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Optimizing Reverb for Vocals Gwynn Oak MD

With the advent of digital reverb, some people went crazy—one reverbtype on the voice, gated reverb ondrums, some gauzy reverb on guitars, and maybe even one or two reverb sin an aux bus.

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Optimizing Reverb for Vocals

Reverb is an important component ofvocals; few recordings put the voicetotally out front, with no ambience. However, there’s much more to gettingthe right vocal reverb soundthan just dialing up a preset andcrossing your fingers.

ONE REVERB OR MANY?

Back in the stone age of recording, arecording had one reverb, and all signalswere bused to it. Often the vocals sent more signal than some ofthe other instruments, but the resultwas a cohesive “group” sound.

Later on, studios often used a specific reverb for vocals. Much of the motivation for doing this was to make the voice more distinctive, and if the studio had a plate reverb, that was often the reverb of choice because it tended to have a brighter,crisper sound than a traditional room reverb. This complemented voicewell, which tends not to have a lot of high-frequency response.

With the advent of digital reverb, some people went crazy—one reverbtype on the voice, gated reverb ondrums, some gauzy reverb on guitars, and maybe even one or two reverb sin an aux bus. The result is a soundthat bears no resemblance to the realworld. That in itself is not always a bad thing, but if taken to extremes your ears—which know what acoustical spaces sound like—recognize the sound as “phony.” Unless you’regoing for a novelty effect, this can be a problem.

If your digital reverb has a convincing plate algorithm, try that as a channel insert effect on vocals and use agood room or hall reverb in an aux busfor your other signals. To help create a smoother blend, send some of the vocal reverb to the main reverb. This will likely require dialing back the vocal reverb level a bit, as the main reverb will bring up the level somewhat.

TO DIFFUSE, OR NOT TO DIFFUSE?

A reverb’s diffusion control increasesthe density of the echoes. Higher diffusion settings give a less “focused”sound, producing more of a “wash.”This is helpful with percussive instruments, because percussive sounds create sharp echoes with digitalreverb. Turning up diffusion gives a smoother sound. However, a voiceisn’t percussive, and high diffusionsettings can produce an overly“thick” sound. This violates the FirstRule of Vocal Reverb: The reverbshould never “step on” the vocal.Instead, try low diffusion settings.This produces a reverb sound thatblends in with the vocals rather than sounding like a separate effect thatlives apart from the voice.

WHAT ABOUT EQ?

Many reverbs have adjustable high and low-frequency decays, or at leastlevels, with a crossover point betweenthe two. With voice, I tend to use alonger high decay than low decay. This gives a reverb splash to the “s” soundsand mouth artifacts, while reining inlow frequency reverb componentsthat have the potential to make the sound more muddy. Remember, crispness with vocals is usually a goodthing, because it increases intelligibility—as long as you didn’t already addmassive amounts of high frequencyEQ to the vocal itself.

Experimentation is key to findingthe right crossover point, because ofdifferences between male and fe...

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