Using a Delay as a Reverb

Reverb can smear low frequency sounds like basses and using a delay effect instead of a reverb maintains the clarity and focus of the sound.

Beat Construction


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Reverb is the most common mix effect used by producers and rightly so as it is the reverb effect that denotes the space the mix will reside in. However, reverb doesn’t play nice with certain frequencies and none more so than low frequencies. The problem is that of frequency smearing and when that happens you lose clarity and focus. I am sure you have experienced this problem when trying to add reverb to a low end kick or a bass sound. You immediately notice the loss of clarity and everything sounds ‘muddy’.

So, what is the solution?

Speak to any seasoned producer and they will tell you the same thing ‘drop the reverb effect and use a delay effect in its place’.
This Old School technique can be used on any sound that cannot be best expressed by using reverb. However, to effectively use this very cool technique it helps to understand what frequency smearing is.

Frequency Smearing

Reverb and low frequencies just don’t marry well. We producers spend more time trying to manage low frequencies than any other frequencies and no matter how hard we work at getting the low frequencies to sit nicely in the mix we know that once reverb is applied clarity goes out of the window. Nothing smears a reverb’s response more than low frequencies. Smearing is a time based anomaly that takes place when two signals are out of phase with each other – in other words the signals are not in sync. If you take a sound, copy it and move the copy slightly out of time with the original you end up with a signal that sounds ‘phasey’. The same problem applies when using reverb. With reverb effects we use the pre delay and reverb decay time to control the behaviour of the reverb and these two parameters will introduce a timing variance between the dry channel that feeds the reverb and the wet channel (auxiliary effects channel) that runs the reverb effect. Think of this as two sounds playing together but out of phase – ie, both sounds are not in sync. Reverb effects are presented with all manner of filtering options for exactly this type of a problem. We can use the reverb effect’s built-in filtering or EQ section to remove frequencies that smear or cause other anomalies like a brittle high frequency response.

Using a delay effect in place of a reverb effect immediately negates the problems associated with frequency smearing and to understand why I suggest you watch this FREE video tutorial explaining what a delay effect is and how it works: Delay Effect – what is it and how does it work

Now that we understand what frequency smearing is and how a delay works it is time to put this technique to the test.

In the video I use a drum beat sequence and run it through the Soundtoys Echoboy, a truly wonderful delay effects processor that comes with acres of extremely useful editing tools. I explain how a delay effect works and how to use it. I show you how to create custom settings using Echoboy’s detailed modulation matrix. I show you how we can achieve various ‘reverb’ textures by using the powerful editing tools supplied by delay effect.

Plugin used in this video:

Soundtoys Echoboy

Topics covered in this video are:

  • Advantages of Delay over Reverb
  • Smearing
  • Timing differences
  • Cleanliness and Layering
  • Harmonics and Delays
  • Spatial Processing
  • Prime Numbers and Splices
  • Pre delay over Early Reflections