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How to Use Reverb for a Stereo Width Effect

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How to Use Reverb for a Stereo Width Effect
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Hey folks, Matthew Weiss here — weiss-sound.com, theproaudiofiles.com.

This lesson is going to be about using reverb in a less predictable way, which is to create stereo width. We usually think of reverb as creating front to back depth, but we don’t always appreciate that we can use it to spread something across the stereo field.

Now, I’m going to play a vocal here.

[vocal/piano]

Really nicely recorded, if I do say so myself, but of course, there’s not a lot going on in this arrangement. We’ve only got piano and solo vocal. So we’ve got a lot of room in the left to right to fill things out a little bit, otherwise it’s just going to feel a little bit naked.

So the traditional way that we do this is by using a doubler. A doubler is something that splits our feed into left and right, and then modulates the left side in time and pitch, modulates the right side in time and pitch, and we get something that is spread across the stereo field.

I’m going to give you a really quick example of that.

Very typical use would be taking the Waves Doubler and just using the default, on the left side, we get a 9 millisecond, 9.5 millisecond delay, on the right side we get a 23.7 millisecond delay. Why they picked that, I don’t know. Then it detunes six cents sharp on the left, and six cents flat on the right, and sounds like this.

[vocals with doubler]

And of course, if we bring in everything together, including the dry vocal.

[mix with vocal doubler]

So now we’ve got a nice stereo spread, and it works, and it’s cool, but there’s maybe a couple of problems. First of all, there’s some modulation going on that’s causing some phase distortion, and phasing in and of itself is not a terrible thing. It can add some shimmer, it can add some texture, but in this case, it just feels a little bit inappropriate. So if we try to fix that, the easiest way is to tuck it down so that we don’t necessarily hear it, but we miss it when it’s gone, but when we do that, you’re going to quickly hear, we lose the stereo spread.

[mix, doubler quieter]

So it’s a little tricky to find that perfect sweet spot. Now, doublers are very useful, and I definitely recommend experimenting with them, and I use them all the time, but we have another option. That other option is to use an ambient reverb. An ambient reverb is a short reverb that relies almost entirely on early reflections, although there’s a number of ways to configure them.

So for this, I’m going to use the Slate VerbSuite Classic, the FG-BM7 medium ambience, and if we listen to that…

[vocal with Slate VerbSuite]

You’ll notice that we get a stereo spread, but what we don’t get is any kind of pitch or time modulation, so how is that even possible? Well, it’s because it’s using a series of very, very tight reflections, as well as something called, “Comb filters,” which remove different frequencies in different places, and so we get the impression of sound bouncing off our left and right boundary, and we’ve also got this nice little handy width knob here.

Now, let’s bring it in with the lead vocal.

[vocal with reverb]

And if we compare that to the doubler…

[vocal with doubler]

The doubler is tonally more focused, but it has pitch modulation and phase modulation, whereas the reverb is more smeared, but it doesn’t have any of that modulation going on.

[vocal with reverb]

I’d also note that this is a little bit too bright as well, so I’m just going to EQ out a bunch of top end to kind of balance it out.

[vocals, EQing reverb]

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Now let’s listen to that in the mix.

[mix]

So even at pretty loud, we don’t get any kind of weird modulation. I don’t necessarily love having that much ambience — like, that style of ambience on the vocal, I would rather hear more of the ambience be dedicated to something like a long hall, where it’s a lot of late reflections that are a lot smoother.

So I’m still going to turn this down, but we can probably get a little bit more into this vocal overall with less of a drawback, and therefore get a wider and fuller vocal as a result.

[music]

Without it.

[music without reverb]

With.

I definitely would probably want a slightly warmer reverb tone for this, so either doing a little bit more EQing, or just scrolling through, picking out something a little bit more specific to something that’s got more of that 400, 500Hz quality to it, but in general, you can hear how this is really working, it’s really blending, and if I combine this with then a late reflection heavy reverb, we’re going to get something that’s pretty magical.

Now, I want to demonstrate this a little bit further using the piano buss. I’m going to take this off here, and what I’ve got is just as an insert on the piano buss, I’ve got a doubler, and I’ve got ambience. What am I using… I’m using Percussion Air, which is a very, very bright ambience, but the piano doesn’t have a lot of top end, so it kind of works.

You’ll very quickly hear that the doubler does not work in this instance if I want to widen the piano, however, the ambience does, and this time, I’ve got the direct sound in the doubler as well.

[song]

With the doubler.

[piano with doubler]

We hear the detune too much. It sounds like it’s got like a wow kind of thing going on from an old tape machine. It’s really not very pleasing, and very distracting.

[music]

Now let’s try it with the ambience. I’ve got the ambience blended in at about 25%.

[music, ambience on piano]

Without.

[music, no ambience]

With.

[song, with ambience]

It spreads it out pretty nicely, and I just wanted to demonstrate that, because if you have something like say, an acoustic guitar, or a piano that’s maybe a little bit more narrow than this, and so it’s dry, and it’s an actual recorded piano instead of a VST, you might want to spread it out some, and you’re going to find that doublers are not necessarily the best way to do that. You’re going to find that a Haas delay where you’re just delaying each side a little bit might not be the best way to do that. Micro shifters might not be the best way to do that, but adding a very short, wide, early reflection based reverb might just do the trick.

Alright guys, if you want to get more in depth into how reverb works and all of the really, really awesome things that you can do with it, I’ve got a tutorial out, it’s called, “Mixing with Reverb,” you can find it at mixingwithreverb.com, and of course, hit that like, hit that subscribe, and I’ll see you in the comments section.

Alright guys, until next time.

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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