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Reverb Vs Delay: Understanding The Differences To Choose The Right Effect

May 7, 2023 
BY DAN SPENCER
Last Updated on June 7, 2023

When it comes to music production, reverb and delay are two of the most commonly used effects. Both effects can add depth, space, and character to a sound, but they are not interchangeable. In this article, we will explore the differences between reverb and delay and how to use them effectively in your productions. So, if you want to make sure you are choosing the right effect, continue on reading!

What Is Reverb?

Promo for the Waves H-Verb reverb plugin.

Reverb, short for "reverberation," refers to the persistence of sound in an enclosed or reflective space after the original sound source has stopped producing sound. This persistence of sound is created by the sound waves reflecting off surfaces such as walls, ceilings, and floors. The reflections cause the sound waves to bounce around the space and combine with each other in complex ways, resulting in a characteristic decay and coloration of the sound.

In audio engineering, reverb is often used as an effect to add depth, space, and a sense of realism to recordings. Reverb can be created artificially using digital or analog signal processing, or it can be captured naturally using a microphone in a reflective environment such as a concert hall or recording studio. Different types of reverb can be created by varying the size and shape of the reflective space, the materials and textures of the surfaces, and other factors.

Reverb parameters include size, decay time, pre-delay, and mix. Size refers to the size of the simulated space, while decay time is the length of time it takes for the reverb to fade away. Pre-delay is the time between the original sound and the onset of the reverb, while mix is the balance between the dry and wet signal.

Reverb comes in several flavors with the most common types being room, plate, chamber, hall, and spring reverb. These all have different character and tonality and are usually song type specific. For example, you might want to use a plate reverb for lead vocals in a fast-paced song and then a hall or chamber reverb for a ballad.

Reverb is a versatile effect that can be used in many genres of music, from rock and pop to electronic and dance music. It can also be used in conjunction with other time-based effects such as delay, phaser, and chorus to create unique and complex sounds. You will be hard-pressed to find a song that doesn't have some sort of reverb in it.


Related Article: The Top 5 Best Reverb Plugins for Creating Space in Your Mixes


What Is Delay?

Promo for the D16 Group Repeater delay plugin.

Delay is a time-based effect that produces an echo-like sound by repeating the original audio signal but at a specified interval. It is a popular effect used in music production to add depth and character to a sound while not washing it out.

Delay can be used in various ways, such as to create a slapback delay effect, where the original sound is repeated once or twice at a short delay time, typically around 100 milliseconds. Longer delay times, ranging from a few hundred milliseconds to several seconds, can be used to create a doubling delay effect or to produce echoes that add an atmospheric feel to the sound.

Digital delays are the most common type of delay effect used in music production. They use digital signal processing to create the delay effect and offer a wide range of delay times, feedback settings, and other parameters that can be adjusted to achieve the desired sound.

When using delay in music production, it is important to consider the mix and tempo of the song. Short delays can be used to add depth and character to individual sounds, while longer delays can be used to create a sense of space and reverberation.

Overall, delay is a versatile and powerful effect that can be used to enhance the sound of a wide range of instruments, including electric guitars, synths, and vocals.

Tip: Try tape delay for a more analog sounding delay.

Reverb Vs Delay (Similarities And Differences)

When it comes to time-based effects in music production, reverb and delay are the king and queen. While both effects are used to create space and depth in a mix, they have distinct differences that make them unique. Let's take a look at some of those now.

Similarities

Reverb and delay share some similarities in terms of how they affect sound. Both effects create an ambience and atmospheric feel in a mix. They can be used to add sustain to a sound, and they both have a feedback setting that can be used to create interesting textures and soundscapes.

Differences

  1. Character: The main difference between reverb and delay is the character of the effect. Reverb is a more subtle effect that simulates the natural acoustics of a room or space. It creates a sense of space and depth without being too noticeable. Delay, on the other hand, is a more noticeable effect that creates echoes and repeats of a sound. It can be used to create a rhythmic pattern or add emphasis to a particular sound in a mix.

  2. Parameters: Another difference is the parameters that are used to control the effect. Reverb is controlled by parameters such as size, pre-delay, and decay. These parameters affect the size and shape of the simulated space. Delay, on the other hand, is controlled by parameters such as time and feedback. These parameters affect the number of repeats and the rhythmic pattern of the effect.

  3. Use Case: Reverb can be and is usually used on all of the instruments in a mix. It is pretty common to use a room reverb and apply it subtly to all the tracks. This makes the mix sound more cohesive. Delay, on the other hand, is heavily used on vocals and other lead instruments to make them fit into the mix. It is also used for special effects and echoes to make a mix more intriguing.

Overall, while reverb and delay share some similarities, they have distinct differences that make them unique. Understanding these differences is crucial for music producers to make informed decisions about which effect to use in a particular mix.

Tips For Using Reverb And Delay Effectively

A light bulb with the text "Tips & Tricks".

