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Differences Between Reverb, Echo, and Delay (Explained)

If you’re looking to add an extra depth of sound to your recordings, you might want to consider using reverb, echo, or delay. But what is the difference between these three effects? And which one is best for your needs?

In this article, we will cover the differences between reverb, echo, and delay. We will also discuss their effects on sound. So if you’re interested or are just curious about reverb, echo, and delay, this post is for you!

Image of a man with a headphone, while editing sound effects. Source: tima miroshnichenko, pexels
Image of a man with a headphone, while editing sound effects. source: Tima Miroshnichenko, Pexels

What is the difference between reverb, echo, and delay? In a big room, scream “hi.” The first sound to come from the walls is an echo. The echo becomes reverb when the sound bounces off a second, third, and fourth surface. Think of the delay as a single sound copied later.

What are delay, reverb, and echo?

Everyone loves delays. A delay effect pedal is often one of the first pedals a guitarist looks for. When a child and their family visit the Grand Canyon, the child first yells “Hello?” and then waits for the answer to come tumbling back. Delays and echoes are fun to listen to and a great way to make any part of a mix sound more complex and full, whether it’s a solo on the keyboard, a guitar melody, or anything else.

By carefully planning and putting these effects together, a song with only a few instruments can be turned into a big, beautiful masterpiece. On the other hand, newcomers who only scratch the surface of the topic and believe they are prepared to begin applying delays to everything could be in for a rude awakening due to these delays.

Delay

The term “delay” refers to a process in audio processing in which an audio signal is recorded, duplicated, and then played again through a storage media such as a tape, pedal, or software plugin.

Suppose you own or have seen a delay pedal. In that case, you know that the pedal typically has two adjustable knobs: one for “time,” which controls how long the delay is between each repetition of the audio input, and another for “feedback,” which controls the number of repeats. Although there are more knobs on a delay pedal, these two parameters influence the quality of the delay that is applied to the signal.

Ping-pong delays, the Haas effect, slapback, doubling, multi-tap, echo, looping, etc., are only some of music’s most often utilized delay effects. In addition, delay-based effects include short and modulated delay periods, such as chorus, flanging, and reverb.

Reverb

We constantly interact with the idea of reverberation. The process occurs as sound waves move through the air, interact with various objects along their course, and finally arrive at our ears at slightly varied times. The impression of distance is facilitated by sound. Reverb may alternatively be seen as a series of delays of varying durations and feedbacks that “mix” together to provide the appearance of expansiveness and depth.

Echo

When sound waves hit a surface and are reflected by the listener, we hear an echo. Time elapses between when the sound is made and when it is heard again after bouncing off a reflecting surface. As a result, the sound will be heard more than once.

The echo phenomenon may be compared to bouncing a rubber ball on the floor. In this case, the “ball” is a wave of sound. It hits the surface and bounces back to you. It will continue to bounce until its momentum is exhausted. An echo eventually loses its sonic quality as well.

The greater the distance between the source and the reflective surface, the longer it takes for the reflected sound to reach the listener’s ears. A true echo is just a single echoed copy of the original sound, so it has limited utility. This is why multi-echo simulation is achieved using pedals and audio plugins in digital audio workstations.

The difference between reverb and echo

Echo and reverb are two types of sound effects that are almost identical, except for one thing: time. To put it simply, reverb and echo result from sound waves bouncing off surfaces in a room. The more frequent term is “echo,” which describes hearing a reflected sound softer and later than the original. Legend says that if you yell into a canyon on television, you’ll eventually hear your voice echoing back to you from the distant past.

Reverb is like an echo, but the sound comes back in a fraction of a second and blends in perfectly with the rest of the sound. If I say something like, “I’d want to hear my echo,” and then use software to create an echo effect, I may hear myself repeat the complete line.

On the other hand, if I spoke the same phrase while using a reverb effect, you’d be able to hear the effect before I even finished the first syllable. This simulates the effect of listening to echoes in a room with solid walls.

The difference between delay and echo

To create a delay, many copies of the original signal are made and played back one after the other, each a fraction of a second after the last. Due to the long delay, it is easy to tell the difference between an echo and the original sound.

It’s important to note that an echo is a special case of delay. The delay is often set up in the signal chain before the echo to provide a more textured sound. However, this might result in a messy sound when the track is mixed.

When should I use reverb, echo, or delay?

So now you know the difference between reverb, echo, and delay. How do you know when to use which one?

It depends on the genre of music, the feel you want to create, and the interaction between the instruments in the mix. It is also commonplace to use the effects in combination with one another, so it isn’t necessarily a case of choosing one or the other.

Vocals

Recording dry

The effects may be achieved by recording voices in a space with natural reverb or echo, such as a cathedral. As musicians with a home studio, we aren’t likely to have access to a church whenever we want to record a vocal track. The modern recording process tends to avoid this more traditional approach.

