I had a conversation a while ago with a fellow mixing engineer and we started talking when we started talking about vocal processing.
I told him how I like to use a short plate reverb on vocals, especially live but also in the studio, and he told me how he’d much rather use delay instead of reverb. That got me thinking: When should you rather use delay instead of reverb?
Is there any specific situation where reverb works better? Or can you use delay interchangeably instead of reverb?
The Difference Between Delay and Reverb
The difference between delay and reverb is simple. Delay takes your source sound and repeats it. How much depends on your feedback and parameters. Meanwhile, reverb takes your source and repeats it in an artificial space, creating reflections and ambience that’s not possible to do with simple delays.
Reverbs are usually more complex and include all sorts of different parameters and buttons to control and mold the sound. For a more detailed explanation on reverb, check out my article “How the Hell do I use Reverb Anyway?!?”
So When Do You Use Which?
Delay is used for simpler purposes, when you want to create depth without necessarily creating a new space in your mix. It’s very easy to use delays to enhance and thicken vocals, guitars and keyboards. Settings with a delay that’s less than 100 milliseconds and only one or two repeats will result in a thicker sound. Using longer delays can create a sense of space without cluttering up the mix like you might experience with long reverb trails.
Long, lush reverbs are great for slower songs, especially if the arrangement is sparse. You can also use short room or plate reverbs if you want to create a specific ambience, since each reverb “mode” has their own characteristic.
Like I said, reverbs – and especially the longer ones – can add a lot to an arrangement or mix. But it can also add noise and clutter if you use too much of it. Delays might be easier to manage – since they’re simpler – but you also have to be careful with the delay and feedback times. Too much feedback with a short delay results in metallic noise. The same goes for too much feedback with a long delay; it’ll continue long after the phrase has finished, repeating at the wrong times.
Mix and match. Maybe you want the vocal but you still need to add some space around it. Mixing delays with reverbs is very common, and using them on different auxiliary sends means you can dial in the perfect amount of both processors.
Pick What The Situation Calls for
In the end, my friend and I were just discussing different approaches to the same thing. He liked to use delay to enhance the vocal, especially in a faster rock track, and I liked using short plate reverbs. That’s not to say one of us knew the right answer. Both approaches were 100% correct, we just used different methods.
So in the end pick the processor that works for you and grooves with the track you’re mixing. Maybe a medium delay is all you need, but maybe a long hall reverb is the order of the day.