When it comes to adding reverb and delay to your music productions, there are a few things you should keep in mind to make sure you're using these effects effectively. Here are 4 tips to help get the most out of your reverb and delay plugins:

1. Use Different Types Of Reverb And Delay

There are many different types of reverb and delay available, each with their own unique sound and characteristics. By using different types of reverb and delay for different purposes, we can create more interesting and dynamic sounds in our music.

For example, we might use a short and bright plate reverb to add some sparkle to a lead vocal, or a long and dark hall reverb to create a sense of space and depth in a cinematic score. Similarly, we might use a short and subtle delay to create a slapback effect on a guitar sound, or a long and modulated delay to create a dreamy atmosphere on a synth pad.

2. Make Sure They're In Time

The timing and tempo of our music can have a big impact on how our reverb and delay effects sound. If our music is fast and upbeat, we might want to use shorter and tighter reverb and delay settings to keep the rhythm tight and punchy. On the other hand, if our music is slow and spacious, we might want to use longer and more ambient reverb and delay settings to create a sense of depth and atmosphere. NOTE: Many effects will allow you to sync them to the tempo of the song.

3. Use EQ To Shape The Effects

Reverb and delay can sometimes add unwanted frequencies to a sound, especially in the low and high end. To avoid this, we can use EQ to shape them to fit better in the mix.

For example, we might use a high-pass filter to remove some of the low end from our reverb and delay, so that it doesn't clash with the bass and kick drum. Similarly, we might use a low-pass filter to remove some of the high end from our reverb and delay, so that it doesn't clash with the cymbals and hi-hats.

4. Use Panning Correctly

Finally, you can use panning to create space and separation in the mix. Typically, your reverb and delays are going to be on stereo returns and panned hard left and right. That is my recommendation 99% of the time. With that being said, sometimes a mono slap delay on a vocal or lead guitar can work wonders. This effect would be put on a mono stereo return and can be panned dead center or anywhere in the sound field.

How I Use Reverb And Delay

I use certain reverbs and delays in every mix I do. It doesn't matter the songs tempo or genre, they always work their way into my mix. So, how do I use them?

Room Reverb

Solid State Logic logo.

I put all the instruments in the same room reverb to create a cohesive and natural-sounding mix. When each instrument has its own reverb, it can create a sense of separation between the instruments, making the mix sound disjointed and artificial.

Using the same room reverb for all instruments can make them sound like they are all in the same physical space, which can create a more realistic and immersive listening experience for the listener.

My current favorite room reverb plugin is the Solid State Logic FlexVerb.

Plate Reverb

Waves audio logo.

Using a plate reverb on top of a room reverb can work wonders for the instruments that need more definition. I tend to use plate reverbs on vocals, snare drum, and acoustic guitars. Plates have more character than room reverbs and can help make the instruments they are applied to stand out. Also, using a long pre-delay time will ensure that the instruments are more defined and not washed out.

My current favorite plate reverb plugin is the Waves CLA Epic.

Digital Time-Based Delays

D16 Group music software logo.

I always use some sort of digital time-based delay on vocals. This gives them more space in the mix without washing them out like reverb. I mostly sync them to the tempo but might offset the right side by a few milliseconds. On occasion, I engage the ping pong delay setting for a more rhythmic feel. This type of delay is also great on guitar note parts or solos.

My current favorite time-based delay plugin is the D16 Group Repeater.

Slapback Delay

On occasion I will reach for a slapback delay to apply to the lead vocals. It tends to work better on fast tracks where the vocal needs some space and character. It's usually in a situation where I can't use much or any plate reverb. I don't typically sync my slapbacks to the tempo and use a delay of around 160 milliseconds. Sometimes I will do them in mono and sometimes in stereo. It all depends on what the song calls for.

My current favorite slap delay plugin is also the D16 Group Repeater.


Related Article: How To Mix Vocals: 8 Tips & Techniques For Radio Quality Tracks


Final Thoughts

In conclusion, both reverb and delay are essential tools in any musician's arsenal. They both offer unique qualities and can be used to achieve different effects.

Reverb is great for adding depth and space to a track, making it sound like it was recorded in a large room or hall. It can also be used to create a sense of ambiance and mood. On the other hand, delay can be used to create a sense of movement and rhythm. It can be used to create echoes, repeats, and other interesting effects.

When it comes to reverb vs delay, choosing the right effect ultimately comes down to personal preference and the specific needs of the track. In some cases, using both reverb and delay together can create a more complex and interesting sound.

It's important to keep in mind that using too much reverb or delay can make a track sound muddy and overwhelming. It's best to use these effects sparingly and with intention.

Overall, both reverb and delay have their place in music production and can make all the difference when used properly. By understanding the unique qualities of each effect, we can make informed decisions when it comes to creating the perfect sound for our tracks.

"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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