Therefore, a “dry” voice recording is preferable. One without effects like reverb, delay, or echo and then adding them in the mixing process. This is helpful because the majority of us are likely recording vocals in a small room, like a bedroom, that is likely to have soft furnishings and carpets, resulting in a very low amount of natural reverb. This way, you have a lot more leeway in adjusting the amount of effect used on each track.

Make individual tracks (like a reverb track) and route the vocals/drums/other instruments via them when using any of the methods mentioned above for adding effects. Doing so will let you send numerous songs via the same reverb channel, reducing the strain on your computer and letting you alter the effect’s volume as needed.

Reverb on vocals

Many vocal recordings from the ’90s have heavy reverb to make the voices seem larger than life. However, in recent years, individuals have started mixing with a little less reverb on voices, and this tendency has begun to quiet down a little.

The lead voice may sound far away if there is a lot of reverb on a track. You’re searching for this in certain musical settings because of its unique tone. However, there are times when you want the lead vocals to be the most prominent part of the song, and an abundance of reverb might get in the way of that.

By trying out the different settings of a reverb plugin, you can get a sense of how it sounds in general. These will usually be words like “hall,” “church,” or “chamber,” describing the acoustic space that is being imitated.

Presets and standard plugins in the digital audio workstation (DAW) are great places to start when creating music. However, there are plenty of options for enhancing your voice recordings. For example, you can change the plugin’s settings by hand or look at one of the many detailed YouTube tutorials explaining how to add different types of reverb to voice files (this can get pretty advanced pretty quickly).

One tip I’ll share is that I use a low pass filter when processing a voice reverb. This is because so many distracting sibilances (‘s’ noises) will leak through if you don’t filter out the highest frequencies.

Delay on vocals

Reverb is the logical option for vocals to create a sensation of distance in the sound. There may be drawbacks, though. It may start to fade into the background if you’re using it on a lead voice, as said above, as you experiment with the mix. There’s a risk of feeling disoriented.

Also, as each delay period gets longer, the singer’s notes will eventually blend together. When this happens, the song may be less lively and effective than it otherwise would be. Delay might be the best option in this situation.

As discussed in the essay, the ideal delay approach to start with on vocals is a very short delay with low feedback, sometimes known as a “slapback delay.” Test it on a voice track and see how it sounds compared to reverb. To get a slapback effect, load a default delay plugin and set the feedback to zero. You may experiment with different delay times until you find a good combination.

This delay period should be quite short (often between 50 and 150 ms); otherwise, the recording will sound strange. However, increasing the duration may sound great, especially on slower songs.

Drums

When recording drums in a home studio, you’ll most likely rely on the built-in drum kits of your digital audio workstation (DAW). Some of them may be somewhat reverberant, but you may need to add effects to have a fuller, more immersive experience.

Reverb on a drum kit

All drum tracks should be recorded in the same space to get a natural drum sound. To do this, route each drum track, as opposed to the drum bus as a whole, via the same reverb return. Doing so will ensure that all of the drums have the same reverb.

It is possible to vary the effect’s strength for each drum track. If you put less reverb on the kick drum, you’ll hear clicky, high-end noises you don’t want. It’s important to maintain a powerful kick. Applying equalization to the reverb is another technique you might explore on the whole set. A high-pass filter applied to the reverb will eliminate the muddier bass end and keep the overall sound bright.

Using pre-delay on the snare

The snare drum is the one to which you will most likely apply effects to make it come alive. The snare drum has a distinctive reverberant sound when played live, but this effect is difficult to achieve when recorded with samples or in a tiny space. When this happens, we turn to reverb.

However, reverb may be quite useful if used properly. It may become muddy, not have the crisp sound you want, and sound fake if you use too much. Most reverb plugins have a feature called “pre-delay” that can be used to fix this issue.

The note is delayed using a pre-delay plugin, and then the delayed note, rather than the original note, is sent to the reverb, all without switching plugins. This approach makes the snare more spacious and reverberant without being lost in the mix.

Guitar

Using reverb on guitars

The use of reverb on guitars varies greatly depending on the kind of music being made. It’s fantastic for adding atmosphere, but it’s typically avoided in genres like hard rock and metal since it tends to wash everything out.

If you want your guitar recordings to be more ambient, consider adding some room reverb, but be wary of going overboard. Just like with vocals, how your guitar is mixed may make a big difference in the final product. The use of reverb is a great approach to “push-back” the guitar when it is overly prominent.

If you like your guitar to have more of a bluesy sound, a spring reverb, which is included in most amplifiers, will help. It’s an old familiar tune that you’ll likely recognize right away. Applying reverb appropriately to lead guitar sections may also provide spectacular results. When added to a lead guitar recording, a plate-style reverb may provide a lot of depth and dimension without making the instrument sound muddy.

Consider brothers in arms by dire straights as an example of how a little reverb can make a lead guitar seem majestic.

Using delay on guitars

1. Dotted the eighth delay

The “dotted eighth delay” described before is a classic, and The Edge of U2 is perhaps most responsible for popularizing it. On plucked chords, where even a few notes may make you seem like a guitar prodigy, this can be a terrific technique to master.

