Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
Let’s talk about Reverb vs Delay. They are similar but not the same, so what is the difference between reverb and delay? Producers often say that putting the right effect on a sound is half the work in mixing, and that also makes sense here. So knowing the difference between reverb and delay is important! In the end, using that knowledge makes a great difference.. For example, between a good and a bad mix. So let’s dive in and demystify this dilemma!
Table of contents
The differences in form
There are differences between reverb and delay, but there are also similarities. They are both time based effects, and they both serve to prolong the original sound. Approximately there most of the similarities end – knowing exactly how they work clarifies that. Reverb emulates sound waves reflecting off surfaces of a three dimensional space. On the other hand, delay will copy the original signal and play it back at the programmed time intervals. In reality, imagine shouting down a well and hearing your voice echo back at you and shouting in a fairly big room and hearing it reverberate.
(Speaking of echo, often you will hear it being used interchangeably with delay, since it is very close to it. In this article, we will refer to both as delay, for simplicity.)
The difference between reverb and delay also reflects in plugins, since they emulate the exact same natural effects. Let’s get into the nitty-gritty of the difference in use.
Reverb vs. Delay: Defining a space
Accurately describing or defining a space is one of the main differences between reverb and delay. Reverb is perfect for it, delay can barely do it. With reverb, you can program the exact type and dimensions of the room you want to emulate, and that is very noticeable in the sound. On the other hand, delay gives you much less information on the space it tries to add to the sound.
Use to define a space: reverb.
Reverb vs. Delay: Keeping everything in the same space
Another thing that accents the difference between reverb and delay, is putting everything in the same space so it sounds natural. While delay can offer a bit of help here, reverb will be your main tool. Using the same settings on all reverbs in a mix might sound boring, but it will instantly put all the elements in the same room! What might sound boring is actually a great starting point. Pick and overall reverb you like and then play with it. Editing some of the values on some of the elements will keep them in the same room but give them enough to stand out. With a balance in this regard, you can keep your mix sounding both natural and interesting.
Use to keep everything in the same space: reverb.
Reverb vs. Delay: Keeping the mix clean
Another difference between reverb and delay is something that I like to call “the wash effect”. As you add reverb to more and more elements in a mix, they will collectively start to get muddy and won’t cut through the mix any more. In general, the sound will feel like everything is in the background.
The key to solving this is to balance your use of delay and reverb. Delay will not cloud everything up, and will keep your mix sounding clean. You can also emphasize the foreground-background balance by adding delay to the sounds you want to keep in focus.
Use to keep the mix clean: don’t use reverb on all elements, combine with delay.
Reverb vs. Delay: Enhancing rhythm
When rhythm is king, the difference between reverb and delay is pretty clear. Reverb has very little inherent rhythm-defining properties. Of course, you can sync your pre-delay and decay times but they will not emphasize the rhythm as much as help the reverb breathe in time. You can sidechain your reverb to the beat but that effect will be either subtle or very noticeable (which is not always a bad thing). In short, they will not add a very strong accent.
On the other hand, delay will improve that rhythmic feeling much better. Emphasizing the beat with a well timed delay is both easy and very effective. Even adding a triplet feel (or any other time division) is possible. Delay here will be clean, effective, easy to set up and you can use it as another rhythm element, in a sense.
Use to enhance rhythm or add to it: delay.
Reverb vs. Delay for consistency in a mix
Another difference between reverb and delay is that you are a bit limited in combining different types of reverb. You can freely add a couple of different delays and they will not pop out as much. On the other hand, adding several different reverbs will immediately and clearly sound “off”. Why is that? When listening to live music (or recordings of it), we are used to having all the instruments in one space. Hearing the instruments in different spaces will confuse our brain and be far from what we are used to.
Of course, artistic expression may call for a few different reverbs (also used commonly in electronic music), but still that number should not be too big. One reverb that pops out is great, two could be good if done well, more will just be confusing.
Use to keep consistency in the mix: feel free to mix different delay types, but refrain from mixing (too many) different reverb types.
Reverb vs. Delay: Adding accent to open spaces and busy parts
In this regard, knowing the difference between reverb and delay is of utmost importance. We already wrote about enhancing the rhythm with delay, and that gives half an answer here. In busy and energetic parts, delay will keep everything clean and crispy, while reverb would impact the clarity and energy. Of course, we are not saying that reverb should not be used at all, only the emphasis here should be on delay.
On the other hand, when a slow, open and spacious part of the song comes up, the difference between reverb and delay shows its other side. Delay can not fill up a break effectively, at least not nearly as effectively as reverb. Reverb will fill the space with texture, the decays and tails will add the much needed ear candy (everybody loves a nice detailed reverb tail, right?) and it will also give a nice counterpoint to the rest of the track.
Use to add accent to open and busy parts of a track: delay for busy, reverb for open.
Knowing the differences between reverb and delay could mean a difference between a good mix and a bad mix. Hopefully we cleared it up here and moved the future in the direction of good mixes! These might seem like hard rules, but rules are meant to be broken, so don’t be afraid to experiment a bit!
On one side there are differences between reverb and delay, on the other side there is one big similarity: they work well together. Using them (properly) together is one of the keys of a good modern mix!
Reverb is a natural-sounding effect that occurs when sound waves bounce off surfaces in a space, creating a sense of ambience and space. Delay, on the other hand, is an effect that creates a repeating echo of the original sound.
Reverb is often used to create a sense of space and depth in a recording, making it sound like the music is being played in a larger room or hall. Delay, on the other hand, is often used to create rhythmic patterns or to add emphasis to certain parts of a recording.
The settings for both reverb and delay can vary depending on the specific plugin or hardware you’re using. Generally speaking, you can adjust the amount of reverb or delay (how much effect is being added), the decay time (how long the effect lasts), and the feedback (how many times the effect repeats).
Yes, it’s common to use both reverb and delay together in a mix. By combining the two effects, you can create a sense of space and depth while also adding rhythmic interest and emphasis.
There are many great plugins and hardware options available for both reverb and delay. Some popular options for reverb include the Valhalla Room and the Lexicon 480L, while popular delay plugins include the Soundtoys EchoBoy and the Eventide H3000. Ultimately, the best choice will depend on your specific needs and preferences. If you are now interested in delay plugins, here is a list of the best delay plugins for you.