Reverberation—or reverb, as it is more commonly known—is perhaps the most widely used effect. Natural reverb is created by sound waves reflecting off of a surface or many surfaces. For example, when you walk across the wooden stage in a large hall, thousands of reflections are generated almost instantaneously as the sound waves bounce off the floor, walls, and ceilings. These are known as early reflections, and their pattern provides psycho-acoustic indications as to the nature of the space that you are in, even if you can’t see it. As each reflection is then reflected off of more surfaces, the complexity of the sound increases, while the reverb slowly decays.

The reason for the widespread use of reverb in audio recording is fairly self-evident: Human beings don’t live in a vacuum. Because our brains receive cues about the nature of the space around us based partially on audio reflections, a sense of space makes an audio recording sound more natural and, therefore, more pleasing.

Common Reverb Parameters

Below are some of the most common reverb parameters for the reverb effects:

  • Decay. Decay is the time (in seconds) required for the reflections (reverberation) to die away. In most modern music production, reverb decay times of between one and three seconds are prevalent. A reverb setting with strong early reflections and a quick decay are a great way to create a stereo effect from a mono source.
  • Predelay. Predelay is the time (in milliseconds) between the end of the initial sound and the moment when the first reflections become audible. Imagine you’re back on that stage in a large music hall. This time you stand on the very edge of the stage and shout “Hello world!” toward the center of the hall. There will be a brief pause before you hear the first noticeable reflections of your voice, because the sound waves can travel much further before encountering a surface and bouncing back. (There are closer surfaces, of course—notably the floor and the ceiling just in front of the stage—but only a small part of the direct sound will go there, so those reflections will be much less noticeable.) Adjusting the predelay parameter on a reverb allows you to change the apparent size of the room without having to change the overall decay time. This will give your mix a little more transparency by leaving some space between the original sound and its reverb.
  • Early Reflections. Early reflections are those that reach the listener a few milliseconds after the direct signal arrives. Your brain uses them to identify the size of the room you’re in. If you are trying to simulate a specific type of room, this control will be extremely important. This control allows you to set the level (in decibels) of the early reflections. The louder the early reflections, the smaller the room will seem.
  • Diffusion. Diffusion controls the distance between early reflections. As you increase diffusion, the early reflections are closer together, producing a thicker sound. Lowering diffusion creates more discrete separations between reflections for a more open effect.