A good reverb can add life, depth and richness to a track. But sometimes two reverbs together are what’s needed. Learn how to create innovative, musically useful effects by doubling up your reverb plugins.
By Craig Anderton
The first generation of digital reverbs didn’t sound very good. One workaround was to combine reverbs in series or parallel for a richer sound, and to reduce “fluttering” effects. Fortunately, today’s high-quality reverbs no longer have this problem. The Abbey Road Chambers reverb has become my go-to reverb for most rock productions, and it certainly doesn’t need any help.
Then again, just as combining sampled keyboard parts with synthesizer-based parts can give a unique and fuller sound, combining ultra-realistic convolution reverbs with the more “impressionistic” algorithm-based reverbs can produce innovative effects, as can doubling up convolution-based or synthetic reverbs. Here are some of my favorite techniques for doubling up your reverbs.
Super-stereo with Abbey Road Chambers
I usually insert a master reverb to create a natural-sounding ambiance for a song’s instrumental tracks, but often make an exception for the lead vocal, which I process with a separate, more centered reverb (e.g., plate on vocals, hall or room on the rest of the mix). However, sometimes the room reverb can interact negatively with the vocal reverb and dilute its effect.
The solution would be to push the Abbey Road Chambers more to the side of the mix, creating additional room in the center. I tried the usual techniques—mid-side processing, changing the Time X control, choosing different pre-delay times, etc, but the options either didn’t sound natural, collapsed poorly to mono, or didn’t improve the result of the standard stereo plugin.
Then came that “I wonder what would happen if...” moment, and voilà—here’s the world’s simplest trick to create super-stereo with the Chamber 2 Reverb Type (note that it doesn’t work with the Mirror or Stone options).
- Use two aux buses. Pan one right, and one left.
- Insert a stereo-stereo Abbey Road Chambers instance in one of them and edit the sound exactly as you want (input filtering, S.T.E.E.D. settings, etc.).
- Copy the plugin you just edited to the other aux bus.
- Choose different speakers for each of the two instances—for example, if one is set to B&W, set the other to Altec (Fig. 1).
Yes, it really is that simple! Listen to the audio example: the first two measures are an Abbey Road Chambers stereo-stereo instance, while the next group of two measures uses the two-bus, “change the speaker” approach. What’s even cooler is that the super-stereo setup still retains the big, muscular characteristics of the Abbey Road Chambers.
01 - Abbey Road Chamber 2 Super-stereo
Extended Abbey Road Chambers delay
The quality I like most in the Abbey Roads Chambers reverb is the big, full, commanding quality. However, I also like the diaphanous sound of some traditional reverbs, especially because you can extend their delay time for an ethereal sound. You can try to extend the time with the Abbey Road Chambers’ Time-X parameter but, to my ears, that doesn’t always retain the plugin’s inherent power.
My favorite “best of both worlds” solution is putting the H-Reverb Long Stereo plugin in parallel with the Abbey Road Chambers, and feeding it with only high-frequency components, like snare and hi-hat (Fig. 2). You can extend H-Reverb’s tail quite a bit, like 4 seconds, and then mix it behind the chambers to combine the powerful sound of the chambers with some “fairy dust” on the highs.
The audio example uses electronic drums for the driest possible sound, with the reverb balance deliberately turned up high to make the effect as obvious as possible. The first example is only Abbey Road Chambers, while the second example includes the H-Reverb in parallel. Note how adding the H-Reverb extends the decay but doesn’t detract from the Abbey Road Chambers sound.
01 - H-Reverb “Fairy Dust”
Finally, for fans of special effects, here’s a way to produce a ghostly reverb that blooms as it decays. The level will be lower than standard reverb (you’ll need to raise the output a bit), but the effect is unlike any other type of reverb sound. It’s somewhat similar to a backward reverb or preverb but sounds more natural.
The H-Reverb is my favorite choice for this application (Fig. 3). As with the previous examples, you’ll need two aux buses. In this case though, they need to be panned exactly to center.
- Insert an H-Reverb Stereo on one bus and pan the output to center.
- Copy the H-Reverb Stereo, with the same settings, onto the second bus. Again, pan the output to center.
- Invert the polarity (also called phase) on one of the channels. The reverb sound should cancel.
- Set the reverb time of one H-Reverb to half the time of the other H-Reverb.
- Turn up the bus return levels equally (it helps to group them because they must be the same level to ensure phase cancellation). Alternatively, you can turn up the reverb output controls, but again, the settings must be identical.
Because of the phase cancellation, the reverbs have the most similarities at the decay’s onset, so that’s when there’s the most cancellation. As the decay continues, the differences become greater, so there’s less cancellation and the reverb starts to “bloom.” The first two measures of the audio example use standard H-Reverb settings, while the last two measures implement the bloom effect.
This is more of a special effect than a traditional reverb application, so conventional reverb settings might not work that well. For example, the decay will likely need to be longer than usual; setting one reverb to half the decay of the other is just a starting point. Feel free to experiment, because sometimes you’ll find this is the exact effect you need.
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