The Room or Reverb?

Reverberation is an acoustic phenomenon. It happens in large rooms that have enough hard surfaces to reflect a portion of the direct sound back into the space at slightly different times. We know it as ambiance and it is generally considered a positive attribute on a music recording. It’s why we like to sing in the shower or honk our horns when going through a tunnel. Reverb is sometimes referred to as “echo” but an echo is a discrete repeat.

Classical and jazz ensembles like to be recorded in venues that have just the right amount of reverberation. Commercial records simulate the sound of a live room with digital equipment or software plug-ins. Reverb can be used as a “special effect” as well. Phil Collins and others made great use of reverse reverberation on drums where the reverberation actually precedes the sound.

So reverberation can either be a component of a live recording or an enhancement that is added to a recording during or after a session. But then there’s the issue of the sound of your listening room and its contribution to the ambiance of the overall sound. Is the sound of the mixed project that I hear in my THX certified studio the final word? Or has some “room tuning” consultant convinced you that your room needs to have reverberation of its own?

I’ve sat through presentations by custom electronics installers and room treatment experts that advocate for “live” rooms and “dead” rooms. Knowing what your listening space is doing to reproduced sound is an important consideration is the construction and/or modification of your space. Room resonances and bass buildup do happen and need to be controlled. But the fundamental question remains. Do you want your room to contribute to the “liveness” of the tracks or should the amount of ambiance be determined by the mixing engineer.

My recommendation is to deaden your space as much as is reasonable. Get control of any reflections and resonances by using absorptive panels on the walls. Having carpeting on the floor and non-parallel surfaces will reduce non-linearities in your space. Don’t let an “acoustics expert” encourage you to uncover the floor to “liven” up the space. What you really want at home is the same thing that I’ve got in my studio…a quiet, non-reverberant space with plenty of diffusion.

The sound that I want you to hear is what I hear during the final mix. I don’t expect you to add any reverb electronically or acoustically. In the end, the original room and its associated reverberation is what I deliver on my tracks. Commercial or pop/rock records use reverb differently and have more license but the final mix is still the sound that counts.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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