No one would fault you for thinking reverb plug-ins are tough to learn: they have idiosyncratic controls that are often different between manufacturers. Some are convolution based, requiring impulse responses to simulate a real or sampled space; others, like the Exponential Audio reverbs, are algorithmic, summoning space through math.
If a reverb is a recreation of an old hardware unit, it can bring its own set of quirky controls. Conversely, a verb might be trying to do something new altogether, and wind up boasting parameters with inscrutable names like “shimmer” or “warp.”
So what can we do? Whatever can we do?
Friends, mixers, country-people—fear not! You can learn a reverb quickly, with judicious practice. Follow these tips, and you’ll be on your way.
2. Take one instrument and run it through some presets
Presets are not crutches if used well. But in the right hands, they can be valuable teaching tools, helping you learn the plug-in and the operating philosophy of the plug-in developer. In the case of reverb, you’ll get an idea of how a developer defines a plate, a hall, a room, a chamber, etc. Remember, the person programming the plug-in has ears too—they have a sound that they like, and part of learning the software is identifying their specific sound.
So scroll through some presets and just listen for a while. Note down what you hear. Start with overheads, for instance. Choose the halls from, say, Nimbus, and run through them. Then move onto the rooms, the chambers, and other spaces.
Here’s an overhead track from my reference session, completely dry:
And here it is with a Neutral Hall.
I notice a chunky sound in the low mids with a distinct pop of sound just after the transient hit. I found the same sort of frequency emphasis on the Recital Hall as well.
Now let’s move on to the Small Perc Plate.
I notice the same clarity of tone, a similar feeling in the low mids when the kick hits, though it’s not as present when you hear the snare. I move onto the Small Vintage Plate, and even though it’s darker and narrower, that pristine decay is still present to my ears.
All of this tells me something, so I note it down for later as I scroll through a group of halls, plates, rooms, and the like.
3. Examine the early reflections and the tails separately
Settle on one preset now—ultimately, it might not matter which in the long run—and start looking at the early reflections and the tails independently. Verbs often have controls that affect either the early reflections or the tail, leaving the other alone entirely. These two different sections, considered together, give you the depth of field.
Say I have overheads going through Nimbus. I’m working with the Perc Plate, shown below.