I'm sitting here wondering about how all these drones and atmospheres are made. Lots of sounds actually.

It seems like sometimes the answer is always "reverb." Reverb seems to pervade thousands of techniques in sound design from drones, beds, atmospherics, wind etcetera etcetera.
Is it all so simple? Is reverb such a great solution that it still never is a faux pas? It is not cliche?

6 Answers 6


No, not by far. Like with everything else in design, you must use what you use for a reason, and that reason must be that that particular effect brings forth what you need that very moment.

Don't get me wrong, reverb is in my opinion one of the absolutely most useful effects whatsoever, not counting EQ, compressor/limiter and Gate, as they're not effects at all (they're filter and dynamic processors). Reverb is often the one thing to connect different sound so they sound like they're in the same location, and by using more unnatural kinds of reverb, like plate, old digital ones and spring for example, you can make pretty nifty effects on many kinds of non-diegetic sounds. But it is EXTREMELY easy to mud up the entire mix by slabing on too much reverb, making the entire project totally impossible to mix.

The kind of sounds I think of as best suited for reverb as nothing but effect right now is first and foremost stingers and swooshes. Both non-diegetic, and doesn't therefore need to be based in reality at all. Actually, it's not uncommon that stingers are heavily based in reverb in total, but you must be careful so it doesn't collide with anything important. I got an entire sound effect-disc with swooshes and such from a producer I know (yes, a retail disc bought for money) that I can't use at all as it's drowned in heavy and diffusing reverb :-( I also sometimes use light unnatural reverbs to highlight specific diegetic sounds, but then I must be very careful or it will sound ridiculous.

I can't say how others do, its all a matter of opinion, but I never ever use reverb on exterior ambiances/BG's, though I have used very light reverb on a few interior ambiances to make them match up better with the dialogue, but that's only if I can't really make it worm any other way. Interior wind will need a reverb well matched to the surroundings, but exterior it att depends on what kind of sound you use to make the wind.

On drones I am VERY careful with reverb, depending on if I use it at all. Most drones are low-pitched and ominous, on these the only reverb I use is mostly the natural one I got in the original files, it's hard to get a bassy reverb to work. It's tricky to get different bass-sounds to come together without sounding bad, in drones I prefer to have the low rumble totally independent so I can have good control over it. On higher drones, on the other hand, I often use different kinds of echo, but then, still, mostly to fatten things up in the more neutral mid's. I hate impulse-reverbs on drones...

This is just my normal way of doing things, there are at least as many opinions on how to do things as there are designers, but it practically always comes down to this; thoughtless and unnecessary reverbs tends to destroy a lot. Use your ears and don't over-do it. It's an art to use reverb creatively, it can both kill a project, but also make it come alive and give dimensions to it. It is indeed an ingredient for giving the project the illusion of unity, but it is nothing but a spice, and like regular spices you must use them with good taste and judgment :-)


There is a lot of work that goes into making these types of sounds. If there was a simple, one answer fits all solution to how this is done, many people would find themselves out of a job! Reverb is certainly something that is incorporated into many sounds but that's because it is a natural sonic effect that occurs all around us, all of the time. A dry sound just doesn't sound natural to our ears and, thus, stands out.

Although I agree that artificial reverb can be applied creatively to manipulate a sound, I think the most essential element in terms of quality still remains the raw sound. Try adding reverb to a poorly recorded sound and you'll still end up with a poorly recorded sound!


Well, it takes the sound you've been working on and starts to simulates how it'd behave in a real acoustic space.

When you look at it that way, it's tough to think of any more powerful tricks to use to bring something to life!


The way I learned about reverb was by mixing music.

It shouldn't be a crutch. You should get your sound the way you want it and then you put it on as icing on the cake. You make your cake out of the other ingredients and the final touch is the icing.

That said, there are scenarios where you need to use reverb as 90 percent of the sound you've designed and that's totally fine, too.

It just depends on what your source is and what you're trying to get to. A drone? Sure, reverb can do wonders to make sounds like that - especially if you use lightning or other obscure IRs for your reverb.

And it can be as cliche as you make it - a long decayed bright plate can sound totally 80s,

But on the other hand, an M6000 Small Room can add space and realness to FX like nothing else and I use it all the time without anyone noticing there was verb placed on it in the first place,

A dying 480L can spit out some of the most awesome distortion you've ever heard.

It depends on taste. I've seen the same reverb used by two different people and the first made it sound as tacky and tasteless as a 80s rock snare reverb, and the other person added just the right amount for the right situation and it was perfect. It's back to context at that point. You need to learn what scenarios call for it and don't call for it. And, you need to learn how to use it. Pre fader? post fader? compressed into the verb unit? compressed out of the verb unit? notched or filtered or delayed after it hits it? is it gated? reversed? pitched? printed and placed with 3 seconds of pre-delay? early reflections added? Many different choices which make many different sounds.

I suggest listening to how Bruce Swedien uses reverbs. His work on the album Thriller has yet to be topped by modern engineers - and Bruce mixed it in the 80s. I would put Beat It or Thriller up against any of the modern artists and I think you'll find Bruce's work still holds it's own as sounding "modern" and not cliche "80s pop".


I absolutely love reverb for atmos, though it's either applied like salt or I pour it on like chocolate syrup: very little, or quite a bit more than I probably should.

The best thing I've found for atmos and drones, though, is Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch.

  • Wow. After all this time, I FINALLY downloaded Paul's Extreme Sound Stretch and I have to say, I am really impressed. So little artifacts for a free program and eerie too (so far.)
    – ChrisSound
    Sep 21, 2011 at 16:30
  • It's amazing. I used it, once, to create a base for a song I was working on -- I wrote a couple bars of something incredibly simple, mixed it, stretched it, looped it, and then wrote a more complex song on top of it. Also, stretched music makes the best music to study to... unless you're more distracted by texture than melody. Sep 21, 2011 at 20:04

I think the most important part of reverb is the "why". Since birth, or even in the womb, we are hearing sounds within all kinds of spaces, places and situations. All of those add up to reference points for us to interpret and instinctively or emotionally react to sound. Sound in a "vacuum" is something our brains determine as unnatural, because we have no frame of reference for it. Kind of like a UFO sighting. Seeing a giant, metal object hovering in the sky, in pure silence, would be very difficult for your brain to process. Or seeing anything which you have no frame of reference for, really. Reverb puts sound in a physical space, which helps the listener form a reaction to it, be it authenticity, invoking emotions, memories or just making it sound "right".

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