Reverb VS Delay Part 1February 15, 2012
REVERB VS DELAY
We are all familiar as to what a reverb is and what a delay is, but some of us may not know the differences between them and when you should use reverb over delay. This week we are going to talk about reverb vs delay in a little more detail and hopefully we will all come away with a better understanding of how to use these effects to improve your tracks.
THIS WEEK WE ARE GOING TO LEARN:
What a delay is.
What a reverb is.
How are they related?
When to use a reverb or a delay in your project.
Both the reverb and the delay effects are methods of signal processing that often get mixed up. Although they may be very closely related they are not one in the same. So first let's look at what reverbs and delays are.
WHAT IS A DELAY?
A delay is simply a repeat of a signal or basically it is an echo. A delay can be one single sound or it can be many sounds depending on how the delay is set up. Some folks don't like using the term echo in place of the term delay, but if it helps you to remember what it does then I don't see the harm.
Remember when you were a kid and your brother or sister or maybe a friend would play copy cat just to irritate you? You remember don't you that they would copy everything you said after you said it? You would say something like, “Your such a chicken”. Then directly after they would say, “Your such a chicken”. Well a delay works a lot like that old copy cat game that we all played as children. You play a signal through it and it is repeated back to you. Now how fast the signal is played back is dependent on how the delay is set.
WHAT IS A REVERB?
Reverberation or reverb for short works a little differently. In general terms reverb happens when a sound is produced in an enclosed space causing a large number of echoes to build up. The sound then slowly decays as it is absorbed by the walls as well as the air in the room. Think of being at the mouth of a large cave. If you were to yell “hello” into the cave the sound would repeat back to you and slowly die off as time progresses.
HOW ARE THEY RELATED TO EACH OTHER?
Delay and reverberation are closely related to each other because they both depend on echo to be effective, but they do differ. Let's imagine that you are in a large room. If you were standing in the middle of that room and clapped your hands together, what would you hear? Well first you would hear the direct sound of the clap. Your ears and your brain would hear and determine that the sound is close by. Next you would hear the reflections of that sound as it reaches a wall or ceiling and then reflects back to you. This reflected sound you would hear is an echo. This echo would begin to multiply as it hits more and more surfaces within the room. These echo reflections turn into reverberation. Now with a delay you have an echo also but it is more like playing 'copy cat' with your friend as a kid. The sound is repeated back to you after a predetermined amount of time.
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH ONE TO USE?
That is an impossible question to answer as it really depends on the material you are working with, the outcome you are looking for or the end result. But if we dive into their differences a little further it might help you decide which one you need to use on your next project.
With reverb the character of the sound is influenced by the room or maybe even more specifically the material in the room. For example a room with brick walls would sound differently than a room with wooden walls. But also keep in mind that the sound that you get out of a reverb is not only effected by the environment or the acoustics, but also the mechanical aspects of the reverb itself also plays a part. And remember how we said a reverb can contain a number of echos? Well because a reverb typically tails off we can create or fill space with them too.
A reverb is great for vocals, guitars, snare or any sound that you want to fill out. Just remember that there are no rules here. I have used a slight reverb on every sound in the song before. Now granted it really depends on the material, the genre and the overall outcome that you are looking for, but it is not unheard of to do that. Think of reverb like sugar in cooking. If you are making oatmeal cookies then two cups of sugar may be too much. However if you were making your grandma's sugar cookies then maybe two cups in just right. Only you and your material know the right amount of reverb, so trust your ears. Sadly in most cases beginners use too much of it. You don't have to hear it distinctly in the mix for it to be effective in your song.
A delay is a repeated exact copy of the original signal. It has a clear and precise reproduction of the original content. Although it may change in tone it is still quite clear to hear and will sound much like the original. Setting up and use of a delay greatly depends on timing on these repeats as it relates to the original signal. So you could have these delayed signals match the tempo of the song or you can set it up to respond in milliseconds. It is totally up to you which way to go for your particular track. Delays are great for an effect or creating excitement in a track.
Delays are great on vocals and guitars, but remember there are no rules. You can use a delay on any signal that you want to.
Both reverbs and delays are also great for creating space and depth in your track. You can use them both in many different ways to help place sounds where you want them to be. By using reflections properly you can really give the appearance that any given sound is coming from where ever you want it to be coming from based on the listeners perspective.
In part two we will discuss;
The different types of reverbs.
How reverbs handle high and low frequencies.
How to set up reverbs and delays within your DAW.
Stay tuned for more weekly tips and tutorials every Wednesday.
Article written by Alex Butler
Alex is an audio engineer, studio producer and freelance writer based out of Seattle, WA.
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