However, the dotted-eighth delay is a technique that may also be used on rhythm guitar. This method can greatly expand the stereo field of a rhythm guitar part by employing a touch of modulation in the delay.

2. Delay on solos

Delay effects are also often used on guitar solos. You like how a short delay makes a solo sound better, but you don’t have to use it every time you play. Since they are effective at disguising the occasional error, some individuals practice using them as an excuse for sloppy play.

The delay makes a solo seem less dominant and more integrated into the rest of the track when recording. Use with discretion; you generally only need two or three repetitions of each note to avoid a cluttered sound.

3. Reverse delay

When recording guitar parts, a reverse delay is another interesting effect to try out. To put it simply, the original sound recording is played backwards to create a surprising and interesting effect.

Image of a man inside a recording studio while editing audio effects. Source: anna pou, pexels
Image of a man inside a recording studio while editing audio effects. Source: Anna Pou, Pexels

Choosing your reverb

1. Song tempo

There’s a distinct flavor to each reverb effect. A small room reverb will produce a more uniform and linear reverb sound, while a large hall or church reverb will be more erratic. Keeping this in mind, the tempo of your song can influence your choice of reverb.

Large hall reverbs are unpredictable and won’t work well with fast tempos, but they can add great depth to slower songs. This is also true of the track’s complexity; for example, a complex guitar part may be lost in a large hall or church reverb, even at a slower tempo.

2. Instrument tone

If you want to spice up music with some extra harmonic characteristics and depth, try using a plate reverb. Plate reverbs include ‘resonant areas,’ which create a distinct character when some frequencies resonate more than others; this gives more of a unique feel than simply a conventional room or hall reverb. For example, this might be employed to make a snare drum reverberate at a certain pitch.

When choosing a reverb, it’s crucial to consider the sound’s overall character. There will only be an effect from the reverb on the original sound if it’s too close to the original (for example, putting a bright reverb on a bright guitar track). When you want your reverb to stand out, employ contrast. A warm voice, for instance, might be given new vitality with the help of a vivid reverb.

How dense is the mix?

If you’re using reverb in the mix, ensure everything fits in well. Placing excessive amounts of stereo reverb on every instrument might cause the mix to seem cluttered. If you’re having trouble distinguishing elements in a dense mix, try switching to mono reverbs from the stereo.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch the video “Reverb VS Delay or Echo – What Is The Difference? Explanation, Comparison, and Demonstration” from the Mykola MrHardGuitar – Guitar Reviews And Lessons YouTube channel.

A video “Reverb VS Delay or Echo – What Is The Difference? Explanation, Comparison, and Demonstration” from the Mykola MrHardGuitar – Guitar Reviews And Lessons YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about the differences between reverb, echo, and delay.

Should you use delay and reverb?

Reverb and delay create a natural sound, not a muddy mix. In addition, the delay may keep instruments front and center while creating an atmosphere.

Is reverb or delay better for vocals?

It will make them sound fuller and more “natural.” Reverb will push vocals back, however. It may reduce energy and cohesiveness by overlapping and washing out words. Delay won’t bury your voice.

Which goes first, reverb or delay?

The delay unit is usually positioned in a guitar signal chain before the reverb pedal, but the artist decides. Most guitarists prefer applying reverb after a delay to avoid muddying the tone.

When should I use delay in audio?

Like reverb, the delay may push a track back in the mix to create depth. Using a stereo delay on a mono signal or panning the delay to the other side of the mix may make the music appear broader. In addition, the delay may give your track rhythmic energy.

Why do musicians use reverb?

Reverb adds depth and tells the listener where the sound is and how far away they are from it. Reverb transports listeners to a music hall, cave, cathedral, or private room.

Conclusion

To summarize, there are three effects: reverb, echo, and delay. Each has unique benefits that can make your tracks sound more realistic or help create a certain atmosphere.

It is your choice as to which one you want to use in your next track. Remember that using too many can cause the entire song to sound muddy and unfocused.

However, just as you can’t become an expert cyclist by reading a book, you can’t become a great musician by reading articles alone. It’s time to take action! Go and put what you have learned into practice.

This article covered delay, reverb, and echo, the difference between reverb and echo, and the difference between delay and echo. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • A delay effect pedal is typically one of the first effects pedals pursued by a guitarist.
  • With one exception—the passage of time—the audio effects known as echo and reverb are almost interchangeable.
  • To create a delay, many copies of the original signal are made and repeatedly played, each a fraction of a second after the last.
  • Extra tips:
  • Both analog and digital delay pedals have other parameters, but these decide the delay applied to the sound.
  • There are numerous types of delay effects that range from ambient repeats to otherworldly insanity.
  • A recording head and a playback head are required to complete the recording and magnetize the output.
  • As its name suggests, the room reverb creates an effect that mimics the acoustics of a room but with a much quicker decay period.

So, how do you use reverb, echo, and delay effects?? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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