a listen to Anne Murray’s multi-channel release “I’ll Be Seeing You”. Once you hear music as it was meant to be heard, there’s no going back.

    • I agree with you Warren…stereo can’t hold a candle to a surround presentation.

  • Great article, I love the sound of those big reverb chambers used in the 50’s and 60’s. They often drowned vocals in reverb from them but it never bothered me in fact i think it sounds great and often better than equivalent levels done with artificial means.


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