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Talkin’ Reverb with Matthew and Samik

Matt: We’ve got to shoot this again already. Okay, Matthew Weiss here,, and…

[acoustic guitar]

Samik: Hey guys, Symphony here — Reverb today, right?

Matt: Yeah, reverb.

Samik: Sweet.

Matt: Okay. So you do a lot of sound design stuff, you make sample packs, that’s a shameless plug for the Machine Master sample packs, Pro Audio Files sells them, sample packs, when I’m stalling while you try to figure this out.

Samik: Sorry, it’s a little bit tricky!

Matt: When you incorporate reverb into your sound design, what are your thoughts? How do you incorporate the reverb into it?

Samik: Usually I’ll use the reverb on vocal parts, or actual little vocal chops that I do in my sample pack.

Matt: Those little shifted things?

Samik: Yeah, exactly, so I’ll do that to give it its own space, and its own presence in the actual sample. So I kind of like to let it stand out a little bit, so that’s what I use the reverb for.

Matt: So it’s like you purposefully select a reverb that’s more of a tonal thing than like, “hi, I’m in a space?”

Samik: Yeah, like more of a room type of reverb.

Matt: Okay. Because a lot of times, you’re — when you’re doing your samples, you’ll have something like a string section, which inevitably has a sound of like, a hall on it. So you’re grabbing, “Okay, this is in a hall in the record, and this is in a room on the record.”

Samik: Right, exactly.

Matt: I think there’s kind of two ways to interpret reverb. We can sort of think of it as like, going for like, a cohesive space, where everything kind of sounds like it’s in the same world, or we can get contrasting spaces that don’t sound realistic, but sound musically pleasing and create an effect of contrast, and I think people tend to either not consider the idea of making their reverbs cohesive, or not consider that it’s okay, and a lot of times, preferable to have reverbs that aren’t necessarily connected.

Samik: Yeah, I mean, it’s all what sounds good to you I think.

Matt: Yeah. It’s interesting when a lot of times, when I hear your stuff, when I get it in just from your session or whatever, and it’s got that AIR reverb on it, and then you’ve got your layers that have like, halls and stuff built into them. It sounds to me like, in a way, it sinks the vocal back in the stereo field, but it also kind of highlights it at the same time, so it makes it — it like, makes it more present and a little further away? So it kind of does both.

I just think that’s kind of cool. I don’t know if there was a question in that.

Samik: I mean, I don’t know if there was either but shit, that’s awesome. I’m glad you like it.

Matt: I’m okay! Yeah, so you’re sort of approach is just you basically put the reverb on there, and you just tweak it until it makes you happy, right?

Samik: I mean yeah, what I like to do is I don’t like the full on wetness of the sound, I like the actual — I like more presence in the actual vocal, and then a little bit of room around it.

Matt: Yeah, like something that gives it like, a three-dimensionality, but isn’t like, “Hi, I’m reverb.” Well, I mean, that’s — really, like, when we hear voices in particular, you know, a lot of times, 99% of the time, we hear somebody’s voice in a room, you know, we don’t even think about the reverb too often.

Samik: No, not at all.

Matt: So it’s like, to create a compelling reverb, a lot of times, the more realistic way, the more natural way to do it is something that’s a tighter decay, and less in the way. I guess I’ll just jump over to talk a little bit about some of the more technical side of what goes on inside of a reverb algorithm, and you know, what makes things sound different.

You know, the biggest influence on the sound of the reverb is going to be the algorithm itself. Like, you know, people sort of think a room is a room, a plate is a plate, a spring is a spring, and the reality is every room sounds different. Plates will always sound different. Every spring reverb sounds a little — they all sound different.

I mean, even just the actual room itself, one room to another, will sound different.

Samik: True, yeah, of course.


Matt: Then on top of that, it’s exactly that, it’s the designer of the algorithm then interprets what it means to be a room or to be a plate, and that’s going to change from every designer. So it’s very subjective along the way.

Samik: Absolutely.

Matt: So it’s like, in a lot of reverb units, there’s more similarity between the AIR room and the AIR plate than there is between like, the AIR plate and the Lex plate. So you’ve got two completely different algorithm names, but they sound more dissimilar than similar.

Samik: Correct, yeah.

Matt: And then within that, there’s all of the parameters that you can tweak and mess around with, and even those parameters are kind of subjective.

