One of the most commonly asked questions these days is how much reverb should I use on vocals to make sure that they sit well in a mix.
So, I decided to create a dedicated blog post about it since there are no specific resources online that cover this topic in detail.
Thing is, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question.
The trick is that when you’re listening in context, with all the instruments playing, you typically want to barely hear the reverb but when you mute the reverb you should be able tell that something is missing because the vocal will instantly sound dry and come to the front of the mix (in your face).
One thing you have to understand is that the reverb effect deals with depth (this is from front to back in the stereo field).
If a sound is upfront in a mix it will be loud and in your face, the further it is at the back the quieter it will sound.
So, you have to determine where you want to place the vocal and picture the final results in mind before pulling out your favorite reverb plugin.
That will eliminate a lot of confusion and bad decision making.
Is Reverb Good For Vocals?
These days vocals are usually recorded using a condenser microphone and the vocalist will be close to the mic.
Condenser microphones are sensitive, and they are mainly used in studios because of their detail and accuracy, especially for the top-end.
The results are an upfront and in your face sound, so that's why we use reverb to push the vocals a bit to the back to help the vocal sit well with the other sounds in a mix.
Even if you’re not using a condenser mic, you’ll still need to put the vocals in a sense of space so that they don’t overpower other sounds.
So YES reverb is good for vocals, when used right of course.
How Much Reverb is too Much?
One thing you have to always keep in mind is that there’s nothing such as too much reverb. If it works well for the song you’re currently mixing then you should go for it no matter the amount.
However, a good rule that you can follow is that the reverb tail should never overlap with the next phrase.
If the reverb tail is too long then it will negatively affect the audibility of the vocal, circling the sound in a continual echoing feedback loop, and creating its own frequency range that cancels out the dry signal and other sounds within the same frequency range.
The tempo of the song will also determine the amount of reverb you’ll need. A fast song will work well with a short reverb and a slow jam works well with long reverbs.
Another thing is the length of the notes. If it’s a fast rap that is percussive then a short reverb will be a great option. If the singer is singing long sustained notes then a medium to long reverb will work great.
Reverb can also be used as an effect in certain parts of the song to create contrast and to add excitement (ear candy) for the listener.
So, at the end of the day, it really depends on the material you’re working on and the end goal.
How Do I Add Reverb to Vocals? Inserts vs Aux/Fx Channel
This might seem like a dumb question for some but it’s really crucial to determine how you’re going to add the reverb on a vocal.
Are you going to insert it directly on the channel or use an auxiliary channel?
I always recommend that you should use an Aux or Fx channel.
This will give you much more flexibility because using reverb as an insert can make the reverb loud and hard to control because every time you make changes to the EQ, compressor or other processing tools in the chain you also have to keep adjusting the reverb.
Another advantage of having your reverb in an Aux is that you can add saturation, eq, compression, and other processing tools to help it fit better in a mix.
This will also help you save CPU since you’ll be able to send that reverb(s) to multiple vocal tracks instead of having a different reverb for each and every vocals track.
So I highly recommend you to use Aux or Fx channels instead of inserting the reverb directly on the vocal track(s).
How to EQ Reverb for Vocals
One thing that you always have to do to your reverb signal is to always equalize it. You don’t want the reverb signal to overpower the dry signal or cause any frequency masking with the other sounds in a mix.
Reverbs tend to be muddy or harsh, that’s why it’s crucial to use EQ to avoid all these issues.
The way I do it is to simply use a high pass filter to remove the low-end and low-mids to remove rumble and muddy frequencies. I’ll also create a small cut in the high midrange to make sure that the reverb signal doesn’t sound harsh.
Finally, I’ll reduce the highs with a shelf or low pass filter to make sure that the reverb doesn’t outshine the dry signal.
Sometimes I might boost the highs if I want the vocals to sound more bright, but that’s rare because I usually want the dry signal to be bright not the reverb signal.
Each mix is different and will require different settings so always play around with your EQ settings to help the reverb fit the mix.
Sidechain Reverb Effect
Another awesome trick you can use to make sure that the reverb signal doesn’t overpower the original signal is to use the sidechain reverb effect.
It can happen that you really like the reverb signal and don’t want to EQ it but it’s causing clutter, messing the groove, or adding too much mud. Then in that case you can use sidechain to solve that problem.
This is really simple, what you do is to simply sidechain the reverb signal with the vocals. Every time the singer is singing the reverb is reduced and when the singer is about to finish a phrase the reverb kicks in.
The technique works best when you add it to your lead vocals, and it's be a great ear candy effect.
Use this effect if you want the vocals to stay upfront and cut through the mix better but at the same time, you don’t want the vocals to be too dry.
Best Reverb Settings for Vocals?
Another question I get the most is what are the best reverb settings for vocals, and unfortunately, there’s no best.
But after I tell people that there’s no “best” they get disappointed because they expect me to say the decay should be 1 second, pre-delay at 10ms, etc.
Each song is different and vocals are not recorded the same way so there can never be a one-size-fits-all.
The best settings are what sounds great for the particular mix you’re currently working on, those are the best settings for that project and will never work on another project.
Don’t be afraid to fail, we all learn through trial and error so tweak the knobs till you get it right, nothing beats consistent practice.
One of the best tricks to master reverb is to choose 1 reverb and learn it inside out and test it in different situations. Once you’ve mastered that 1 reverb it will be much easier to get great settings using any reverb.
Best Reverb Plugin for Vocals
Again, there’s no “best” but I’ll share with you some of my favorite reverbs that work well on vocals.
Note that this list is not sorted in any particular order.
1. Valhalla Vintage Verb
This is one reverb plugin that gained popularity much quicker because it is capable of some more natural tones and for being very forward and bright
It has big and lush tails. It is comparable with those awesome 80s reverb tones.
2. Audio Ease Altiverb
The Altiverb is famous for its hyper-realistic recreation of spaces. Audio Ease has been traveling the world to record the acoustics of the very best sounding spaces.
It is pretty much the best reverb money can buy.
3. UAD EMT 140
Universal Audio modeled three of The Plant Studios’s original EMT 140 units to create this massively accurate plate reverb plugin.
It’s fantastic-sounding, and these vintage-style plates (A, B, and C) work wonders on a vocal.
4. FabFilter Pro-R
This is a clean natural sounding reverb that is musical. It offers user-friendly, non-technical controls such as Brightness, Character and Distance to achieve the reverb sound you are looking for with ease.
It’s best at performing smooth, clean reverb for a transparent, modern sound.
5. Waves Abbey Road Plates
For those who don’t want to deal with the Universal Audio DSP system, then Waves’ Abbey Road Plates fills the void. This Waves plugin recreates the iconic sound of four plates from Abbey Road Studios, going as far as to model the walls inside of Abbey Road Studios.
It can be used on many different sounds, but I always use it for vocals, even over more expensive reverbs that I own.
Obviously, there are many other great-sounding reverbs out there but these are my go-to-reverbs and ones that I use the most.
I trust that you found value in this blog post about how much reverb you should use on a vocal.
Now, it's your turn to engage by letting me know in the comments section below how much reverb you use on vocals and also share a list of your favorite reverb effects.
See you on the next tutorial 🙂