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Reverberation is  “the persistence of sound after a sound is produced ” or the “spectral plasma” so to say.

Sean Costello, the founder of great Valhalla DSP reverb plugins, revealed a presentation on history of reverbs called ” 1000 years of reverbs “. It is great to see the correlation between longer reverb technology and ambient music or after the digital replication of real spaces, how technology provided non real and creative spaces that ended up in new musical forms.

Here are our takeaways,

Both reverb and echoes extend a sound in time, but are perceived differently.

• Echo’s are discrete repeats of a sound

• Reverberation is more of a smear, in which individual repeats are not audible

• A reverb can consist of thousands of individual echoes, closely spaced together, so that no gaps in the sound can be heard

Early Reverbs : Rooms – Churches – Cathedrals

• The volume and building materials (stone) of medieval cathedrals resulted in MASSIVE RT60 times

• 6 to 9 seconds was common, with some giant cathedrals exceeding 12 second RT60

• Such a long reverb time would reduce speech comprehension

• Chant may have evolved as a way to communicate ideas in a space where individual syllables would be lost

• Music had to be slow and deliberate in a cathedral

Concert Halls

• Concert halls evolved in tandem with larger symphonic works

• The larger spaces resulted in reverb times between 1.7 seconds and 2.3 or more seconds

• The reverb time at lower frequencies can be half again as long

Echo Chambers

The idea behind a reverberation chamber (or “echo chamber”) is simple:

▪ Send a signal to a speaker

▪ Put the speaker in a room

▪ Put a microphone or two in another part of the room

▪ Mix some of the microphone signal back in with the original signal

Plate Reverberation

• In 1957, Elektro-Mess-Technik (EMT) released the EMT140 plate reverberator.

• The EMT140 used a thin, cold rolled steel plate, suspended in a steel frame by tight springs

• The result was a high quality reverb, at a much lower cost & size than a reverb chamber

Digital Reverbs

• In 1961, Manfred Schroeder published 2 papers in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, “Natural Sounding Artificial Reverberation” and “-Colorless- Artificial Reverberation”

• Schroeder wrote that the artificial reverberation described in his papers was “indistinguishable from the natural reverberation of real rooms.”

• This isn’t entirely true , to modern ears, the Schroeder algorithms sound fairly metallic

• This was probably more of a factor of the technical limitations of the day than anything else

• Rendering a minute of sound on a mainframe computer would take hours to days in the 1960s

• Starting in the mid-1970s, dedicated digital reverb hardware became commercially available

• The algorithms in these boxes were of higher quality than the Schroeder reverbs

Ridiculously Long Reverbs

• The Lexicon 224 had ABSURDLY long maximum decay times: up to 70 seconds

• The high frequency decays can last for tens of seconds, which is something that never occurs in nature

• Reverbs with super long decay times were quickly adapted to ambient music

• Ambient music developed around the use of reverbs with super long decay times

Creative Reverb Algorithms

• The 1980s were swimming in reverbs that left the realms of realism

• Nonlinear reverbs: lasts for x milliseconds, then is abruptly truncated

• Reverse reverbs: sounds like recording a reverb, then flipping the tape and playing it backwards

• Super modulated reverbs used as an effect

• Shimmer: pioneered by Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois, this used a reverb in a feedback loop with a pitch shifter, to get a reverb that would go up in pitch and harmonic richness as it decayed

1990’s To Today

• As computers have become more advanced, reverb hardware became more and more powerful

• For the most part, that power has been used to get more realistic sounds, through brute force


Lexicon and Eventide Hardware Reverbs

Here are two great reverb units:

Lexicon MX200 Stereo Reverb/Effects Processor

Eventide Space Reverb & Beyond


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