Samik: Yeah, I would say it’s — a lot of times, you have so many options, especially in the AIR reverb or whatever, you’ve got the mix, and you’ve got the diffusion, you’ve got the decay, pre-delay, all of that kind of stuff, and then you’ve got the lo-fi, the hi-fi, you can play with the filters, and stuff like that, so like, yeah, a lot of times, that gets a little bit confusing, but I just play around with them until I feel like I find something.

Matt: You know, when I’m teaching this stuff a lot of the times, I think when people play around with it, they hear the change, but because the technical side isn’t necessarily there, the vocab for the change is not present, so it’s like, it’s hard to describe what’s being heard, so a lot of times when I’m teaching this stuff, I kind of try and put the technical into it so that you can say, “Oh, okay, this is why I hear it texturally changing, but this is how it’s texturally…” I think diffusion is one of the ones that people are always kind of confused on, like what the heck that means.

Because that’s the one where — it’s like, you know what decay time is, you know what a filter is going to do, you know what the pre-delay does, it puts a delay, but what the heck is the diffusion doing? It’s changing the texture, but how? Why? Like, in what way? And why…

Samik: So if it’s from like, a scale of zero to 100, and 100 being I guess the most diffused? I mean, what is it?

Matt: Usually — well, it depends on how the designer set it up, but usually, 100 would be completely diffused, and zero would be completely non-diffused. So if you wanted to imagine a completely — a literally completely non-diffused room, it would be you standing in a perfectly spherical dome, right in the center, because what would happen is the sound would hit all of the — it would take exactly the same amount of time to hit every point of the surface in that room, and so because it takes the same amount of time, the reflections would all come back to you at the same amount of time.

As soon as you start changing away from that, you start getting the reflections to come back at slightly different times, and this is called scattering. Right? So if you were in a perfectly square room, it still wouldn’t be very diffused, because most of that wall is going to come back to you in one collection of echoes, so you’re really not getting a very diffused sound, but now let’s say you take like, a square room and you start bending the walls in in weird, jagged ways, and you setup some chairs and some bookshelves, and some — you know, there’s a big statue in the middle or something.

Like, you know, like most people’s homes.

Samik: Yeah, I was going to say, like my apartment.

Matt: Yeah, you guys don’t have a giant marble statue of a dragon or of yourself in the middle, riding a dragon? [laughs] Seriously! But all of those reflections start to break up, basically, and so it becomes more scattered, and the way that that sounds is when all of the reflections are kind of coming back at similar times, the sound starts to interact on itself. It creates what’s called a modal response, and that creates both a frequency change and a textural change that can sound ringy, or resonant, or you know, if you want to hear it very clearly, throw a snare drum through the AIR with the diffusion all the way down, and you’ll hear this crunchy, pingy kind of sound in the reverb.

If you turn it all the way up, that’ll go away. It’ll sound very smooth. It’ll sound very even all the way down. But sometimes that can be a bad thing, because sometimes, when these reverbs are too open, they kind of disappear. They lose their life.

Samik: Yeah, that’s what I find. That’s why I try to stay away from using reverb almost, you know, every single piece of percussion or whatever. I try to rather keep it dry, or keep it in a very small amount.

Matt: Yeah, it can take away some of the transient energy, but the diffusion specifically can take away the energy from within the reverb itself, so it’s like, I try to be discerning about how diffused I want something to be. If you turn something completely diffused, it almost sounds empty. It can sound haunting, like there is an effect for it, but it tends to be — it’s not as colorful, it’s not usually quite as interesting as a less diffused sound.

The only thing you got to watch out is if you don’t have that diffusion, you can kind of start to mess around with the frequency response, and you get a weird texture that is really metallic, or not pleasing or something like that.

So you want to find somewhere in there where you don’t have anything that’s displeasing, but you still have the life and the energy and the imperfections that make it exciting.

So yeah, I mean, I feel like I could talk about — I actually am working on — this is shameless plug number two, guys — I’m working on a Mixing with Reverb tutorial. I’ve been spending forever doing it, but I could talk for this about — you know, talk about this for hours and hours and hours, so maybe we should cap it here, unless you want to talk? No?

Samik: I don’t want to talk about anything at all!

Matt: No, nothing. Actually, I don’t even want to — I don’t want to see you or me in this room right now. I’m getting out of here. Goodbye.

Samik: Alright. Bye. Pro Audio Files! Oh, we got to sign off. You’ve got to sign off.

Matt: That’s right. So yeah, but wait, how did you do it before? Matthew Weiss, signing off! [laughs]

Samik: Right, that was…

Matt: Except I have to stop the Screenflow Capture.



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:

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